3 April 2017 – biking to the world famous Keukenhof flower show….. [Netherlands]
With a big day ahead, the kids again decided to start the day before 7am… The days riding was taking us back through the flower fields, to the town of Lisse, for a visit to the world-famous Keukenhof flower show. Keukenhof (Dutch for ‘kitchen garden’) is also known as the Garden of Europe and is 79 acres (32 hectares) of landscaped gardens with over 7 million bulbs!
We were still not fans of our hotel (the Best Western Leiden), it was pretty average and we had lots of issues with our rooms. However, the one redeeming feature was that the beds were pretty comfy and Anto and I actually had a queen bed that was not 2 singles pushed together! When we rocked up at breakfast and there was only filter or instant coffee our displeasure grew……but there was an acceptable selection of chocolate products along with gingerbread and sugarloaf, so the kids were not disappointed! All fueled up we got organised for the day and hit the bikes.
We set off for the ride back to Keukenhof by 9am. We had added this day into our Dutch bike tour, so there was no specific route or route maps provided. Our route the previous day from Haarlem to Leiden took us straight past Keukenhof and Lisse, so we could have ridden back the same way. However, we found a direct route to Lisse on the GPS, which was a couple of kilometres shorter than the reverse trip via the flower fields, so we thought we’d give it a whirl and see some different scenery.
We rode back out of Leiden the same way we’d ridden in the previous afternoon. It was meant to be warming up to another sunny Spring afternoon, however it was decidedly chilly when we first headed out (around 5 degrees). Leiden is rather pretty and there were plenty of people out and about on their bikes, heading off to work, uni, shopping or dropping kids at school!
Out of Leiden it was a bit foggy, grey and rather chilly, we’d slightly under-dressed for the weather so had to ride fast to warm up. The route we were taking was less scenic (mostly bike paths skirting small tows) but we still rode past massive flower fields as we passed through Lisse. There were even some tractors and farmers out preparing some more fields.
We made really good time to Keukenhof and did the 14.9 kilometres in just under an hour. It was already pretty busy in the car park with at least 40 odd coaches already lined up and people streaming in. The bike parking was already half full, but not as busy as when we’d cycled past the previous afternoon.
After we locked our bikes we walked up to the entrance. Apparently the ticket line can be long but we had prepurchased tickets the night before and they were on our phones, so we pretty much walked straight in.
I love flowers and gardens and had wanted to visit Keukenhof for many years. I had pretty high expectations for Keukenhof and I was not disappointed. Keukenhof dates back to the 15th century when Countess Jacqueline of Bavaria used to gather fruits and vegetables from the woods, for the kitchen of Teylingen Castle. The gardens continued to grow and were redesigned in 1857 in English landscape style. In 1949 a group of 20 flower bulb exporters came up with a plan to use the estate for a permanent exhibition of spring-flowering bulbs, signaling the birth of Keukenhof as a spring park. It now opens for 8 weeks a year (mid-March to mid-May) as an international showcase for the Dutch floricultural sector.
As we headed into the park, we went left and started wandering through the vast numbers of garden beds and down winding paths. In Canberra we have Floriade in Spring, which is a similar concept to Keukenhof, but on a much smaller scale. In fact last years Floriade was 1/35th of the size of Keukenhof. Within 15 minutes we had decided Floriade was ruined forever, and we’d seen more flowers than you do in a couple of hours at Floriade.
It was still quite cold (around 8 degrees) and rather grey. We were still all bit cold from the ride in so we decided to pop into the Wilhelmina pavilion for some Dutch apple cake, coffee and hot chocolate. The kids were pouring over the Keukenhof map trying to decide where to go to next!
All feeling a little warmer, we wandered around the gardens some more. There were so many different beds of colour, between the more naturalised wooded areas. We were constantly amazed by the varieties of bulbs, many we had never seen before. It was early April and the hyacinths and daffodils were in full bloom, with the tulips just starting to come out. The smell was amazing!
We made it around to the Beatrix pavilion, which houses the orchid display. The 1,000 square metre ppavilion houses thousands of varieties of orchids and was on par with orchid exhibits in Singapore. It’s apparently the largest orchid exhibit in Europe!
Next it was over to the windmill (yes there is a full-sized windmill within the gardens). You can climb the windmill, which was a popular activity. It was packed, and bit of an interesting climb with the crowds and small kids. The kids loved seeing inside the windmill and figuring out how it worked. From the top there were excellent views of the adjacent flower fields.
By now we had been wandering around the gardens for a couple of hours, so we decided to stop for lunch. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants within the gardens but we’d brought a picnic lunch with us – our usual dark rye bread, Dutch cheese and some hotel provided apples. There was a lovely picnic area where you could sit on hay bales and admired the gardens while we ate.
After lunch we decided to brave the huge Willem-Alexander pavilion (all 6,000 square metres of it) which houses several plant and bulb shows and had vast varieties of bulbs on display. There were Amaryllis bigger than our heads, and hundreds of different tulip varieties, and over 300 varieties of lilies and cyclamen.
There were so many different bulbs to look at that we could have spent hours in there. It was bulb heaven! Despite having lots to look at, and it being warmer inside, we had promised the kids that we’d head over to the childrens area of Keukenhof.
We let the kids loose on the pretty awesome playground while we drank coffee at the playground cafe. Soren kept escaping up the big slide (that was a couple of stories high) and Astrid was determined to climb on all the ropes!
We eventually coaxed the kids out of the playground with a visit to the adjacent petting zoo. The animals were rather cute, particularly the baby goats (kids) which Soren adored. All was good until Astrid got butted by one who’d had enough of the attention from thousands of human-kids.
Next off it was a wander through the maze and a visit to the fountains that constantly changed the shape of the water spray.
Keukenhof is amazing for kids and neither were remotely interested in leaving. Lucky, since we had only covered around half the area, so far. We paid the Oranje-Nassau pavillion a quick visit, it was mostly focussed on interior design which had some quirky exhibits, but it was time to go an explore all the central bits of the gardens surrounding the huge lake that we hadn’t yet seen.
We had promised the kids that they could have a walk over the stepping-stones in the lake. Anto decided to take them 1 at a time as it was a little terrifying and we didn’t want to be riding back to Leiden soaking wet!
After plenty more walking we headed back to the playground for another quick visit and some poffertjes (Dutch pancakes) for afternoon tea.
It was off for a final wander through another few sections of the gardens. Even though we thought we had at least briefly walked through every area, we would turn a corner and find another area to explore. The garden beds went on forever and were all so interesting that we could have spent days there. In the end we spent 5 hours wandering the garden and didn’t see everything.
There is a reason 1 million people visit Keukenhof a year, it’s pretty amazing! With the ride back to Leiden still to go, we dragged ourselves away a bit after 3pm. We’d been walking around feeling cold all day as it was still overcast and damp. Just as we were leaving the sun finally appeared! Always the way…..
The sun and blue skies did make for a more pleasant ride back. We decided to take the same route back at the previous days ride, giving us a last glimpse of the impressive flower fields.
After a big day, Soren almost immediately fell asleep on the back of the bike so we only stopped for a few pictures, but had enjoyable (and quiet) ride back to Leiden.
We found our way back much easier having already ridden the route. We made good time, with only 1 minor detour (aka getting lost) and we arrived into a now very sunny Leiden. We got to ride past the bike path chickens and alpacas for the second time of the day before heading back to the hotel.
We were back in hotel room a bit after 4pm. Both kids were rather tired after a lot of riding and walking for the day, so we had decided on a quick dinner in the hotel.
Despite being about to head to Italy, the lure of the delicious smelling pizza shops nearby got to us, and Anto and Soren went and grabbed some pizzas to bring back to the hotel room. Soren was apparently rather impressed when we was watching them being made. For some reason we were all hungry despite seemingly eating all day! Anto had also procured some baklava for dessert as it was made freshly in the pizza store. The kids didn’t say no to baklava!
The kids were sentenced to an early(ish) night before a very long day of riding the next day. I took the opportunity to explore Leiden some more. The city is home to just over 120,000 people. Leiden is most well-known for its university (which boasts 13 nobel prize winners) and being the place where Rembrandt was born and educated.
It’s quite a beautiful city and we could have spent more time there exploring and relaxing.
Leiden also didn’t look too shabby by night! It had been lovely spending the last few nights in the smaller cities of Haarlem and Leiden. It was back to Amsterdam the next day, but we were going to be riding through the rural ‘Green Heart’ for another different perspective of the Netherlands.
Overall we had a pretty fantastic (if tiring) day. We highly recommend a visit to Keukenhof if you happen to be in the Netherlands during Spring. Riding around the surrounding flower fields on a bike is also not to be missed!
Statistics for Monday 3 April 2017 in Leiden and Lisse, the Netherlands – the temperature range for the day was 4 to 11 degrees. At least the afternoon was sunny, the morning was on the chilly side! The total riding for day was 31.7 km, with 49 metres of elevation, a nice short day of riding. On top of the riding we walked an additional 12 km. I think we worked off that pizza!
Up next, our final full day of riding in the Netherlands through the ‘Green Heart’ of the country and along the beautiful river Amstel all the way back to Amsterdam.