Author: Jaclyn Stockton-Sooy
Tags : Europe, Multigen, Museums & Culture
There's nowhere like Keukenhof Gardens in springtime to introduce the beauty, color, scent and creative potential of flowers to children on a family visit to Holland.
However, local travel in the Netherlands is not easy... by car. I have never seen such traffic in and around an entire country; New York and D.C. are nothing compared to what we saw this spring in Holland. Yes, there were places where the traffic flowed but, for the most part, wherever we went we were in a slow jam for long stretches of time. What a way to begin our weekend at tulip time.
Larger Than Life Gardens at Keukenhof
The most impressive thing to see in the Netherlands in spring is the flowers, so we went straight to Keukenhof Gardens (keuken means kitchen in Dutch. This gardens, open from March 20 through May 17, 2015, are located between Amsterdam and The Hague in the "Bulb Region." The 32 hectares of blooming landscapes, originally the herb garden of Jacoba van Beyeren, the Countess of Holland (1401-1436), were designed in 1840 by the horticultural architect Zocher.
There are 15 kms of walking trails and 7,000,000 flowers -- as far as the eye can see. I was hoping photos would speak for themselves: the colors are breathtaking and I must admit, there's nothing like seeing them in person. The fragrance of hyacinths and lilacs was everywhere. And tulips... all colors, shapes and sizes.
These gardens are very child-friendly, too. When you enter Keukenhof, ask the cashier for a Bollebozen Route Book for each child. A scavenger hunt, it has several assignments for children to accomplish while in the gardens. The restaurants have children's menus and provide a shaded place for a break -- there's even a petting zoo for hands-on activities.
Parents and grandparents of toddlers will appreciate the Miffy playground, hosted by the character Miffy, with its small swings, slides and safe play areas. Within the gardens there is also a large, modern playground and a maze that we found the most fun for all ages. There's free WiFi throughout, pushcarts (strollers) and wheelchairs are available free of charge, and even the family dog, on a leash, is welcome.
Keukenhof Gardens is located in the town of Lisse on Route N208 at Stationsweg 166a. It reopens every year, typcially from about mid-March to Mid-May -- tulip time! The gardens are open from 8am-7:30pm and the daily entry cost is €16 per adult and €8 for children ages 4-11; tickets may be bought online or through a smartphone. If you drive, there is a nominal parking fee but the more eco-friendly choice is the bus that runs to the gardens from Amsterdam. If you're taking public transportation, cheaper combination tickets from Schiphol Airport, or the cities of Leiden, Haarlem or Amsterdam, are available.
Amsterdam in Magical, Even in Spring Weather
I had been to Amsterdam -- in winter -- 30 years ago as a college student and it seemed dingy. And in April, the peak of spring, it was still dingy but the best base to explore this very small country. The canals are very interesting and worth a visit if just to see the architecture of the buildings and marvel at the water that is everywhere. But the water is filthy and the "houseboats" that line the canals are anything but beautiful. But somehow Amsterdam is still magical.
We "enjoyed" the visit to the Anne Frank House at Prinsengracht 267, if it is appropriate to use that term. The museum that is attached to the house is wonderful and a stark reminder of a past that should never happen again. We also couldn't wait to see the Rijksmuseum at Jan Luijkenstraat 1, which had just completed phase two of its thorough and quite beautiful renovation, opening the Phillips Wing for big art shows, traveling exhibitions, and photography.
Madurodam, A Mini Village in the Hague
In addition to Keukenhof and Amsterdam, another Dutch place that children and adults will enjoy is Madurodam at George Maduroplein 1, 2584 RZ Den Haag in The Hague. I had my doubts about visiting this miniature village, but we really had a great time here. Madurodam was opened in 1952 as a monument to George Maduro by his parents. Its other purpose is to raise funds for youth-oriented charities through the Madurodam Charity Fund.
Holland's "smallest city" covers 18,000 square-meters and the objects are made on a scale of 1:25. The route through Madurodam is numbered to make it easy for visitors to follow along and their tour -- suggested online -- allows you to see the highlights within two hours. Anyone traveling with children or the digital-minded should play on their website prior to arrival, so they can see the many videos and other media associated with each display.
The miniature city is interactive in real life, too. I put a euro in one of the slots mentioned in the booklet and a truck drives around to the "receiving" door of a warehouse where a pair of mini-ceramic shoes drops into the truck. The truck then continues its journey to the box where you inserted the Euro and you bend over to pick up your mini-shoes! I will be putting those little shoes on my Christmas tree this year.
Also, kids aged 3-11 receive a free passport upon entry into Madurodam. Containing questions and interesting facts about the Netherlands, the passport tells of various famous spots in the country, most of which are recreated in the tiny city. The entrance fee to the Madurodam miniature village is €15.50 for adults or €45 for a Family & Friends ticket valid for any four people entering together. Note that families with a full day can buy a combination ticket granting admission to the Omniversum in The Hague or Sea Life in Scheveningen. Madurodam is open daily with varying hours according to season, closed January.
Visiting Holland During Tulip Season - Trip Planning Details
It's easy and affordable to find a place for the family to stay because there are many national hotel chains in Holland. Getting around this small country is easy by public transportation, and you won't have to fight the traffic as we did. There are public buses and trains from the Amsterdam Schipol Airport into the city center. From here, there is an express bus to the Keukenhof Gardens; kids under 4 ride free.
Amsterdam itself celebrates tulips from Tulip Day in late January, throughout spring. Check out the Amsterdam Tourism & Convention site for related museum shows, what's on at the growers-sponsored Amsterdam Tulip Museum, and to see if any private homes and city institutions have exhibits. Festivities go on from April to late May, with a big Tulip Party and Flower Parade the first weekend in May. The city takes gardening seriously, and visitors are invited to tour 25 'secret gardens' not normally seen by the public during the annual Open Garden Days in late June.
For older children and fit adults, bicycles are the way to travel in the Netherlands. There are bike trails through the fields of flowers that surround the Keukenhof. There are many bike hire and scooter rental companies all over Holland, with several located near Amsterdam's Central train station. The Amsterdam Tourism & Convention Board notes some reliable companies.
Looking back, I realize that the flowers are so magnificent that we will want to go back next year. When we do, though, we will take the train with our own bicycles from our home in Germany to the Keukenhof -- and avoid the traffic.