Seven years ago, I left the States to study abroad in the Netherlands. It was a semester-long stint in a medieval castle close to the German border—so close, in fact, that we could bike into a new country and be back in time for a hearty dinner of curried chicken and potatoes. But this past Saturday (exactly seven years from the day I left the country), I found myself making the journey in reverse.
April is typically a beautiful time in the Netherlands, and a popular time for tourists to visit. It’s the height of tulip season—a bright swaths of colors lay over the flat country like thick, striped, rugs. We left Aachen, a German city that sits at the juncture of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Deutschland, after provisioning ourselves with avocado sandwiches for what Google assured us was only a 2.5-hour drive. After countless road closures (including the main artery into the garden), no detours or signage, and 4.5-hours, we finally bounded from the car at the gates of Keukenhof, the famous gardens just south of Amsterdam.
If you’ve ever been on Pinterest, I guarantee you’ve seen at least one picture of Keukenhof. In photos, the flowers are lush, the paths are empty, and the viewer is free to focus on the beauty and the brightness of the blooms in front of them. In person…it’s a slightly different story. Yes, the flowers are absolutely stunning. The intricacies of the landscape design are, to say the least, impressive—tulips join with daffodils, hyacinths, and lilies in a riotous celebration of Spring; elsewhere, solid rows of homogenous plantings crowd together like oil pastels in a box.
The other thing crowded together? All of the visitors.
Of course it is a tourist attraction and of course, in high-season, you expect it to be crowded. And due to the lateness of our arrival, the chill in the air, and the threat of rain, I think we actually got quite lucky in terms of the amount of people who shared the paved pathways with us. All that said, you almost couldn’t look down a row of flowers without seeing someone squatted next to them, iPhone in outstretched arm. Guides holding stuffed daisies shouted trivia at massive tour groups, families called back and forth to orient themselves, and a calliope played endlessly.
And that’s fine—just not what I wanted out of my tulip season experience.
In fact, my favorite moment occurred after we had left the gardens. Stuck on a narrow road behind at least a dozen tour buses with an overheated car, we detoured through a small village and found ourselves in the Dutch countryside. Squat brick houses sat on our right, and on our left, an open expanse of vibrant reds, orange, yellow, and white. It was quiet and peaceful—and surrounded by the smell of earth, the chatter of birds, and the flatness of fields that seemed to stretch on forever, I remembered exactly why I loved this open country as a 20-year-old.
*Pro Tip: Save your 16EUR pp + 6EUR parking fee and drive through the Lisse region instead. It’s quaint and quiet, and you’ll have ample opportunities to pop out of your car or off your bike and snap some shots in the fields…without the unintentional photobombs.