Saturday, June 4, 2016

Spring Colors in Amsterdam

We visited Amsterdam in April 2016.

Amsterdam train station at night

Since this was our 2nd visit to Amsterdam, our targets this time were mainly the sights and sounds outside Amsterdam - namely the Windmills and the Keukenhof flower gardens.

Amsterdam is of course a very charming and tourist friendly city, and there are n-number of things to explore within Amsterdam itself. And, we are quite sure that there are (n+1) guidebooks providing details of the same :) If you do not have the time or energy to read even one of those (n+1) guides, the best thing you can do is to head directly to the train station (Amsterdam Centraal station). There area around the Centraal station is full of shops, restaurants, cafes; and the station also serves as the starting point of most of the canal cruises.

Amsterdam canal ferry Amsterdam colorful houses Victoria Hotel, Amsterdam night lights

Keukenhof Flower Festival

Tulips characterize spring in Amsterdam, and the best place to experience them is in the Keukenhof flower gardens.

The Keukenhof flower festival is held every year in the Keukenhof flower gardens (aka "Garden of Europe") situated in Lisse. Note that the gardens are only open to the public for 6 weeks every year. If you are interested in seeing the tulips in full bloom, then try to visit during the last 2 weeks. However, note that it is also incredibly crowded during that time, so decide accordingly. A good compromise might be the middle 2 weeks when you can still see some tulips, and the crowds are tolerable. We actually visited the gardens during this period, hence the pics below should be a good representation of what you can expect to see - if you visit during the middle 2 weeks,

Keukenhof flower gardens
Spring bloom at Keukenhof gardens
Keukenhof flower show - Orchids Amsterdam spring flowers

As you can see from the above pics, there are many many other types of flowers in the garden as well: so your decision need not be dependent on the blooming of tulips only. The garden is huge, so be prepared for some serious walking :) Of course, given the beautiful surroundings, you will start feeling tired only after you have exited the gardens.

Spring bloom at Keukenhof gardens
The enchanted garden

In addition to the outdoor gardens, there are 4 indoor exhibition places as well where you can explore even more varieties of flowers. These are also the places where you will find cafes and restrooms - they are clearly marked on the map. You can also buy seeds for many of the exhibited flowers here. 

Have a great flowery weekend :)

The gardens are located in the city of Lisse, which is like a 45 min drive from Amsterdam. There are many tours available from Amsterdam to the Keukenhof gardens. Note that most of the tours basically take you to the gardens, and after a very basic introduction to the gardens; leave you to wander in the gardens at your leisure. So, there are not many advantages in taking a (group) tour vs. say using the public transportation / bus. However, a private tour might still be worth it, as a local taxi driver we were talking to, told us that while Keukenhof was the most famous, there are many equally impressive gardens in the vicinity. So consider this while making your travel arrangements!

Zaanse Schans Windmills and Volendam

After tulips, the second thing which comes to mind whenever you think of Amsterdam is 'Windmills'. [OK, the ordering w.r.t. the defining characteristics of Amsterdam might be slightly skewed towards "drugs" and the "red-light district" depending on your interests :), but let's stick to the kids friendly version for now!!]

The best place to experience windmills in Netherlands is Zaanse Schans. It is basically an open air museum with 8 magnificently preserved windmills. Some of the windmills also provide demonstrations of how they were used as "industrial mills" in the past, e.g. to ground spices.

Zaanse Schans

 Zaanse Schans is like a 30 min drive from Amsterdam, so very close and easy to reach from Amsterdam. And, reserving half a day for this activity is usually sufficient.

An alternative, which many tour companies offer is to combine a visit to Zaanse Schans, with a vist to the fishing village of Volendam and a short ferry ride to Marken. We actually took this trip, and can recommend it as a great option for a day trip: (link)

Volendam fishing village

Most of the trip details are in the tour link itself. One last things to add here is that if you decide to take this tour, do not miss the visit to the wooden shoe factory at the end of the tour - it might remind you of some very fond childhood memories :)