This famed 79-acre park and greenhouse complex is one of the largest open-air flower exhibitions in the world, and draws huge crowds during the 8 weeks it's open, from late March to mid-May. Founded in 1950 by Tom van Waveren and other leading bulb growers, its hothouses and lakeside flower beds see as many as 7 million tulip bulbs bloom every spring. In the last weeks of April (peak season) you can catch tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and narcissi all flowering simultaneously. There are also blooms on show in the pavilions along with floral demonstrations and exhibitions about the history of tulips. Leading Dutch bulb-growing exporters use it as a showcase for their latest hybrids, which does mean that commercial—not creative—forces are at play here.
Some of the planting is of the rather gaudy tulip varieties, and there's no holding back on the bulb-buying opportunities. It's lovely—if squashed at times—to wander around meandering streams, placid pools, and paved paths.
The avenues were designed by Zocher, designer of the Vondelpark in Amsterdam. Keukenhof's roots extend back to the 15th century, when it was the herb farm (Keukenhof means "kitchen courtyard") of one of Holland's richest ladies. Any sense of history has almost been obliterated, though there is a historical garden re-creating the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands in Leiden and at least a nod to contemporary trends in the "Inspiration" section. Head for the windmill for some calm and a vista over the surrounding fields, or view the crowds from a distance with an hour-long boat tour (book this near the windmill, €8). This is the Netherlands' most popular springtime attraction, and it's easy to reach from all points of the country. Traveling independently rather than in an organized group should present no problem—just follow the crowds.