Visiting the Keukenhof

Visiting the Keukenhof

One thing on my European bucket list when we moved to Germany was to visit the Keukenhof tulip gardens in the Netherlands. We were able to do so on our final spring living there and we loved it so much that we made a return trip last spring. Here’s a recap of our experiences there and plenty of pictures to go with it!

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On our first visit to the Keukenhof, it was Easter Sunday. We weren’t sure what that would mean for the crowds, but general rule of thumb is try to go on a weekday if you can. We made a point to skip the fancy Easter brunch and get to the Keukenhof before the gates opened.  This was the best thing we could’ve done.  I think the garden opened at 8:00 or 8:30, and by 10:30 the place was packed.  We were able to get in a little time where it was very calm, easy to take photos, and easy to walk around.  After the tour buses started pulling in, we could barely maneuver through the paths because they were so congested with people.  So that’s my best advice to anyone planning a visit…go early!

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This was true for our second visit as well. We arrived before the gates officially opened and because we already had our tickets printed out, we were allowed to enter a few minutes early. The early bird gets the worm!! This is the only way to get pictures without other tourists in them. The crowds are also probably low in the late afternoon close to closing time. I didn’t want to feel rushed though, so that’s why getting there early worked for us.

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Getting there early means no lines or pressure for cute photo ops like these!

 I know you’re there for the tulips, but don’t miss the orchid display.  It is overflowing with orchids and gorgeous!  There was a small exhibit demonstrating the life of an orchid.  I had no idea it took about 5 years for an orchid plant to mature and flower.

 

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Something we did on the second visit that the kids really loved was visiting the petting zoo. If you have kids this will definitely make them happy if they are getting bored being told to smile next to flowers.

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Also, definitely get stroopwafels!

The garden is immaculate.  The colors are vibrant and lush, it’s like being in a candy shop.  There are every different variety of tulip you could think of and never knew existed.  I’m so impressed with the work the gardeners have done here.  I can barely keep a houseplant alive (actually I think I’ve killed every plant we’ve every had).  To plant and maintain a garden like this requires an enormous amount of effort and a lot of love!

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On our first visit we left the gardens around lunch time.  Though we would’ve loved to spend the whole day there, the amount of people was just getting unbearable and we still wanted to visit the tulip fields around the garden.  We loaded up our bikes, put the little lady in her trailer and hit the road.  The biking was intimidating because you have to bike on the road with the cars, and the roads are very narrow 2 lane roads.  There are cars and even big tour buses driving on them, so for someone not used to it-it can be a little scary.

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However, the views are breathtaking.

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 This is definitely one of the most beautiful things to see in Europe and I’m so glad we got to bring our little girl there to celebrate her 1st Easter and then return again 3 years later with our little boy!

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Keukenhof tips:

  • Buy tickets online in advance, this will get you in the gardens the fastest to maximize the time before the tour buses show up.
  • Get there when the gardens open for the day, no ifs, ands, or buts, about it!
  • Dress warmly, and in layers. Both visits were VERY cold in the morning.
  • Plan to visit surrounding tulip fields either by car or bike, they are not to be missed.  
  • Please be respectful of the tulip fields and the farmers who grow them, do not trample the tulips.
  • Remember to book your hotel far in advance as this is a very popular tourist time. I was glad we stayed near the gardens vs. commuting from Amsterdam. It allowed us to get there early without too much trouble.
  • The Keukenhof and surrounding fields deserve a full day of your time, it would be hard to see it all in just a half-day.

Have more Keukenhof tips to add?  Questions about this trip?

Amsterdam Day 5

Last day in town, tear.  Forgot to put this earlier, but this is the view from our hotel room…

pretty nice

We couldn’t leave the city with the most bikes without joining in on the biking fun.  We thought about bringing our own bikes but quickly nixed that idea after reading about the heavy bike theft in the city.  We just bought new, nice bikes so no need to have them stolen again.  There are bike rental places all over, and it’s not very expensive so I would advise you to rent instead of risking your own.  Biking is the main mode of transportation here and there are dedicated bike lanes and drivers who are used to bikers.  Having said that, as a non-local, biking in the city without a guide is still kind of stressful.  Sometimes there’s only a small bike lane on the “wrong” side of the street, or you’re next to cars, have to go through big intersections, dodge pedestrians, and try not to get hit by the mopeds who are sharing your bike lane.  But, we survived.

 We rode around the city for a little while before heading back to the Museumplein.

We locked up our bikes and toured the Van Gogh museum.  Again, didn’t know much about Van Gogh before, but learned a lot about him.  It’s amazing to me that such a famous painter was really only painting  for about 10 years.  We brought a headphone splitter so we could share one audio guide.  The audio guide gave a lot of information but it would’ve taken us all day had we listened to everything on it.  So we picked and chose what to play.  Also, a little tip, you can buy tickets to the museum for the same price at a little tourist information shop down the street so that you don’t have to wait in the long line!

Once we had our art fix for the day, we hopped back on our bikes and cruised over to nearby Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s version of Central Park.  That was the most fun bike riding of the day.  It was a really pretty park, with a lot of people and dogs hanging out in it.  Poor Ellie missed out.  We also stopped for lunch at Cafe Vertigo inside the park.

Before we returned our bikes, we rode around the city following the best and easiest bike paths. We saw so many cool boats on the canals, but this one might have been the best…

 It’s a wooden shoe!

Happy biker 🙂  All in all, LOVED Amsterdam!  Even though it’s a big city, it has a lot of character and charm.  There aren’t really any skyscrapers or huge buildings.  It’s filled with beautiful canal houses and obviously there’s water everywhere.  You may think of some of the more scandalous aspects when you first hear the city’s name, but it is so much more than that.  I would go back in a heartbeat.  Definitely my favorite place we’ve been so far.  There was one tour I wished we had time for.  It was a wetlands safari tour, where you canoe around all day, how fun would that be?!  Maybe next time!

After 3 years in Europe and many more trips, I stand by Amsterdam still being one of my favorite places!  I can’t wait to go back!

Amsterdam Day 4

My husband was back to work in the morning, and so the ladies ventured down to the Musueumplein to go to the Rijksmuseum.  It most notably houses several paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer.  Now I am by no means an art expert, nor could I have told you much of anything about either painter before.  But, that’s what I like about going to these places, it’s easier to start making the connections between names you’ve heard and images that you may have seen.  Being here and experiencing all these different things is helping all the history, timelines, and people fall into place for me.  This museum has mostly fine art, but one piece that I wasn’t expecting was a dress made in the 60’s by Yves Saint Laurent for the Dutch queen (if my memory is right).  Also Louis Vuitton is listed as a benefactor of the museum.  Random but interesting.

After the museum, we did a little retail therapy.  Amsterdam has great shopping, lots of big names, lots of small boutiques, and lots of H&M’s for those of us on a budget 🙂  Our husbands must have known what we were up to, because they got done with work a little early so we left to meet up with them.

The hubby and I then took the tram over to the Anne Frank house.  I had been reading her diary in preparation for the trip and it was really important for me to go there.  Admittedly my husband was not excited to go here, but he was happy he did after the visit.  Reading the diary is not necessary to appreciate the experience but will create more meaning for you.  So Anne Frank in a nutshell-she was born in Germany to a Jewish family.  In 1933 the family fled Germany to Amsterdam to escape the Nazis who were rising to power.  When Anne turned 13 she was given a diary for her birthday and shortly after her family decided to go into hiding at her father’s business because Jewish people were starting to get arrested and sent off to camps.  The family of four hid for two years with another family of three and one other man.  They lived in four small rooms at the back of the building, hidden by a moveable bookcase.  They were eventually betrayed by someone and reported to the Nazis.  They were all arrested and sent to different camps.  Of the eight people in hiding, only Anne’s father survived.

The building where they hid has been turned into a museum.  You can walk through the house and up the secret staircase behind the bookshelf to see where these people spent two years hiding.  It’s kind of hard to really understand what that means at first.  Where they were hiding was above a place of business, so during the day while workers were there, the people in hiding had to sit still as much as possible so no one would hear them moving around.  They all shared one toilet that could not be flushed during the day, because it would make noise.  They had black curtains that had to always be closed so that none of the neighbors could see them inside.  Can you imagine the boredom you would have if you could never go outside?  It’s so hard to think about living like that, but think of how bad the alternative was.  Visiting Anne Frank’s House is a dark but necessary reminder of what many Jewish people went through at that time.

The Anne Frank house is near a great area of town, the Joordan.  After we left the museum we found a little cafe on the water to relax at for a while.

We wandered the neighborhood and little shops.  This neighborhood is nice because it’s away from the center city which is the more gritty, touristy area.  It’s calmer and has more charm.  It was probably my favorite area of town and where I would go back to first on a return visit.

Statue outside someone’s door.
friendly kitty sitting on a scooter
interesting balcony decorations…
bikes, bikes, bikes

Amsterdam Day 3

The next day I met up with my friend and we took the tram over to a street market, and then went to the Dutch Resistance Museum.  It’s a museum that chronicles the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands and how the Dutch people responded and pushed back against the harsh regime.   It was really interesting and obviously very disturbing at times.  It gave me a much better understanding of how the Netherlands was affected, and what people had to endure in order to survive.  I would definitely recommend a visit.

After the museum we made our way to the floating flower market.  You can buy any type of bulb or flower seed here, and plenty of beautiful flowers.

After a late lunch, we found out the boys were done working so we went back to meet them.  Later that evening we met up with several of the other people working at the conference to go out for some Thai food.  Not everyday you walk by this on your way to dinner…

Note to self, make sure camera is in the proper mode before handing off to someone else…oops!

 Another great day in the city!

Amsterdam Day 2

My husband had to work during the day, but luckily for me another wife tagged along with her husband on the trip too!  So we stuck together while the men were working and did some sight-seeing.  We bought hop-on and hop-off canal bus tickets.  Basically it was a tour all through the different canals and through the city, but you could get on and off at any of the stops.

Replica of a ship used by the Dutch East India Trading Company
ship repair shop
Same windmill from yesterday.

LOVED the canal houses, they are so pretty and unique looking.  They all have hooks on the top that are used for pulling up furniture to the top floors.  You can’t really tell from this picture, but most of them are built to slant forward so that the houses aren’t damaged when hauling up the furniture.
Bikes everywhere, this picture is actually not a good representation because they are literally all over the city!
Westerkerk, next to the Anne Frank House, also the burial place of Rembrant.
Anne Frank statue outside the church.

Burial plaque of Rembrandt inside the church.
This plaque explains that it is actually copied from Rembrandt’s most famous painting The Nightwatch.
Carvings in the floor of the church.

I loved using the canal bus for a day to get oriented to the city and have a relaxing mode of transportation, but the tram is definitely more efficient.  We had tickets to see the Dutch Philharmonic Orchestra that night so when Hubby was done working we met back up for dinner before the show.  We went to a place right next to our hotel on the Ij River.  Not too shabby.

The concert was held at the Concertgebouw which is a really beautiful music hall known to have superb acoustics.  We had never been to a concert like this, but we loved it.  They performed “Deutches Requiem” by Brahms.  When the music starts it sounds so perfect and smooth that it seems almost like you’re hearing a movie soundtrack and the musicians are just moving to the music.  There was also a choir for this performance and they were amazing as well.  We would love to see another orchestra performance, it was very impressive.  Btw if you’re ever in Amsterdam, there are free lunch concerts here on Wednesdays I believe.

Snapping a quick picture before the show.

Amsterdam Day 1

My husband had a work conference in Amsterdam and I decided to tag along!  We started out early that morning meeting up with some of his co-workers to caravan up to the Netherlands.  We made it to the hotel by noon and were out exploring a little later.  First stop was the only windmill actually inside the city.  It’s also a brewery…no better way to start the trip!

Brouwerij ‘t IJ

Unfortunately the brewery tour was only running on the weekends, so we settled for some snacks and tasting some brews on the patio.

We decided to continue the party at the Heineken Experience.

Haha, this cracks me up!

So my take on the Heineken Experience is that it was definitely fun, and we enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t say it’s a “must do” in Amsterdam.  It was a fun way to start our trip, but it’s not the actual brewery where the beer is made, hence the name Heineken Experience.  I imagined it to be more old-fashioned/pub-ish (yes, I made that word up) but it was more like a lounge/club type atmosphere.  Not sure if that makes any sense but I just mean that it was more young and modern looking with techno music and Heineken commercials playing in the background.

Cheers!

Time for dinner!  I had picked out this place Restaurant Bazaar from the Rick Steves’ travel books (btw, Rick Steve’s books are great resources for travel).  It was an old church that’s been converted into a North African/Middle Eastern restaurant.   We ordered a big rice bowl with kebabs and it was delicious!  Great place to go, thanks Rick!

After dinner we did some more wandering around.  Amsterdam is such a pretty city, and we had perfect weather, which never hurts!

Livin’ the good life, cruising around the canals of Amsterdam!

Scheveningen Beach Boardwalk

Less than a week after we got home from Thailand, it was time to hit the road again.  Normally we wouldn’t plan these things back to bad, but when you have the time off you have to take advantage of it!  I have been wanting to see the tulips in the Netherlands since we arrived in Europe.  The first year it was too quick to pull it together, last year I was due with a baby, so this was our “last chance” to get up there to see them.

We stayed in Leiden which is closer to the Keukenhof gardens (where the famous tulip displays are) than Amsterdam.  Since we had already visited Amsterdam, we decided to see some other areas and do some different things.  We drove up on Friday, but we didn’t get an early start so by the time we got to our hotel it was time for dinner and bed.  We had planned to visit the Keukenhof on Sunday, which was Easter, so Saturday we woke up and decided to go out to a beach town called Scheveningen-just outside the Hauge.  The morning started out cold, windy, and cloudy.  We rode our bikes about 500 meters down the boardwalk before I caved in and was asking to stop in a cafe to warm up.

Luckily, while we sipped on coffee and snacked on pizza, it did warm up.  The sun came out and it turned into a beautiful day.

waiting for the sun to come out

Once we had filled our tummies and warmed ourselves up, we were ready for our second attempt at riding down the boardwalk.

there were tons of surfers out in the freezing water

Heinekens with an ocean view

We spent the day cruising up and down the beach, stopping at restaurants and shops along the way.  Our little lady got to take her first ride on a carousel too!

We really enjoyed the little beach town and having a fun, relaxing day on the coast!