We visited the Netherlands in April when everything was pretty much closed. The official reason was a day at Keukenhof Gardens, and more specifically, a pilot program initiated by the Dutch government to open the famously beautiful gardens for 2 weekends only, in times of Corona.
Of course, we couldn’t skip the tulip fields outside of Lisse, but the showpiece was a fabulous day trip to Aalsmeer, home to the largest flower auction in the world. This small, beautiful town near Schiphol Airport, a mere 20-minute drive from Amsterdam, is an ideal and fun day trip for adults and children alike. It is rich in nurseries, canals, and water sports, including boating, windsurfing, water-skiing, and even SUP (stand-up paddling), but let me introduce you to a few must-see attractions, especially now the Netherlands has re-opened for tourism.
Historical Garden Museum
This living museum (Historische Tuin Aalsmeer) is a journey back in time, offering a glimpse of Aalsmeer’s horticulture from around 1700 to 1940. The first rose nursery was built here in 1896 when the peat soil turned out to be fertile ground for flowers. The first two auction houses of Aalsmeer were established in 1912, and the rest is history.
Today, you can visit a 1930 historic auction room, check out the huge auction clock and make a bid, join a guided tour through the nurseries and gardens (there are no tulips here) to learn about cultivation methods, or even sail a boat and take a voyage of discovery through narrow canals.
The Historical Garden is a great introduction to Aalsmeer’s blossoming floriculture and a great experience for gardening enthusiasts and children alike.
The Flower Art Museum
As the flower capital of the Netherlands, it is only natural the town also boasts a relatively new Flower Art Museum (website in Dutch), the world’s first museum revolving entirely around flowers and plants. Both Dutch and international artists are well represented in this unique space, inside a 10,000 sq ft (1000 sq m) water cellar on the Westeinderplassen, opposite Aalsmeer’s famous water tower.
On our visit in April, there were two interesting exhibitions held in this beautifully renovated gallery. The first was a solo exhibition by Dutch artist Suus Suiker, working in a combination of techniques and adding layers of transparent beeswax to create abstract and dreamy floral motifs.
The second exhibit was Flower Dream, a collaboration with Special Arts Netherlands, inviting artists with mental, psychological, and physical disabilities to express their dreams in flowers.
In the parking lot outside, you will find a beautiful 64-meter wall of flowers made up of thousands of flower images sent by enthusiastic participants. Only when you get closer can you see the hundreds of wedding pics, flower portraits, photos of animals, and works of art. It is a true eye-catcher.
Whether you are traveling with children or you are simply young at heart, don’t leave Aalsmeer without visiting the world’s first flower multimedia experience. This beautiful new venue, right next to the Royal FloraHolland Flower Auction complex, opened right in the midst of COVID-19 in the summer of 2020 and is a riot of colors inside and out.
Kids will love this place, and so will you! You can call it a flower theme park, an immersive experience that allows you to explore the world of flowers and plants and discover how they impact your daily life. Upon arrival, we received a personalized digital bracelet to be used throughout the experience, then moved from one space to another to watch beautiful spectacles, walk through a garden, catch a 4D film about a groom who gets into trouble on his way to the wedding and take selfies at any of the Instagrammable photo booths. At the end of our visit, we bid on an actual bouquet in the auction room and received an email memento.
Bonus: The Royal FloraHolland Flower Auction Visitor Center
We didn’t get to visit the world-famous and largest flower auction in the world, but it is well worth checking out the high-tech auction room (and comparing it to the one from 1930), as well as the millions of flowers and plants traded here daily. It is quite an impressive sight, but here’s a tip: it is best to get here early in the morning.
If you visit the Netherlands from mid-March to May, I highly recommend you add these marvelous gardens to your itinerary, as that’s when Keukenhof gardens, considered one of the most beautiful in the world, is ablaze with multicolor tulips. In the fall, the gardeners plant around 7 million bulbs of tulips, by hand, in a completely new design based on the annual theme of the park. It takes about 3 months of hard work so the bulbs can bloom during the eight-week opening period.
A mere 30-minute drive from Aalsmeer, and just a few minutes from Lisse, this magical place is one of the most celebrated attractions in the Netherlands and a veritable Instagrammers’ paradise.
The gardens were closed to visitors in 2020 due to the pandemic, but we had the privilege of being among those who took part in this year’s pilot to open the park for two weekends only in April. I do hope that next year will mark a return to normal, and Keukenhof will be open from March 24 till May 15.