The Flower Strip is one of the most popular and unique attractions in the Netherlands. Whether you visit in spring or autumn, this region is the perfect place to discover the Dutch flower industry, and it can be experienced in an afternoon, a day, or a family holiday. See which activities the flower region has to offer, delve into the local art and culture, and treat yourself to a good meal or a drink in one of the region's popular hotspots.
Stretching for around 30km between Haarlem and Leiden, the Flower Strip (called the Bollenstreek or Bulb District) is home to the world-famous Dutch tulip fields. The ‘Bollenstreek’ grew up in the 16th and 17th centuries, partly due to the flower-buying craze known as Tulip Mania, when tulip prices reached astronomical highs and fortunes were made and lost over the sale of bulbs. However, it was not until the second half of the 19th century, when flower bulbs became more affordable and the demand for them consequently increased, that the (large-scale) flower cultivation that we see today began.
The centre of the flower industry was previously located around the city of Haarlem, but when horticultural land began to run out, farmers moved south where there was still plenty of space. Mass production of flower bulbs was boosted after the steam pumping station near Katwijk came into use in 1880. Flower bulb companies sprung up all over the region and thanks to family ownership, marriage and entrepreneurial spirit, the prosperity of flower bulb growers and traders continued to increase.
Dynasties of bulb-growing families were established, building ever-larger farms and luxurious villas as their homes. Many of these villas, with names such as Bloemlust and Hyacintha, have survived. But the most striking buildings on the Bollenstreek landscape are the bulb sheds or barns: the warehouses specially designed for drying, storing and processing flower bulbs.
Nowadays, the entire region still bursts into vivid colour every spring as bulbs shoot and millions upon millions of flowers blossom. The earliest flowers bloom in January, with the show lasting until late May when the late-blooming lilies finally depart. The best time to visit the flower region is from mid-March to mid-May. The best time to see tulips is mid-April, when the Tulip Festival takes over Amsterdam and the famous flower parade embarks on its 40km route to Haarlem.
To explore the area at your own pace, a bike is by far the best option, but there are also several good walking routes. Free maps are available at the local Visitor Centres. When exploring the Dutch tulip region, make sure to stick to the paths and follow the farm rules. Walking across the fields can crush or damage the flowers. If a tulip plant is trampled, it will not produce a bulb large enough to be sold, so it is important to stay out of the fields.
One of the biggest attractions in the region is Keukenhof Gardens, the world’s largest flower gardens and home to more varieties of tulip than you could ever imagine. Visit from late March onwards to see a jaw-dropping floral spectacle of more than 7 million bulbs in bloom over 80 colourful acres. Real flower buffs should also pay a visit to the flower auctions in Aalsmeer to get a true grasp of the industrial scale of the Flower Strip. And throughout the area, you can find gardens and estates, all dedicated to flowers and bulbs.
Flowers have been an inspiration to many great painters and artists throughout the centuries, so the region is naturally home to several museums dedicated to flowers. Located in the centre of Lisse, De Zwarte Tulp (Black Tulip) museum examines the history of the flower region, the origins and evolution of bulb culture and the science behind the development of new varieties of tulips. Floriworld, the region’s newest attraction, lets you become part of the world of plants and flowers through digital presentations, and the Flower Art Museum hosts exhibitions around the representation of flowers and plants in contemporary art.
With its many gardens, world-famous attractions, museums and cycle routes, the flower region is packed full of things to do on a perfect day trip from Amsterdam.