The Tale Behind Tulip Time
Updated: Mar 20
If you have a green thumb or are simply a garden lover, tulip time in the Netherlands is likely to be atop your travel bucket list. There’s no better way to experience this colorful, glorious time of year than aboard a river cruise.
What’s the Deal with Tulip Time?
Everyone loves a jewel-toned tulip, it seems. The fascination dates back to the 1600s when Carolus Clusius, a Flemish botanist, introduced the tulip to the Dutch. The flower is indigenous to the countries of the former Ottoman Empire and until Clusius’ time, had not been seen in Western Europe. Upon its - ahem - blooming, the bulb was quickly considered en vogue, selling for an extravagant sum of money.
This so-called Tulip Mania took place during the Golden Age of the Dutch, around 1637. Recognizing that citizens were craving a symbol of brightness and good cheer as the Thirty Years War raged on, Amsterdam merchants were able to charge enough to make profits of up to 400 percent. The status symbol flower showed off one’s good fortune through grand garden displays. Some of the names that remain today for different varieties - General such and such, or Admiral so and so - date back to these exalted individuals who gave their fancy prefixes over to the tulip.
All Good Things …
You know the rest. The bubble burst on Tulip Mania as bankruptcy and misfortune swept through the county. The bulbs became nearly worthless, after experiencing their heyday. In fact, the term “Tulip Mania” is bandied about today as describing an economic bubble that may not last.
And Yet …
We still love a tulip. The Netherlands have long continued to celebrate the flower as part of its culture and they still lead the worldwide tulip industry. More than 4 billion bulbs are produced there each year - some of which you’ll see blooming at Amsterdam’s Tulip Museum, Keukenhof Gardens or even private homes and gardens on exclusive river-cruise shore excursions.
Should I Visit Keukenhof?
Yes. If you love tulips, that’s a definite yes. For a few short weeks from mid-March to mid-May, you can see more than 7 million planted bulbs on 80 acres of land. You won’t be alone - more than a million visitors descend on Keukenhof during this time. You can walk and bike myriad pathways, or take a boat ride through the winding waterways. There is artwork and sculpture on display, and typically mosaics crafted from flowers represent a certain theme, such as Van Gogh and the Golden Age.
How Do I Go?
My favorite way to experience tulip time in the Netherlands is with AmaWaterways River Cruise Line. Their springtime voyages sail roundtrip from Amsterdam, taking in Keukenhof Gardens (“The Garden of Europe”) and Floralia, an annual spring flower show. Thoughtful shore events include a tour of a family-run tulip farm, a bike ride by the Kinderdijk windmills and a trip back in time to the harbor town of Hoorn, with its 16th-century Hoofdtoren tower. Your cruise showcases, too, the area’s colorful canals and the medieval architectural treasures of Bruges, Middelburg and Ghent. You’ll tiptoe through the tulips and indulge in Belgian chocolate, warm waffles and creamy cheeses - a delightful Dutch vacation, indeed.
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