Visiting Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands at "tulip peak" (between late March and early May) has been on our bucket list since we first arrived in Europe. We made our recent trip just before the peak blooming period in April--and it was as beautiful as the website (and friends who had gone before) had promised.
The area where Keukenhof is located is dotted by Dutch country villages so we weren’t expecting the traffic jam that we sat in—a rookie move. We also made the mistake of trusting our GPS a little too much. It gave us a more direct route but didn’t account for the detours (in Dutch, Omleiding) due to ongoing road work. We ended up driving through the quaint Dutch villages we just mentioned—on one-lane roads that ran right along the canals. As we ducked into pull-off areas next to the roads to allow oncoming traffic to pass we were grateful for a friend’s advice against bringing our SUV.
Aside from our inability to read many of the signs (luckily signs follow the same rules for color and shape throughout most of Europe), we learned very quickly that cyclists and pedestrians generally have right-of-way on most local roads. Those tourist guides weren’t kidding—bicycles were everywhere. An ounce of patience and a pound of careful attention was required on our detour through much of the Dutch countryside. With the canals there weren't a lot of cross-streets to choose from once we got lost. So, we ended up driving through entire villages trying to get back to a major road.
Our "windshield tour" of local village life was something we would not have experienced on a tour bus. The most interesting sights included locals fishing in their canals with their long carbon-fiber poles, fields of tulips outside of Keukenhof Gardens, and spotting a garden nursery in each village.
After all of the detours added an hour onto our drive we finally made it to Keukenhof Gardens! Even though it wasn't peak bloom yet the tourists were still there in large numbers--and even larger tour buses. We ended up in the overflow parking area. It was a surprisingly short walk to the Gardens and a reasonable entry fee. We spent most of the day throughout the gardens (and it took us that long to make sure that we didn't miss anything). Since we had kids with us we were so happy to see a large kids' play area and a petting zoo next door to give them breaks. Kudos to the staff on their planning with food areas co-located there as well.
The hardest part of photographing the tulips at Keukenhof were the crowds. Sometimes they couldn't be avoided--so we just used them in the shot (as part of our memories) as you see in the photo above. We kept to one lens (50mm or the "Nifty Fifty") for our entire time shooting which kept equipment light and at the ready for a quick shot. The weather varied from cloudy to partly sunny throughout the day making for an interesting portfolio of landscape and portrait (our family photos) pictures for our collection
If you're already out this way or planning to be in the area soon, the gardens will be open through May 16 this year. This is a perfect place to practice and challenge yourself whether taking landscape shots or taking portraits in crowded areas. Get all of the information here