The Bulb Region (Dutch: Bollenstreek) is the region between Leiden and Haarlem in the Netherlands. It is famous for its iconic flower fields that attract many foreign visitors in Spring. The flower gardens of the Keukenhof in Lisse are one of the most visited tourist attractions in the Netherlands. Apart from the flower fields, the main reasons for visiting it are the beaches and dunes, and the Kagerplassen lakes. The city of Leiden, on the southern edge of the area, is a beautiful town with the oldest university in the Netherlands and some very good museums, and still mostly ignored by tourists.
Bollenstreek in Dutch literally means the area where flower bulbs are grown. It is a narrow strip of sandy soil on the inland side of the coastal dunes, known as the Old Dunes, because they used to be the coastal dunes of the Netherlands before the Middle Ages. The sandy soil has the perfect texture and fertility for flower bulbs like tulips, daffodils, crocuses and hyacinths, which are grown there in large quantities, especially since the end of 19th century. Currently, other areas in the Netherlands with sandy soils are also used for bulb cultivation, especially in North Holland, but the iconic brightly coloured rectangular flower fields are still best admired in the Bulb Region itself.
Be aware that the flowering season is relatively short, and especially the tulips will be at their best from the end of March until early May. If you come later in the year, the area is not as attractive to visit.
For the purpose of this travel guide, the Bulb Region is defined as a somewhat wider zone than the Old Dune area, and includes the coastal dune area to the west and a small part of the polders to the east.
The N208 is the major access road into the area from Haarlem, but it is a fairly slow connection because it passes through most of the towns and villages. From Leiden, take the N206 via Katwijk and Noordwijk. Alternatively, you can take the A44 motorway and then follow the exit to Lisse (N207). From Amsterdam, take the A4 to the same exit.
Bus 50 connects Leiden to Haarlem and stops in all towns and villages on the N208. It is a slow connection, but there are no good alternatives that connect the whole region.
In season, direct buses run to the Keukenhof from Schiphol airport (bus 858, also known as "Keukenhof Express", approx. 35 min). From Leiden, you can takes buses 850 or 854 (approx. 30 min).
The area is easily accessed by bike from both Leiden and Haarlem. The distance between both cities is 30 kms (approx. 2 hrs).
One national long-distance trail (Lange Afstands Wandelpad or LAW) is crossing the Bulb Region.
In the flowering season, the roads in the area may be pretty crowded. Apart from all the tourists, the area is quite densely populated and the bulb trade also involves a lot of traffic. As indicated, the N208 road is the major thoroughfare, but the N206, located closer to the coast, may often be the quicker solution.
Even when the locals don't mind you stopping over to have a look at the flower fields and taking a few pictures, be careful when driving and park your car on a safe spot on the roadside.
On the beach and in the town centres, parking is mostly paid.
By public transport
The bus and train connections within the region are not very convenient if you want to see a bit more. Therefore, plan your journey ahead if you plan to go into the area by public transport using the websites of NS or 9292.
By far the most convenient option is to explore the area by bike. It is small enough to cover most of it in a day, and you can stop wherever you want to take pictures.
Bike rental shops can be found in almost all towns (see the entries on the referral pages for options). Unfortunately, renting a bike at train stations has become impossible for people who don't hold a Dutch bank account.
The network of Fietsknooppunten (biking nodes) will allow you to cycle through the whole country following well-signposted routes, usually through attractive countryside. At each node, you will find maps to guide you to your next destination, but you can also plan ahead on the website of Fietseropuit (Dutch only).
The region has its own network of walking trails based on the system of 'walking nodes', just like for the cycling routes. A routeplanner can be accessed on Wandelrouteplanner Zuid-Holland.
Flowers, flowers, flowers!
The flower fields (Dutch: bollenvelden, bulb fields) are only in bloom from the end of March until the end of May, with the major flowering period in the second and third week of April. Being such a short-lived seasonal attraction, be prepared to share the sight with a large number of other visitors - if you want to see flowering bulbs in a less touristy setting, head for North Holland instead, for example around the town of Heemskerk.
The main thing to do is really to stop when you see nicely coloured fields and take pictures. In many places, the locals will also sell flower garlands that you can wear or put on your car grille as a (short-lived) decoration.
Be aware that it is fine to take a few pictures at the edge of the fields, but don't walk into the fields for better photo opportunities. The fields are all privately owned and the bulbs are a precious source of income, so don't disturb or pick the flowers.
The world-famous Keukenhof flower gardens in Lisse are definitely worth a visit with their beautifully laid out large gardens and greenhouses with thousands of different types of flowering bulbs. The attraction is however extremely popular with both Dutch and foreign visitors, so try to avoid going there in the peak weekends.
Leiden has a number of good museums. Definitely worth a visit are:
The Bulb Region is well suited for cycling, with many sign-posted routes through the coastal dunes on dedicated cycling lanes. When exploring the flower fields, be aware that you will often cycle on byroads that are also used by cars and trucks.
The area is eminently suited for walking as well, with signposted trails throughout the region (see Get around section). The most popular areas for walking are the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen and the dunes near Noordwijk.
The Noordwijk and Katwijk beaches are very popular on hot Summer days, so make sure to leave early in order to be ahead of the bustle. While the beaches are large and family-friendly, parking spaces are limited and there are few access roads, so traffic jams are common on warm days. Less crowded is the beach at Langevelder Slag.
Access to all beaches is free, but if you want to sit on a beach chair, prices are steep (about €10). Parking can be expensive as well. Most beaches have a wide range of beach pavilions, where you can sit down for a drink or a bite and enjoy the scene. In Summer, some of them transform into a beach club after sunset, where you can dance until late.
Swimming in the North Sea is usually a bit too chilly to be comfortable (sea water temperatures in August are on average 18° C), but on very hot days many people will take to the water to cool down. The water is perfectly clean, but not very clear because of all the sediment coming from the mouths of the Rhine and Meuse river. The Dutch North Sea has dangerous off-shore currents, so depending on the weather, swimming may not always be safe. Warning flags will be put up when this is the case, but every year lifeguards have to pick up hundreds of people who have strayed too far into the sea.
Noordwijk has two nudist beaches, at some distance of main resort. These are indicated by special signs.
Out of season, the beaches are popular for walking; on sunny Winter days many people will take their family and dogs for a walk, and finish the day with a hot chocolate or a bowl of pea soup. Of course, other activities can be done on the beach as well, like kite-surfing, beach volleyball, wind-surfing, kiting or horse-riding.
Music and theatre
Hutspot is a national dish of the Netherlands, and since it is so closely connected to the liberation of Leiden, you might as well give it a try when you are there. It is, in all honesty, not the most delicate of dishes, being based on a mash of boiled potatoes, carrots and onions, accompanied by either a piece of klapstuk (brisket), or a rookworst (smoked sausage). Given that it is such an iconic dish, however, it is surprisingly difficult to find on restaurant menus - fortunately, you can easily make it yourself.
Being a major university town, Leiden has a large number of good and usually very affordable restaurants. Noordwijk and Katwijk also have a good number of eating places, but the seaside is not very lively outside the holiday season. The other towns and villages are too small for a large choice, but in some places you can find decent restaurants as well.
Microbreweries are of course to be found in the Bulb Region as well.
Leiden has plenty of options for going out and having a beer. In the season, Noordwijk is one of the livelier places to go on the Dutch seaside.
There are no particular safety issues for travelling in this region. However, take normal precautions to protect your personal belongings in busy areas like railway stations, shopping streets and on the beach.
When swimming in the North Sea take care not to go too far into the sea. The Dutch North Sea is known for its strong off-shore currents that can be too much for swimmers once they have strayed too far from the beach - every year hundreds of swimmers have to be picked up from the water by rescue brigades, and some of them don't survive the experience. When the sea is unsafe, special warning flags will be put up - don't go swimming then.
From the Bulb Region, it is only a short distance to