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Canal cruises/flower exhibits/festivals, Netherlands/Holland

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Did You Know … ?

  • Seven million flower bulbs are planted in Keukenhof Gardens.
  • Canals formed the basis in the 17rh century for an artificial port city — Amsterdam.
  • More than 20 million flowers and plants are sold daily at FloraHolland auction house.
  • The Dutch floricultural business creates 250.000 full-time jobs worldwide, directly and indirectly.
  • Amsterdam boasts some 2,500 houseboats on its canals.

Of ditches and blossoms

Holland’s centuries-old canals were dug, in part, to drain swampy turf and thus allow the Dutch to claim or protect land from the sea. They were, and remain, transportation channels and, in bygone days, outer canals also functioned as moats.

Amsterdam, Delft and Leiden were planned canal cities, but visitors find and enjoy canals in towns, large and small, throughout the country.

Canals offer recreational choices ranging from narrated sightseeing cruises or dinner cruises to canoeing or self-directed multiday boat excursions. Northern European river cruise programs include itineraries that take passengers on Dutch rivers and canals. In addition, houseboats and restaurants are docked alongside busier canals. Tourists can overnight in select houseboats, and, of course, dine in any of the floating restaurants.

Canals and flowers meet at the Amsterdam floating flower market, where all manner of blossoms — and greenery — are sold. The goods are displayed on barges anchored on the city’s Singel canal.

Holland has a huge floricultural business. FloraHolland is the world’s largest cut flower and plant auction house. The Dutch grow flower bulbs by the millions, producing, for example, crocus, daffodil and hyacinth bulbs as well as bulbs for tulips.

Tulips are celebrated in an annual event in the Noordoostpolder, but dahlias are central to the Flower Parade Lichtenvoorde later in the year. Interested tourists time visits to coincide with these festive affairs or other markets and parades. One such alternative event, the Westland Floating Parade, celebrates the country’s greenhouse farming area called Westland by parading boats decorated with vegetables as well as flowers along canals through several towns.

The more active may seek out the beauty of the blossom on foot or on a bicycle.

And every flower lover, regardless of personality type, can be lured to the one place that epitomizes Holland’s flower appeal: Keukenhof Gardens with springtime flower displays spread across nearly 80 acres.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Between late March and mid-May, follow one of the walking or cycling routes through Holland’s bulb fields to see brilliant flowers by the thousands. The best-known bulb fields are behind the North Sea dunes, between the cities of Leiden and Den Helder, but there are others.
  • Attend the Tulip Festival in the Noordoostpolder and cycle along a designated route meant to take you to the most beautiful tulip viewings in this polder. The festival runs from mid-April into early May.
  • Take a daylong cruise down the Meuse River in Maastricht. There are package opportunities that combine cruising with a walking tour, a visit to a brewery or winery, among other options.
  • In Utrecht, explore the city on your own in a canoe or pedal boat.
  • Or, rent a boat in Leiden and explore the city’s canals based on your own interests. Moor your boat at a park along the way and have a picnic.
  • Rent a cruiser, with sleeping space for you and several companions, to slide along the Dutch canals. Many routes are possible, but in one example, it would take a week to sail from Sneek well north of Amsterdam to Strand Horst east of the capital city. You could sail on into Amsterdam, too.

Things to do for Centrics

  • It’s an early morning activity, but experience FloraHolland’s flower auction in Naaldwijk.
  • Overnight on a houseboat on an Amsterdam or Utrecht canal.
  • Each spring, Holland is host to a two-day 25-mile flower parade, involving 50 floats and cars richly decorated with flowers, traveling from Noordwijk to Haarlem. Time your visit for this one.
  • If you’re a photographer, plan to shoot the Leeuwarden Flower Market, which occurs on Ascension Day and offers flowery scenes stretching right through Leeuwarden, 200 stalls total.
  • Join a guided boat excursion for a unique view of Utrecht. Combine your canal cruise with a tour in the steam beer brewery of Stadskasteel Oudaen. Or, arrange a romantic trip by Venetian gondola on Utrecht’s canals.
  • Hook up with the Westland Floating Parade, a three-day event set for the first weekend of August. Participants decorate about 60 boats with flowers and vegetables and send them on a route sailing along Naaldwijk, Vlaardingen, Wateringen, Delft, Rijswijk and the edge of The Hague. Westland is a greenhouse farming area.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Take a leisurely springtime walk through the Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, camera in hand, to see carnations, daffodils, hyacinths, irises, lilies, orchids, roses, tulips and/or other flowers. The gardens are open mid-March to mid-May.
  • Shop for flowers at Amsterdam’s floating flower market on Singel Canal. The merchandise is displayed on floating barges.
  • Put Haarlem on your itinerary. Known as Flower City, it is at the historical center of the tulip bulb-growing district, but offers a range of diversions beyond those associated with flowers.
  • Can’t visit in spring? The Flower Parade Lichtenvoorde is a dahlia parade set for the second Sunday of September. Be on the spot for the parade, and stick around for associated events, which include a fair, an open-air market and entertainment, all spread over three days.
  • Take a dinner cruise on the canals of Amsterdam, Delft or Leiden. On some cruises, you can sing along with traditional Dutch music during dinner.
  • Book a multiday cruise sailing Dutch rivers, canals and inland seas. Trips may include parts of the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal and/or the Ijssel, Nederrun, Nieuwe Maas, Schelde and Waal rivers.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Netherlands Board of Tourism at