Spring has sprung and it’s tulips-from-Amsterdam time again. Millions of people visit the tulip fields annually – though with Covid, of course, it has been a while. Now the Netherlands has lifted restrictions (no test needed, just a vaccination certificate), we will all be flocking back. But this year, there is rather more to see.
Once every 10 years, the Floriade International Horticultural Exhibition throws open its gates for a vast floral festival. This decade it is in Almere, a new city in the province of Flevoland. Until recently this wasn’t a province at all – it was the expansive, shallow bay of Zuiderzee, and this is all reclaimed land. We know the Dutch are good at this sort of thing, but the world’s largest artificial island is a pretty mind-boggling concept – especially when you consider it is more than 13ft below sea level.
There are exhibitors here from all over the world, plus flower gardens, an arboretum, restaurants, food trucks, exhibitions, symphony orchestras and jazz bands. There is even a new art museum comprising three circles which seems to float on a lake, and a particularly magnificent exhibit – formed from 20 recycled sea buoys carrying Dutch elms – known as the Bobbing Forest. It is, you might say, the Chelsea Flower Show on steroids.
The site itself is vast – some 66 hectares with five separate zones. This decade’s theme is “Growing Green Cities”, so there are green innovations and solutions, from state-of-the-art solar roof tiles to vertical facade gardens, and urban agriculture to providing clean air.
The best way to explore is on foot, but you can get a rather breathtaking bird’s-eye view of it all from the (sustainably powered) cable car that floats 114ft above it all.
Not just tulips from Amsterdam, then.
Need to know
The Floriade runs from April 14 to October 9, 2022, tickets from £24/£16 adult/child (floriade.com)
All travellers aged 12 and over must show proof of being fully vaccinated and complete a health declaration form (government.nl). The unvaccinated are not permitted to enter, unless they are below the age of 18 and accompanied by a fully vaccinated parent or guardian
How to do Floriade
From the water
Viking offers a 10-day river cruise including a full day at the Floriade Expo. For the remainder of the week, the cruise sails through the inland waterways of the Low Countries, stopping in key cities to soak up Dutch, German and Flemish culture, including Rotterdam, the windmills of Kinderdijk and Europe’s diamond capital, Antwerp. Viking’s Holland & Belgium itinerary runs from April to October and prices start at £3,495 per person and include return flights, all meals and drinks, eight guided tours, talks and entertainment (vikingcruises.co.uk).
The Floriade is a short train ride from Amsterdam Centraal Station, so it’s an easy visit while on a break in one of Europe’s coolest cities. EasyJet has a two-night stay at the four-star WestCord Fashion Hotel Amsterdam (room only) on May 15 for £189 per person (easyjet.com). British Airways Holidays has two nights at the four-star boutique Hotel Notting Hill, in the heart of the city with Rembrandt Square and the Museums Quarter on the doorstep. From £249 per person, travelling between April 1 and 30 from Heathrow (britishairways.com).
By the beach
No one thinks of the Netherlands for a beach holiday but there are miles and miles of sandy coastline here. Bloemendaal is close to both Haarlem and Amsterdam (50 minutes by train to the Floriade) and you can stay right on the beach. The Sea Houses of Qurios Bloemendaal aan Zee are tucked away in beautiful sand dunes and sleep four – ideal for families (from £173). You walk straight from the porch of your chalet on to the sand, and the park has its own restaurant and pizza place, plus a children’s entertainment programme in the school holidays (qurios.com).
From a rustic idyll
For a stay in your very own bit of nature, the B&B Life Contains Beautiful Things is just a 10-minute bike ride from the Floriade, and even offers bike rental. The B&B itself offers individual lodges for two, set in a pretty vineyard, and there are even apple and pear orchards to stroll around of an evening when you have had your fill of florals. It’s a little bit of rustic luxury, complete with wood fire, and you can arrange to have a sauna or a picnic in the vineyard, a yoga class or – of course – a wine tasting (they even do weddings). Located just 20 minutes from Amsterdam by car, the lodges cost £126 per night with breakfast included (lcbt.nl).
As a group
Your whole gardening club can book a personalised group trip with ITO. Start with an off-the-peg package, which lasts for six days and includes the Floriade, the Keukenhof Gardens (one of the world’s largest flower displays), executive coach travel, five nights in a four-star hotel and visits to a cheese and clog maker, a diamond house and, in Amsterdam, entrance to the Rijksmuseum, a guided city tour and a canal cruise. This tour costs £629 per person, but should you want to make adjustments, ITO will take your preferences into account and design an à la carte itinerary to suit (itotours.co.uk).
On two wheels
For the most sustainable travel to the Floriade, catch the Eurostar direct to Amsterdam and take your bike – though bear in mind that only foldable bikes are permitted on its trains currently. Eurostar offers train and hotel packages, including Eden Hotel Amsterdam, for three nights (May 10-13), from £434 per person; or Van de Vijsel Hotel, Amsterdam, for three nights (July 4-7) from £302 per person (eurostar.com).
For chocolate and beer lovers
Great Rail Journeys has a five-day tour based in Brussels and devoting a day to Floriade, with various departures. The cosmopolitan capital provides an opportunity to savour Belgium’s world-famous beers and a side trip to Bruges incorporates a visit to an artisan chocolate maker. From £795 per person, travel is mostly by train (and coach for internal transfers). If you get in very quick, you might snaffle one of the last places remaining on an alternative tour, based in Delft, home of the famous Royal Delft porcelain factory. The five-day tour further beefs up the floral pulling power of Floriade with a visit to Keukenhof Gardens, a springtime classic, which runs until May 15. From £875 per person (greatrail.com).
With an expert
Arena Travel has a seven-day river cruise with gardening expert, Helen Yemm, a former Telegraph columnist, television presenter and author. She will be giving talks and Q&As on board, as well as accompanying guests on a full-day excursion to the Floriade. Also included in the cruise itinerary are visits to the historic cities of Hoorn, Den Helder and Harlingen, as well as Amsterdam itself. Departs June 4, from £1,045 per person, based on two people sharing (arenatravel.com).
On a city break
Your city break doesn’t have to be Amsterdam. Haarlem is a beautiful ancient city full of charm and historic buildings, squares and canals. There’s a Frans Hals museum here (he was a Haarlem man), an outdoor café culture, lots of shopping and markets – all the benefits of Amsterdam, in fact, without the crowds. For a historic hotel with a contemporary twist, stay right in the heart of town at the Hotel Lion d’Or (hotelliondor.nl, double rooms from £101 per night). From here to the Floriade by train takes less than an hour and costs £8.60 each way.
In the trees
Why not try some unusual local self-catering that continues the green theme? A tree house, for example. Here it is called a Boomhut (boomhutovernachtingen.nl, from £106 per night). You stay in a wooden cabin with a terrace, almost 10ft up in the treetops, reached by a wooden staircase. And, keeping it green, it’s just a short bike ride to the Floriade.