The Netherlands is widely known as the land of tulips: this bulb has been considered since the Middle Ages like the most precious good in the country and one of the main reasons why tourists from all over the world travel every year only to see the fields of tulips.
Every January, on the third Saturday of the month, Dam Square becomes a tulip paradise: the place is filled with over 200,000 tulips on National Tulip Day. Everybody is invited to queue and take up to 20 free tulips inside the bags they offer to the public, from 1 pm onwards.
Every year there is a new theme that inspires the display of tulips in the center of Amsterdam, Dam Square, in front of the Royal Palace, one of the most iconic places in the capital of the Netherlands. Since early in the day the tulips are placed creating passages for people to walk through them, take photos from outside and pick up tulips.
National Tulip Day
Nationale Tulpendag or National Tulip Day is the day to celebrate the beginning of the tulip season: an early beginning to the long-awaited spring that arrives only a few months later. Since tulips are the earliest flowers to bloom, the special weather and microclimate of the Netherlands is the ideal place for them to bloom every year. Dutch celebrate this piece of light and colour in the long Dutch winters commemorating this humble flower.
There are many activities taking place all over the Netherlands, but one of the most specials takes place in Dam Square, where thousands of tulips are placed for people to take for free as a gift from the land of tulips.
Brief History: Tulips in the Netherlands
Unlike most people think, tulips are not originated in the Netherlands but in Turkey: it was thanks to the Ottoman Empire that the Dutch Empire got in contact with the territories in current Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, among other parts of Asia.
However, it wasn’t until the 16th Century that tulips started their fame in Holland, where they started being studied at the first universities and traded by the wealthy merchants of the time.
It was thanks to the fortune of these merchants, including the new trading with tulips that the Netherlands started gaining fame through the world as well as establishing their characteristics as a land, and the creation of the rich neighbourhoods in the big cities.
During the 17th Century were the same merchants who would trade with the tulips those who constructed the centre of Amsterdam, including the main canals of Prinsengracht, Herengracht, Keizergracht, Singel and Singelgracht. This period was also the moment when the famous Royal Palace in Dam Square was constructed.
The background of the Royal Palace and among the canals are the decoration for this day where the main characters are the tulips: Nationale Tulpendag.
Back in the day, when the tulipmania started, tulips were a luxury item, a way of those with power and wealth to show how much they were worth. This meant that the sums of money pay for the bulbs were rocket high and it was thanks to the investment on the bulbs without having the actual flower or a real guarantee of this bulb to bloom when and the way they wanted that the stock market was born in the Netherlands.
Nowadays, the way tulips are seen is way less precious yet the flower market has grown a lot since then, making the Netherlands the number one exporter in the world. This means that very close to Amsterdam, there are two of the biggest flower auctions in the world, Aalsmeer and Eelde.
All in all, during the 16th and the 17th Century, is the period when the Netherlands started its foundation as a country, making the tulips and the trading part of their identity. This is why it is so important for them to celebrate this date and a nice way of doing it is gifting this precious flower.
If you want to know more about the trade of tulips and the flower auctions, read here.
Tulips in Dam Square
Even though the actual tulip season and the blooming of all the fields only happens a few months later, the tulipmania starts in January every year since 2012.
During the third Saturday of January, up to 200,000 tulips are displayed in Dam square in front of the Royal Dutch Palace in Amsterdam. From 8 am onwards the preparation beginnings, bringing in all the different tulips and creating a piece of art with a new theme every year.
From 1 pm until 4:30 pm this display is open for anyone to go there and pick up at to 20 tulips with one of the bags they create for the occasion, and the best part is that it is free!
Tips to Pick Up Tulips
Here are some tips from all my friends who have been picking up tulips for years now:
- Go as early as possible: even if it starts at 1 pm since it is a free event in a very public place, there are always hundreds of people waiting. There are many tulips but maybe by the time you arrive all the broken and touched ones will remain and if you want to get you 20 beautiful ones, it is worth a little bit of waiting.
- If you can’t go early, go late: maybe if you don’t have time like it has happened to me because I had to work, going late is a good option. There is always one or two tulips left and you may be able to cheer up your day for free.
- Go just for the photos: it is beautiful! If you don’t have the chance to visit the Netherlands during spring, it is great to be able to take some photos of these beauties and the display they create. At least, some early spring in the rainy and cloudy Amsterdam.
- Rain doesn’t stop us: we are in the Netherlands! If you think they may cancel it because of rain, think twice! Dutch never cancel anything because of rain because they may have to cancel everything their whole lives. On the contrary, they look for a way to enjoy every event no matter what the weather is like.
- How come Tulips in January? In case you didn’t know, the Netherlands is the biggest flower producer in the world not only during spring but all year round. Greenhouses are a thing in the Netherlands, a place where the soil is too wet and sandy to grow most things. It is why they have developed one of the best greenhouse growth systems in the world and can make the most out of their reduced space. This, of course, means tulips all year round.
Spring in the Netherlands
If you happen to visit the Netherlands during January, I have written an article with all my winter recommendations and activities you can do to make the most out of your visit (read here), however, if you can choose a time to visit this wonderful country, make it spring:
Keukenhof is the tulip garden of the whole of Europe. It is the biggest bulb park in the world and it has over 7 million bulbs planted every year. These flowers will bloom during March and April, one after the other, with a total of 800 varieties of tulips: hyacinths, daffodils, lilies, roses, carnations and irises. Read more about it here.
Fields of Tulips
If you want to see the famous tulip fields that appear in every single postcard of the Netherlands, don’t expect them to see them in the city. However, being the country as small as it is, you will be able to find them close by.
If you rent a bike, from Amsterdam or from Leiden, you can reach them for free and take awesome photos. The closest ones are close to Keukenhof Park, in Keukenhof city.
If you want to plan a visit and pick up tulips, check one of the most famous farms: Tulip Farm De Tulperij in Voorhout (read their website for more information).
During Spring, the whole Netherlands celebrates it with the Tulip Festival. In Amsterdam, we will be able to find big pots with hundreds of varieties of tulips planted all over the city.
There is a map for everyone to find the best spots and other activities organised during March and April.
In Amsterdam there is a museum of everything, how do you think there wasn’t a tulip museum too?
In any case, if you want to know more about the interesting history of the tulips but mostly the trading in the Lower Lands and how they developed their empire, visit it. For tickets and opening times, check out their website.
The Flower Market is a medium-size market in the centre of Amsterdam where you will be able to find plants, flowers and bulbs to bring home all year round. Read more about in The Best Time to Visit the Flower Market.