How not to watch the flower parade in Amsterdam

Sometimes things simply do not work out the way you think they will or want them to. You can plan, read reviews on the internet. You can plan some more. But despite your best efforts, things can still go wrong. Like what happened to me when I wanted to watch the flower parade in Amsterdam this year.

The flower parade is a colourful, festive event that takes place between 19 and 23 April every year. It departs in Noordwijk early in the morning and ends in Haarlem after a 40 km journey. Along the way, the parade passes through several small towns and it also passes Keukenhof Gardens.

I only heard about the parade one day before it took place, so I didn’t have a lot of time to plan. As I haven’t been to Keukenhof yet, it seemed the obvious choice. Go to the gardens and watch the parade, two activities for the price of one. It was the cheapest and the best choice, or so I thought…

I purchased the entrance and transport tickets for Keukenhof online and I was set for a great day ahead of me. But things didn’t quite go as planned. Here are the mistakes I made. Read them. Learn from them. Don’t repeat them. Do it right!

Don’t take your sweet time

The next morning, I slept in, eventually dragged myself out of bed, drank my tea and had some breakfast before leaving my apartment after 10h00. I took a bus to the Amsterdam Arena, and from there a bus to Schiphol Airport.

As the bus pulled into the airport, I was stunned by what I saw: the longest queue I had ever seen! (Maybe the queue at the Vatican during summer was slightly longer….but only just). And this was the line to get onto the bus that takes you to the gardens, not even the queue for the gardens itself.

So I didn’t have much of a choice except the get into that queue as soon as possible!

Don’t watch the parade at Keukenhof Gardens

So after standing in line for more than 30 minutes, braving icy winds and rain (luckily I packed my umbrella), getting so close to the bus that I could almost see it, the worst possible thing happens. The workers announced that the park was full and that the buses would no longer be taking visitors to the park.

Then you start to think: ‘If I had only gotten up earlier…’ If only this and if only that.

The entrance tickets for Keukenhof Gardens are not for a specific day. You can visit the park anytime between March and May. So at least that wasn’t money wasted. As an expat living in Amsterdam, I can come back anytime, but I felt bad for the tourists who could only visit the gardens on that specific day.

Don’t take the bus

I had to come up with a new plan to see the flower parade. Luckily it’s easy to track the route and progress of the flower parade on Google Maps.

I chose to watch the flower parade in Sassenheim, a small town south-west of the airport. You can easily reach it via bus or train. I had an hour and a half to get there. Plenty of time, right? Wrong!

I just missed the train to Sassenheim so I went to the bus stop. I waited 10 minutes for the bus to come, and then another 20 minutes to board. When I finally got to the driver, he said the bus route changed due to the parade and the bus wasn’t going to Sassenheim anymore. (Duh, why didn’t I think of that!).

So back to the train, I went after wasting 50 minutes or so. I finally got on the train and arrived in Sassenheim, but, alas, too late.  I only caught the tail end of the parade. Well, there’s next year I guess.

Instead, do this

So this is what I’ve learned from this whole experience. Don’t watch the flower parade from Keukenhof Gardens or don’t go to the gardens on the day of the flower parade (way too many people). Opt to watch the parade from one of the beautiful small towns instead. Sassenheim is very charming or Hillegom also comes highly recommended. Get there well in advance and claim your spot on the sidewalk for the best views. And use trains to reach the towns, not the buses!

Next year I hope to watch the whole procession. Have you had any travel mishaps? Tell me about them below!

2 Comments

  • Jelte

    Yes, I heard keukenhof is extremely busy now in the weekend. I’m sure next time you will get it right! We will go with Dessy her parents on a week day. That must be better. But there is no parade then unfortunately.

    May 1, 2017 at 1:42 pm
    • sonja
      Sonja Faul

      At least I saw a couple of floats, but next year I’ll see the whole parade!

      May 1, 2017 at 1:53 pm
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