Holland is a popular destination for UK holidaymakers and is now so easy to get to by rail. Mention Holland to most people and lots of things spring to mind …the canals, windmills, bicycles, cheese, clogs and of course, forever epitomised in song, tulips from Amsterdam.

Claire Oliver raced down the tracks on a 2 night break to smell the flowers at the famous Keukenhof Gardens……

If you are looking for a short, relaxing Spring break, then Leiden and the Keukenhof Gardens make a perfect choice for all ages.

Getting There
I began the straightforward journey early in the morning at Ashford International Station, catching the Eurostar service direct to Brussels. This service is also available from St Pancras and Ebbsfleet. Although Brussels is a large, bustling station, there were plenty of directions and officials available to guide me to my next train, a two hour journey on the main Amsterdam line changing at Denhaag for a 15 minute ride to the town of Leiden . The trains I travelled on were spacious and comfortable, with plenty of room to place my luggage overhead or at the end of the carriage. Refreshments were available on all of the trains and I certainly found this a great, stress free way to travel! Upon arrival, my hotel, aptly named The Tulip Inn, was visible from the station platform, a short walk and I was there!

Leiden and The Hotel
The Tulip Inn is situated in a perfect location, just a five minute walk to the centre of Leiden and two minutes to the train and bus station. The hotel was welcoming and well presented with a comfortable bar to sit and relax in the evenings. The restaurant was excellent, offering a three course meal from 19.50 Euros. A continental breakfast was served from 7 to 10 am every morning with complimentary hot chocolate, coffee or tea. The room itself was very pleasant and well equipped and I have to say the service throughout my stay was faultless. On this type of break you are, of course, free to do as you please and my afternoon was spent in the town centre where there were plenty of shops, restaurants and sights to see.

Bikes are very popular in Holland and Leiden was no exception. Cyclists were busy heading in all directions with hardly a car to be seen, an amazing sight. The scenery was beautiful with a windmill situated along the riverside and picturesque cobbled streets. Fairly close to the hotel was a popular Mexican restaurant and a local supermarket where you could stock up on snacks or sandwiches if you are looking to keep costs down.

Blooming Marvelous
I had a full day to explore the beautiful Keukenhof Gardens . This is one of the most popular attractions in the Netherlands and has clocked up more than 44 million visitors worldwide since it first opened. Tickets for the short bus ride and entry to the park can be purchased at the Leiden train station. The Keukenhof Gardens are celebrating their 60th anniversary this year so there’s no better time to visit this historic park. Many events are planned for this celebration including bird of prey displays, indoor flower shows, the largest lily show in the world and new for 2009: the ‘Walk of Fame’ where tulips have been named after famous people! More information can be found at www.keukenhof.nl

With thirty two hectares full of tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and many other striking flowers, there are some stunning photo opportunities. In particular the view from the Keukenhof Windmill is spectacular overlooking the whole of the park. My favourite part of the day however, was taking the boat trip through the bulb fields. This ride lasts for an hour, starts at the Windmill and offers you the chance to gaze in awe at the countless rows of tulips and take even more photos especially against the Windmill backdrop. There are over 15 kilometres of footpaths throughout the Gardens, all well sign posted and you can soon find yourself gaining inspiration for your own garden back home. Alongside the millions of flowers is an extensive art collection. There are more than 100 sculptures and artworks by well known Dutch artists on display and they really come into their own set against the natural background of the Gardens. There is also an exciting children’s playground with a maze and animal meadow, souvenir shops and restaurants, so there is something for all the family here.

The Keukenhof Gardens are completely unique and allowed me to capture that spring feeling along with some fabulous photos for my album! All in all this is a perfect way to escape for a few days and experience the best of the spring months.

FACT BOX
Claire travelled to Holland with Railbookers. Railbookers specialise in rail travel and put together all inclusive packages for short breaks and holidays all over Europe . Hand picked quality hotels are included in the packages available so your holiday is easy to book and stress free. Rail travel allows for more flexibility, shorter check-in times, is less damaging to the environment and allows you to take in some beautiful scenery along the way.

Claire stayed at the 3* Tulip Inn in nearby Leiden . Two night breaks (including breakfast) with return Eurostar and train travel from £239 per person. Entrance to the Keukenhof Gardens from £14 per person. For more information on holidays with Railbookers visit www.railbookers.com or call them on 0844 482 1010

Claire Oliver, travel writer

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