Visiting Holland, Michigan, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d landed in, well, Holland. With millions of tulips, a real working windmill, and wooden shoes, this town is the epitome of Dutch culture transported to the U.S. Every year the city celebrates its Dutch heritage by hosting one of the best tulip festivals in the world: Tulip Time.
This guide will tell you what you need to know to enjoy the Tulip Time tulip festival in Holland, Michigan to the fullest.
When to go
Tulip Time is usually celebrated for one week and two weekends during the first two weeks in May, but the dates vary depending on the weather and when the tulips will most likely be in bloom. In 2022 the dates are May 9th – May 15th. If you want to see how the tulips are looking, you can take a peek at the tulip tracker live camera.
Traveling to Holland during the Tulip Time festival is a must, although anytime from May to September will see warm weather and lots to do. A long weekend will be enough time to enjoy the town, but there are plenty of other activities in the region that would fill a week-long trip.
Getting to Holland
Holland is in Southwestern Michigan, just off of Lake Michigan. It’s best reached by car and is about a two and a half hour drive from both Chicago and Detroit. Flying into Grand Rapids and then renting a car is another option. In either case, you’ll want a car to travel to some of the Tulip Time sites, although most of what you’ll want to see is downtown and walkable. Parking is free in most of the town, except for a few privately managed lots.
Holland was settled by Dutch Calvinist separatists who came from Zeeland, Netherlands in 1847. For 100 years the vast majority of the population had Dutch heritage. Holland’s location between a river and Lake Macatawa made it a tourism hot-spot. In 1930, thanks to an idea by a local biology teacher, Holland planted tulips and hosted the first Tulip Time event.
Most of the festival is free, but entrance to certain areas and events requires a ticket. Some of these events include photo and walking tours, art exhibits and theater performances, the carnival rides, and other independent events happening at private venues. Starting in 2022, all ticketing is now done online. Decide what you want to see and purchase tickets in advance so you won’t be disappointed.
What to see and do during Tulip Time
Although there are tulips all over town, a good place to head first is Centennial Park. There are daily Dutch dance performances here, and I still am impressed that they can dance so easily in wooden shoes!
Windmill Island Gardens
This instagram paradise welcomes tens of thousands of visitors during Tulip Time to see row after row of colorful tulips in bloom. Once the tulips have bloomed they are replaced by thousands of annuals, so flower lovers can enjoy the gardens for most of the summer. The park is a lot more than just tulips though, it’s a full Dutch experience!
As the name suggests, the gardens are on an island. On busy days the parking lot will be full and you’ll need to walk through the lowlands along the river to get to the entrance, which just adds to the authentic feeling of being in the Netherlands.
After going through the entrance, visitors are greeted with traditional Dutch brick buildings. Explore these shops and send a postcard from the authentic Dutch mailbox. One of the buildings houses a Little Netherlands miniature display that depicts life in the Netherlands in the 1800s.
On the other side of the entrance is an entertaining pipe organ from 1928. It was given to the city of Holland in gratitude for the aid of the United States in liberating The Netherlands during World War II.
The tulips are calling though, so head across the drawbridge and twirl through the rows.
This is a great place to buy tulip bulbs for your own garden, as they sell dozens of unique varieties and have employees on hand that can give advice to wannabe cultivators.
Perhaps the most unique feature at Windmill Island Gardens is the working windmill, De Zwaan. Over six stories tall, visitors can climb the windmill for great views of the gardens. There are displays and demonstrations on the lower levels to learn about the life of millers who worked and lived in the windmill. De Zwaan grinds flour, cornmeal and grits that visitors can purchase and the top millstone alone weighs 2 tons! It is over 200 years old and the largest authentic working windmill in the U.S., although it was brought over from the Netherlands on a boat less than 100 years ago.
Depending on crowds and how many pictures you take, plan on about 2 hours to visit Windmill Island Gardens
Veldheer’s and De Klomp Wooden Shoe and Delft Factory
Getting here requires a short drive out into the country, but you won’t regret it. Veldheer’s is the greenhouse and De Klomp (what a perfect name!) makes the shoes and pottery. You can pay to walk around the gardens with canals, small windmills, and, you guessed it, tulips. If you’ve seen enough tulips, it’s worth peering into the greenhouse shop. Not only are there typical garden plants and accessories but there are all sorts of products from the Netherlands like cookies and chocolate.
Then head next door to De Klomp to watch the machines make wooden shoes. Most of the wooden shoes made worldwide nowadays are sold to tourists, but many people still swear by them as garden shoes. Plus, tall people rejoice, they have them up to size 14! In addition to shoes, you can watch the famous Delft blue and white pottery being made and painted. A piece takes nearly a week to make, and this is the only facility in North America.
Nelis’ Dutch Village
If you are traveling with kids, you may want to skip Windmill Island Gardens and Veldheer’s and drive a bit further to Nelis’ Dutch Village instead. You’ll find Dutch buildings, wooden shoe making, dancing and other activities that are aimed at kids like a petting zoo and rides for the little ones.
A typical carnival midway, this is a Tulip Time activity sure to be popular with older kids. As well, it’s one of the few venues that is open late into the evening.
Each year, artists from Western Michigan compete to design a work of art for the festival. The winner’s design graces festival merchandise and the top 20 designs are on display.
Michigan Maritime Museum
During Tulip Time the traditional tall ship Friends Good Will is docked near the Boatworks restaurant. Staff from the museum conduct tours for $5 a person.
The Holland Museum has a permanent exhibit showcasing the history of Holland. On the second floor, the impressive Dutch Galleries display art from the Netherlands from donors around the world. If you can’t squeeze in a visit to the museum during Tulip Time you can see the gallery online.
Tulip Time Parade
With old cars, traditional clothing and dancing, and of course, tulips, you’ll want to plan your visit to correspond with this event. Find the date here and choose to purchase grandstand tickets for the best seating.
Big Red Lighthouse, Holland State Park, Tunnel Park
While not holding any special events for tulip time, if you have extra time it is certainly worth the short drive to the shore of Lake Michigan to see one or all of these sights. The Big Red Lighthouse is the most photographed lighthouse in Michigan. Right across the channel from the lighthouse is Holland State Park, and a bit farther north is Tunnel Park. At both parks you can enjoy the sand dunes, playgrounds and beaches.
Where to Stay
Reserving far in advance is necessary if you want to stay in reasonably-priced lodging downtown during Tulip Time or busy summer weekends. There are cheaper options out by the highway, but then you’ll need to deal with driving into town and parking, which can be a hassle during the festival.
What and where to eat and drink
Dutch Fat Balls
During Tulip Time there is no shortage of carnival food, most of which is deep fried and not recommendable. One exception is the Dutch Fat Balls. This hot ball of dough is cut in half and filled with chocolate or a fruity filling. But honestly, who cares what it actually is, most people are just ordering it to be able to say they ate Fat Dutch Balls, er, Dutch Fat Balls.
A brunch and lunch place, Windmill Restaurant serves traditional American favorites. They are only open until 2:00pm, but this is your go-to for morning meals.
New Holland Brewing Co.
The most popular restaurant in town is one that you’ve definitely heard of if you are into craft beer–New Holland Brewing. More famed for it’s drinks than food, you’ll need to reserve in advance to get a spot to eat or drink.
If you need your coffee fix before seeing the tulips then head to Lemonjello’s. It’s a funky favorite with college students and has gluten-free and vegan options.
Head here for outdoor dining and great views of Lake Macatawa. Boatworks has New American cuisine and is a go-to for special events.
If you want to hit up multiple breweries, wineries, distilleries and even cideries while in the area, get this free passport to tell you where to go and collect a stamp for each place you visit.
Where to shop
Most of the unique shops in Holland are found along 8th street. There are many independent shops selling Dutch and tulip-themed goods like stationary and clothing. Stop by the Holland Peanut Store for a nutty paddle pop and The Poppy Peach for hand-made jewelry.
I hope this guide has helped you prepare for Tulip Time, the Holland, Michigan tulip festival. With so much to see and do, it’s the perfect weekend event for all ages!
If you like Holland, check out this post about America’s Little Switzerland in New Glarus, Wisconsin.