How does the saying go? Roses are red, violets are blue– well tulips come in every color and hue. Tulip Time, in Holland, Michigan, is an annual festival that runs for ten days at the beginning of May. The festival is not only a celebration of the tulip and Holland’s Dutch culture, but also a celebration of spring and of children. Visiting Tulip Time with kids is a no-brainer as there are lots of fun things to do and activities for all ages. This guide to Tulip time for Families is based on a fabulous weekend we spent in Holland, Michigan in May 2019.
Holland is located in Michigan, in the United States (not Holland, Europe). Holland is about 150 miles around Lake Michigan from Chicago, about a 2.5-hour drive. Coming from Detroit, it’s 181 miles which is about a 2-hour 45-minute drive due west.
We arrived from the southern suburbs of Chicago, and although it took us a bit longer than 2.5 hours, due to potty stops and construction, it wasn’t a bad drive at all.
The city of Holland, Michigan has a profound Dutch heritage and culture. The Netherlands is well known for their tulips fields, and the celebration of the tulip has made its way to Holland, Michigan. The City of Holland planted a crop of 100,000 tulips in 1929, which was the beginning of Tulip Time; 2019 celebrates the 90th anniversary of the festival. Now, every spring, millions (yes millions) of tulips begin to bloom, and it’s a sight to behold. My son LOVED sniffing and (gently) touching the flowers and running through the tulip fields at Windmill Gardens. You might think flower festival, and think of your grandmother, and although there are tons of activities for adults, Tulip Time is perfect for families.
What to do at Tulip Time for Families
In this article I’m reviewing activities that I think families would enjoy; but for adults, there is also nightly live entertainment, culinary events, walking tours, tons of markets, and as many flowers as you can handle.
We visited for three days, during the first weekend of the carnival. I brought my son who is 3 and a friend brought her almost 5 year old son.
Below is a list of activities that are appropriate for Tulip Time with kids. We attended the first set of activities; however, we were unable to attend the second set of events. I’ve included them though because I felt that those events were also appropriate for families. Some activities I enjoyed more than others, but depending on your child’s age and tastes there really is something for everyone.
First up are the carnivals. The Kinder Carnival and the Carnival were directly across the street from each other, and as you can imagine the Kinder Carnival had smaller rides. We went to the carnival the first night (Friday night), which was nice as there weren’t many people. We explored it again on Saturday, midday, and the boys had a blast navigating the mirror house, going on rides, and eating cotton candy. The carnival also had food and games (which we never got to), but they looked like regular carnival games. I think the carnival is an important part of Tulip Time for families because this activity is 100% for kids.
The carnival ran every day of the festival with the Kinder Carnival only running the first weekend. It was a solid carnival with a little bit of something for everyone.
On Friday night we watched the Adult and Kinder dancing, and I thought they were charming. The costumes were elaborate and the dances seemed authentic and well-choreographed. Both boys enjoyed watching and imitating the dancers. Each dance was only 15 minutes, which was good for little kids’ attention spans.
The Dutch dances ran every day of the festival, multiple times per day.
Klompen Garden is made up of 45 intricately designed large shoes scattered throughout downtown Holland. My son wanted to climb into the shoes but settled on just admiring them from afar. An activity idea is that you could make finding these shoes into a little scavenger hunt for the kids. Klompen Garden ran from a day or two before the festival opened through the end of the festival.
Kinderplaats is the highlight of Tulip Time for families. We spent midday at Kinderplaats, and this was probably my son’s favorite event. Kindperplaats was an exploration into Dutch culture through learning about the twelve provinces of the Netherlands. Each child received a ‘Province Pass’ booklet, and as you passed from province to province, (booth to booth) you received a flag sticker for your booklet. Each booth had an activity for which that province is known. Our two favorite booths were the one with live turtles and the one where the kids got to make a ‘grabber’ with a power drill!
In the same area as Kinderplaats, they also had touch-a-truck, where they had an ambulance, fire truck, and a police car. There was also a police van giving out free ice-cream, which was a hit. It’s the little details like this that make Tulip Time great for families.
New to Kinderplaats in 2019 was the Innovation Lab showcasing the First Robotics team’s creations. If you are into robots or if you want to expose your kids to STEAM activities this is a great event!
Kinderplaats was available the first weekend of the festival.
Windmill Island Gardens was one of my favorite attractions and another highlight of Tulip Time for families. It’s an island with a windmill and thousands of tulips in bloom. Be sure to park at the Gardens themselves because the walk down from the main road is long and steep and if you have kids in tow would not be enjoyable.
Because we visited at the beginning of May many of the tulips were not in bloom, but thousands more were. There are seriously so many tulips that no matter what time (in May) you go you will most likely see an abundance of tulips.
When you enter Windmill Island Gardens, it’s like you’ve entered a little Dutch town. There is a shop, a small post box, and other Dutch storefront facades that make you feel as though you’ve been transported to the Netherlands.
Tulips & Windmills Galore
Cross over one of the two bridges, and you’ll find the tulip fields and a giant windmill that was brought over from the Netherlands in 1964. You can tour the windmill (we did not as the line was too long), but I think the boys would have enjoyed the tour. The main thing to do on the island is to admire the windmill and explore the tulip fields (and if you are 3 or 5 years old, to run through them).
Other Stuff for Kids
After we took a thousand pictures, we headed back to the entrance area (near the little ‘town’) as I was trying to get my son to nap. He did fall asleep and while he slept my friend’s son took advantage of the other kid-friendly activities. They have a carousel, a playground, and a little chicken coop. They also had a food truck, with fair-type food, and a gift shop.
The Gardens is less than a 10-minute drive from downtown Holland; however, there was a lot of traffic near the Gardens. The City of Holland runs the Gardens, and the Gardens are open daily.
The Tulip Princess Tea Party was held on the first Sunday of the festival and had two different sittings. Olivia Grace & Company run the Tea Party, and it’s literally a tea party with Disney Princesses. We attended the 11 am sitting, and it ran for an hour and a half. It was a little over my son’s head (he’s three), but before the princesses even came out, the five-year-old whispered to his mom that “this is the best day ever.”
It started with a buffet with lunch and snacks. You could tell that a lot of thought had gone into the food as they had mac n’ cheese, PB&J, cheese & crackers, and ham and cheese sandwiches. They also had those wafer things with cream in the middle, dipped in icing with sprinkles-I had a few of those. They also served fruit, brownies, and pink lemonade.
After lunch, all of the princesses came out and danced. Princess Lida is the Tulip Princess and led the group. But besides Lida, they had Belle, Ariel, Tiana, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Elena, and Elsa. Each princess went around to each table to talk to the kids, sign their ‘Magic of Tulip Time’ book, and take pictures. The meet-and-greet took up the majority of the time. I thought it was a nice touch that each princess got down at eye level with every child in the room, and spoke with them. It made the kids feel important, and each child got to meet every single princess. Afterward, there was a parade around the room, with all of the kids and princesses, and then the princesses did a goodbye dance.
‘Friends Good Will’ is the name of the tall ship, and it’s a replica of a ship from the early 1800s. As the name suggests, the boat is docked and stationary. The tour lasted about 15 minutes, and they had three people on board talking about the history and interworkings of the ship. The tour was not guided, but I liked that we were able to explore the ship at our leisure. My son loved playing with the ropes on deck and down below he liked looking at the artifacts. This tour ran every day, all day, during Tulip Time. They boarded 30 people at a time and you simply stood in line and waited for your turn.
If you are into on-water excursions, the Michigan Maritime Museum runs this boat for tours out of South Haven, Michigan.
This was the last thing that we checked out, on Sunday afternoon. The market was like a big, giant, street-fair. This market may have had more vendors than I’ve ever seen at one fair, and to be honest, it was a little overwhelming. If I could do it over again, I would have worn my son instead of having him in a stroller. But I would recommend it for three reasons.
One, I love a good street fair, and I like to support local artisans. Two, to check out Centennial Park, if you hadn’t already; it’s got a pretty Gazebo, lots of tulips, and a number of the painted Dutch shoes (Klompen Gardens). Lastly, there were hundreds of kids running around having a good time. I was on my own at that point, but if I had had a second set of hands, I would have let my son run around with the other kids. The Artisan Market was held in Centennial Park and had 250 vendors. It ran during the first weekend of the festival.
Other Things to do at Tulip Time for Families
We did not make it to the following events for a variety of reasons, but I would have gone to these if I could have. Some we tried to get to but couldn’t fit in, and some were towards the end of the festival, and we simply weren’t there.
They’ve taken America’s favorite past-time and combined it with some good ol’ mid-twentieth century. I love baseball and we would have gone to this but could not fit it in. In 2019 this was held on the first Saturday of the festival.
This event ran from Tuesday-Saturday and was an exploration into Dutch Culture and arts. From 10am-5pm they offered an array of shows, including shoe carving, Dutch and Kinder dancing, town crier lessons, Dutch folk tunes, Dutch speakers, and a visit with Tulip master gardeners. If you want an authentic taste of Dutch heritage, then this is the event for you.
This cruise departed from the docs at the Boatwerks Waterfront Restaurant, right next to the Tall Ship Dockside Tour. This tour looked fun, but I wasn’t sure if my three-year-old could handle the 45-minute ride. He’s been on boat rides before, where you could get up and walk around the ship, but this boat was small, and you couldn’t get up and roam. This tour would probably be more suitable for older children. This cruise ran every day for the duration of the festival.
On the first Saturday of the festival, along with the 5k, 10k, and 15k, Tulip Time offered a kids’ fun run. The kids’ run was a closed course, available to kids 8 and under, and was divided into two heats. The first heat, for ages 6-8 was .5 miles and the second heat, for 5 and under was .2 miles.
The year we attended there were three parades, one on Wednesday, Thursday, and the last Saturday of the festival. Had we been there we would’ve gone to all three parades. The Voksparade (held on Wednesday) was dubbed the “People’s Parade” and featured marching bands, floats, and other entertainment. The Kinderparade (held on Thursday), also known as the “Children’s Parade,” featured school children clad in Dutch costumes and clogs, and represented the twelve provinces of the Netherlands. Last, but certainly not least, Muziekparade was the grand finale to Tulip Time (held on the last Saturday of the festival). It’s the longest of the three parades, and as the name suggests, it’s chock-full of music and spirit.
You have three options for watching the parades. Bring a blanket, and you can sit curbside and watch the parades; this option is free and the most economical. Second, you can purchase grandstand seats; these are stadium-style seats and will give you a good viewing perspective as the parades pass by. Lastly, you can buy parade patio seating. The patio seating is located at the Civic Center Marketside and provides an indoor/outdoor viewing experience. You’ll have access to seating, a cash bar, a cash-buffet, and concessions. The three seating options are available for all three parades.
The Finale Fireworks (as the name suggests) is held at dusk on the last Saturday of the festival. It’s like a little street festival as they have music and food leading up to the start of the fireworks.
This market was held on Mother’s Day and offered 50 merchants selling items such as jewelry, home décor, and clothing. Live music and a food truck lane make this event a lovely day out for mom.
While this isn’t exactly most exciting event for kids, perhaps they could pick mom up something nice while they’re there.
Places to Stay
There are three general areas to stay in Holland. The first is downtown, where you’ll pay a bit more, and the second and third are along Route 31, to the north and south of Holland.
We stayed at the Hampton Inn, along Route 31 and it was about a 10-minute drive into downtown Holland. I’d recommend the Hampton Inn; we’ve stayed at one of these before, and I liked that hotel as well. The breakfast was good and had a lot of hot and cold options. They have a spacious indoor pool area, a restaurant, and a bar. Also, all of the rooms have a fridge and a microwave so you can make lunches and perhaps dinner in the room.
Lastly, I’d recommend checking out an Airbnb or HomeAway rental as that may be cheaper than a hotel. Hotels can be pricey during Tulip Time so I’d recommend booking early, staying along Route 31, or checking out a home rental, in order to save some dough.
Where to Eat in Holland Michigan?
There are no shortage of good restaurants in Holland Michigan. I am into breweries and the dining highlight of our trip was New Holland Brewing. We ate at the pub on 8th and the food and beer were delicious! I had the veggie burger and my friend and I both got flights of beer. My two favorite samples were Yay Sports! and Dragon’s Milk White.
Other Things to Note
- The Holland Civic Center is ground zero for Tulip Time. If you don’t stay downtown (which we did not), find parking anywhere downtown and walk between all of the downtown attractions. Downtown Holland is not that big, so grab your stroller, wagon, or whatever and hit the pavement!
- There are family restrooms, changing tables and nursing stations at the Holland Civic Center. There were also numerous port-a-potties around the Civic Center and the carnivals.
At 2.5 hours from Chicago, the Tulip Time Festival makes for a perfect weekend getaway. And with the variety and breadth of activities on offer, Tulip Time is perfect for families and would be enjoyable for any age.
Have you been to Tulip Time? What was your favorite part and what worked and didn’t work for your family?
Disclaimer: Our stay at the Hampton Inn was comped during our trip to Holland. We received some comped tickets to the carnival, the Tulip Princess Tea Party, Windmill Island Gardens, and the Tall Ship Dockside Tour. However, as always, all opinions expressed on the blog are my own, and I would never endorse or recommend anything that I wouldn’t do myself.
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