In bold red, stunning yellow and smoldering tangerine-pink, tulips boast a range of colors—as well as that seductively curved shape. And because each flower has both male and female reproductive organs, botanists consider them “perfect” flowers. That means that while bees can work as pollinators and help create new genetic combinations as they buzz through, an individual tulip can also self-pollinate and create identical offspring. Basically, tulips can clone themselves: pretty neat.
But if we’re drawn to the flower’s beauty and science, our zeal barely compares to that of Dutch citizens of the 17th century. Tulpenwoede—a Dutch madness for trading tulips that reached its peak in the 1630s—is a phenomenon that’s fascinated both financial analysts and historians for years. The tulip was considered so beautiful and so unlike other plants that folks in Amsterdam began to spend unreasonable amounts of money (sometimes as much as a merchant’s annual salary) just to own some bulbs. Some even became professional tulip traders, and speculators entered the market to churn things up. By the winter of 1636-37, a bulb might be traded ten times in a single day.
According to Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused, one particular strain of the flower helped foment the feverish trading, in part due to its special hue. As author Mike Dash writes, “Beginning as a solid blue where the stem met the flower’s base, the corolla quickly turned pure white. Slim, blood-colored flares shot up the center of all six petals, and flakes and flashes of the same rich shade adorned the flower’s edges.” Those fortunate enough to see one of these tulips, called Semper Augustus, “thought it a living wonder, as seductive as Aphrodite,” Dash writes.
Quite the flower—and quite the frenzy. There’s even, says the Internet, a tulipomania board game. But whether you believe that the 17th century Dutch went wild over tulip trading because of irrationality or because, as one analyst suggests, “an outbreak of bubonic plague in Amsterdam made people less risk-averse,” the Netherlands is still a top place for tulips.
And even if the country isn’t on your travel list this year, you’re in luck. Read on for six other spots around the world where you can indulge in a little tulip mania yourself.
Lisse, The Netherlands
The famous tulip celebration in the Netherlands centers on Keukenhof (which means “kitchen garden”), a place with fields upon fields of the flower. In this same spot in the early 15th century, Countess Jacqueline of Bavaria—or Jacoba van Beieren, in Dutch—picked fruits and vegetables for the royal kitchen. The countess died in 1436 after a rather storied life, but the woods where she used to gather edibles are now home to more than 7 million tulips. You can visit the park and its incredible quantity of tulips between March 24 and May 16. (And click here for a 360-degree video of the flowers from a team of panorama enthusiasts.)
That’s not a typo: There’s a Holland, Michigan, in the good ol’ U.S. of A. and it’s got tulips and windmills and everything. Its festival, called Tulip Time, is a bit shorter—from May 7 through 14 —but boasts almost 4.5 million tulips. That’s pretty impressive for the Holland that isn’t anywhere near the Netherlands. There’s also a host of activities in addition to the flowers themselves, including traditional Dutch dance performances, parades and a carnival. Visitors have come to see the flowers since the city planted its first crop of 100,000 bulbs back in 1929.
For a celebration that isn’t Dutch, visit Istanbul in April. (You can still catch some in early May). Turkey, it’s said, is actually one of the places where tulips originated, so you can witness them in what may be their native land. Each spring, the city’s month-long tulip festival has plenty of spectacular flower displays. As with other tulip festivals, the flowers here bloom in large park areas, but the city has also gone to great lengths to plant tulips all over the place. Walk around Istanbul to see the flower along streets and in traffic roundabouts, too—as one travel guide puts it, anywhere a piece of ground is available.
Asia’s largest tulip garden is in Srinagar in the Kashmir Valley, which boasts 1.5 million bulbs. Formerly known as Siraj Bagh, the Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden has gotten rave reviews since it opened to the public in 2008. By visiting the flowers, you’ll also get to experience a different facet of Kashmir than what you normally read in the news. As one travel writer describes in lush detail, the long-contested region is filled with gorgeously fine embroidery and incredible silversmithing—something we might forget if we concentrate only on violent conflicts over the land.
North Yorkshire and East Sussex, United Kingdom
For a more intimate, English garden version of the tulip fest, head to the U.K. and make two stops: the Wakefield & North of England Tulip Society in North Yorkshire and the Pashley Manor Gardens in East Sussex. The former, which began in 1836 and is one of the oldest florists’ societies, holds various tulip-related events throughout spring. The latter, originally created to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the tulip’s arrival in Europe, begins in late April and features 25,000 blooms.
Skagit Valley, Washington
Like the Pacific Northwest? There’s a festival there, too. The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in Washington state is about to mark its 31st year in bloom. With more than a million bulbs, as well as wine events, a salmon barbeque and other highlights, Skagit Valley puts the West Coast on the tulip map. The event spans a number of areas within the valley, including the cities of Mount Vernon and La Conner. Adorably, the official website reminds visitors that although the festival runs through all of April, bloom dates themselves are “according to Mother Nature.” This year's bloom has concluded, so start planning for next spring.
Albany, New York
The East Coast has tulip power, too. The Albany Tulip Festival in upstate New York just concluded, but mark your calendar for next year. The festival will take place on Mother's Day Weekend, May 13-14, 2017. Each year the festival includes the crowning of the Albany Tulip Queen (who will then spend the rest of the year dedicated to literacy efforts and other volunteer projects). Stop by to meet some local do-gooder royalty among the 100,000 bulbs.