Seven Reasons you MUST Visit Holland, Michigan during Tulip Time
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Holland, Michigan, is a town for all seasons. Nestled on the shore of Lake Michigan (across the lake and a bit North from Chicago), Holland is a beautiful and very cultured town and worth a visit. Before you plan your trip, though, let me tell you seven reasons that you absolutely MUST visit during Tulip Time! But first, a little bit of general info about the town that I call home.
Summer in Holland is all about the lake. Visitors come from all around the country to enjoy the beautiful fresh-water beaches of Lake Michigan. You can fly a kite, catch a tan, or enjoy watching the local boating community make their way up and down the channel between Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa, where most of the local residents dock their boats.
Fall is also gorgeous in Holland with some of the best views of the changing colors in this part of the State.
In winter, the town is alive with theater events, fine dining, and exciting college sports. Holland is the home of the Fighting Dutchmen of HOPE COLLEGE, and there is always something happening on the campus located right within the downtown area. The sidewalks on the main street through downtown Holland are heated for snow removal, so there is no excuse not to enjoy a walk down the quaint main street.
Spring is alive with Dutch Culture:
Parades, Smiles, & Tulips
If you want to get the very most of your visit to Holland, though, you simply MUST visit in the Spring during the World Famous Tulip Time Festival! Recognized as one of the top 20 events in the world by the International Festival and Events Association, Tulip Time has over 5 million tulips on display each year during the first full week of May. The town comes alive with the bright colors of the flowers and the joy of the local Dutch community in celebrating its culture and heritage. The tulips line the roads around town and are the centerpiece of the many activities that happen during the week.
You can see all kinds of information about the tulips and activities during Tulip Time HERE.
If you ain't Dutch, You Ain't Much!
If you listen carefully to the locals you may just hear that phrase! And now let’s get down to that list I promised. Insert drumroll here. Seven Reasons you MUST Visit Holland, Michigan during Tulip Time.
1. We Have the best parades
Everyone loves a good parade! And here at Tulip Time, you have plenty of opportunities to enjoy several! There are three parades that happen during the week of the Festival. The first parade falls on Wednesday, and is officially called the “Volksparade,” but the locals refer to this parade as the Street Sweepers Parade. Why? Because the parade begins with a crowd of locals donning their best Dutch Costumes and lug their buckets and brooms while splashing water onto the street and sweeping the way. Naturally once the streets are scrubbed up, the parade follows with marching bands, fabulous floats, and local groups all marching with big smiles down the parade route! Bringing up the rear are the amazing Dutch Dogs, made up of local people who dress their dogs in Dutch costumes just to join in the fun.
The Parade Lineup - or A Lineup of Parades
The next parade is known as the “Kinderparade” and happens on Thursday. This parade is filled with local school children from many of the surrounding districts that all dress in costume and represent the Provinces of the Netherlands. The students also carry themed handmade props that show the cultural contributions the Dutch have made to America, including famous artists, foods, the windmill, etc. I promise you’ll learn something new about Dutch culture if you watch this parade. But even better is watching the smiles on the kids’ faces as they proudly march past looking for friends and family along the parade route!
The Kinderparade is so much fun!
Now that you’ve been warmed up with the first two parades, you won’t want to miss the Grandest of all them, the “Muziekparade!” This parade takes place on Saturday and is known as one of the most spectacular in Michigan. It marches down the main road of Holland on the longest parade route in Michigan. You will see floats, bicycles, classic cars, local law enforcement, a few clowns, and even a ride on wooden shoe or two.
2. Wooden Shoes!
One of the coolest aspects of Dutch culture simply has to be the wooden shoes. No, we don’t wear them around town on an average day, but at Tulip Time, you will undoubtedly see loads of people klomping around in their wooden shoes. In fact, our local high school band even wears them while marching. Dare I say that they are by far the coolest band around with their unique klomping sound while they march. They even do a little dance while they play Tiptoe through the Tulips!
If you are interested in learning all about wooden shoes or even wish to purchase a pair, then you can do that in one of two places here in town. Both VELDHEER FARMS and NELIS’ DUTCH VILLAGE offer opportunities to see how the shoes are made and to buy a pair to bring home. You can even get your name engraved on the shoes! They make a wonderful souvenir, and you will see them on display in gardens and in doorways all around the homes in Holland.
No Shoes, Please Enter!
One place you won’t see them is in many of the shops in downtown. Because of the age of some of the buildings, the floors are original hardwood or tile, and wooden shoes can cause damage. So it’s the one time of year where you won’t hear “No shoes, No Service!” You may also see a pile of shoes under a sign just outside the door of one of those shops!
3. Food Trucks and, well - FOOD!
When the first days of May begin, the locals’ social media accounts start proclaiming sightings of food trucks! When you live around here, the sight of the food trucks popping up on corners is undoubtedly one of the first real signs of spring. My family has a long-standing tradition of two meals of junk food from a truck during the week of Tulip Time. We also treat ourselves to a couple of snacks while they’re up. Not to be missed: Deep-fried Oreos, an elephant ear, fresh-cut French fries, and the famous fat ball, a hunk of dough deep-fried and then served with vanilla pudding or cherry pie filling. Dee-Lightful!
Not into junk food? No worries!
If you’re not into junk food, then you will certainly not go hungry with the number of destination restaurants and breweries we have in our town. In 2019, we added a HOPCAT, but a personal favorite of mine is the NEW HOLLAND BREWERY right on 8th Street (main street). The food is delicious, the beer and ciders are even better, and you’ll always receive service with a smile.
4. Veldheer Tulip Farms, Dutch Village, and Windmill Gardens
Veldheer Tulip Farms
I couldn’t pick just one of these popular local areas that complete the cultural experience. They all have really cool features that are simply not to be missed. VELDHEER TULIP FARMS is about a 5-10 minute drive from the downtown activity, but definitely worth the trek off the beaten path. Here you will see rows and rows of tulips displaying just how many hundreds of varieties there are. After you’ve enjoyed tiptoeing through them and jotting down your favorite types by number, you can order up your favorites where they will be mailed to you in the fall at just the right time to plant them for your spring bloom! What a great memory!
NELIS’ DUTCH VILLAGE is another can’t miss attraction. Here you can wander through museum-type buildings with displays that show the many facets of Dutch Culture. Of course, there are beautiful gardens and tulips everywhere, and plenty of opportunities to purchase a souvenir. You can also sit down for a snack, taste some Dutch Cheese, and learn all about how to make your own Stroopwafel (more info on Stroopwafels HERE). Dutch Village is very child-friendly and has a wonderful selection of kid-sized rides that parents and grandparents can also enjoy. And don’t forget the petting area. There are pigs, rabbits, llamas, chickens, goats, and all kinds of other fun animals that love to be petted and fed. Kids can even take a goat for a walk around the park while there. Truly a one-of-a-kind experience. GROUPON often has a coupon for Dutch Village, and all of the activities and rides are included with one admission price, so it’s worth a look before you visit.
Dutch Village is beautiful, and there are so many opportunities for beautiful photos.
Finally, I can’t forget about WINDMILL ISLAND GARDENS. The closest of the three attractions to the downtown area, the walk there alone is worth it. Windmill Island is the home of the original working Dutch windmill named “De Zwaan” (the Swan). She was brought over from the Netherlands in 1964 and still works today. You can take a tour inside of the windmill and see how it operates. Don’t forget to purchase some milled goods produced by her in one of the shops while you’re there. You could easily spend a couple of hours in Windmill Island Gardens, so plan accordingly.
5. Dutch Dancers
One of the most unique experiences you will have here at Tulip Time is that of watching the World Famous Dutch Dancers perform. They perform on the streets of Holland all around downtown all week long. Dutch dancing is part of the history of the town of Holland, so much so that dancing class is offered to young dancers starting in third grade, and then high-schoolers who carry on the tradition and become alumni dancers as they age out of High School. There is also opportunity to step in and become a dancer as an adult if you’re new to the community. I did and danced for several years. First, because I am a lover of all things Tulip Time, and second because it’s pretty fantastic exercise! It’s also just downright fun to klomp around downtown in costume and talk to strangers. The most common question I answered was how many socks I wore to be comfortable in those shoes. I would like to answer now, but I’m afraid if I give away the secret then you won’t come and visit and ask a friendly local, so I’ll leave you with this – many. Many pairs of socks are necessary.
The costumes are another interesting subject. The Tulip Time committee is very dedicated to keeping the costumes accurate and fitted correctly for the dancers, so dancers usually have their costume custom made for them with specific fabrics and notions that are available each year. There is no written pattern for the costumes – one must simply work with one of the seamstresses referred from the committee to have the costume made to the correct specifications. Then before the festival begins, dancers attend an inspection to assure that their costume is up to standard and ready for the tourists! It’s a fun, community building part of being a Dutch Dancer.
6. Everyone is Happy!!!
West Michigan is well-known for its friendly nature, but nowhere will you find as many happy, smiling faces as in Holland during Tulip Time!!! Virtually all of the locals fit into two categories: The first is Lover of all things Tulip Time, and the second I like to call The Hibernators. My husband and I are in opposite camps. I fall into the first category, and he falls into the second one. As a lover of all things Tulip Time, I like to partake in all of the excitement of the week. I get into town as often as possible and stay for as long as possible. I love the parades, counting all the states I see on the license plates and eating junk food from the food trucks. I even did my time as a Dutch Dancer and happily lined up along the streets several times each week to perform.
Friends make it even better!
I am even so happy about Tulip Time that for the last 3 years, I have been tickled to welcome 3 great friends from far away to come into Holland at Tulip Time and be tourists with me in my own town. We stay in a local hotel, eat at all the great restaurants, photograph all the beautiful tulips, and basically have a great time being girls out on the town for a few days. This year we added a side trip to our local lighthouse, Big Red. You can see a few of my favorite shots of Big Red in SEVEN BEAUTIFUL PORTRAITS OF BIG RED LIGHTHOUSE THAT WILL INSPIRE YOU.
My husband, as mentioned, is a Hibernator and prefers to stay as close to home as possible during Tulip Time. He hides inside the house, avoids the traffic and the noise, and smiles politely when I be-bop out of the house to go to the next fun event. He is pleased that my friends come to occupy my time during the most wonderful week of the year. It allows him to, well, hibernate. He is not the only hibernator in town. The good news for our tourists is that you rarely see the hibernators. They keep their grumpy selves home and let the Lovers of All Things Tulip Time frolic and enjoy the fun. This is excellent news for you, our visitor, because you get the best of the community – those who are happy to be out and about and will greet you with a smile and answer any of your touristy questions! Including how many pairs of socks one wears under those wooden shoes!
7. Tulips, Tulips, and MORE Tulips!!!
I bet you were wondering when I’d get to this part. The very coolest part of Tulip Time is, of course, the Tulips! They are everywhere in Holland, Michigan, in the Spring. The town does a fantastic job of planting them at just the right time in the fall months, so they will burst out in all of their beauty just in time for Tulip Time. You will find them on display everywhere in town, all over yards, and in giant beds along main street. But what you really don’t want to miss is a trolley ride through town and around the community where over 200,000 tulips line over six miles of streets with historic homes. We affectionately call these streets Tulip Lanes, and there are maps at the many information centers in town that will direct you to the route if you’d like to walk, bike, or slowly drive to get photos. Surprisingly the lanes don’t get terribly busy, maybe because there are so many of them that there’s room for everyone to enjoy!
Now that you’ve learned the seven reasons you MUST visit Holland during Tulip Time, mark your calendar and start planning your visit for next year. Remember that Tulip Time takes place in the first full week of May, from Saturday to Saturday. See you there!
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