A MASS of shiny petals that look like sweet shells sprout from the earth around my feet.
The annual Keukenhof Tulip Festival in the Netherlands is in full bloom and I traveled from Amsterdam for the day to experience the 79 hectare exhibition.
With more than 100 exhibitors showcasing their spring onions, it’s no surprise that the festival attracts people from all over the world.
And it’s only a 30-minute drive from the trendy capital where I’m based.
A favorite for city breaks, Amsterdam is usually full of people.
But it’s easy to beat the crowds – while making sure you make the most of the bustling cafes, museums and traditional markets.
Better yet, getting away from the tourist crowds and exploring the streets like a local will save you a fortune.
Avoid the famous Damrak street leading from Central Station and head down Haarlemmerstraat, where independent boutiques, delicatessens and quaint cafes line a motley array.
Get yourself a traditional Bitterballen – a meaty, fried and breaded bar snack loved by the Dutch.
Further west and overlooking one of the city’s many canals is the market on the Lindengracht.
It’s less than a five-minute walk from the touristy Noordermarkt, but this is where the locals go.
Rows of sheltered stalls line a broad avenue, where a man sells chocolate-covered nuts and juicy dates the size of my palm, while opposite is a table with huge patties of yellow cheese.
There are plenty of gourmet treats to bite into here.
A morning queue forms around the corner at the newly opened Saint Jean, which sells plant-based puff pastries like croissants filled with pistachio cream and almond crooughnuts.
But the wait is worth it.
Fill up a basket with munchies and head to the water — booking a boat is the best way to tick off the top sights at leisure.
You can pick up tickets for a canal cruise at the main tourist attractions such as the Central Station and the Anne Frank Museum.
But if you’re traveling with a larger group, it’s more fun (and cheaper) to rent a private boat and go on your own adventure.
Rod boats are easier to steer than those with steering wheels – and you can explore the city however you want.
With a picnic of local cheese, wine, and sweets, my friends and I (and Benji the dog) boarded our gleaming ship and sailed along the southern ring of canals, lined with hanging willow trees.
COVID: Holidaymakers must be fully vaccinated and have had their last vaccination within 270 days.
GET THERE: The Eurostar runs from St Pancras to Amsterdam with fares from £39 each way. See eurostar.com.
STAY THERE: The Hard Rock Hotel Amsterdam American offers double rooms from £185.63 (€220) per night. See www.hardrockhotels.com.
FROM & ABOUT: A Tulip Festival Card costs from £41.65, including transport from Amsterdam and a tour of the tulip fields with audio guide. See tiqets.com.
Sloepdelen has boats from £55 an hour for up to 12 people. See www.sloepdelen.nl/en.
We’ll soar past the zoo and canalside bars before venturing to the end of the ring where the newly opened Hard Rock Hotel is located.
Here, the rooms are funky and comfortable.
Expect dark carpets, chic drapes, and wacky walls adorned with rock star memorabilia.
A double room starts from £185 a night, but if you’re looking for ultra-low costs, try the Ibis Budget near the airport, which offers double rooms from £56 a night.
The Hard Rock is also less than a ten minute walk from the main Museum Square.
Buy an I Amsterdam Card (around £53 for 24 hours on tiqets.com) which gives you access to all the top attractions and most importantly free access to public transport.
Trust me, you’ll be thankful for the latter after a few days on the busy streets.
If you want to visit the Van Gogh or Anne Frank museums, you need to book about a month in advance.
But if you miss it, the card still gives you access to many other popular attractions.
These include the Ice Bar, Madame Tussauds and A’dam Lookout, where daring vacationers can swing in a giant swing on the roof of a 20-story building.
Just make sure you haven’t gobbled down too many Bitterballs beforehand.
https://www.thesun.ie/travel/8731950/amsterdam-city-break/ The no fly city break just three hours from the UK with Europe’s highest swing