Behind-the-Scenes of Tulip Time in Holland

From May 7-14, more than 500,000 people from around the world will travel to Holland, Michigan to experience the 2016 Tulip Time Festival. The festival features Dutch dance performances, concerts, theatre, food, parades and more – all of which take a lot of time and dedication to produce by the staff and a team of more than 800 volunteers.

Gwen Auwerda, Executive Director of the festival, gives us a sneak peek at what goes into the making of Tulip Time. 

In Holland, Michigan, we’ve had a cool spring and the tulips love it! The town is being spruced up from a long winter and the Tulip Time Festival staff and interns are busy with the finishing touches on all the great events, entertainment and parades.

Here are just some of the many things that happen behind-the-scenes in Holland as we prepare for the festival.

Prepping Pigs-in-a-Blanket

500 dozen pigs-in-a-blanket – a traditional Dutch food – were made by a group of volunteers from area churches.  “Pigs” as we call them are a sausage roll covered with pastry dough and served to thousands of visitors at Dutch Marktplaats along with the largest selection of traditional Dutch food in the City of Holland.  This is quite a time honored tradition for the churches.

Marching Band Practice

All of the bands are practicing their marching skills for the Saturday GMB Muziekparade, the longest parade in Michigan at 2.4 miles. This year, May 14th is the day of the GMB Muziekparade. The parade will feature over 4,000 participants.

Dutch Dance Rehearsals

Dutch Dance is another signature event during the festival.  The dancers typically learn the dance in high school and can continue dancing as an “alumni dancer” after graduation.  This year, we have 800 dancers who wear clothing representing the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Practices begin in January and the dancers spend 30 hours over the next 4 months learning the dance. This event is a visitor favorite and free!

We couldn’t put together an internationally known flower festival without our beloved volunteers.  It takes over 800 volunteers over an 8 day period to help with trash pickup, ushering at the shows, set-up, deliver potted tulips to the venues around the city, assist with the Tulip Time run, and the three parades.  It is because of the dedication of these volunteers that our city can host over 500,000 guests to Join the Dance!  We hope to see you in beautiful Holland for the 87th Tulip Time Festival.

Gwen Auwerda is the Executive Director of the Tulip Time Festival in Holland.

Are you heading to Tulip Time this year? Share with us below!

5 Ways to Experience Europe in Holland, Michigan


Photo courtesy of Holland Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

You don’t need a passport to enjoy a true Dutch experience in Holland, Michigan! Immerse yourself in historic art and artifacts at the Holland Museum, tiptoe through the tulips in a city park, or kayak in the shadow of a 270-year-old working Dutch windmill.  Here are 5 favorite ways to experience historic and hip Holland without traveling overseas! 

5. History right here! Holland, Michigan was founded in 1847 by Dutch settlers, and you’ll find their stories woven into Holland’s rich historic fabric at the Holland Museum. A curated collection of Dutch history and artifacts tell the story of the immigrants and settlers who now call Holland home, while the 2nd floor Dutch Galleries showcase paintings by influential Dutch artists. The Cappon and Settlers Houses, restored homes of early Holland residents, depict contrasting lifestyles of our Dutch ancestors.


Photo courtesy of Holland Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

4. Windmill Island Gardens is home to DeZwaan Windmill, the only authentic working Dutch windmill in the United States. Stroll along the dikes, canals, and flower beds overflowing with more than 100,000 tulips. Tour
DeZwaan, and learn how our Dutch-certified miller grinds the local winter wheat into flour; enjoy performances of costumed-dancers in wooden shoes or take a spin on a hand-painted Dutch carousel.   2015 marks the 50th anniversary of DeZwaan in Holland, MI, and we’re celebrating with special events throughout the spring and summer.

3. “Klomping” in the streets! You won’t want to miss a performance by Holland’s famous “Dutch Dancers”! During the Tulip Time Festival over 1000 dancers hit the streets numerous times clad in authentic Dutch costumes and wooden “klompen” to entertain visitors and locals alike.  At Nelis’ Dutch Village, one of Holland’s popular Dutch attractions, you and your family can join in the fun and learn a few steps. And this year, during the Tulip Time festival, join the community at “Klomp the Record”, where we vie for the title of ‘Most People Dancing in Wooden Shoes at One Time’. More info here:

2. The food! Savor a taste of the Netherlands with delicious Dutch pastries handcrafted at DeBoer Dutch Brothers Cafe & Bakkerij, a fifth-generation Dutch bakery. Try the krakalingen, a figure-8 shaped butter cookie covered with a sprinkle of sugar or the banket, flaky pastry filled with a rich almond paste. And don’t forget to stop by the Thirsty Dutchman Pub for an imported Dutch bier (or a local microbrew!) at Nelis’ Dutch Village also home of the Hungry Dutchman Café, which serves traditional Dutch food.

1. Check out the tulips! More than 6 million tulips bloom in Holland each spring as we celebrate our annual Tulip Time Festival. This year’s festival is May 2 – 9. Drive the 6 miles of Tulip Lanes, stroll through Window on the Waterfront Park, city-owned growing fields with 80,000 tulips, or stop at Veldheer Tulip Gardens ablaze with 4,000,000 tulips. And remember…you don’t need a passport!

Discover Holland During the 2013 Tulip Time Festival

More than 500,000 people from 40 countries travel to the Holland Tulip Time Festival each year. This year’s festival is happening May 4-11, 2013 and there will be plenty to experience – from parades and traditional Dutch Dance performances to concerts, theatre, food and more. And outside of the festival, there’s no shortage of sights to see and things to explore around the Holland area. If you’re looking for things to do while you’re in town, see our Q&A with Sally Laukitis of the Holland CVB below for inspiration.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your position at the Holland Convention and Visitors Bureau
I grew up in Holland, went away to college, and lived out of state for a few years…I’ve always loved Holland and wanted to get “back home”, so when the opportunity to move back presented itself, I jumped on it!   I’ve been with the Holland CVB for 20 years, serving as Executive Director for 18. I truly feel like I have the best job in the world! (I also currently serve on the Michigan Travel Commission.)

Credit: Wei Xue Yuan

Q: What do you think makes Holland the perfect place to host the Tulip Time Festival?
Holland is a natural for Tulip Time!  For starters we have over five million tulips; a 250 year-old authentic Dutch windmill that was brought over from the Netherlands, a Dutch-certified master miller working the mill; and a city that was founded by Dutch settlers in 1847.  Our Dutch heritage runs deep, including many residents with ties to the Netherlands and visits by Dutch royalty nearly every decade since World War II. We have the only production blue-and-white Delftware factory in the US, and a community that loves to throw a party!  Tulip Time boasts over 800 volunteers community-wide!

Q: What other fun events are happening in Holland this spring?
A: In addition to Tulip Time, we host a “GrooveWalk” April 20 with thirteen bands performing live in thirteen different restaurants, pubs, and other establishments throughout Downtown; Fiesta! – a celebration of our Latino heritage is May 3 & 4 with a lowrider show, great Mexican food and ethnic music; the Holland Farmer’s Market opens May 13 with all sorts of fresh produce, flowers, yard art, artisan baked goods, and in the summer special kids’ activities Wednesday mornings at 10 and the Chef Series Saturday mornings at 10; the Critter Barn offers a delightful family experience where folks of all ages can get “up close and personal” with ducks, goats, cows, and even a pot-bellied pig; and of course our Dutch attractions – Windmill Island Gardens, DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delft Factory and Veldheer Gardens are fun for all.

Windmill Island Gardens. Credit: Sara Simmons

Q: Can visitors experience Holland’s Dutch culture year-round?
The Dutch experience is alive and well all year!  At the Holland Museum you can immerse yourself in over 150 years of our Dutch history, including the devastating fire of 1871 that destroyed most of the town, as well as the history of Tulip Time; Dutch architecture is evident throughout our award-winning downtown and in our historic district, and in late November/early December folks can enjoy Dutch WinterFest and the Holidays in Downtown Holland, including a European open-air Christmas market and the appearance of Sinterklaas, the Dutch St Nicholas arriving in Holland on his white horse, accompanied by his Zwarte Piet helpers. For year-round treasures and Dutch chocolates, the import shops at Dutch Village are the place to be!

Q: What are some of your favorite restaurants in the area?
There are lots of wonderful locally-owned restaurants in Holland! If you’re craving authentic Dutch food, the 4th generation DeBoer’s Dutch Brothers Café and Bakkerij is sure to please; for family fun, try Crazy Horse Steak House for the best beef in town; if you want a romantic dinner overlooking the water, Piper is an excellent choice; for outdoor waterfront dining, Boatwerks, with its spacious deck is a great choice. And don’t forget Pereddies for a cozy Italian dinner.

Q: What’s your favorite way to spend a day off in Holland?
No matter what the weather, nothing beats a walk on the beach! The two-mile walk along the water’s edge between Holland State Park and Tunnel Park is fabulous any time of year!  In the fall, I particularly like to climb to the top of Mt. Pisgah, a 157 foot sand dune that towers above Lake Michigan.  It’s 230 steps to the top, with a panoramic view of Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa that is second to none.  Once you reach the top, there’s a boardwalk that connects to the State Park ridge trails. And of course there is nothing more magnificent than a Lake Michigan sunset!

Tunnel Park Sunset. Credit: Dennis Geppert

Q: Where can people go for more information about things to do in the Holland area?
If folks are in town, they can stop by the Holland Visitors Bureau at 78 East 8th Street in downtown Holland. Our mascot, Lucy the Pug, will be waiting to greet them!  Online they can find us at, also accessible via their mobile device, or they can call us toll-free at 800.506.1299. No matter how people contact us, a warm Dutch “Welkom” awaits!

Will you be at Tulip Time in Holland? Let us know what you’re looking forward to seeing while in town!

Sally Laukitis is Executive Director of the Holland Area Visitors Bureau. She loves “everything Holland”, especially hanging out at the beach on a hot summer day.