Holland is one of my favorite cities in the Midwest, because it is on Lake Michigan, it’s home to my favorite Michigan festival, the Tulip Time Festival, which sees about 7 million tulips bloom each year in May, and it has consistently been ranked as one of the happiest towns in the United States. Famous all over North America for their stunning flower festival, unique red light house, incredible lake views, and breathtaking sunsets, Holland is a splendid place to visit during any Midwest trip. The city is also home to the nation’s only authentic, working Dutch De Zwaan (“the Swan”, in Dutch) Windmill which was brought over, piece by piece, from the Netherlands, and has been running in Europe or the United States since 1761. Here is everything you need to know in order to plan a perfect visit to Holland, Michigan.
A Quick History of the Holland Area
The city has a dark history, like nearly every single city in the United States, because it was officially founded when Dutch immigrants forced the Ottawa people, a group of Native Americans indigenous to the Great Lakes region, out of the area in the mid 1800s. The very wealthy Dutch settlers purchased the land from the natives, who left the area and headed north towards the Petoskey Area, in order to escape religious indoctrination and threats of violence, and in order to protect their lives and way of life. The first tulips were planted around this time, and around 1930, a local teacher recommended the city plant as many tulips as possible to celebrate their Dutch heritage and beautify the city, thus giving birth to the Tulip Time Festival. The city is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The city still has a very strong sense of Christianity about it, perhaps more so than any other city in the Midwest, although it doesn’t affect tourists at all unless they want to explore local churches, and the city has a reputation in Michigan for being simultaneously very religious and very welcoming to all who wish to visit. It is sometimes referred to as “The City of Churches”, because despite being only about 18 square miles in size, it is home to nearly 200 houses of worship. If you ever heard of the phrase “What Would Jesus Do?”, the church that came up with the slogan is located in Holland, Michigan.
Holland’s sister city is beautiful Santiago de Querétaro in Mexico. Over the past two decades, the city of Holland has worked hard to install and operate the world’s largest system of heated sidewalks, using recycled, warm water from a nearby water treatment facility run in more than 150 miles of underground pipes to heat sidewalks and melt the massive amounts of lake effect snow the city receives each winter. People who live in Holland love this system so much that they have personally donated money to expand the system throughout most of the city, because it saves so much time and energy dealing with ice and snow, it protects the roads and sidewalks thereby reducing replacement costs, and it makes the city significantly safer for all who live there or visit.
How to Get to Holland
Holland its own local airport, West Michigan Regional Airport (formerly known as Tulip City Airport) and nearby Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan is only about forty minutes from the city. There are also a few private landing strips in the area, if you know the right people. Of course, in true Midwest fashion, the city is most commonly driven to from the surrounding areas, or visitors from out of state can also take the Amtrak train into Holland.
When to Visit Holland
My husband and I visit each year in May for one of the world’s very best flower festivals, and arguably the best tulip festival in the world. There’s nothing like walking through a city where quite literally every single planter, window box, garden patch, and spare public area is overflowing with tulips, plus there are several dedicated tulip farms in the area, as well as a vast tulip field on Windmill Island, near the De Zwaan windmill.
In the summer, the area attracts lots of beach goers who want to swim in Lake Michigan, and Holland is home to one of the state’s busiest marinas for pleasure craft. In the fall, the area turns beautiful shades of oranges and reds, and in the winter, the city is commonly buried in snow (with the exception of the sidewalks which are heated and cleared all winter long). There’s always something fun to do in Holland!
Getting Around Holland
We either walk or drive everywhere we go, because we have never seen any public transportation, and ride sharing is almost non-existent in the city. If you’re flying into the area from out of state, I recommend getting a rental car.
What to Do
Visit Tulip Time Festival
This festival is a must-see for flower lovers everywhere. It’s a stunning display of gorgeous Dutch tulips in hundreds of colors and varieties, and there are only one or two places in the world to see more tulips at one time, like the original Keukenhof Tulip Festival in Amsterdam. Even if you’re not a huge flower buff, there is a carnival set up each year, lots of heritage performances, parades, Dutch festival foods, fantastic fireworks display, yoga in the tulips, and a massive art fair as well. My husband and I have gone every year that we’ve been together, and we always have a wonderful time admiring the flowers, eating yummy food, and perusing local artist’s wares.
Explore Veldheer Tulip Gardens
Located just outside the city, this tulip farm is absolutely stuffed to the brim with colorful flowers each May. It’s truly a site to behold, and visitors are welcome to take photos in the flower fields. Just be warned however, that like the rest of the city, there is a steep fine for picking or walking on any tulips, so stay in the walking rows, and don’t try to sit in the flowers. There’s always one or two tourists each year who are arrested for vandalizing and fined enough to ruin their vacation, so admire the flowers from a safe distance!
Walk the Beach at Holland State Park or Tunnel Park
In my guide to the Best Beaches in Michigan, I mentioned both of these beaches, because they are pristine, white sand beaches with crystal clear waters, easy public access, and breathtaking sunsets and sunrises.
Volunteer to Help Plant Tulips in the Fall
The millions of tulips around the city don’t plant themselves! If you’re in the area in the fall, consider volunteering an afternoon to help the city and its residents plant the millions of tulip bulbs that pop up out of the ground each spring – they can always use more help!
Where to Eat
I love getting up early and heading to the Windmill Restaurant which is right downtown. There’s even parking right out behind the restaurant. I recommend getting here early, because the place is very small, very popular, and very much worth the 30+ minute waits. Give their cinnamon rolls a try, you can even order them gluten-free or deep fried!
Alpenrose Restaurant is our favorite place for lunch or dinner, and they even have a great lunch buffet. I always get their Michigan Cherry Salad and Wild Mushroom Soup here, it’s delicious, plus their staff is extremely helpful.
If you’re in the mood for Italian, Pereddies is a great choice. Beechwood Grill, Mizu Sushi, Crust 54, and The Curragh Irish Pub (featured on my list of 50 of the Best Places to Eat in Michigan) are all great spots for a quick bite to eat.
Orange Leaf and Peachwave both serve great frozen yogurt, and I always try to stop in each at least once a year.
Where to Stay
Holland doesn’t have any 4 or 5 star hotels, as it is a smaller town. However, they do have a few lovely hotels and B&Bs, including DoubleTree by Hilton, Dutch Colonial Inn Bed & Breakfast, Centennial Inn Bed & Breakfast, Hawthorn Inn, CityFlatsHotel (the only LEED/sustainable hotel in Holland), the Courtyard by Marriott (Downtown) has electric vehicle charging out front, Residence Inn by Marriott Holland, Best Western Plus Holland Inn & Suites, a Hampton Inn, that are all fine places to stay while in the area. All of these hotels surround themselves with tulips during Tulip Time Festival, and other beautiful plants during the warmer months of the year.
Holland has consistently been rated one of the safest Midwest cities. The only hazard in the area is Lake Michigan, and Lake Macatawa. Each year, people drown in the lakes because they don’t heed the water safety warnings, and either get tossed around by tall waves, or they are pulled out into Lake Michigan by rip currents. To stay safe, use common sense and follow posted swimming recommendations. Don’t swim inside the marina, and don’t swim if the waves or high, or if orange or red warning flags are flying. If you can’t swim well, stay out of the water, as it gets deep quickly. On calm days, the water is very still, crystal clear, and safe to swim in. Should you ever find yourself trapped in a rip current, stay calm, float on your back until you relax a bit, and swim parallel to the shore to escape it. Do not attempt to swim against the current, as that is how even strong swimmers become exhausted and drown. When in doubt, stay out of the water, and enjoy a walk on the beach instead.
Day & Weekend Trips from Holland
Day tripping in Michigan is an experience in and of itself. Depending upon how far you’re willing to travel, the entire state is explorable from Holland. Here are a few of my favorite places to travel from Holland.
2.5 Hours from Holland by Car
Home of the only Michelin Star Restaurants in the Midwest, this is the best city for fine dining in the Midwest. Explore high-end shopping down Chicago’s Magnificent Mile or the Chicago Luxury Outlets, luxuriate in incredible plunge and steam baths at AIRE Ancient Baths, visit rescued animals at Shedd Aquarium, and explore the city’s 27 beautiful indoor and outdoor public gardens.
2.75 Hours from Holland by Car
The Motor City is where visitors and locals alike go for major concerts, sporting events, and fine dining. Visit the Detroit Institute of Art’s $9 Billion art collection including works from Picasso, Monet, and van Gogh, walk through the beautiful Anna Scripps Whitcomb Botanical Garden, stay at the beautiful Penthouse Suite of Shinola Hotel where J. Lo herself stayed during her time in Michigan, and check out the North American International Auto Show, if you time your visit to the state just right.
40 Minutes from Holland by Car
Grand Rapids, home of the world’s largest international art festival, Art Prize, is the nation’s art & beer capital. Explore more than 80 breweries, dozens of museums, and my favorite public garden in the state, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Their Japanese Garden is a beautiful, and tranquil escape from day to day life, and a few times a year visitors can participate in Japanese tea ceremonies.
4.5 Hour Drive + 20 Minute Ferry Ride from Holland
The farthest destination from Holland, yet one of my favorite places in Michigan, Mackinac Island was formerly populated by Ottawa people, and now is a major tourist destination. With beautiful views of the Mackinac Bridge and the Straits of Mackinac, incredible stargazing on clear nights, and an abundance of gorgeous hiking trails, bike paths, and fascinating history, the island has so much to offer visitors. Stay at Grand Hotel, with 397 uniquely decorated rooms, on the island for the ultimate island getaway.
3.5 Hours from Holland by Car
My home town, the Petoskey Area, which includes Walloon Lake, Harbor Springs, Bay View, Bay Harbor, and the city of Petoskey itself, is situated on beautiful Little Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan near “the tip of the ring finger” when looking at your left hand as a map of the state. Home of million dollar sunsets, freshly caught Whitefish from the lake, beautiful white sand beaches, and stunning sand dunes and hiking, the Petoskey Area is one of the most beautiful places in the nation.
2.75 Hours by Car from Holland
Traverse City is one of Michigan’s most popular summer tourist destinations. Famed for their white sugar beaches and incredible variety of cherry products, this city has beautiful views of Lake Michigan, and is only a short drive from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and several other beaches included in my Best Michigan Beaches roundup.
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