From massive bushels of hydrangeas situated along the rim of a caldera to carefully curated tulip fields, flowers add beauty and local elegance to any destination you visit. And sometimes, the flora is even the star attraction, drawing in flora lovers looking for a specific bloom. You might find botanical phenomena close to home, but if you're looking for something a little out of the ordinary, here are the best places to see specific flowers.
Tulips - Keukenhof, Netherlands
No one does tulips like the Netherlands, and the Keukenhof Gardens might just be the Super Bowl of flower hunting. With over 7 million blossoms expected each year, this garden has been attracting visitors since it first opened to the public in 1950. While Keukenhof is home to myriad flowers like crocuses and hyacinths, the tulips are the true stars of the show, blooming in a kaleidoscope of patterns that are thoughtfully planted out in the prior year. The grounds are made up of several themed gardens, including the Graffiti and Red Romance Gardens. The Keukenhof is only open from March to May every year on specific dates that are dependent on the expected peak bloom making it critical to plan your visit within this window. If you want to try and witness the flowers in relative peace, try to arrive early in the morning or after 4 PM in the evening, and avoid rubbing elbows with the millions of visitors that descend on the blooms every year.
Roses - Portland, Oregon, U.S.
Hidden in the shadow of Mount Hood is one of the best places in the United States to witness the beauty of roses. The Portland International Rose Test Garden has been a botanical staple of the city since 1917 and is home to over 10,000 rose bushes featuring 610 varieties, some of which are extremely rare. Wander through the lavender roses, contemplate the meaning of life in the amphitheater, or breathe in the aromatic mountain air awash with the scent of rose itself. The roses peak anywhere between May and October, favoring the cool air of the Pacific Northwest for most of the season.
Sunflowers - San Gimignano, Italy
Come summer, the already beautiful Tuscan countryside alights with fields of sunflowers as far as the eye can see. From mid-June to August you can see these stately flowers throughout rural Italy, beckoning road trippers to stop and bask in their radiance. Known as girasole in Italian, the sunflowers certainly draw in throngs of visitors on their own but their purpose is rooted in agriculture as they are harvested for seeds at the end of the season. The meadows outside the medieval city of San Gimignano are the perfect excuse to traipse through one of Italy’s most inspiring regions and to stop for a glass of ruby Chianti.
Azaleas - Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina, U.S.
Depending on the elevation, North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains look as if they are set ablaze in early summer with the arrival of the annual flame azaleas. The azaleas bloom in a variety of colors from deep red to bright yellow. But seeing these beauties isn’t for the faint hearted. It’ll take climbing up to one of the areas balds, like Andrew or Gregory Bald, to get the best view, as well as stunning vistas of the Appalachian Mountains. As a part of the rhododendron genus, intrepid hikers may also get to witness their cousins the Catawba and Rosebay rhododendrons in shady nooks while hiking up the mountain.
Hydrangeas - Azores, Portugal
An invasive but no doubt beautiful flower, hydrangeas hang their heavy heads every summer in the Azores, a Portuguese archipelago. Thought to have been originally brought by Japanese settlers, the island's acidic, volcanic soil causes the hydrangeas to bloom in vivid hues of blue, a perfect complement to the sweeping ocean views. One of the best places to see these floral wonders is along the roadside on the island of Faial but for a truly spectacular show, head up to the Caldera Grande in July or August to see bushels of hydrangeas along its rim.
King Protea - Cape Floral Region, South Africa
The king, quite literally, of flowers makes its appearance beginning in November every year in the “Rainbow Nation.” It’s generally thought that most king protea bloom in the Fynbos Region of South Africa located along the country’s southwestern coast near Cape Town. As the flower of South Africa, you’ll see king proteas on everything from the currency to passports and the local soccer teams jerseys. One of the best places to witness their almost abstract beauty is in the Cape Floral Region, a protected UNESCO World Heritage Area renowned for its diversity and proclivity for flowers.
Lavender - Provence, France
Provence’s lavender fields are rooted in tradition but appear straight out of a fairytale. While initially brought to the region by the Romans, lavender began to be cultivated in the 19th century for various reasons, including perfume making. The tiny commune of Sault is the perfect base for exploring the Provencal lavender fields by car. Wake up early and drive around the quaint countryside searching for immaculate rows of lavender with the windows down, breathing in the indulgent smell. Be sure to add a visit to the iconic Senanque Abbey to pull back the veil on the history of lavender in the region.