The top flower and garden shows, exhibitions, festivals and tours across the world that, once attended, will be among the highlights of one’s life.

By Jill Brooke

When thinking about bucket-list flower experiences, some obvious choices come to mind. However, there are others that are worth considering because the flowers are spectacular as are the settings.

Considering that the RHS Chelsea Flower Show (May 21-25, in London, England requires coveted tickets to attend—and gets sold out quickly—anyone could enjoy the tangential Chelsea in Bloom ( and Belgravia in Bloom ( More than 80 stores, restaurants and hotels participate in creating London’s largest free flower festival right near the Chelsea Flower Show that includes Sloane Street, Pavilion Road, Duke of York Square and King’s Road.

RHS Sign

Honestly, booking a trip to London in May and being immersed in such creativity is worth the trip. Whenever I am asked, this is the first go-to I share. Furthermore, each locale routinely hires the best florists in London including Ricky Paul, Larry Walshe, Phillip Corps, Rob Van Helden and Amanda Willgrave, among others. Installations surpass $25,000 in flowers each, and it really is a floral wonderland.

In the Netherlands, people pant over Keukenhof, (, the world’s largest flower garden, which has more than 7 million flowers covering 79 acres and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. The Keukenhof Tulip Gardens are open from March 21 through May 12, as part of the Tulip Festival Amsterdam (

Keukenoff in Holland

Also part of Tulip Festival Amsterdam is the Bloemencorso Bollenstreek (“bloemencorso,” meaning flower parade), which travels from Noordwijk to Haarlem (April 20, This parade is also known as the Keukenhof Holland Flower Parade because many visitors watch it from a grandstand in front of the main entrance of Keukenhof.

However, maybe you want to also visit a flower festival that is not as commercial. There is a second flower season in the Netherlands, when the Holland Dahlia Event begins (mid-August through the end of September, This event began in the 1930s and began to draw crowds after World War II, when the country was recovering from the deprivations of the war and Nazi occupation. Throughout the six-week period, there are multiple flower parades, with the mega-parade in Zundert (Sept. 1-2,—all through the long Dahlia flowering season. And the favorite son of Zundert is, of course, Vincent van Gogh.

Each year, 20 teams of volunteers from local municipalities in North Brabant, a province in the south of the Netherlands, spend months planning their floats and planting their Dahlia. The colors of the plants, obviously, have to be carefully allotted. It can take thousands of flowers to make just one float, and the flowers have to be freshly picked on the Thursday night before the parade, which takes place the first Sunday in September. A note about North Brabant. It is nowhere near Amsterdam, about 80 miles south. In fact, it’s closer to Antwerp, Belgium, only 28 miles. But the Zundert flower parade is indeed an experience off the beaten track. And definitely more exotic than the annual New Year’s Day Rose Bowl parade in California.

Dubai, U.A.E., has spent decades now trying to be a mecca for over-the-top extravaganzas. Like the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival (, which starts Feb. 28, in Orlando, Fla., and features astounding floral and horticultural installations and topiaries of popular Disney characters, the Dubai Miracle Garden ( has similar eye-popping installations. It is also equally family friendly.

From October through April, the Dubai Miracle Garden showcases more than 150 million natural flowers and plants from more than 120 flower types, some of which are rare and not cultivated anywhere else but in the Persian Gulf region. It’s a fantasy flower festival that is worthy of a bucket-list visit, if this is a region you want to visit. When you have 72,000 square meters (775,000 square feet) to play with, installations are sometimes a “Smurfs Village,” featuring a forest of life-size mushroom houses, all inspired by acclaimed animated film and television franchise.


Considering that tulips originated in Turkey as early as AD 1000, it’s not surprising that there is a major tulip festival here. The Istanbul Lale Festivali (Istanbul Tulip Festival) opens in April and continues into May, to rapturous local fanfare. The whole city becomes a botanical garden of millions of tulips wherever this is open space. But for a real tulip treat, it is imperative to head to Emirgan Park, which is one of the largest public parks in Istanbul and has several tulip gardens. The köşk mansions within the park host traditional craft demonstrations such as paper marbling, calligraphy, glass blowing and painting. Musical performances are dotted around outside, on pop-up stages.

Tulip Festival in Istanbul

Sultanahmet Square, alongside the Blue Mosque, is also popular. In previous years, it’s been planted in a huge carpet design and has been the world-record-breaking largest-ever “tulip carpet,” proving extremely popular. There’s also Çamlıca Hill, on the Asian (Anatolian) Side of Istanbul. It’s described as “… a bit off the beaten track and rarely touristy … [and] has views from the Asian Side across to the Old City. If you don’t mind a bit of a climb, the thousands of tulips on the way up and the view from the top make it an enjoyable adventure.”

Speaking of tulips, there are also a few festivals in North America worth exploring. Tulip Time (May 4-12, in Holland, Mich., is the largest tulip festival in the United States. There are three major attractions to discover: Windmill Island Gardens, Nelis’ Dutch Village and Veldheer Tulip Gardens. Nearly 6 million tulips are planted in city parks, at public attractions and along the streets.

Tulip Festival in Michigan

There are three parades during the festival: Volksparade (People’s Parade), Kinderparade (Children’s Parade) and Muziekparade (Music Parade). As travel writer Clive Branson explains, Tulip Time “has been going strong for 92 years, with a rich Dutch history dating back to its settlement in 1847 by Dutch Calvinist separatists escaping the dire conditions in the Netherlands. In 1950, Vern Veldheer started a hobby farm with a meager 100 red tulips and 300 white tulips. Today, Veldheers plants more than 4 million tulips.”

More than 1 million visitors mark their calendars for this event, to be enthralled and mesmerized by the profusion of tulips, activities and natural wonders. There’s also a replica of an 1800s Dutch village and living museum with a 250-year-old working windmill. It’s as though you are in the Netherlands without leaving the U.S.

Also not to be missed is the famous Skagit Valley Tulip Festival (April 1-30, in Mount Vernon, Wash. More tulip and daffodil bulbs are produced in the Skagit Valley than in any other county in the U.S. Three distinct tulip gardens are RoozenGaarde, Tulip Town and Garden Rosalyn. Other local farmers also have events to keep people busy and awestruck by the ribbons of flowers that dot the landscape as far as the eyes can see, so this event isn’t as centralized as some and requires some navigation to see all the farms. Booking places to stay is also a bit of a challenge and must be done early. However, against the backdrop of mountains, it is a beautiful site to enjoy.

Among the many events at the Canadian Tulip Festival (May 10-20,, held in Ottawa’s Commissioners Park, are walking tours, Tulip Festival markets and “Tulips at Night,” a multisensory series of nighttime events. This event was established in 1953 to celebrate the gift of tulips from the Dutch to Canadians following World War II as a symbol of international friendship and honoring the role of Canadian troops in the liberation of the Netherlands and Europe. It also commemorates the birth of Dutch Princess Margriet in Ottawa in 1943—the only royal personage ever born in Canada.

Maybe you want to visit South America, which is one of the largest producers of the most gorgeous flowers in the world. Feria de las Flores (Flowers Festival) is held in Medellín, Colombia in late July or early August every year ( The highlight of the festival is the traditional Silleteros Parade, where men carry heavy wood “saddles” on their backs that are decorated with hundreds of colorful flowers. The parade marks the period of slavery in Colombia when peasants were required to carry nobles on carriers on their backs up and down the steep paths in the surrounding hills. Forget Rio. This parade is a spectacle with food, drinks and floral creativity that dazzles. Furthermore, any visitor will be immersed in the beauty of Colombian heritage and folklore. The festival also offers more than 150 various events including flower exhibitions and competitions, folklore shows, live concerts and more.


Want to go down under, to Australia? Floriade (Sept. 14-Oct. 13, is a spring flower festival featuring extensive displays of more than 1 million flowering bulbs along with integrated sculptures and other artistic features. This event is held in Canberra’s Commonwealth Park, on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin.

Vietnam also has a special festival which runs biennially. The Da Lat Flower Festival takes place this November and December. The city of Da Lat is full of parades and profusions of flowers, and the festival reaches to other localities in the Lam Dong province. The main stage is on the water in Xuan Huong Lake and Lam Vien Square.

As far as France, home to lavender fields that inspired Impressionist artists, the Festival of Flowers is one of the most-loved events in the Nice Carnival calendar (Feb. 17-March 3, In 1923, Henri Matisse even painted the event. One main event, the Flower Parade, around the Jardin Albert 1er park, features floats decorated with fresh flowers, surrounded and preceded by street performers. On the floats, costumed actresses shower the public with nearly 100,000 stems of flowers, and the “flower battle” to catch the flowers ensues. Eighty percent of the flowers used are produced locally since flowers are revered in this region.

Last but not least, a bucket list can’t be complete without mentioning Japan. It is a country that has deep roots in flower arranging, cultivation and philosophy. There’s even a word to describe the experience. Hanami is the tradition of focused flower viewing, and it commonly refers to custom of viewing cherry blossoms when they are in full bloom. It’s a centuries-old practice that as someone described it is less about the act of seeing and more about reflection and the celebration of life’s fleeting nature. After all, this is the country that embraces ikebana. To Japanese people, flower arranging is spiritual and represents the cycles of life, death and rebirth.

Yes, there are wonderful cherry blossom festivals—especially since the country gave the U.S. it’s cherry trees. The Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival, which is spread over the towns of Kawazu to Mine Onsen, with the focus being the banks of the Kawazu River, typically runs from February through early March (Kawazu cherry trees bloom a month earlier than most others).

You can view the full splendor of the more than 3,000 cherry trees, of 12 varieties, that the People of Japan gifted in friendship to the People of the United States in 1912 at Washington, D.C.’s annual National Cherry Blossom Festival (March 20-April 14 this year, One highlights of the festival is the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, on Constitution Avenue NW, between 7th and 17th Streets, on April 13.

For more cherry blossom action, there’s Macon, Georgia’s International Cherry Blossom Festival (March 15-24,, which features more than 350,000 ‘Yoshino’ cherry trees blooming in all their glory, as well as a dozen or so events, including the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, comprising floats, marching bands and more on March 17.

We cannot slight apple trees, for there are at least two visit-worthy celebrations of their blooms. First, in the Pacific Northwest, there is the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival (April 25-May 5, in Wenatchee, Wash. The 105th Stemilt Grand Parade, on May 4, with colorful floats, is an event to not miss, as well as are the carnival, food fair, beer garden, medieval fair, multiple markets and a stage musical.

Across the country is the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, in Winchester, Va. (April 26-May 5;, which offers more than 40 events over the 10-day fest.

But other flowers are worth mentioning for their festivals. In Yamanashi, Japan, there is the Akeno Sunflower Festival, this year from Aug. 24 to Sept. 1. Visitors can experience not only 1.5 million sunflowers but also an on-site maze, which delights the little ones. The site is both picturesque and memorable.

In the U.S., there are myriad celebrations of other flowers—the granddaddy of all probably being Oregon’s Portland Rose Festival (May 24-June 9, The 17-day celebration offers many events and programs, including charity benefits and three parades, the most epic of which is Grand Floral Parade on June 8.

Other flower celebrations in the U.S. that are worthy of your consideration include the following:

Azalea & Spring Flower Trail

March 22-April 8

Tyler, Texas

Bluebonnet Festival

April 12-14

Burnet, Texas

California Poppy Festival

April 19-21

Lancaster, Calif.

Dogwood-Azalea Festival

April 18-21

Charleston, Mo.

Mackinac Island Lilac Festival

June 17-16

Mackinac Island, Mich.

Nantucket Daffodil Festival

April 25-28

Nantucket, Mass.

North Carolina Azalea Festival

April 3-7

Wilmington, N.C.

So, fellow flower lovers, start dreaming about these flower trips. They will be on your life’s highlight reel and worth both the expense and the experience.


(in order by date)

Dallas Blooms

Feb. 28-April 12

Dallas, Texas

PHS Philadelphia Flower Show

March 2-10

Philadelphia, Pa.

Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens Spring Garden

March 9-May 18

Las Vegas, Nev.

Boise Flower & Garden Show

March 22-24

Boise, Idaho

Biltmore Blooms/Spring

March 25-May 23

Asheville, N.C.

San Francisco Bay Flower & Garden Show

April 4-7

Pleasanton, Calif.

Coronado Flower Show

April 20-21

Coronado, Calif.

Virginia Historic Garden Week

April 20-27

Tours throughout Virginia

Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens Summer Garden

May 25-Sept. 7

Las Vegas, Nev.

Newport Flower Show

June 21-23

Newport, R.I.