What could be a more vivid harbinger of spring than tulips? And for those of you who dread the cold-weather months, think about the joy of being surrounded by tulips: pink ones, red ones, striped ones—millions of them in every color of the rainbow, sitting in crates at the Aalsmeer Flower Auction outside Amsterdam, Netherlands, ready to be bid on by thousands of buyers stationed at computer desks and then shipped to your local florist.

If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Amsterdam, check out this daily spectacle known as the largest flower auction in the world. Set your alarm early. The auction building is open to the public for tours beginning at 7 a.m. This gigantic display of beauty and frenetic activity is on a scale not to be missed. You’ll never look at a bunch of tulips in the same way again.

Amsterdam has much to offer the early spring visitor. For tulips in a garden setting, head to the fabulous Keukenhof Gardens with 32-plus hectares dotted by more than 7 million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, and their breathtaking color and heady fragrance. There’s not a more beautiful spring garden in the world!

Spend a day at the Rijksmuseum, originally opened in 1885 and completely renovated, rebuilt and restored over a period of 10 years, this imposing and spectacular building combines the best of old and new. Bright and airy, it boasts a new Asian Pavillion and houses more than 800 years of Dutch art and history, presented in creative chronological order. Lovers of Rembrandt and all 17th-century Dutch Masters will delight in this museum.

With 165 canals and 1,200 bridges, Amsterdam is indeed a ‘watery’ place, so hop on one of the low-slung, glass-ceilinged canal boats for a leisurely tour of the city’s beauty. We highly recommend a nighttime tour by candlelight, when the architecture of the old city center is most effectively illuminated and enjoyed.

Also in and around the city center: the historic Anne Frank House, where the young girl and her family hid during the horrors of the Holocaust. Another popular stop is the Van Gogh Museum, which houses the largest collection of the artist’s paintings in the world.

For shoppers, the activity takes on a Bohemian flavor in Amsterdam, with flea markets and antique shops at every corner. And, of course, there’s the Red Light District. Alive and well (used as a euphemism), this part of the city’s most historic neighborhood is a major tourist attraction: You’ll see plenty of visitors walking by the enormous windows and under the glow of red lights simply to observe this phenomenon. A reminder: Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam, so be wary of unsavory and un-touristy folks who would come under the heading of thieves and drug-dealers.

Luxury hotels include The Toren in the center of the canal area, a chic haven for a memorable and unique stay. The Intercontinental Amstel Amsterdam was once a grand Dutch residence. Located near financial, cultural and shopping areas, it oozes palatial grandeur right along the Amstel River. Hotel Seven One Seven is a 19th-century building with all the modern conveniences. Here, you can pick from the Dickens, Mahler, Schubert or Picasso suites, among others.

For the feeling of being in a Dutch living room, be sure to visit several ‘brown cafes,’ which are akin to the pubs of London and the epitome of cozy watering holes. For a true Dutch breakfast, lunch or dinner try Gartine, a tiny gem where reservations are a must. Greenwoods is another worthy stop, specializing in eggs Benedicts, smoked salmon and marvelous sandwiches. Book this one, too. Also try: Bussia for creative and delicious Italian; Vinkeles for French, contemporary cuisine and superb service; and the trendy Café George for the feel of a French brasserie. For nightlife, music, food and fun, try the Supperclub.

Think Amsterdam for spring, and you’ll find that this Dutch capital is indeed a tip-toe through the tulips.

Native St. Louisan, Judy Crowell, has been a Ladue News travel writer for years, traveling the world but preferring to chronicle the sublime beauty of America, “from sea to shining sea”.