Why you NEED to Visit the Tulip Festival in Pella, Iowa, and What To Do There!

 I just came back from my second annual trip to see the tulips in Pella, Iowa. If you have never been to this adorable Dutch inspired city, it is definitely worth the road trip; here’s why!

pink and yellow tulips at Pella's tulip festival

Why Should I Visit Pella For Tulip Time? 

Pella is a unique community that was founded by a group of Dutch immigrants in the mid 1800s. The city of Pella has retained so much of that authentic Dutch culture and “flavor”. In fact, I would say it's about as close as you can get to the feeling of being in Europe while still being in Iowa. From the dutch themed shops, to local heritage groups, to the dutch inspired architecture, it’s everywhere! Pella also carries on the Dutch tradition of Tulip Time, a springtime festival marked by hundreds and hundreds of colorful tulips! 

Tulip Time in Pella is a really great weekend trip because it offers something for everyone. It can be as active or relaxed as you want the trip to be. Furthermore, It really is one of the most unique and quintessential Iowa events. If you think of Iowa as a drab, unimpressive place, you will be surprised how elaborate the celebration actually is! As an added bonus, Pella is located in one of the most beautiful regions in Iowa. This area has gorgeous rolling hills and cattle farms, and it is nearby Red Rock Lake, Elk Rock State Park, and a scenic byway. This means the drive to the Tulip festival will be far from boring!

What to Do At The Tulip Time Festival in Pella? 

  1. Eat Dutch Food!


Pella makes it easy to eat your fill of all the dutch food you didn’t even know about! Dutch Fix serves street food, ala Neatherlands. Try Fries with Curry ketchup, dutch mini doughnuts, and fried gravy balls called “Bitterballen”. If that’s not your style, you can get Pella Bologna sandwiches or specialty gouda cheese at In't Veld's Meat Market just down the road. Most importantly, don’t forget to pick up dutch letters - a delicious “S” shaped almond pastry. Every time we visit we pick up enough to bring them home to share. Traditionally, these are eaten at christmas time, but the bakeries in Pella always have them in stock. In fact, during Tulip Time extra food stands are set up all around downtown just to meet demand for these flaky sweets. These same stands also sell ribbon fries and other popular festival food.  

Dutch letter pastries, a staple at Tulip Time in Pella

  1. Take Photos of the Tulip Flowers

This festival is great for colorful photos! The City of Pella maintains a multitude of types of tulips, spread out around the downtown area, central park, historical village, and the sunken gardens a few blocks away. In addition to the flowers, there are some great photo ops at the windmill and outside Dutch Fix. 

Tulips at Pella Iowa

  1. Watch the Tulip Time Parades

Tulip parade is possibly the best I have seen in the midwest. Several parades will happen during the festival weekend, which means the roads around the main square will be shut down to road traffic. The parade consists of several local marching bands, Dutch heritage guilds in historical costumes from the various regions of the Netherlands, and some really elaborate floats celebrating folksy Dutch themes such as windmills,  wooden shoes, and handcrafts. I was surprised last year how long the parade lasted. This is not your average Iowa small town parade.

A Lego themed float in the Pella Tulip Time Parade

  1. Learn About Pella’s History

The Pella Historical Society maintains a nice open air museum, fully decorated with tulips, of course! If you aren't familiar with Dutch culture, the museum offers some really wonderful context for traditions that live on in modern Pella and the original immigrants from the Netherlands. Learn about the origins of wooden shoes (surprisingly practical!), those silly hats used in dutch folk dress, and about dutch Santa Claus (he lives in Spain!). As an added bonus, there is history about the childhood home of Wyatt Earp, the famous western lawman of tombstone fame.

A historical display on wooden shoes in Pella, Iowa

Dealing With Crowds at the Tulip Festival

The crowds and lines at Tulip Time are not to be taken lightly. Plan ahead, bring water, and if you want a space at a sitdown restaurant, consider making reservations. Lines for popular spots like Dutch Fix will be long, maybe even 30 minutes for counter service, and you will have to stand outside, since these shops are rather small. 

One of the worst lines is the line for the Vermeer Windmill, which gives tours and sells dutch letters. This is going to be a controversial take, but I’m not sure that the line is worth it during Tulip Time. If you would like to visit the windmill, try going in the weeks before or after rather than during Tulip Time weekend. Keep in mind that tours sell out on all days during tulip season, and not just during the festival. You will need to come early in the day to reserve a spot, and tickets can’t be ordered online. 

The Vermeer Windmill in Pella, Iowa

Go Visit Tulip Time in Pella!

Make sure you add this festival to your Iowa travel bucket list. Rain or shine, it will always be an great time. Even outside of Tulip Time, Pella makes a great stop along an Iowa road trip.


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