Most countries with royalty celebrate their monarch’s birthday with pomp and ceremony. The Dutch, in comparison, hold a giant open-air market and paint the town orange to celebrate Koningsdag.
Besides landing in the center of a nation-wide block party, international visitors arriving in the Netherlands on Koningsdag (King's Day) may feel as if they've taken a wrong turn and ended up at a riotous bazaar: up to and including million visitors descend upon Amsterdam on 27 April every year to celebrate the birthday of the reigning Dutch monarch, Willem Alexander.
King’s Day is a national vacation in the Netherlands, where everything possible is covered in orange, from flags, wigs, and clothing to revelers' faces: this color honors the royal family, home of Orange-Nassau. The celebrations begin on King's Day eve (King's Night), and the alcohol and music don't stop flowing for 24 hours. King's Day starts at 06:00 having a huge vrijmarkt (flea market) invading the country's sidewalks.
With street-corner musicians, DJ booths, and huge, popular parties organized in many cities and towns' concert venues, the party only stops once the king's birthday has ended.
From Queen’s Day to King’s Day
2020 is going to be King Willem-Alexander's sixth successive year around the throne since his mother Beatrix's abdication in 2020. King’s Day was once celebrated as ‘Queen’s Day’, in honor of the successive female monarchs because the national holiday began in the late 1880’s. However, 2020 was the first year to celebrate the famous national holiday as 'King’s Day', following a coronation of Willem-Alexander in 2020, the first Dutch king since 1890.
Queen’s Day was formally held on 30 April, which honored the birth-date of Queen Juliana from 1949 up until the abdication of her daughter Queen Beatrix. Queen Beatrix never changed the date to her very own birthday (31 January) as it fell during the winter. But now King’s Day honors the birthday of King Willem-Alexander, who had been born on 27 April and can turn 52 years of age this year.
Spotting royals on King’s Day
Royal-spotting is a vital element of King’s Day, and each year they go to a certain part of the Netherlands. This season Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima will visit Amersfoort, and you can follow the entire route with the city. Every year, the chosen city hosts an action-packed day of events for that royals and the public.
The people of Amersfoort will see them make their way to the historic center, starting from Mari”enhof, and will also be greeted by 300 children in the city.
Free trading: King's Day flea market
Koningsdag is the one day each year that the public can set up shop on the streets with no trading licence. Traditionally in the days accumulating to King’s Day, areas on pavements are sectioned served by chalk or tape and marked using the word bezet, or occupied. To the uninitiated, these markings in chalk or tape may appear to become some type of bizarre crop circles – but in fact, they are needed if you want to sell items on King’s Day, while you must mark your territory well in advance! Observe that the Amsterdam City Council, however, has banned locals from reserving an area of pavement, and several other cities also don’t take. Anyone caught marking the pavement in these cities can be fined. In such places, it’s an initial come, first sell basis.
Selling is permitted around the streets. Areas in some cities might be classified as no-sell zones; check your local municipality’s website to see where you can sell.
If you're not interested in showing off your goods in public places spaces (and cashing in the reported average street-seller earning of EUR100!), then browsing and buying stuff you never knew you possessed (and probably don't) while wearing an orange wig may be the main activity of the day. You'll find well-used children’s toys, clothing, chipped china crockery, aquariums, and much more, all offered by really low prices.
The best items are often found early, such as kids’ prams and cribs. Haggling over goods is all area of the day’s fun, and also the selling frenzy is generally in full swing between 07:00 and 11:00.
Where to celebrate King's Day
Most towns and cities have fairground attractions and music events lined up, with lots of starting off on King’s Day eve, or King's Night (Koningsnacht), on 26 April. You'll find a range of DJ events and parties held around the Netherlands. Kingsland Festival Amsterdam and Kingsland Festival Den Bosch will feature some top Dutch and international DJ’s. You need to buy tickets in advance to enter these events, and be conscious that tickets typically sell out early.
Koningsdag is also the main one day's the year that singers and bands are actively encouraged to setup on each street corner to own public their all by singing ‘traditional’ Dutch ballads.
In recent years, there has been some complaints that festivities are now being marred by increased commercialization and that the crowds within the big cities are unbearable. To avert this, you may consider getting your map of the Netherlands and picking a small town (maybe one you haven't heard of before). This can be a fantastic way to sample the gezelligheid (cosiness) of King's Day, as pretty much every town includes a range of events for all ages.
Alternatively, you could hit the streets of one from the King’s Day big four (Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht) and dive right into the hedonistic indulgence of drink, music, and also the look for a bargain you never really wanted. If you think really brave, you might have your face painted orange to help blend in to the local King’s Day scene.
King’s Day in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the busiest city on King’s Day, as over a million visitors join the residents in street haggling, partying and dressing in orange. Amsterdam’s King’s Day is also among the best for putting aside certain areas for children to lay out their stalls. The Vondelpark is just for children under 16 to set up stalls, which opens its gates at 09:00. Find more child-friendly areas during King’s Day in Amsterdam.
Some other popular areas for markets and street performers have been in the Jordaan and in Amsterdam Zuid around Beethovenstraat, Stadionweg and Apollolaan.
You will find plenty of partying on the streets the night before for King’s Night, with the Jordaan, Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein areas being among the most popular. Look for a list of the top Koningsnacht events in Amsterdam, as well as the parties on King’s Day in Amsterdam.
You’ll also see Amsterdam’s canals packed with King’s Day revelers on boats. If you aren't yet a guest on a boat, you can maximize your chances by chilling out canal side with the hope to be invited aboard!
No trains and buses, cars or taxis are allowed through the center of Amsterdam on King’s Day, and you'll find away from city center most buses and trams are rerouted, even though you can expect later operating times. Ferries between Amsterdam Noord and also the rest of the city stay in operation.
Cars are normally blocked from entering Prins Hendrikkade, Damrak, Muntplein and Rokin, although restrictions are typically lifted in the evening.
King’s Day within the Hague
King’s Night in Den Haag (The Hague) is among the biggest Dutch parties, using a large music festival called The life span I Live Festival (in Dutch). It’s a totally free, huge open-air music event, that can bring local and international bands to do on stages in different squares round the city, e.g. Kerkplein, Grote Markt and Plaats, to name a few. Join revelers on both Koningsnacht and Koningsdag wandering the streets from stage to stage to listen to everything from rock, indie pop, garage and punk to electronic, hip hop, and funk. On King’s Day in The Hague, you’ll find lots of hubbub concentrated around the canals, Statenkwartier and Noordeinde. There’s also a funfair in Den Haag (in Dutch) full of lots of fun rides, running from 12-28 April 2020.
Attractive areas on King’s Day in The Hague are Lange Voorhout, Frederik Hendrikplein and also the free market at Maliefeld, that is just across the street in the main stop. See Den Haag’s King’s Day program at King's Day The Hague.
King’s Day in Rotterdam
Rotterdam’s official King’s Day celebrations happen at various locations over the city. You are able to relax on a terrace at Rotown, dance on Stadhuisplein or visit one of the numerous flea markets that are located in the Coolsingel to the market around the Binnenrotte.
If you’re searching for the very best things to do in Rotterdam this season, check out Rotterdam’s King’s Day agenda and events.
King’s Day in Utrecht
King’s Day in Utrecht (30 minutes from Amsterdam) is serious about the flea market (vrijmarkt), which begins at 18:00 on 26 April and runs for the following Twenty four hours in Utrecht’s main areas. Children’s markets and performances typically happen around Park Lepelenburg and Miffy's Square (Nijntje Pleintje).
You’ll also find the typical, (but slightly lesser than neighboring Amsterdam), ‘orange madness’ around Utrecht on King’s Day, with boats around the canals and the city’s squares – particularly around Domplein, Lucasbolwerk, Mariaplaats, Neude and Janskerkhof.
Top tips for King’s Day
- Don't result in the mistake of celebrating it on 30 April – the previous date of Queen's Day!
- Wear everything you have that is orange.
- Check ahead of time which transport routes are open and become ready to walk to achieve the attractions in the center; comfortable shoes are a must.
- Bring plenty of small change – this is not merely good for buying bric-a-brac but is essential for paying to use the toilets in bars and restaurants (normally EUR1).
- Get in the Dutch spirit of things by sampling the tompouce, a sweet Dutch pastry filled with cream that is made especially orange for the King's Day festival. Wash it down with an oranjebitter – check out steps to make your own oranjebitter.
- Officially, you're only allowed to carry one alcoholic drink along with you. Officially.
- Look after your belongings – pickpockets are rife in the large crowds on King's Day.
- Choose your party location wisely. Discover fond of large crowds, keep to the areas further from the city centre that are a little calmer – or celebrate in a small town or village.
Photo credits: Floris Looijesteijn (Royal family) | Cris Toala Olivares