I’ve been trying to count how many times now that I’ve attended Queen’s or King’s Day, but I can’t quite nail down the right number. It’s three or four at this point, but I suppose the real takeaway is that I have enjoyed myself so many times over the years that I’ve lost count.
Koningsdag, King’s Day in English, is a national holiday celebrated on King Willem-Alexander’s birthday (April 27) each year. Until just last year when Queen Beatrix abdicated to her son, the holiday was known as Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day) and was celebrated on April 30, the birthday of former Queen Juliana (mother of Beatrix). Queen Beatrix could have changed the date to her own birthday, but my guess is that she kept it in April, as this national fête is best celebrated outside – not exactly ideal for January in the Netherlands! How convenient that the new King’s birthday is just three days earlier than the previously-celebrated date.
Beginning the night before the big day, people start claiming their spots on the heavily trafficked areas, where they plan to set up their mini yard sale. King’s Day is the one day each year that Dutchies can sell their belongings in public without a permit and without reporting sales to the tax authorities. Dutchies are known for loving a good deal, so this is a popular aspect of the day. I even participated in this myself a couple of years ago when I sold Amsterdam photos along a canal. I came to realize, though, that so many of the people wandering about aren’t so much into shopping after a certain point and have nowhere to leave their purchases, so once the booze starts really flowing, a lot of the sales cease.
An important tip for a successful King’s Day is to start the day with a full breakfast, and the reason is two-fold. (1) Not all restaurants are open so you don’t know when you’ll get a meal next (or at least not a decent one) and (2) there’s a lot of alcohol consumed on King’s Day, so it’s best to start with a full stomach. 🍳🍞
🧡 As far as attire goes, it’s only right for you to be wearing some version of the Dutch flag (red, white, and blue) or the even more popular orange, which has become the color of the Dutch, thanks to Willem van Oranje (William of Orange).
🎧 This has changed over the years, but in true Dutch fashion, there are stages set up throughout the city with DJs, bands, etc. It’s fun to wander from stage to stage and enjoy the different vibes each has to offer. There used to be a huge stage – drawing thousands of people throughout the day – at Museumplein, but that has since gone away, likely for safety reasons.
🍔🍻 Food: As I mentioned, there aren’t many restaurants open on King’s Day, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to eat. People who live in the busier parts of the city often make and sell their own snacks for passers-by. The food establishments that are open serve mostly unhealthy junk food – you know, the kind of stuff that pairs perfectly with a beer that you’ve just paid triple the normal price for because you bought it off someone on the street? 🤑
🚽 Restroom: This is by far the least pleasant aspect of the day. Temporary urinals are set up all over the city (for men, of course), but women have to find proper restrooms to do their business. It is common to see restaurants and even residents charge 1€ or so for use of their toilets. I’m sure it’s good business but I’ve always been turned off by the sight of men peeing in the streets at every turn and of course the obvious discrimination against women having to pay to go.
Just like any national holiday, King’s Day is really a blast of a time, something you should try to experience at some point if you plan to visit the Netherlands in Springtime. The ambiance is a blast, and most people are well-behaved. The party often gets the craziest on Prinsengracht, so if you want something more low key, avoid that and the Jordaan area. As far as hotels go, you’ll want to book plenty far out to ensure a reservation at a good place. Prices are a bit inflated at this time, of course, but trust me – it’s worth it!