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The case for visiting Amsterdam on King’s Day

April 28, 2015
Dress code: Orange
King's Day in Amsterdam

King’s Day in Amsterdam

If you’re lucky enough to be a tourist visiting Amsterdam on King’s Day, the happy festivities are worth any inconvenience.

We were excited to book a two-night, pre-cruise stay at The Dylan, a boutique hotel in the historic heart of Amsterdam, until we received the response to our room request from the hotel management. It read:

“April 27th is King’s Day in the Netherlands, making it impossible to arrive at the hotel, with road closures and cars not being permitted in the old town center that day.”

Even as frequent travelers, we’re often ignorant of holidays abroad and have unknowingly arrived to find museums and restaurants shuttered. But what kind of holiday could prevent us from getting into the city center by bus, tram or taxi?

We booked a one-night stay at another hotel about 15-minutes by foot from the center of Amsterdam and soon after our arrival that morning, rushed out to experience firsthand the hoopla surrounding King’s Day.

Celebrating King's Day

Celebrating King’s Day

What is King’s Day?

April 27th marks the birthday of King Willem-Alexander, which is celebrated as a national holiday throughout the country (unless it falls on a Sunday when it’s celebrated on the 26th). Until two years ago (when the Netherlands had a Queen), the holiday was called Queen’s Day.

The dress code is orange—a symbol of national pride in honor of the royal House of Orange. We are swept up in a sea of it: Everyone (including babies in carriages) dons something outrageously orange, whether they are boa scarves, balloon hats, formal suits and ties, tee shirts, stretchy bodysuits, socks, wigs, sunglasses or whatever.

Dress code: Orange

Dress code: Orange

Revelers in the busy Rembrandtplein square in Amsterdam

Revelers in the busy Rembrandtplein square in Amsterdam

What’s it like in Amsterdam?

Amsterdam is the epicenter of this giant street party with an estimated 700,000 people flocking to the already crowded city from other places. DJs are perched on balconies at almost every intersection as music fills the air.

Above the street

Above the street

The level of excitement and enthusiasm of the revelers is no less than that of the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnival in Venice, or New Year’s Eve in Times Square.

Vendors line the streets, parks and canals selling Dutch and international foods. Beer and liquor stands are ubiquitous so the number of people “pleasantly inebriated” far outweighs the occasional waft of marijuana (for which Amsterdam is well known).

Food vendors line all the streets

Food vendors line all the streets

Makeshift "bars"

Makeshift “bars”

Instead of a parade with decorated floats, a flotilla of party boats and barges pass through the canals. The boats are so crowded that passengers can’t sit. Rather, they stand shoulder to shoulder moving to the beat of loud music. On the holiday, many stores close down, too, as the city hosts the world’s largest flea market, called the vrijmarkt, with everyone bringing second-hand items onto the city streets for sale.

Boat on the canal

Boat on the canal

and more boats

and more boats

The best place to see the action 

King’s Day isn’t for the faint-hearted. With hoards of people, even getting through the crowds can be formidable but everyone is in remarkably good spirits. Three out of four locals in Amsterdam (an amazingly high proportion even for a European city) own and ride bicycles so we had to be cautious of bikes whizzing past us on some less crowded streets.

On a beautiful day with the sun glimmering on the water, we realized that the bridges crossing the canals are probably the best vantage point for getting a sense of this one-of-a-kind celebration that seems to coincide with tulip season and spring! It’s a perfect time for visiting Amsterdam.

View from a bridge

View from a bridge


IF YOU GO

King’s Day FAQs from the Amsterdam Tourist Board can be found on I amsterdam.

Watch our YouTube video of one of the party boats on the canal:

  • Reply
    Sheryl
    April 28, 2015 at 8:20 am

    Sounds like fun, although I have a feeling the crowds might be a bit overwhelming!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      April 28, 2015 at 12:18 pm

      Everyone was so jovial and well-behaved that I didn’t mind it at all!

  • Reply
    Arline Zatz
    April 28, 2015 at 10:26 am

    I’ve been to Amsterdam at least a dozen times and enjoyed it each time. Unfortunately, always missed this special holiday. Amsterdam is always crowded, whether celebrating a holiday or not. As you point out, bikes are always whizzing by and it’s certainly dangerous for pedestrians crossing the street – on the watch for cars, other people crossing and the bike riders. I used to love watching bicyclists going by with a French bread in one hand, or carrying a baby in one arm. It’s certainly a fun city once you get used to the dirty streets and graffiti on many of the buildings. But the Dutch are great, friendly people, and the museums are top-notch, as are the street markets. I used to love walking the streets, looking at all the house boats – some beautiful, some tiny and some a mess.
    Thanks for the lovely photos. Best, Arline

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      April 28, 2015 at 12:19 pm

      Thanks for sharing such lovely memories of this beautiful city, Arline. Talk about garbage the morning after King’s Day—but they did get all the beer cans off the street pretty quickly:-)

  • Reply
    Arline Zatz
    April 28, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    The canals are filled with lots of garbage, too, but it seems a way of life in Amsterdam. One thing my husband appreciated were the toilets usually found on corners. How was the food, Irene? We didn’t particularly care of the Dutch food, but there were plenty of restaurants featuring every kind of food imaginable. I remember breaking my diet by going to a McDonald’s and asking for ketchup with my fries. I was looked at in an odd way. Ketchup was unheard of, they use mustard.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      April 28, 2015 at 6:19 pm

      I found the public toilets a curiosity. They were too public!!:-)

      • Reply
        Laura
        April 28, 2015 at 7:18 pm

        In what way?

  • Reply
    Sand In My Suitcase
    April 28, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    Looks like a fun celebration! Did you wear anything orange?

  • Reply
    Laura
    April 28, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    You’re so adventurous, Irene! All that’s missing is a picture of you and Jerry (in orange?)!

  • Irene S. Levine
    Reply
    Irene S. Levine
    April 28, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    In response to Janice and Laura, I didn’t have anything orange with me but I did end the day with an Aperol spritz. Does that count?

  • Reply
    Arline Zatz
    April 28, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    Know what you mean, Irene. It was strange seeing men’s legs in full view. Thankfully the rest of them wasn’t noticeable. People in Amsterdam aren’t at all shy when it comes to certain things. One day I was relaxing on a bench facing a canal when, suddenly, the gentleman next to me got up, faced the canal, and peed right into the water. Oh, did I say ‘gentleman’ ???? He didn’t think nothing of it and I saw a couple of other men doing the same thing at other times. Quite odd.

  • Reply
    Suzanne Stavert
    April 30, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    The Dutch are very fun people who love their King and the color orange. It looks like it could have been a bit overwhelming. I LOVE Amsterdam and we were just there 18 months ago. It was a beautiful city, with great food, and gorgeous architecture.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      April 30, 2015 at 4:11 pm

      I had been to Amsterdam many years ago and didn’t expect to be as charmed by the city as I was, Suzanne. I, too, fell in love with all it has to offer.

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