For a wacky weekend full of regal fun and frolics, you can’t beat King’s Day. It currently celebrates the Netherlands’ King Willem-Alexander, who became Europe’s youngest monarch at 47 in April 2013.
This wacky festival, which turns the streets of Holland’s cities into an orangecoloured orgy of raucous activity, started back in 1885. At the time Holland’s monarchy was a bit unpopular so the then-government dreamt up the idea of King’s Day – originally known as Princesses Day – to honour the birth of Wilhelmina, the royal who later ruled for 58 years and who is renowned for her role in inspiring the Dutch resistance during World War II.
The first festival took place in the town of Utrecht, but other cities soon followed suit and in 1890, when Wilhelmina inherited the throne and Prinsessedag was renamed Koninginnedag, the right royal day was feted all over Holland.
Banned during World War II, when Germany occupied the Netherlands, by the 1950s the newly revived festival was so popular it was awarded the status of national holiday. There will be King’s Day festivals all over Holland, but as the country’s capital, Amsterdam’s open-air fun, which attracts more than a million visitors each year, is the biggest and craziest. For 24 hours, the whole of the city centre is closed to cars and trams, while streets, canals, parks and everywhere in between turn orange to honour the Dutch Royal family, the House of Orange-Nassau.
It’s an exciting time to be in this city famed for its nightlife and fun street life, so shine up the tiara, shove on your best (orange) ball gown, grab your sparkly wand and head out to join Amsterdammers enjoying the biggest Dutch street party of the year.
Take one of Europe’s hippest party cities renowned for its extremely tolerant attitude (think coffee/cannabis shops and sex workers), then add 80,0000+ bikes, 2,500 houseboats, a few windmills and countless cafes and clubs, and you’ll understand why Amsterdam is the best place in Holland to celebrate King’s Day in partied-up style. But when the last bit of orange bunting bites the dust, it’s worth lingering to explore this city, which has been home to celebrities ranging from Vincent van Gogh, to Alex van Halen. Lots of old quarters and historic streets will keep you strolling for miles, and there are plenty of canal tours, museums and live music venues to keep you busy.
What to expect
The festivities kick off on King’s Night, the eve of the big day, with DJ street parties and live music in cafes and on canal boats decorated in carnival style. After an hour or so of sleep, the city continues partying at around 11am and keeps on going! For this years events take a look here: www.iamsterdam.com/en/see-and-do/whats-on/major-events-and-celebrations/kings-day/whats-on/kings-day-parties. Everyone ends up, though, at The Vrijmarkt, one of the world’s largest flea markets, where anything goes…
Get in the spirit
To feel like you’re part of that royal vibe you’ll need to catch ‘orange madness’, a well-known festival phenomenon where revellers vie with each other to wear the most orange. That doesn’t just mean clothes and accessories, it means tinting all your body hair, including beards and eyebrows. And yes, we’re sure some match their cuffs and collar.
If you really want to get into the King’s Day spirit, you should set up your own stand in the Vrijmarket – apart from perishable food products and alcohol, you can sell just about everything. And do remember that tickets for the major events and biggest bands sell out like hot oliebollen, so you’ll need to make a plan in advance if you want to catch the top acts.
Alright it might be a tad touristy, but you can’t miss a canal tour to discover the city’s historic waterways that were classed by UNESCO in 2010. With its excellent and good-value bike rental system and kilometres of cycle tracks, you’ll also want to explore the world’s most bike-friendly capital on two wheels, but watch out for tram lines because it’s easy to get your tyres stuck.
Finally, we know that you’ll want to hit one of those coffee shops, but don’t expect to see weed on the counter – you’ll be handed a menu to choose from. Pick of the best is Barneys, famed for the vanilla kush, or the Green House with its cosy dens where you can kick back (or should that be blow back?) in total privacy.