8 things you should know about King’s Day in the Netherlands

It’s that time of the year again. It’s one of the holidays the Netherlands is best known for. We celebrate our dying monarchy by congratulating our king and drinking ’til we drop.

After two years of cancelled King’s Day festivities (no thanks to the coronavirus pandemic), you can bet we’re going back to wearing orange and drinking Dutch beer.

To warm up to the Dutch partying ways, we share eight things you should know before King’s Day.

1. King’s Day celebrates the ruling Dutch monarch

If you’ve just moved to the Netherlands, it’s good to know that this is a national holiday. This might be a strange concept to expats and internationals, but it means you most likely get the day off to sit in the sun, drink and be merry.

Thanks for being born, King Willem-Alexander! 👑 As suggested by the oh-so-subtle name, King’s Day is King Willem-Alexander’s birthday. It’s a bit of an adjustment for everyone since it used to be called Queen’s Day for decades.

Before that, we used to celebrate the birthday of our queen mother, Beatrix. But now she has retired, we’ve switched things up and put the onus on King’s Day.

Why? Because in-laws are always ignored and should be happy to be there. Right, post-mortem Prince Claus? (R.I.P)

Prince-Claus-of-the-Netherlands
Always the bridesmaid (prince), never the bride (King). Image: Dutch National Archives/ Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Our Willem Alexander is the proper heir to the throne because of genetics. So Maxima’s queen title is just there for the fun of it. She is as much a queen as Rupaul is. Yas queen, slay 💅.

Nonetheless, King’s Day is upon us. Maxima’s birthday is actually on January 31. But for decades, it has been celebrated as Queen’s Day, even though it isn’t Maxima’s birthday.

After Queen Juliana’s rule, ending in 1980, whose birthday was on April 30, Queen Beatrix decided to keep celebrations around that time of year.

Before Juliana’s rule, Queen’s Day was held on Queen Wilhelmina’s birthday on August 31, the holiday originating in her younger years when she was still a Princess.

Queen-Wilhelmina-of-The-Netherlands
It’s Wilhelmina herself! Image: Atelier Jacob Merkelbach/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The day was given the apt title: Princess’ Day. Looking at a photo of her from back in the day it becomes clear why — who doesn’t want to throw that sexy little minx a party? 💃

2. You can celebrate King’s Day everywhere in the Netherlands

So you have something orange, you’ve been saving up your beer, and you’re ready to go all out on King’s Day.

We know there will be something happening everywhere in the country, but what events should be on your radar? Don’t worry; there are plenty of places you can check out!

The Randstad cities have the biggest celebrations, Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, and Utrecht — but you’ll find that every city, town, and village has its way of celebrating.

Celebrating King’s Day in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is by far the most popular city to celebrate King’s Day — and it’s no surprise. Over a million visitors come to the city to haggle and drink beer. No public transport, cars, or taxis are allowed in the city, so a bike or a boat are your best friends. 🚤

Boats on canals Amsterdam Kings's Day 2020
People are having a blast on the canal in Amsterdam during King’s Day. Image: Pixabay

You can find plenty of street performances and music around different neighbourhoods, particularly the Jordaan and Amsterdam Zuid. Leidseplein, Rembrandtplein, and the Jordaan are a must-see if you’re into the party scenes. 🍾

Celebrating King’s Day in The Hague

Although smaller and less chaotic than Amsterdam, The Hague throws a lively celebration for King’s Day. They celebrate Koningsnacht the night before King’s Day with lots of drinking and music, especially with the free, open-air festival they host in the city centre. 🎊

You can also check out markets and parties around Statenkwartier and Noordeinde. The Hague also sets up a huge kermis (fair) in Malieveld with plenty of fun rides, attractions, and games to play. 🎠

Celebrating King’s Day in Rotterdam

Rotterdam is a little more subtle than the other cities. You can relax on a terrace far away from all the noise and chaos (or nearby if that’s your thing too).

You can also check out plenty of markets and parties along Coolsingel, the Binnerotte, and Stadhuisplein.

Celebrating King’s Day in Utrecht

Utrecht is best known for its massive flea market, which runs for 24 hours beginning on April 26. 🛍

You can catch kids’ markets (flea markets for children to sell their things) around Park Lepelenburg and Nijntje Pleintje, and even more partying around Domplein, Lucasbolwerk, Mariaplaats, Neude, and Jankerkshof.

3. The Dutch Royal family visit one lucky city each year

Since Beatrix started the tradition, the royals have gone out on the town and celebrated with “the people”. So you, too can catch a glimpse of the King and Queen. 🤴🏼👸🏼

Every year the royals go to a different region to show how connected they are to the commoner. They usually play silly games, enjoying old Dutch traditions involving clogs and swamp monster re-enactments (oh, how I’d wish that were true).

They small talk with the locals and do the rounds of kissing babies (in non-pandemic times, of course). 💋

King-willem-alexanders-celebrating-his-birthday-in-the-netherlands-2015
King Willy was having a great time during his visit to Dordrecht for King’s Day 2015. Image: Depositphotos

So want to catch a glimpse of the royals this year? The royal family will visit the city of Maastricht for King’s Day 2022 in the Netherlands.

The whole city will be celebrating the event, with live music and bands around the city, speeches, and plenty of street parties, house parties, and clubs (as long as some new super-corona-mutation doesn’t decide it wants to join the fun.)

If you’re not feeling the loud parties, you can still enjoy a cup of tea or coffee on a terrace. ☕️

4. Dutchies have plenty of fun traditions

It isn’t King’s Day in the Netherlands without a special set of traditions. Dutchies will sell old belongings, music, and entertainment for a little extra cash! 💶

It’s such a popular thing to do, in fact, young children even take part in it too — many kids like to set up fun party games for people to play for a small fee. Spijkerpoepen, koekhappen, and tombola might sound like nonsense, but they’re very near and dear to the heart.

Nail poops?

Spijkerpoepen translates to nail poop, which should already point you to how wacky this game is. You tie a long piece of string around your waist, and dangling at the bottom of the string is a nail.

Your goal is to try and get the nail inside the tiny opening of a beer bottle or similar:

Seems easy enough, right? 😅

Snack central

If you’re into Dutch snacks, koekhappen is for you. Koekhappen translates into the very cute-sounding “biscuit bites”, and it means what you think it does with a little twist.

Someone hangs several pieces of Dutch cookies to a string. Players have to try and bite a piece of the cookie as quickly as possible with hands tied behind their back (and sometimes even blindfolded). The first person to pull the piece of cookie from the string wins the game!

Quite the wholesome and family-friendly game, if you ask us. 🍪

Dutchies’ version of bingo

And finally, you’ll probably find many Dutchies playing a game of tombola. A combination of a gift raffle and bingo, it’s a fun game to play to win presents. Especially if you want to sit down and relax during King’s Day. 😌

5. Flea markets dominate King’s Day

King’s Day is also known for the flea markets that descend themselves in most cities. The ban on free trade is lifted for this holiday. Days, and sometimes weeks, people mark their territory with crayons and tags in advance. 🖍

Curbs, sidewalks, bridges, every patch and centimetre become a potential reason for dispute and conflict. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people mark their territory like dogs (the streets certainly smell like it 🤧 ).

Want to get rid of some of your old junk? Put it on display, and you might sell some of it (obviously depending on how crappy your stuff is).

Half of the Netherlands has fond childhood memories (and trauma) of saving up for that special toy by selling their old stuff during Kongingsdag.

This is also the day you can make some spare change by selling any unwanted booze, drinks, food, refreshments or just providing plain silly entertainment.

It doesn’t matter how, but you can make money. Drunks are easy targets. 🎯

Speaking of alcohol…

6. Drinking beer and passing out is one of the biggest attractions of King’s Day

The Netherlands loves its booze. After decades of smart marketing by Heineken, a product of national pride, we’re all hooked on the foamy sweet nectar of the gods on King’s Day.

And oh, how we love it.

No beer glass is left full, no mind is left clear. If there’s ever a day to enjoy a drink, it’s this one.

It’s not just the day itself, the night before is half the fun. It’s usually as busy as King’s Day, minus the kids and families. That means more opportunities to spill your beer, pee your pants, and slur your words. (Don’t we love drunk people?). 😁

7. Everything will be orange

For your safety and sanity, please, for the love of God, wear orange! Yes, the colour of Dutch pride is used for any occasion. Whether it’s the World Cup, the Olympics, or national holidays like Koningsdag.

Wear orange, and you confirm your place as a Dutchie. Whether you were born in the Netherlands or not, it doesn’t matter. Everyone is united in a sea of Orange. 🧡

People-wearing-orange-and-celebrating-in-the-netherlands
The sea of Orange is endless. Image: Depositphotos

Especially when you combine it by shouting some classic phrases at strangers like “Leve de Koning“. Even shouting nonsense will create a ripple of shouting, laughter, and high fives.

Plenty of brands use the Dutch love of the colour orange to their advantage.

To show their patriotic (highly corporate) streak you’ll come across: orange shaving razors, headphones, grills, barbies, and lube can all be purchased in the name of national pride. 🍊

Brands tap into our Dutch sense of belonging to exploit it to the full. And so, the cycle continues.

8. Drink a herstelbiertje to survive the festivities

Unfortunately, you still have to go to work the next day. Not to worry, have a herstelbiertje (recovery beer)! The English call it “hair of the dog”, and according to the Dutch, it’s the best way to get over your hangover in the morning. 😵‍💫

Just keep drinking so you can never be hungover, simple! And who in their right mind would argue with that? So ignore the desperate cries of your liver, and go for that good old Dutch beer! The real breakfast of champions. 🍻

Well, that completes the King’s Day survival kit. Now, have a blast and let’s nostalgically commemorate a time when the monarchy still mattered within our tiny imaged community!

What do you like best about Kingsday? Let us know in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in March 2020 and was fully updated in April 2022 for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Martijn Van Veen
Martijn Van Veen
Martijn is a filmmaker and curious mind fascinated with the ever changing world around him. He loves to overshare and to mingle in debates surrounding feminism, LGBT rights, ethnicity, immigration, copyright, new media and the war on drugs.

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30 COMMENTS

  1. Poorly written piece of article with a video of 2008 .. ?

    The writer’s attempts of being witty feel quite shallow.

  2. It’s 2016 and you still decide to go with “And looking at a photo of her from back in the day it becomes clear why: who doesn’t want to throw that sexy little minx a party” and “A man in a dress??? No silly, it’s Wilhelmina!”

    Maybe time to do some editing there

  3. […] King’s Day market is perhaps one of the coolest markets you will ever witness in your life. The whole Netherlands practically turns into an open marketplace on this day. The Dutch calls it the “Vrijmarkt” (free market). In some places, adults could be seen to mark the prime spots with chalk while kids could be seen out camping with their stuff since the early morning of King’s Day in order to get their favorite spots. […]

  4. […] King’s Day market is perhaps one of the coolest markets you will ever witness in your life. The whole Netherlands practically turns into an open marketplace on this day. The Dutch calls it the “Vrijmarkt” (free market). In some places, adults could be seen to mark the prime spots with chalk while kids could be seen out camping with their stuff since the early morning of King’s Day in order to get their favorite spots. […]

  5. Last year I went to Amsterdam during Kingsday with a company called Stoke Travel. It was amazing. We did a pubcrawl, had lots of fun at the hostel and in the streets. The crew was suuuper nice aswell! They partied with us and where always there to help you.

  6. I am new in Europe, currently living in Barcelona. I am an avid backpacker and I would love to visit Amsterdam during the King’s Day. How do I go about it? Are there any camping trips or something? I am lost! WTF

  7. […] King’s Day is a national holiday in Holland. It falls on April 27 (or April 26 if the 27th is a Sunday). It was originally created to help popularise a deeply unpopular monarchy and to promote national unity. The observance was also originally held only in Utrecht, but it quickly spread nationwide. While it is a “holiday”, it is not a day of rest. It is marked by traditional celebrations. DJs play music to public crowds in large squares, brightly decorated boats fill the canals, and cities turn into a mixture of street fair-visiting tourists and bargain hunters. […]

  8. This article is so negative1 When you’re hating your countries traditions that much…. don’t write an ariticle at all man..King’s day is one of the most entertaining and interesting days in The Netherlands. You’re just making fun of it and in my opinion you don’t deserve to call it ‘our’ national celebration. shame on you pall. In the and there are over 15 million people celebrating Kingsday and more to come because people all over the world are joining us in our traditions!

  9. A poor attempt at sarcasm. It’s just grumpy.

    Also you should really google “turning tricks” before you mention Dutch kids doing this. It gives a bad impression.

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