King's Day in Amsterdam
From all-night raves to beachside festivals, Amsterdammers are notoriously fond of a good excuse to party. But one day takes the (orange-glazed) cake: King’s Day. On 27 April, the whole country heads to the streets to celebrate King Willem-Alexander’s birthday, and there’s no better place for it than compact Amsterdam.
Strap on your walking shoes, wear something orange and join the crowds. Here’s what not to miss on the day and five insider facts to help you prep for the big party.
Things to do on King's day in Amsterdam
The boat parade
The fun-spirited boat parade along the Prinsengracht (the outermost of the main canals) is the heart of the party. For the best views, head into town early to grab a spot along Vijelstraat or Haarlemmerstraat. Still not happy with the vista? Plan well ahead to rent a vessel of your own and have your own Amsterdam Kings Day boat party. It’s the local way to make new friends.
The block parties
When the boats start to bore, make a beeline for Jordaan and Rembrandtplein, where crowds converge for food, drink and live music. Nearby, the colourful gay bars on Reguliersdwarsstraat or Zeedijk have DJs, extravagant costumes and more glitter than you’ll ever need. If you have little ones in tow, head east to Bredeweg or north to NDSM, where the thinner crowds have a family-friendly vibe.
The street markets
Beyond the frothy beers and bouncing boats, King’s Day is all about browsing for bargains you don’t really need. The whole city turns into an open-air flea market, with residents selling everything from furniture and books to home-baked treats. For the cutest vendors, though, head over to the Artis Zoo or Vondelpark, where only kids set up shop and practice their best sales patter.
There’s no shortage of street food on the big day. For a taste of tradition, though, sample the special edition tompouce. An Amsterdam-born spin on the mille-feuille, the typically bright-pink pastry turns orange with the rest of the country on this special day. You’ll find tompouce stands scattered around the streets, but for a taste of the real deal make a pit stop at Patisserie Holtkamp.
Five facts about King's Day
As far as national traditions go, King’s Day is a recent one. Up until 2013, the Dutch had toasted a much-loved line of queens since the celebrations started in 1885. Amsterdam’s enthusiasm for the monarch’s birthday, currently on 27 April, remains unchanged. Navigating the city in a sea of orange-clad revellers can be bewildering – here are five insider facts to help you prep for the big party.
The party starts the night before
King’s Night, on 26 April, starts early, with many employers closing up shop so everyone can head for a toast or two in their local brown bar. Officially celebrations start when the clock strikes midnight. For a typical Dutch hangout right in the middle of the city, head to favourites like Café van Zuylen, De Blaffende Vis and Louis.
You can make a quick euro
Fancy yourself an antiques dealer or street food hero? Anyone is free to set up a stall on King’s Day – the perfect excuse to practice your haggling skills. Locals start claiming their spots on the streets with tape and chalk a week before the big day. Some entrepreneurial souls with canalside digs even stock up on toilet paper so they can charge passers-by to use their bathroom.
ATMs run dry
With all of the food stalls, pop-up bars and second-hand haggling, cash is king on the day. Most ATMs run out of money during King’s Night – it’s a good idea to plan ahead and carry more than you think you’ll need.
The parade is free
Unlike the city’s Gay Pride boat parade, it’s actually free for boats to parade down the Prinsengracht canal on King’s Day. Rental prices skyrocket, though, so most people will pay a friend for a spot on their boat. If you can squeeze onto one, expect food, drinks and – if you’re in luck – a few DJs on board. It’s the Dutch way to celebrate in style.
The big parties aren’t in the centre
Museumplein and Dam Square used to host spectacular concerts from headlining artists. Things are far less raucous in the centre of town these days, as all the larger celebrations have moved to the outskirts. If you’re looking for a big party, head to the beachside Orange Blossom Festival in Blijburg, or check-out the indoor-outdoor Cartel Kingsday festivities at WesterUnie nightclub.
Image credits: © Getty; © Alamy; © Alamy; © Alamy; © Café van Zuylen; © Getty; © Alamy; © Alamy; © WesterUnie