Don’t like parties, hordes of people or the color orange? Then whatever you do, don’t come to Amsterdam on the 27th of April, when we celebrate the king’s birthday. For on that day all three descend on the city in staggering numbers. And that’s not just exaggeration. On the good years, when the weather is nice (not always a given in the Netherlands in late April) the city’s population can more than double! People of all ages come from all over the country and even the world to Amsterdam to go a little mad.
There is live music, street parties, open-air clubs and booze to be found everywhere and anywhere. In fact, the true diehards start the evening before (known as king’s night) and carry on through till early hours of the day after. It truly is one of the biggest parties of its kind and we’re surprised it doesn’t get mentioned more often in lists of ‘best parties of the world’ (Though perhaps we’re a bit biased).
Do note, street beers can be surprisingly expensive. So, if you’re on a budget, your best bet is to buy in the supermarkets and carry it with you. Backpacks are a good option for this. Some supermarkets put restrictions on what you can buy.
Open air market
But that’s hardly the only thing going on. Another big draw is the open-air market that takes over the squares and streets. The reason for this massive market is that for one day, you don’t need a licence to sell things on the street (though you can’t sell everything. For example, drugs are a no-no). As a result, stalls spring up everywhere with people selling pretty much anything – from the contents of their attics to home-made artwork.
For many, this is the main reason to come to Amsterdam. Which is awesome, but it does have one drawback: If you want to hunt for bargains or unrecognized treasures, you have to be there early! The true diehards will be out in force from the crack of dawn. The open market starts at six.
Want to sell something on king’s day? Great! Just be aware that most of the good spots get reserved early, with people putting out markers for the best spots the evening before or even staying there all night to make sure they have the spot they want (for some, king’s day is big business). So, if you want to join, you might want to be early as well, otherwise you might end up with a less desirable spot. Perhaps next to the port-o-potties. On the plus side, at least you won’t have to roam far if you drink one too many!
Orange, orange everywhere
Another big thing is the costumes. Personally, we think some of them easily rival the best stuff you see on halloween. Of course, the unifying theme is entirely different. Where on Halloween they’re supposed to be scary, on King’s Day, they what unites them is the color orange. We’ve seen orange chain gangs, three meter tall orange dragons, orange lions, orange body-paintings and even orange oranges. Of course, you don’t have to go totally wild and spend weeks on your costume. Orange t-shirts, Boas and hats will be equally appreciated.
Why orange, you ask? Because that’s our royal color! That’s right! Not purple, or red, or polka-dotted pink. Orange. That’s down to the royal family being called ‘van Oranje’ – which literally means ‘of orange’. Interestingly, the ‘of orange’ originally referred to a principality in France and had nothing to do with the color or the fruit. That relationships was only established in the 16th century.
You might think that’s not something we should be terribly thankful for. If so, come down to king’s day and let us change your mind. For there is nothing quite as joyful as a street full of people, dressed up in orange and having an absolute blast!
Do note, there are some things to be aware of.
What to be aware of
- The streets get so busy that public transport can’t drive. Nor can cars, for that matter. Taxis are banned from the city center. Even bicycles have a tough time moving around. It’s basically pedestrian traffic only. And on the main thoroughfares it’s so busy that it slows down from walking traffic to shuffling traffic. We once saw a frustrated lady use her stroller as a battering ram. Yes, there was a baby in it. Fortunately, the child seemed quite taken with the entire experience.
- Even the waterways get crowded on king’s day, if the weather is good as everybody and their uncle jimmy take to the water in whatever floats. It can be a lot of fun, but it might not be the best day for those of you who don’t have a great deal of boating experience to try their luck as skippers. Perhaps come with us instead? Though book quickly, for spaces go fast.
- Here’s a big warning! Do not try to fly from or to Amsterdam or on the 27th of April. You will get stuck, panic, stress out, have a bad day and possibly miss your flight. You can come in by train, of course. There are a lot of extra ones on King’s day and the location of central station is convenient, to say the least. Though yes, once arrived, you’re walking.
- Hotels charge more and still book out early. So if you want to go, book early and realize that you’re going to have to pay a premium. Maybe, if you book a year in advance, people will not have put up their prices yet. That’s a particularly good possibility on AirBnB. So there’s an idea!
- The streets get dirty. Trash cans overflow. Garbage piles up everywhere. And, because there is no way to collect it on the day itself, you’re just going to have to live with that. Not that it sticks around for long. The garbage crews go all out early the next day to pick it all up. Still, for a while there, the city will look like an orange-colored party bomb went off.
- Many places close. It’s a public holiday after all. So, assume a place you want to go will be open. Check first. Though your best bet is just to focus on the celebration itself. For if you want to avoid the celebrations, your best bet is not to be in Amsterdam at all.
- Open air parties make noise. So do drunk people. So, if you’re staying in the center, you’ll probably have a tough time going to sleep early.
- As the population of the city doubles and everybody is trying to find everybody else, it’s often the case that the telephone towers can’t handle the strain. That means it can be difficult to get a hold of people if you lose them. So, perhaps agree on being somewhere at a certain time if you do lose each other, just to be safe.
And that’s pretty much it! We hope you enjoy your king’s day. We always do. It is one of the highlights of the Amsterdam calendar. This is particularly true if we get lucky and the sun shines. So, if you do plan to come, maybe make an offering to the weather gods. We’d all appreciate it, I can tell you that much.