On April 27, the Kingdom of the Netherlands observes King’s Day (Koningsdag), a national holiday celebrating the birthday of King Willem-Alexander!
History of King’s Day in the Netherlands
The tradition of honouring a monarch’s birthday with a national celebration began with Queen Wilhelmina in 1885 as Princess’s Day.
Held on August 31, once she became Queen, the name was changed to Queen’s Day and often coincided with the final days of the summer holidays thereby making it conducive to having outdoor neighbourhood events.
Queen Juliana was the next royal to have her birthday nationally celebrated in 1948, which relative to weather patterns in the Netherlands, conveniently fell on April 30. Yet, Queen Beatrix wasn't so lucky in terms of birthdays suited for outdoor celebrations, with hers occurring on January 31. In a display of humility, she decided to keep the holiday on April 30 in honour of her mother.
This meant that the first King’s Day in 2014 was a very special one. Prior to Willem-Alexander’s accession, there hadn't been a ruling king in 123 years, with Willem III being the last from 1817-1890.
When Princess Beatrix abdicated the throne in 2013 after 33 years of ruling, the party and celebration was moved to King Willem-Alexander’s birthday on April 27.
However, by coincidence, the first King’s Day was even more special because it had to be held on April 26, 2014 instead of April 27, which was a Sunday. In a historically Christian country, the festivities were moved to Saturday out of respect.
Partying with the Dutch on King’s Day
Often seen as a relatively reserved folk, King’s Day is where the Dutch show they really know how to throw a party!
The streets, canals, parks and squares fill with people in cities all around the Netherlands in a showing of merriment with just a touch of national pride.
In addition to the public street parties, the night before (King’s Night) and King's Day itself are both occasions for clubs and festivals to organise their own events.
Always popular, the occasion attracts some of the biggest DJs and musicians in the world and is the largest national party of the year in the Netherlands!
King’s Day for the whole family
Yes, the streets will be full and there will be some drinking, but the day is very suitable for all ages to enjoy!
For the kids, cities and towns typically designate certain areas that focus on children’s markets, entertainment and various activities, games and festivals.
Children in Amsterdam are spoilt for choice, as the Vondelpark is dedicated entirely to them as it is with an array of performers and kids selling old toys.
King’s Day activities & Dutch tradition
Maintaining the style of celebrations and traditions established by Princess Beatrix for Queen’s Day, King’s Day is celebrated much in the same fashion, and that’s a good thing! On April 27, there are a number of fun traditions that make the day distinctly Dutch, yet allow everyone to participate!
› Wearing orange on King’s Day
This is a must! Although there is no formal dress code, the Netherlands is full of people incorporating some sort of orange garment into their outfit.
Why? Simple. The Dutch monarchy are part of the House of Orange-Nassau, who are descendants from William I of Orange. Being a practical people, they matched the national colour to the namesake.
From simple accents such as a tie, hat or socks to over-the-top full suits and face paint, the idea is to create a wearable mix of costume and patriotism. There’s no pressure, but the more orange the merrier!
› Browsing the street markets (Vrijmarkt)
Before the party gets started in the afternoon, there’s business to be done in the morning.
In the major cities and towns, aspiring entrepreneurs both young and old mark their territory to sell whatever it is their heart desires! However, for safety reasons, there are limitations on alcohol, certain foods and other goods.
This massive street sale often sees a range of bric-a-brac and assorted "collectibles" from attics and basements put out for the public to buy.
Among the riff-raff are some quality finds to be had: from vintage clothing to old records, antiques and more. For many, the impromptu shopping is a highlight.
With the largest markets typically in Amsterdam and Utrecht, bargain hunters should get to the markets early for the best finds!
› Royal family visits Dutch cities
When Princess Beatrix began celebrating her birthday, she changed the tradition of her mother. Instead of people visiting her in the Palace, she would go to the people.
Thus began a beloved ritual that sees members of the Dutch Royal Family choosing a city or village to visit over the course of the day. Formerly, at each chosen city the King, Queen and Princesses were met with an adoring public which held demonstrations of local talent or performances before hosting a small reception.
However, from 2015 onward, King Willem-Alexander has decided to break with the tradition of his mother and instead visit just one regional centre where a larger spectacle is held including a parade and elements of local culture.
Come April 27, hope for good weather, get on some orange and enjoy one of the best manifestations of Dutch culture at cities and towns throughout the Netherlands!