10 unmissable events and festivals in the Netherlands
If you’ve just moved to the Netherlands or are thinking of coming here, you’re probably wondering what sort of events and festivals to expect and you’ll be pleased to know there’s a lot to look forward to throughout the year.
As well as epic pop festivals, there are unique Dutch celebrations that you won’t find anywhere else: celebrations related to the Dutch monarchy, windmills and tulips. These events are amazing ways to enjoy yourself and get immersed in the Dutch way of doing things!
Dutch events you should know about
The unmissable events are many and your social and cultural schedule could become jam-packed very easily! It might be possible to attend them all in one year, although that seems rather ambitious. Nevertheless, it would be nice to tick at least a few of these off your Dutch event bucket list. These are the main ones you should know about:
King’s Day (April 27)
On King’s Day, which is King Willem Alexander’s birthday, Dutch cities host street parties, flea markets and activities, turning the whole of the Netherlands into the biggest festival of the year. People head out to celebrate, play music, dress up in orange and have an all-round good, if chaotic, time. King’s Night is celebrated the night before King’s Day, with wild parties in the city centres attracting crowds from miles around.
Remembrance Day (May 4) and Liberation Day (May 5)
Remembrance Day and Liberation Day are two important days for commemorating the Second World War in the Netherlands. The commemoration starts with solemn ceremonies on May 4 as a symbol of respect for all the Dutch people who died in conflicts around the world and continues the next day with big events, such as open-air pop festivals.
Liberation Day pop festivals take place on a huge scale at locations like Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam, Malieveld in The Hague and Transwijk Park in Utrecht. Other major festivals on this day take place in Rotterdam, Haarlem, Almere, Den Bosch, Vlissingen, Roermond, Wageningen, Zwolle, Assen, Leeuwarden and Groningen.
Amsterdam Dance Event (October)
Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) is the leading electronic music platform and the biggest club festival in the world. This yearly October event hosts over 450 music events, featuring over 2.200 artists across 120 venues in five days. The event’s sheer size, along with the continually impressive line-ups and unbeatable party atmosphere make the Amsterdam Dance Event a special experience like no other.
National Mill Day (May)
Each year during National Mill Day, on the second Saturday in May, almost all the windmills (and other mills) in the Netherlands will be actively rotating, and more than 950 of them will open up to the public. Expect pancakes, children’s games, cycling routes, mill-themed fairs and parties.
The Netherlands is famous for its windmills, not only due to the large amount of them, but also because they symbolise the Dutch battle with sea levels. The country currently has 1.048 windmills and 108 water mills. The oldest mill in the Netherlands dates back before 1450.
The Day of the Castle (Whit Monday)
All across the Netherlands, from Groningen to Maastricht, more than 120 castles, country houses and estates are open to the public on this special day. Many Dutch castles are already open to the public, but on The Day of the Castle, privately owned residences or castles that are used commercially temporarily become places of enjoyment for the general public.
Parkpop is the largest free pop event in the Netherlands, held annually on the last Sunday of June.
A regular event since 1981, this national pop festival has put The Hague on the map in terms of free music festivals on a large scale. For many years, it was even the largest free pop music festival in all of Europe! This coming June, over 350.000 people are expected to attend the festival.
If you are coming from another part of The Hague, it’s a great idea to cycle to the venue at Zuiderpark. There will be bicycle parks set up for the event, open from 10.30am to 11pm.
Open Tower Day (March)
During Open Tower Day (Open Toren Dag), some architectural wonders of Amsterdam that are usually closed to the public will open their doors. Approximately 30 towers, both historic and modern, are expected to reveal their interiors in the next edition in March.
Famous company buildings like the ABN Amro headquarters and the Crowne Plaza, as well as various classic structures such as the Beurs van Berlage and the Westertoren, can be admired up close by visitors.
The view of Amsterdam from the top of the towers is a sight to behold, and visitors are encouraged to bring binoculars. Art tours, music performances, walking routes and a photography and film competition are all part of this incredible day!
Keukenhof (March to May)
The Keukenhof is arguably the most famous garden in the Netherlands. Gaze in awe at millions of multi-coloured flowers blooming in this beautiful Dutch park from late March to mid-May. The Keukenhof, which means "kitchen garden", has been around since the 15th century, and covers a whopping 32 hectares. These days, the Keukenhof welcomes 800.000 visitors annually.
One of the highlights of the 2018 theme was the gigantic flower bulb mosaic, covering an area of 250m2 and consisting of 50.000 tulips, grape hyacinths and crocuses. What will the next edition entail?
Clingendael Japanese Garden (April to June & October)
Clingendael Japanese Garden is easily recognisable by its glowing red bridge and overhanging lush green trees, which are awash with coloured blossoms in springtime.
The Japanese Garden at Clingendael Estate is a famous national treasure with rare Japanese plants and sculptures that were brought back from Japan in the early 20th century by the estate’s owner. Due to its somewhat delicate ecosystem, it’s open to the public for only eight weeks of the year. Located between The Hague and Wassenaar, its name means “valley between the dunes”.
Carnival (February / March & July)
Carnival, the cheerful pre-Lent fancy-dress street party, is an important marker on the calendar in some parts of the Netherlands. Travel south to cities like Eindhoven, Breda, Den Bosch, Tilburg and Maastricht to enjoy the high-energy, brightly-coloured, beer-swilling festivities! Maastricht Carnival is one example of exciting, colourful street celebrations, wacky costumes and a parade!
In July, you can celebrate carnival the Caribbean way: Summer Carnival Rotterdam zeroes in on the multicultural make-up of the city to activate a cherished Caribbean and Latin American tradition in the Netherlands. With thousands of costumed dancers, massive floats, brass bands, drummers and its very own elected Queen, the street parade and side events are now among the most popular events in Rotterdam.
Don't miss these top events
These are some of the most unmissable events in the country and the more time you spend in the Netherlands, the more you'll hear about them, so start planning your event calendar and get ready in advance! Subscribe to the IamExpat newsletter and make sure you don't miss out on unmissable events throughout the year.