Koningsdag is a national holiday in the Netherlands, during which people cover everything in orange – from flags, wigs, and clothing to revelers’ faces. This color honors the royal family, the House of Orange-Nassau. The celebrations begin on Koningsnacht (King’s Night), and the alcohol and music don’t stop flowing for 24 hours. While COVID-19 forced the cancellation of plans for Koningsdag 2020 and 2021, 2022 will see the celebrations start up again.
King’s Day starts at 06:00 with a huge vrijmarkt (flea market) covering the country’s sidewalks. With street-corner musicians, DJ booths, and huge parties in many cities, the party only stops when the king’s birthday is over.
2021 will be King Willem-Alexander’s eighth successive year on the throne since his mother Beatrix’s abdication in 2013. Koningsdag was previously Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day) in honor of the successive female monarchs since the national holiday began in the late 1880s. However, 2014 was the first year to celebrate the famous national holiday as Koningsdag, following the coronation of Willem-Alexander in 2013, the first Dutch king since 1890.
Koninginnedag formerly took place on 30 April, the birth date of Queen Juliana from 1949. However, Queen Beatrix never changed the date to her own birthday (31 January) as it fell during the winter. But now King’s Day honors the birthday of King Willem-Alexander, who was born on 27 April.
Royal-spotting is an important element of Koningsdag, and each year they visit a different part of the Netherlands. For example, in 2019, Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima visited Amersfoort, where locals could follow the entire route through the city. In addition, each year, a chosen city hosts an action-packed day of events for the royals and the public.
Koningsdag is the one day per year that the public can set up shop on the streets without a trading license. Traditionally in the days running up to Koningsdag, people section off areas on pavements with chalk or tape and mark them with the word bezet, or occupied. To the uninitiated, these markings in chalk or tape may appear to be some kind of bizarre crop circles – but in fact, they’re necessary if you want to sell items on King’s Day, as you must mark out your territory well in advance! However, note that the Gemeente Amsterdam has banned locals from reserving a patch of pavement, and several other cities also don’t allow it. You risk a fine if the authorities catch you marking the pavement. In such places, it’s a first-come, first-sell basis.
Areas in some cities may be classified as no-sell zones; check your local municipality’s website to see where you can sell.
If you’re not interested in showing off your goods in public spaces, why not browse and buy things you never knew you needed? The best items are often found early, such as kids’ prams and cribs. Haggling over goods is all part of the day’s fun, and the selling frenzy is usually in full swing between 07:00 and 11:00.
Most towns and cities usually have fairground attractions and music events lined up, with many kicking off on King’s Day eve, or King’s Night (Koningsnacht), on 26 April. In addition, you will find an array of DJ events and parties held around the Netherlands. Kingsland Festival Amsterdam and Kingsland Festival Den Bosch will feature some top Dutch and international DJ’s. You need to buy tickets ahead of time to enter these events and be aware that tickets typically sell out early.
Koningsdag is also the one day that singers and bands are actively encouraged to set up on each street corner to give the public their all by singing ‘traditional’ Dutch ballads.
In recent years, there have been some complaints that festivities suffer from increased commercialization and that the crowds in the big cities are unbearable. To avoid this, you might consider getting out your map of the Netherlands and picking a small town (maybe one you have never heard of before). This is a great way to sample the gezelligheid (coziness) of King’s Day, as pretty much every town has a range of events for all ages.
Alternatively, you could hit the streets of one of the King’s Day big four (Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, and Utrecht) and dive right into the hedonism of drink, music, and the search for a bargain you never really wanted. If you feel brave, you could have your face painted orange to help blend into the local King’s Day scene.
Amsterdam is the busiest city on King’s Day, as over a million visitors join the residents in street haggling, partying, and dressing in orange. Amsterdam’s Koningsdag is also one of the best for setting aside certain areas for children to lay out their stalls. The Vondelpark is exclusively for children under 16 to set up booths, and it opens its gates at 09:00.
Some other popular areas for markets and street performers are in the Jordaan and Amsterdam-Zuid around Beethovenstraat, Stadionweg, and Apollolaan.
You will find plenty of partying on the streets the night before Koningsdag, especially in the Jordaan, Leidseplein, and Rembrandtplein. Find a list of the top Koningsnacht events in Amsterdam and the parties on King’s Day in Amsterdam.
You’ll also see Amsterdam’s canals packed with Koningsdag revelers on boats. But, of course, if you don’t own a boat, you can always hang out by the canal until someone invites you aboard!
No public transport, cars, or taxis are allowed through the center of Amsterdam on King’s Day. In addition, most buses and trams follow a different route and later operating times outside the city center. However, ferries between Amsterdam Noord and the rest of the city stay in operation.
Cars are normally blocked from entering Prins Hendrikkade, Damrak, Muntplein, and Rokin, although restrictions are typically lifted in the evening.
The famous King’s Night in Den Haag (The Hague) involves a large music festival called The Life I Live Festival (in Dutch). It’s a huge, free open-air music event, with local and international bands performing in different squares around the city. Join revelers on Koningsnacht and Koningsdag – wander from stage to stage to hear everything from rock to hip-hop and funk. On Koningsdag in The Hague, you’ll find plenty of hustle and bustle concentrated around the canals, Statenkwartier and Noordeinde. There’s also often a funfair in Den Haag (in Dutch) filled with many fun rides.
Attractive areas on King’s Day in The Hague are Lange Voorhout, and Frederik Hendrikplein. The fair and free market at Malieveld is just a short walk from the central train station.
Rotterdam’s official King’s Day celebrations happen at various locations across the city. You can relax on a terrace at Rotown, dance on Stadhuisplein, or visit one of the many flea markets. You can find these from the Coolsingel to the market on the Binnenrotte.
Koningsdag in Utrecht is serious about the flea market (vrijmarkt), which begins at 18:00 on 26 April and runs for 24 hours in Utrecht’s main areas. Children’s markets and performances typically happen around Park Lepelenburg and Nijntje Pleintje.
You’ll also find the typical (but slightly lesser than neighboring Amsterdam) orange madness around Utrecht on King’s Day. Check out Domplein, Lucasbolwerk, Mariaplaats, Neude, and Janskerkhof.