King’s Day (Koningsdag) is a national Dutch holiday that commemorates and celebrates King Willem-Alexander’s birthday, which is on April 27. On this day, the whole country turns into one big party!
Read on to find out the origins of this special day and how you can party like a local.
Dutch King’s Day History
King’s Day actually started out as Princess Day. In the 1880s, some politicians thought it would be great for national morale and unity to bring the Royals to the masses. As such, the Netherlands celebrated its first-ever Princess Day on August 31, 1885, which was Princess Wilhelmina’s (the current King’s great grandmother) birthday.
After the death of King Willem III in 1890, Princess Wilhelmina became the queen (under her mother’s regency) and so Princess Day was changed to Queen’s Day on August 31, 1891.
Queen Wilhelmina was succeeded by her daughter, Queen Juliana so Queen’s Day became the latter’s birthday, April 30.
Queen Juliana was succeeded by her daughter, Queen Beatrix. However, instead of celebrating it on her own birthday, which is on January 31, she decided to stick to celebrating Queen’s Day on April 30, in honor of her mother. Apart from this sentimental reason, practicality was also considered since April offered better chances of providing good weather for all the outdoor activities that have become associated with Queen’s Day.
Luckily, Queen Beatrix’s firstborn, Willem Alexander, was born in April! So when he ascended to the throne in 2014, the event may have been changed to KING’s Day in his honor but the Dutch continue to celebrate under the great spring weather of April.
Things to do on King’s Day (Koningsdag)
1. See the King and Queen
Queen’s Day was traditionally marked by a flower parade at Soestdijk Palace, a former Royal family residence in the Dutch province of Utrecht. However, Queen Beatrix changed this during her reign and decided to select and visit a different Dutch city each year instead so that she and the rest of the Royal family (particularly the children) can join in the festivities.
As you can imagine, this was loved by the people, and the ‘host city’ chosen each year considers it a great honor. So much so, that the whole city transforms into one gigantic party hall!
Everything is adorned with flowers and various decorations are set out to welcome the King and his family, who, by the way, do walk around and talk to the locals and even partake in some of the festivities (usually, local games) organized by the host city.
There are various podiums scattered around the city and there are music festivals, speeches, street parties, food trucks, and so on. So if you want to catch a glimpse of the Royal family on Dutch King’s Day, be sure to check out the year’s host city and make plans to visit.
Note: This doesn’t mean that the party is only held at the ‘host city’ chosen for the year. Dutch King’s Day is celebrated all over the country. In fact, Dutch King’s Day has a reputation for being the world’s biggest birthday party as the whole nation celebrates. So, wherever you are in the Netherlands, there are bound to be King’s Day festivities.
2. Visit ‘Rommelmarkten’
On Dutch King’s Day, the nation also turns into one big rommelmarkt (flea market). All throughout the country, people can set up stands or even just throw a blanket on the floor, and sell their stuff. You can find anything from old toys to hidden gems like limited edition Delft blue porcelain.
If you don’t want to buy anything, remember that you can sell things you no longer need. So if you’ve got some stuff you want to get rid of, King’s Day is the day to do it.
Our tip: If you’re buying, bring cash as this is generally the preferred mode of payment. If you’re planning to sell, check the rules of the local municipality first as each location has different guidelines.
3. Dress in Orange
On Dutch King’s Day, the color orange is what you’ll see everywhere you go, from table cloths to napkins, flowers, clothing, umbrellas, jewelry, makeup, food – the whole country turns into an orange party!
Why orange? William I was anointed Prince of Orange (county) in 1544. He led the Dutch Revolt against the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands during the Eighty Years’ War and his leadership contributed to the independence of the United Provinces of the Netherlands in 1648. So, William I became known as William of Orange. And since then, the color orange became the symbol of the Dutch Royal family.
So if you want to party like the locals, wear something orange. In fact, don’t be surprised if you see people go orange from head to toe as you step out during this day.
In addition to wearing orange, you can consume orange too. It’s a tradition to eat oranje tompouce (orange pastry) and drink oranjebitter (orange liquor). If you don’t want to, no worries, there will be plenty of other Dutch foods you can consume such as bitterballen, kroket, and Hollandse Nieuwe haring (herring fish eaten raw with onions).
4. Take a Boat Ride
On Koningsdag, Dutch canals come even more alive as they get filled with orange-themed boats. You can rent one and sail on your own, or join a boat tour with others. Mind you, these could become floating parties in no time and may get a bit rowdy at times so if you’re not willing to party in them, just enjoy them from the bridges or streets where they pass.