How to Celebrate King’s Day: An Expat’s Guide

It’s arguably the Netherlands’ biggest holiday (and party).

King’s Day (Koningsdag in Dutch) is a massive national holiday (potentially the biggest celebration) in the Netherlands, but many of us from outside the country have never heard of it. So let’s dig in — what and when is King’s Day, how do you celebrate, and why does everyone wear orange?

A Bit of Context: The Netherlands Has a King?

Yes! The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy (just like the UK).

This, in short, means that there’s a monarch in power, but that monarch exists alongside a constitutionally elected government.

His Role: The monarch in the Netherlands still holds some power (i.e. his role is not completely ceremonial). His main obligations relate to appointing, dismissing, and swearing-in government leaders.

So What is King’s Day?

King’s Day is basically a big birthday party.

The king, King Willem Alexander, was born on April 27, so that’s when the festivities take place (though the date and name of the holiday have changed depending on the monarch in power).

How is it Celebrated?

In non-pandemic times, the festivities are celebrated in a few key ways:

1. Everything (for the most part) is closed.

There is no work on King’s Day, it’s a national holiday after all.

Many of the festivities in Amsterdam actually start the night before (King’s Night, or King’s Day Eve) — bars and restaurants are happy to start the party early.

2. Everyone wears orange.

This may come as a bit of a surprise if you’re familiar with the Dutch flag (red, white, and blue). For many countries, the colors on their flag are also their national colors. So where did the orange come from?

The color orange is in reference to King William of Orange who is widely considered the founding father of the Netherlands. His royal line of descendants is known as the “House of Orange,” so the color stuck.

Fun fact: in those days, the national flag was orange, white, and blue. There are many theories as to why that changed.

On King’s Day, everyone wears orange.

3. Free/flea markets (Vrijmarkt in Dutch).

King’s Day is the only day of the year that you don’t need a permit to sell items on the street (and don’t need to collect VAT/sales tax). (Source).

So you’ll see pop-up vendors selling just about anything: from used clothing and furniture they no longer want to music and entertainment. This alone makes it a lively and fun day for everyone walking around.

4. Toast with an Orange Bitter (Oranjebitter in Dutch)

It wouldn’t be a celebration without a toast! On King’s Day, the Dutch toast with an oranjebitter. This can be purchased at a store/online or can be homemade (though it takes a few weeks to make yourself).

Here’s a recipe for a traditional Oranjebitter.

5. Food + Festivals

This day is a nationwide party, and there are big gatherings in cities all over the country. You can stop at any one of the hundreds of street food vendors that pop up that day, hop on a boat to party on the canals, or have a drink at a local bar.

Fun Fact: The population of Amsterdam nearly doubles on King’s Day (so prepare for crowds and a lot of fun).

Experience it Yourself

It’s a wildly fun season in the Netherlands in non-pandemic years, so if you’re going to plan a future trip to visit, this is a good one to see the country at its best. The tulip fields are in bloom, the sun is (more likely to be) shining, and everyone is out enjoying the best of the Netherlands. Just be sure to plan ahead (as hotels/Airbnbs book up early).

*NOTE: The word “expat” is used in this article solely for SEO and reach purposes.

Marketing Strategist with a passion for travel, nutrition, & mindfulness. Grad business student @ the University of Oxford. Read more >

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