Orange Fever: King’s Day Celebrations in the Netherlands
They say orange is the new black – at least, that’s what I’ve heard – so it’s time to embrace the phenomenona of oranjegekte (orange craze) or oranjekoorts (orange fever)! The traditional colour of the Dutch monarchy (the House of Orange-Nassau) and the symbol of patriotism in the Netherlands, you can get your costume together just in time for Koningsdag. An annual holiday in the Netherlands, Koningsdag – or King’s Day – celebrates the king’s birthday with animated street parties, boisterous flea markets, funfairs, live concerts and traditional local gatherings.
Since 2014, Koningsdag has been celebrated on 27 April (26 April if the 27th is a Sunday) after the inauguration of King Willem-Alexander. This public holiday has enjoyed many makeovers over the centuries; first observed on 31 August 1885 as Prinsessedag or Princess’s Day, from 1949 to 2013 the day was also known as Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day). Despite these changes, the day has retained its carnival atmosphere and is recognised internationally as one of the largest street parties in the world.
The nationalistic celebrations are traditionally kickstarted on the eve of the big day. King’s Night (Koningsnacht) launches the two-day royal gala with a bang, as young people enjoy all night parties on the canals and in the cities with DJs and live bands playing music everywhere – the squares, the streets, the parks – before joining the crowds at the vrijmarkt.
The vrijmarkt (literally ‘free market’) is a nationwide flea market where Dutch people sell used or secondhand goods on the street, without a permit and without paying VAT. An essential part of King’s Day, everyone is free to get involved in the bargain hunting. One of the most popular destinations for this famous bric-a-brac bonanza is the Jordaan quarter in Amsterdam. While most Dutch municipalities abandoned the 24 hour marketplace, Utrecht has kept the overnight vrijmarkt, so is well worth a visit (and a haggle!).
There are major celebrations across the country – particularly in the capital, Amsterdam – with concerts and special events held in public spaces for citizens and tourists alike. A large-scale outdoor concert is held on the Museumplein, with a capacity for 800,000 people. Amsterdam also plays host to nine main festivals, from techno and house blowouts to classic circus-top fetes.
There’s also a real ‘family feel’ to the day – young entrepreneurs take part in the trading by setting up shop in the Vondelpark, where hundreds of children set out their stalls with cast-off toys and books. Children also celebrate with a variety of games including koekhappen (where the objective is to catch a spice cake dangling from a piece of string with your mouth) and spijker poepen (around your waist you have string, with a nail dangling at one end, you must lower into a glass bottle).
While Koningsdag is also celebrated in Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten – constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands – and less widely celebrated on the Caribbean island of Bonaire, you’ve got to visit Amsterdam for the true orange experience.
GoCambio Top Tips
- Leave the car at home! Traffic is congested in the city centre from the early hours of the morning.
- Public transport is also limited – buses and trams will only reach the outskirts of the city centre.The best way to get to Amsterdam for the King’s Day celebrations is by train.
- You’ll want to see the all of the crazy festivities on foot, so put on your dancing shoes. All of the activity is in the street; there’s a reason King’s Day is known as one of the biggest street parties of the year!
- Plan ahead – as well as Dutch nationals celebrating the day in droves, international visitors also make an effort to visit the country on these two fun-filled days. Book your accommodation well in advance, and if you’re going to one of the large-scale events, secure your tickets before you leave!
- Leave off the shopping; the majority of stores on the highstreet will be closed for the street parties. Make the most of the drinking on the street, the live music and the incredible atmosphere.
- Keep the change! The bazaars brimming over with knickknacks won’t take your shiny credit card, so make sure you have enough cash on you.
- Leave the valuables at home – there will be lots of people in the cities and not everyone has good intentions. Just enjoy the spontaneity of the day!
Are you going to drink a glass of Oranjebitter to toast the King’s health? A special savoury alcoholic beverage, it’s an old Dutch recipe of an orange liqueur, Beerenburger, juniper, laurel berries, liquorice root, orange peels and malt gin. Let us know in the comments if you’ve ever been part of the King’s Day festivities, or if you’re going to cambio in the Netherlands!
About the Author: Emma is a 23-year-old copywriter at GoCambio and part-time shoe seller, so she’s always ready to think on her (size 5.5) feet. With a background in English, History, and Creative Advertising, some of Emma’s passions include fashion, travel, writing, film and social media. And tea. Black, no sugar.