Orange is not a colour that many people adopt willingly. Yet once a year the whole of The Netherlands comes down with ‘Orange Madness’ to honour their reigning monarch.
2014 was a special year as The Netherlands celebrated their first ever Koningsdag (King’s Day). Previous to last year’s abdication of their beloved Queen Beatrix and the assumption of the throne by her son Willem-Alexander, The Netherlands had celebrated Koninginnedag, or Queen’s Day, in honour of their reigning Queens.
A: The official name of the Dutch Royal Family is Orange-Nassau. Which conveniently explains why the whole country comes down with the King’s Day diagnosis of oranjegekte or ‘orange madness’. The key symptoms of this nationalistic syndrome seems to include the desire to drink heavily, hug strangers indiscriminately and the development of a truly impressive ability to skull beer while dancing on a boat without falling off.
All across the country, towns and cities organise events for Koningsdag; people pour out into the streets and onto the canals in a tide of orange pride. Yet the undisputed king of King’s Day is Amsterdam, swamped by millions of locals and tourists in search of the ultimate party.
Across the city independent stages pop up, whipping the orange-tinted crowd into a gyrating mass. Boats packed with people take to the canals with their own pulsing sound systems, mobile dance floors that occasionally spout confetti from home-made confetti cannons.
The size and magnitude of the party is indeed overwhelming, spreading out from Amsterdam’s charming historical centre in all directions, clogging the roads and bridges with a seething wall of curly ginger hair and extremely camp orange cowboy hats.
Yet King’s Day is not all heaving crowds and dance music; in fact, avoid these and you earn yourself a unique look at one of the world’s most charming cities.
One of the things that makes King’s Day such an extraordinary event is the Vrijmarkt, or the concept that on Koningsdag the usual rules that apply against selling good on the street have been suspended. The whole of Amsterdam becomes a huge marketplace to be explored. King’s Day turns everybody into an entrepreneur.
People throw open their houses, setting up stalls on their doorsteps selling second hand goods or home-baked foods, while their friends and family crowd around behind in their own private parties.
The more ambitious create their own food stalls, turning out freshly cooked street-side cuisine from around the world or juicing thousands of oranges to supply the wanting crowds with their King’s Day themed drinks.
The creativeness does not end there. I suspect that several industrious families rented port-a-loos that they then charged up to a Euro for the party crowd to use. The most devoted of entrepreneurs offered up their own bodies as targets for egg throwing competitions where, for only a Euro per egg, you could satisfy whatever repressed violent urges you might have by hurling the projectile at them. Needless to say, we only ever saw men taking up on the offer.
A visit to Amsterdam for King’s Day requires a visit to the Vondelpark, west of the city. This is one of the key points in the Vrijmarkt, except that the park is reserved primarily for children. Many of these mini entrepreneurs will have staked their claim on a patch of the Vondelpark grass the day before, and on the day turn up with their enthusiastic parents in tow to offer home-made cupcakes, poffertjes or games of skill. On such game we wittmessed involved using their nerf gun to gun down the image of a well known ultra-right wing politician while avoiding hitting the royal family. I regret not having had a go at this one.
On any ordinary day the Vondelpark with its lake and soft grass, set in one of Amsterdam’s most salubrious areas, is a pleasant green-space retreat from the parade of houses and canals. During King’s Day it is a family-fun carnival where the parents take the back seat to their budding little Trumps.
Whether it’s getting sweaty and wasted in the Red Light District, or having a cocktail and a boogie at a pop up party in the suburbs, or picking though a the unwanted goods of an entire city while you and you kids chow down on some delicious fluffy Dutch pancakes, Koningsdag offers the wealth of a unique and diverse city in full celebration mode.
See the gallery below 🙂
When: 27th April every year, except, like in 2014, when the 27th falls on a Sunday in which case it is celebrated on the 26th.
Where: All over The Netherlands. Every major city will have planned activities but Amsterdam is the largest of the lot.
How: Plenty of accommodation in and around all major cities. The Netherlands is very well connected via public transport.
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