The Best Time to Visit the Netherlands
Every time I fly back home to the Netherlands from a trip, there is a little ritual I never fail to partake in. When my plane begins to make the descent to Amsterdam airport, ready to touch back down on home soil, I peek out the window and marvel at the familiar sights down below. (I’m sure my fellow Dutch guides may feel the same way!)
First, I note the flatlands of Zeeland; then the port of Rotterdam; the flickering orange lights indicating the greenhouses of Westland; windmill-dotted meadows; long stretches of beaches and the few high-rises of The Hague, before we descend towards Schiphol.
On the drive back to my hometown, the ‘royal town’ of Den Haag (The Hague), I’m always amazed at what my little country has to offer, especially in late April, the best time of year to visit. I’m proud to be from The Hague, and it’s one of my favourite things to show travellers firsthand what it’s like to ring in the biggest party of the year: Koningsdag, King’s Day.
A royal tradition
The tradition of King’s Day (or Queen’s Day, depending on the reigning monarch), is one that stretches back to 1885. It has always, for the most part, celebrated the monarch’s day of birth. Amusingly, this tradition began on August 31, 1885, as a way to distract citizens from the unpopularity of King William III; Prinsessedag (Princess Day) was created to give the country something to celebrate (instead of calling for the king’s head, as it were).
Princess Wilhemina, much more popular than her father at four years old, was thus feted every year on her birthday, continuing on as she became queen. This practice continued through to 1948, with a pause during the Second World War in German-occupied Holland, when the celebration was banned.
And so, through the years, since all the monarchs until the present day have been queens, we have spent most of our lives celebrating Koninginnedag, Queen’s Day. In the post-war era, the holiday moved to April 30th in honour of Queen Juliana’s birthday. When the next in line to the throne, Queen Beatrix, stepped up to claim her crown in 1980, she kept the April 30th date intact, as her actual birthday, January 31st, was much too cold to hold outdoor festivities.
All of this, of course, brings us to the current era. In 2013, Queen Beatrix abdicated the throne in favour of her son, our current King Willem-Alexander, and moved the holiday to honour his birthday on April 27th…which brings us to the parties! Here in The Hague, we are well-known for our celebration the night before King’s Day—Koningsnacht (King’s Night), a large open-air music festival.
The biggest day of the year
But, the whole country is in anticipation for the fun of the day itself: excitement ramps up all day, as each Dutch town slowly begins to dress itself up in the traditional Dutch royal colour, orange.
As we say, let the ‘oranjegekte’ (orange craziness) begin! As the colour begins to adorn everything in the town, you’ll see orange street lanterns, decorations on trees, and small Dutch flags all over streets and houses. The lawns and streets are embellished with stretches of colourful tulips at this time of year, as spring blooms begin to appear once more.
All the shops sell orange products: orange chocolate, orange bread, candy and even orange liquor, ‘oranjebitter’. Everyone dresses up in orange clothes, often topped with orange hats and feather boas; the very best street party is about to kick off. Imagine a sea of orange all around you and barges on canals filled with happy partygoers of all ages.
Here’s just how important King’s Day is: our schools are closed for two weeks(!) beginning the week of the King’s birthday so that everyone in the country can participate and celebrate together. In fact, it’s more than just a big street party across the country.
Just about everyone takes part in the famous Dutch vrijmarkt, a flea market/garage sale of sorts where everyone sets up stalls to get rid of their extra items. You’ll also find live music, beer stands, street fairs and even a big Ferris wheel or other carnival rides set up in nearly every city and village.
So next time you consider making your way to Holland, mark April 27th on your calendar. It’s the most wonderful time to visit, hang out with the locals, and get a real feeling of our Dutch traditions: celebrating, dancing, and having fun all together in a very amicable way. Everyone is invited to participate; no matter where you are from, we welcome you with open arms, so just let go and join the party!