King’s Day is one of the biggest, free street parties in the world. As an Aussie expat who has lived in the Netherlands for several years, I have celebrated many of these mad days marked by the wearing of anything and everything orange, the purchase of cheap second-hand items you don’t need, and dance parties – on street corners, boats and at the many festivals organised for those bothered enough to plan ahead and buy a ticket.
Given King’s Day is celebrated on April 30, toward the end of the rather fickle Dutch spring, weather on this national holiday can be anything from hot and sunny to cold, windy and rainy, forcing everyone to hide their excessively ‘Oranje’ ensembles beneath dark coats. I have had King’s Days where I walked around in a tank top and shorts, and others where a coat and boots were necessary.
Celebrations are not limited to the day of, with most people clocking off work early the eve prior, called King’s Night, to make their way to a bar or street party. This year I did just that, wrapped up in my down coat – yep, this year was one of those at the more unfortunate end of the weather scale – I headed up to the Homomonument for a street party.
There are many street parties on King’s Night, not to mention every bar is so full people spill out onto the pavement all over the city, nursing Heineken and enjoying the prospect of a day off filled only with fun ahead. The street parties typically focus on a temporary stage with DJ performances, as ours at the Homomonument did.
After dancing and chatting amidst a sea of people in black coats and two guys in orange Primark onesies, the night ended and we headed home ready to meet again the next day.
King’s Day itself gets started quite early due to the range of activities. While some choose to party on King’s Night, sleep in and drag themselves out to continue the next afternoon, others are out early ready to sell their second-hand wares or any other random thing.
The ‘vrijmarkt’, which translates directly to free market, is one of my favourite things about King’s Day. Anyone can sell anything on the street as there are no permits required and no tax involved, which research tells me results in turnover of almost €300 million across the country as roughly one in five residents hit the pavement.
You will find anything – I have bought €1 dresses, bags, kitchenware, and have strongly encouraged friends to purchase much-needed opera glasses after they enjoyed a few cans of Heineken and agreed it seemed a brilliant idea. I also sold my own used clothes one year, making almost €200 on a very enjoyable day sitting on a UNESCO World Heritage Listed Canal with friends popping by, and supplies of poffertjes and sangria from nearby stalls.
People don’t only sell material goods however – there’s a girl of about 10 I see every year who dances on her family’s balcony to the techno music blasting from boats jampacked on the canals with a bucket hanging down for donations, while other children create and run games and challenges, and obviously-unsuccessful comedians try to sell jokes. A relatively new item quite popular is balloons filled with laughing gas (the medical side effects of which I cannot advise on).
This year I met with friends around midday and we headed into one of Amsterdam’s most beautiful neighbourhoods, the Jordaan, which I highly recommend as the place to make a beeline for to experience all the best King’s Day has to offer. As I weighed up whether or not it was worth purchasing and carrying rustic kitchen tins sold for €1 that would be ideal containers all day, we meandered along the sunny canals, making our way to the offices belonging to a business owned and operated by friends.
These friends of ours created Those Dam Boat Guys a few years ago, offering a more casual boat tour of the famous canals in comparison with the many closed-boat options you will find near central station, and recently moved into offices on one of Amsterdam’s most famously beautiful canals. The location is perfect for a King’s Day party, and we sat on the wide window ledge overlooking the street for the ultimate in people watching experiences. Many people stopped to take our photo, and I must have been featured in many stranger’s albums and Instagram posts that day.
From there we continued the art of the King’s Day meander. Wandering the streets, seeing what food, games, parties and stalls you come across is really the best thing about King’s Day. The worst thing you can do is set out with a plan – instead, wear comfortable shoes, layers (if it’s cold enough) and be ready to walk a long way or stop and dance when the mood strikes.
One of the most painful aspects of the King’s Day experience is the need for bathroom breaks, as Dutch cities are not so big on public bathrooms. Many people with apartments on the ground floor in the centre of cities therefore open their doors to the public for a charge of perhaps €1 or €2, and the lines are LONG. A stop for a few people in the group to go to the bathroom will take at least half an hour, and by the time the first people return to the group it often happens that someone else decides they need to go as well. The best you can do is dance on the spot and wait – or pay the guy selling polaroid pics nearby for a memory of the ‘oranjegekte’ (orange madness).
Celebrations wane somewhat as day turns to evening and the street stalls are abandoned, with many leaving anything unsold on the street for people to grab as they like. After a night and full day of activity most people are exhausted, but that is also when the festivals and organised street parties pick up.
This year I lasted until about 9pm after walking about 9km and, following a much-needed shower and more food – there’s no such thing as too much on King’s Day – I tumbled into bed ready for the one day of work that stood between me and the weekend.
Check out what tours will take you to King’s Day here!
Courtney Gahan is a serial expat, traveller and freelance writer who has bartered with Moroccan marketeers, seen the sun rise at Angkor Wat and elbowed her way through crowds on NYE in NYC