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What is 'Koningsdag'?

The Dutch love a good party, and that is why Koningsdag (=King's Day) is perhaps the best party in the Netherlands. Koningsdag is celebrated on April 27th, because it is King Willem-Alexander’s birthday. How do the Dutch celebrate it? And how did it originate?

 

What are Dutch traditions on King’s Day?


Orange clothing

One of the most important things is wearing orange clothing (or clothing with some orange in it). Orange is the Dutch national color because the royal family has the last name van Oranje (= “from Orange”). This last name has been passed on from Willem van Oranje, the political and military leader of the early years of the Dutch revolt, who is a far relative of King Willem-Alexander. Willem van Oranje got his last name because he inherited his cousin’s estate and title, which was ‘Prince of Orange’.

 

orange tompouce: a Dutch pastry with orange icing and custard in the middle

Oranje tompouce

In the Dutch bakeries around King’s Day, you will be able to find all kinds of orange pastries. But the oranje tompouce is a classic! This a pastry made with layers of puff pastry, filled with a type of custard pudding (and sometimes some whipped cream). This is topped with orange icing and more whipped cream. You can find this pastry on other days of the year, but with a pink icing. Eet smakelijk!

 


a girl drinking oranjebitter

Oranjebitter 

This is a traditional Dutch alcoholic beverage that is often consumed during special occasions. It typically has a bright orange color and is flavored with a variety of botanicals and spices, giving it a slightly bitter taste. It may contain ingredients such as orange peel, herbs, spices, and sometimes other fruits or botanicals. The exact ingredients can vary between producers and regions. Make sure to try it when you are there!

 


Vrijmarkt 

a mom and her child at a vrijmarkt on koningsdag

Koningsdag is the one day per year that the public can set up shop on the streets without a trading license. In every city or village, the residents put down a blanket with the stuff they want to sell. Sometimes you can only find “oude zooi” (old trash), but it can also be the perfect place to find knick-knacks for a great price. And the Dutch love a good price!

Before the big day, people usually mark out their spot on the pavement with chalk or tape and write "bezet" (=occupied) on it. However, in places like Amsterdam and some other cities, they've banned this practice. To get the best spot on the street, you have to get up early.


spijkerpoepen

Oud-Hollandse spelletjes

The oud-Hollandse spelletjes (literally: “old-Dutch games” or traditional Dutch games) are not to be missed on King’s Day! Examples are: 

-        koekhappen (cookie biting)

-        spijkerpoepen (= nail pooping)

-        zaklopen (= bag walking)

-        sjoelen (= Dutch shuffleboard)

-        steltlopen (= stilt walking).

Check out this blog post to read all about the oud-Hollandse spelletjes!


 

Koningsnacht

Koningsdag is a perfect excuse to party as much as we can! Therefore, the Dutch also celebrate the night before King’s Day: Koningsnacht (= King’s Night). There is often live music in the streets, festivals and parties in bars, restaurants, and nightclubs.

 

Festivals 

Besides the local celebrations on the streets and canals, you can also visit a big festival. There are lots of different festivals with different types of music. Here are a few examples:

 

King's Land Festival

This is one of the largest music festivals on King's Day, with multiple locations spread across different cities in the Netherlands. In 2024, there is a festival in Amsterdam, Groningen and Rotterdam.  The festival attracts big names from the national and international dance scene and offers a day full of music, dance, and entertainment. Check out there website here.

 

Loveland van Oranje

This festival is also held in Amsterdam and is a celebration of electronic music on King's Day. It attracts a mix of established DJs and emerging talents and offers a vibrant atmosphere along the banks of the IJ river. Check out their website here.

 

Oranjebitter

This is a festival (named after the liquor) with mainly techno and house music in a beautiful park in Rotterdam. Check out their website here.


How did Koningsdag originate?

King's Day started as Princess Day on August 31st, 1885, on Princess Wilhelmina's 5th birthday. When Wilhelmina became a queen (when she was 11 years old), Princess Day turned into Queen's Day. Queen's Day was celebrated for over 100 years (from 1890 until 2013) on August 31st. But when Juliana became queen, Queen’s Day was moved to April 30th. When Queen Beatrix ascended the throne in 1980, she chose not to move the holiday and therefore (unlike her mother and grandmother) not to celebrate it on her birthday, January 31. For more than 50 years Queen's Day was celebrated on April 30th. But since 2013, the Dutch have a king, which changed the name to King's Day and changed the date to April 27, King Willem-Alexander's birthday. 


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