Celebrating the King’s birthday in Amsterdam

Orange clad partiers fill the city streets for Kings Day

Street parties in Amsterdam for Koningsdag — or King’s Day.
Supplied by Audrey Rott

“Gelukkige verjaardag!” is the phrase I was awoken to as people sang down the halls of the Maastricht Guesthouse. It means “happy birthday.” Since arriving in the Netherlands in January, my friends and I had all been anxiously awaiting the Koningsdag — or King’s Day.

On April 27, locals and tourists alike flock to Holland’s biggest cities, dressed from head to toe in orange — a colour that does few complexions justice — to drink and celebrate the birthday of the ruling Dutch monarch, King Willem-Alexander.  

There is an unwritten rule stating that Amsterdam is the party central of Koningsdag. Being the carouser Queen’s exchange students we are, it was only natural for my friends and I to hop on the train to the capital. 

As financially strapped exchange students nearing the end of our time abroad, we decided to approach Koningsdag in a slightly unconventional manner. Instead of booking an expensive hostel in the heart of Amsterdam, we opted, ambitiously, to take the two-and-a-half-hour train journey to Amsterdam the morning of and return on the last train back that night. 

Our morning began with a 7 a.m. wake up call, which was a lot easier than expected due to our sheer excitement for the festivities that lay ahead. Dressed the color of the Dutch royal family hailing from the House of Orange, we made our way to the train station. 

The Koningsdag party began on the usually dull and dreary train ride to Amsterdam Central Station. Most seats of the train were full of party-goers playing music and singing songs in anticipation. 

As the train pulled into Amsterdam Centraal, the singing got louder and the crowds got larger. Everyone piled out of the train and entered the bustling streets of Amsterdam that were closed to traffic for the day. 

Amsterdam was a city alive. The enormous masses of orange clad, slightly-merrier-than-normal crowds transformed the usually tranquil city into the largest buzzing urban party I’d ever seen — imagine a slightly dispersed St. Paddy’s day celebration on Aberdeen Street in Kingston. 

The Amsterdam canals were congested with boats full of partygoers blaring music and the Red Light district full of wide-eyed tourists.  

On Koningsdag, it is legal for all people to sell their goods on the streets without a permit, transforming each street into a large marketplace that felt rather like a mass good ol’ Canadian garage sale. 

I put my expert bargaining techniques I’d learned in the Florence Leather Market earlier during my exchange to the test, purchasing a bright orange ‘I Love Amsterdam’ T-shirt for only four euros. 

For the two weeks approaching Koningsdag, the weather networks had called for thunderstorms and overcast weather. But the weather forecasts proved once more to be reliably unreliable and it didn’t rain once.

Koningsdag began in the late 19th century as an attempt to try and unify the Netherlands through a national holiday. The first ‘Prinsessedag’ or Princess’ Day celebrated the four-year-old Princess Wilhelmina. 

Each year, the royal family celebrates the festivities in a different city. This year the family spent the day in Zwolle, a city an hour northeast of Amsterdam, but the King and Queen made their way back to the capital in time for the after parties.

Unfortunately for us, we didn’t run into the famous monarch, but were told by our friends that he enjoyed a night of celebrating with world acclaimed Dutch DJs: Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano. 

There was no shortage of events to attend on Kingsday. Following the morning’s festivities, at around 4 p.m. some exchange students hopped on the tram to attend music festivals slightly outside the city. 

I chose an electronic, deep house and techno festival, the Bakermat festival at the Sloterdijk train station, just outside Amsterdam. I came away from the concert thinking that the Dutch are very tall, but know how to party.

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