KoningsDag: Amsterdam's City-Wide Party

Headshot of Emma Basco.
Emma Basco
May 9, 2023

I’d been hearing about Koningsdag, King’s Day, long before the month of April rolled around. “You have to wear orange!” “You have to book tickets! All of the Netherlands comes to Amsterdam. Everything is going to be booked out”.

King’s Day is an annual celebration of King Willem-Alexander’s birthday, on which truly every person in the Netherlands flocks to Amsterdam for day-long festivities. I tried to conceptualize the United States having an equivalent national holiday that unites the entire country to the same extent, but couldn’t do it. I was also slightly amused by the thought of having a day to celebrate the birth of the king of your country. Western Europe and her everlasting monarchies.

In any case, my friends and I did not book tickets for anything. Frankly, I didn’t even know where to begin. It felt like every Dutch person was seasoned in how to do King's Day, while my American friends and I scrambled to find even a decent article of blaze orange clothing. King’s Day was on April 27, but celebrations started the night before, King’s Night. April 27 fell on a Thursday this year, meaning no classes on that Thursday or Friday. Coincidentally, King’s Day/Night/Weekend fell right before our week off. Essentially, once my class ended at 11am on Wednesday morning, my spring break had begun.

I managed to find an orange tank top at the Waterlooplein market the day before King’s Night. As I biked home after class, enjoying the welcome springtime sun, I saw people hanging orange flags out of their shop windows, letting orange streamers wave from their balconies, and fixing huge orange balloon arches over doorways of restaurants in Centrum. I sensed everyone in Amsterdam bracing for the time of their lives.

For King’s Night, my friends and I bought tickets to Escape, one of the larger clubs in Rembrandtplein. All of the orange in the square was at first an assault on the eyes. Dancers in orange costumes bursting with glitter and fiery sequins strutted and spun on stage. Orange confetti rained down with every beat drop. Nothing about the club was particularly King’s Day centered aside from all the orange decorations and everyone’s orange attire, but the music was great and the drinks strong. It was a great time overall, and as I rode home with my friends, I grinned to think what the next morning would bring.

Everyone had told me that the partying starts bright and early on King’s Day, and ends just a little after noon. I woke up after King’s Night groggy but excited, slipping into basically the same outfit as the night before and tucking the giant orange daisy I’d bought behind my ear. The morning of April 27 could not have been more perfect; a picturesque blue sky with not a cloud to be seen, springtime breeze carrying all the possibilities of the day. I reconvened with my friends at their apartment, snacking on breakfast from Albert Heijn and jumping straight into mimosas and mojitos. It could not have been later than 11am when we all decided we were tipsy and excited enough to take on the city.

There are rules to King’s Day, of course, what with it being an entire country partying in one city. The first rule is that you have to wear orange. The second rule is you can only have one drink in your hand at a time. Public drinking in Amsterdam is illegal on any other day. Public transportation has special schedules, especially the trams and buses due to how congested the streets become. It is not recommended to bike lest you lose where you locked it and are unable to get back to it. Our game plan for the day, based on these rules and on the fact that we did not book anything, was to take the tram as far into the city center as possible, and walk and take in the sights from there.

We disembarked from tram 1 at Vondelpark, lush, green, and already alive with music and crowds at noon. The part of the park we entered appeared to be a children’s fair. Easily a hundred or more Dutch families were sitting along the winding path, selling dolls, baby clothes, yard toys, used books, old shoes. Some little kids were having bake sales while others were dancing for change, music blaring from speakers. One corner of the park had an egg throwing contest. Another had a hotdog and burger stand. People were strewn here and there on blankets in the lush grass, laying out in the sun along the ponds. The congested pathways, the sounds of celebrations, music and loud, happy voices, all made it feel like I was walking through an amusement park. In the middle of the pathway, a young Dutch kid was offering to facepaint the red, white, and blue stripes of the Netherlands flag for twenty cents. My friend stopped to let him carefully smear the paint on his cheek. I gave the boy a fifty cent coin and his face lit up. “Dankjewel!”

We continued wandering through the park into Museumplein, the park packed with families with kids giving way to streets where college kids moved in boisterous packs, tourists looked around wide-eyed, and couples lounged on the grass, eyes closed to the sun. What blew me away was seeing a whole city celebrating the same thing at the same time, mostly in the same way. Imagine it like a giant sports event, everyone wearing the team colors, streaming in and out of the stadium, taking over a whole section of the city with team cheers and infectious celebratory energy. King’s Day was like that imaginary sports event, but ten fold. Every single person you passed was out on the streets for the same reason as you. The energy of celebration overtook the city completely, spilling into and filling every corner. People sipping cold beer on their balconies waved down to those passing by. Along the usually quieter neighborhood streets, people were selling used items in front of their houses, shoes laid out on blankets, books stacked on stoops, clothes displayed prominently on racks in the bright sunlight. My friends and I reached the middle of the lawn at Museumplein and parked it on the grass just a couple meters from a band playing lively, folk-ish music. Another group of young people were playing some sort of game involving flipping a shoe at a beer can just a few paces away. On the edge of Museumplein, on the portion of the lawn that spread up onto the roof of the Albert Heijn, people were having picnics, laying around under the wide blue sky. Groups of people ebbed and flowed through the park, passing through the row of food stands, meandering through the grass, settling on benches in the shade. Dogs were even in on the festivities, making their mad dash off-leash before diving and rolling around in the grass. My friends and I spread our huge white bedsheet in a stunning patch of sunlight, took off our shoes and settled down to take it all in. It was barely 2pm.

The day-drinking and sun-bathing caught up to me by 4pm. My feet ached from wandering around Centrum, and I was hungry. My friends and I dispersed according to wants and needs, some meandering further into Jordaan, where the wildest celebrations were taking place, a few making the trek back to West with me, and others simply breaking off and finding their own adventure. When I first learned about King’s Day, I knew instantly I would either forget to pace myself and regret it immediately on Friday morning or have a moment of clarity where I decide I’m done for the day. Absolutely exhausted but over the moon with how the day played out, I made it home and collapsed in bed, feet aching, heart and head happy.

Overall, King’s Day was an overwhelming success. I heard from my friends who stayed out that Jordaan was a real party, every street so crowded it was difficult to move from one to the next. I, for one, was content to stay in and recover for the rest of the afternoon and evening. The sun was eventually washed away by amassing rainclouds. Since King’s Day also happened to be one of my good friends’ 22nd birthday, he, his brother, and I topped off the day with drinks at the rooftop bar of the Leonardo Hotel, overlooking Rembrandtpark. Turning away from the rather underwhelming sunset, he said to me, “This has been one of the best days ever”. As with so many moments this semester and last, I wish I could bottle the feeling of laying on the grass, face up to the sun, watching my friends kick around the soccer field, drinks scattered around the blanket, our music spilling from the speaker. Celebrating King’s Day with my friends was another once in a lifetime opportunity for which I will always be grateful.

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Headshot of Emma Basco.

Emma Basco

My name is Emma Basco and I am originally from Sacramento, California. I am currently studying literature and writing at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. I love to read on the beach, doodle on post it notes, paint with watercolors, and unearth new cafes and restaurants. My hidden talent is that I can make an excellent pot of noodles from packaged ramen.

2022 Fall, 2023 Spring
Home University:
Sarah Lawrence College
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