One of Amsterdam’s most popular days of the year is the enormously successful Orange Festival which was traditionally a celebration of the Queen’s birthday. This enormous street party regularly attracts more than three quarters of a million visitors to the Dutch capital city. The Amsterdam Orange Festival is officially known as Koninginnedag, or Queen’s Day – and the whole of the country turns into an orange-coloured extravaganza – the House of Orange having been associated with the Dutch Royal family for many generations.
The abdication of Queen Beatrix in 2013 in favour of her eldest son Willem-Alexander means that King’s day has replaced Queen’s Day and will be celebrated annually on his birthday which is 27th April. If this date falls on a Sunday the celebration will move to the day before.
King’s Day celebrations begin early in the evening of April 26th when the whole of Amsterdam becomes a party area – especially the bustling areas around Dam, Rokin, Rembrandtplein and Damrak. It’s on Queen’s Day itself, though, that the Orange Festival finds its unique incredible rhythms. Everywhere you go it will seem that the whole world has turned orange as not only is everybody wearing the national colour but also there are enormously elaborate ‘sculptures’ made entirely of the fruit – some of these are breathtaking in their scale and imagination.
One of the features of the day is that, for the only time in the year, Amsterdam street trading is completely unregulated so wherever you wander you’ll see people selling all manner of items. It’s a great day for some bargain hunting. The Jordaan area of town is one of the best places to head at this time as there will be a plethora of traders, beer sellers and street entertainment all around. Head for the Vondelpark if you’ve got children with you as that’s where the young people set up their stalls and there’s lots of fun activities for them.
Late in the morning there is usually an outdoor rock concert at Museumplein, with similar events held in Waterlooplein, Leidseplein and on streets and squares all over the place. There are even dozens of party boats circulating around the canals, all adding to the atmosphere. Open-air Gay parties can be found at Westermarkt and Reguliersdwarsstraat, although, having said that, the whole of Amsterdam is a famously gay-friendly environment.
Amsterdam can, at times, seem a very crowded city and this is especially true during the Orange Festival. Despite this, the atmosphere is always relaxed, friendly and full of fun. Most people who come into the city do so by train as, once you’re there, you’ll find that the city centre is a completely traffic-free zone. There are good public transport services around the city, however. If you’re going to make the most of the day, remember to pack a good pair of walking shoes because you could cover a fair amount of ground during Koninginnedag. Although the atmosphere around the streets will be very relaxed, the police still don’t like people carrying lots of alcohol around with them, which is technically illegal, so bars impose a strict one drink per person ruling.
There is plenty of accommodation in the city of Amsterdam but most of it will be booked many months in advance of the celebration. If you’re thinking of attending, it’s absolutely imperative that you organise your hotel, hostel, apartment or camp site as early as you possibly can.
If you’re one of that enormous number of people who consider Amsterdam to be one of Europe’s best party cities, then the Orange Festival will help confirm all your ideas. If you’ve never been to Amsterdam before, then the Orange Festival would be one tremendous introduction.