- I arrived in Amsterdam two days before April 30th to commemorate Queens Day, the day every village, town and city in the Netherlands loses all inhibitions and parties harder than it does any other day of the year. This is the day everyone wears orange, and parades, street fairs and concerts are staged all over the country.
Arriving at my hostel, René, the hostel manager, asked me “Is this your first Queens Day?” “It certainly is” I promptly replied with a small grin. “Oh you’ll love it – it gets pretty crazy!” My grin was swiftly promoted to a large smile as my mind began working overtime, thinking about what lay ahead over the coming days.
Twelve months previous on a warm, April afternoon a friend and I made a promise to visit the Dutch capital for this one-day festival in 2005 after reading about in the newspaper. We stuck to our promise. We also managed to recruit two others because, as they say, the more the merrier.
A Short Briefing
Before I spill into a story about what sort of carry on you can expect at this day-long party, a short briefing on its origins: Queens Day was first celebrated in 1895 when King Willem III’s daughter Willhelmina was declared Queen of the Netherlands. Ever since then the entire country has celebrated her coronation. In 1948 Princess Juliana, who took over the throne, decided to keep celebrating it as did her daughter and present Queen, Queen Beatrix who took over the throne on April 30th, 1980. So now, every year on April 30th, the Netherlands goes loco, unless the 30th falls on a Sunday, in which case it is celebrated on the previous Saturday.
Our hostel was located on the fringe of the city centre, beside Vondelpark, the Dutch capital’s answer to Central Park. Usually a magnet for twentysomethings looking to burn a few hours in Mother Earth’s ultimate city of sin, this well maintained park is strictly for the city’s youngest offspring on Queen’s Day. Alas, the park was not for us. Instead we were bound for Leidseplein, a tourist trap yet an obligatory port of call for even the most clued in traveller.
Crammed with people from all corners of the globe, Leidseplein had a stage in the centre of the square in front of the famous Bulldog Café. Here a group of line-dancers hopped, jumped and skipped through a series of routines they seemed to know better than their own names. As myself Jon-Paul, Richie and Keelo, the three friends who accompanied me, awkwardly tapped our toes to the formulaic music blaring from the speakers, we knew this wasn’t for us. It was time to explore.
As wildly challenging as it is to walk down some streets during this manic festival, it is ultimately rewarding. Every square, street and park seems to have something different going on at it. Outside the Mariott Hotel not far from Leidseplein was a stage where aspiring rock bands passionately belted out their tunes. But as much as we respected what the guys on stage were doing, this wasn’t for us either.
It wasn’t until we walked down Lijnbaansgracht towards the Heineken Brewery that we began to find our feet so to speak. Here we stumbled upon yet another open-air stage in Weteringcircuit, an open piece of grass across from the well-known brewery. DJs spun house tunes which revved up the gathering young people who were giving their all to every tune he placed on his turntables. Further down into De Pijp (the area the Heineken Brewery is in) at Marie Heinekenplein, bands entertained hundreds more with their brand of salsa music.
Something for everyone
It was at this point in time that it dawned upon us all – Queens Day is a festival that has something for everyone. It’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s true. Kids have Vondelpark, tourists have Leidseplein, ravers have Weteringcircuit, and those more cultured members of the public can purchase tickets for Dam Square and be treated to some classical music. Once we figured this out we wanted to test the durability of our footwear some more so we headed straight for the Jordaan, arguably Amsterdam’s most charming suburb.
The most pleasant thing about the walk up to this district was that it was along Prinsengracht, one of the biggest canals of Amsterdam’s web of thirteen. All along the canal, boats teeming with Dutch people decked from head to toe in orange rocked back and forth to the beat of whatever music was blaring outside the neighbouring bars or restaurants. I was in search of a particular bar I’d remembered from a previous visit called Werck, just two doors up from the Anne Frank House as it boasted a roof terrace looking over a decking area below. This was where we ended up for the rest of the evening before rounding the night off in Panama, one of the city’s biggest clubs.
One of the first things to strike you about Queens Day in Amsterdam is the amount of people that cram on to the streets of the Dutch capital for the day. There are people everywhere. The second thing you notice is that two in every three of them are wearing orange. So if you do plan on visiting the city for the festival, which I strongly recommend you do, remember that if you’re not donning at least an orange headband tied to your wrist you’ll be the black sheep in the crowd.
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