We survived Amsterdam’s orange crush

Early-morning Queen`s Day prep at Leidseplein square in Amsterdam

From the air, Queen’s Day in Amsterdam must look like one giant, pulsating orange blob. It certainly felt that way from the ground.  

Since the late Queen Juliana took office in 1948, the Netherlands has celebrated Koninginnedag on April 30. Now her daughter, Beatrix, sits in the throne in the House of Orange, but the day remains the same because B’s birthday is Jan. 31, and who wants to play outside then?

Different towns celebrate with different levels of intensity, and not surprisingly, Amsterdam’s fest is the most intense. But all Queen’s Day events feature “vrijmarkten,” or free markets, where folks set up little yard sales/street sales/flea markets all over town, featuring the usual yard sale treasures and trash.

Diane out-oranged many locals (thanks to Wessel for hat loan)

In Amsterdam, where we were, the crowds started to pour into town around noontime, with many folks dressed in orange clothing, wigs, boas, hats, nail polish and even fake eyelashes. Wessel wore a lovely blow-up orange crown the entire day. I was decked out in orange sweat pants and an orange top. I felt foolish early in the day, and proud later, after fielding many compliments (at least that’s how I chose to interpret the attention).

By far the majority of partiers were in their teens and twenties, but there was a smattering of old folks like us. Beer and vodka were the drinks of choice, and the youngsters started early. We stopped at the Museumplein for a look at the pop/rock concert, then literally had to dance our way through a street party before we reached Vondelpark, a long, narrow park that on Queen’s Day becomes a haven for families.

Friends entertain the crowd at Vondelpark

Vondelpark was our favorite stop, as it was plenty festive but not rowdy. Little kids and families set up their little yard sales, and also made games and sold homemade trinkets.  (This was also the only place with ample portable potties, FYI.) A lot of kids were drumming for dollars, and one man set up a drumming station, charging $5 for five minutes of drumming.  One man staffed a “compliment station” – 50 cents for a little compliment, 75 cents for a big one, and $1.50 for an “ego boost.”

Pilot of paper airplane challenges the ash cloud in the best game ever

Our favorite silly game was “Challenge the Ash Cloud,” created by three friends in Amsterdam. A painted half-collapsed umbrella signified the Iceland volcano. It “erupted” whenever one of them worked a bike pump that blew air from the bottom, pushing out a mountain of flour. The contestant had to fly a paper airplane over the volcano’s mouth and land it safely on the runway. Three throws cost about $1, but if you could spell Eyjafjallajökull (which we witnessed someone do), you got to play for free. It was hilarious.

The Prinsengracht canal is jam-packed with boats, most blaring dance music

At around 5, we started to follow some of the more popular canals, which were packed with boats of all shapes and sizes. Several were set up like party barges, complete with DJs with turntables and giant speakers. Then we came upon the craziest sight of all – for about the length of one city block, from one bridge to another, the canal was so jammed that the boats could barely move forward. It was like standing outside of a dozen open-air discos. One boat even had a smoke machine on it. It was  joyous and crazy and loud.

By about 8, we realized we’d never make it to the very center of town without suffocating in a sea of people, most  of them by then filled with alcohol, so we headed away from the merriment, basking in the glow of the orange.

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5 Responses to “We survived Amsterdam’s orange crush”

  1. Shoshana Says:

    Hello Diane and Wessel:

    Thanks for this great blog. It makes me want to go to Holland for Koninginnedag and I will think about it next year. In the past, I have often gone to catch New Year’s eve with it endless fireworks, but this may be a good replacement. The weather will definitely be better in April, at least we can hope so.


    • didaniel Says:

      Oooh, New Year’s Eve sounds fun too! As any Dutch person knows, springtime in the Netherlands can be cold to warm. Our day started cool and became warm. The weather got much colder during the week, so we were lucky!

  2. Karen Says:

    Thanx Diane for a fun read! We were there for Queen’s Day some years ago. The Ferris wheel in Dam Sq. was a WOW! And we walked across the Prinsengracht by stepping from boat to boat. The crowds got too thick to even move for a while, the smell of pot wafted about, and by 5:00 PM you had to shuffle thru sidewalks that were filled with crushed beer cans and cups about 3 cans deep. The spirit was happy and upbeat and the crowds were fun. Loved it! (And love those orange pants on you!;¬)

  3. didaniel Says:

    Dank u wel, Karen! Why am I not surprised you beat me to Queen’s Day in Amsterdam. ;) We smelled hardly any pot, but lotsa beer.

  4. Happy Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day)!!! « Places we go, People we see Says:

    […] fun starts now, with all-night parties leading to tomorrow. Here’s a sampling of what we encountered in […]

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