Wondering what King’s Day is all about and how you can celebrate with your kids? Read on for tips on how to join in this uniquely Dutch celebration.
Nothing says “happy birthday” to a monarch quite like an enormous, nationwide flea market, right? At least, it does in The Netherlands on King’s Day, a huge royal birthday party and THE national holiday for the Dutch. April 27th is King Willem Alexander’s birthday and the only day of the year when street sales are allowed VAT-free and without a permit. So naturally, the entire country celebrates by selling their wares and hunting for bargains in a massive, public vrijmarkt.
You can find just about anything for sale on King’s Day, all in the midst of a city-wide (and country-wide) party. Dutch music blasts from radios and outdoor concerts, crowds are decked out head-to-toe in orange (the national color), and on the Amsterdam canals the boats crowd in so thick it’s said you can walk across them. It’s a day you won’t want to miss.
It’s also a favorite day for kids, with many markets set up especially for pint-sized salespeople and budding entrepreneurs. If you’ll be in Amsterdam this King’s Day, here’s what you need to know to join in the oranjegekt, or orange madness, with your family.
- Amsterdam is a favorite destination on King’s Day, and the city swells with crowds, especially in the center. With children, it’s best to avoid the city center altogether. However, it’s likely to be crowded just about everywhere.
- The best way to arrive is by train, preferably to Zuid, Amstel, or Sloterdijk station. Keep in mind that many streets will be closed to traffic, parking will be restricted, and public transportation will be on alternate routes with nothing running in the center. (Please note: public transportation is NOT free on King’s Day, regular rates still apply.) The best way to get around is by foot, as even cycling will be difficult or impossible in many parts of the city.
- The majority of shops will be closed, with a few exceptions such as large grocery stores and some shops on Kalverstraat.
- The vrijmarkt officially starts at 06:00, and ends at 20:00, though many will close up much earlier in the outer areas of the city. Other events throughout the city typically begin by midday and finish by 20:00.
- The Children’s Vrijmarkt in Vondelpark is the place to be. The gates open at 09:00, and only children under the age of 16 are allowed to sell in Vondelpark, though adults are, of course, invited to supervise. Children get very creative, so besides second-hand toys, games and books, Vondelpark will also be full of mini-entrepreneurs and buskers of all varieties. Children will love playing games run by other kids. A favorite selling ploy is the ubiquitous grab bag, from which you can blindly choose a small wrapped toy (for a fee, of course).
- Other child-friendly areas of the city include Apollolaan, Sarphatipark, Amstelpark, Park Frankendael, Westerpark, and more. The NDSM Vrijhaven in Noord and the Bredeweg Festival in Oost are events that are especially geared for families.
Tips for Selling and Shopping:
- You may, in theory, sell anywhere in the city, except for a few restricted areas. To reserve a spot on the street a few days in advance, use sidewalk chalk to write your name or initials, but be sure to arrive early to set up or you may find your spot has squatters.
- In Vondelpark, it is not possible to reserve a space in advance. The gates close at 20:00 the night before and reopen for everyone at 09:00 on King’s Day. Selling space is on a first-come-first-served basis.
- Price low, and use labels. People are looking for bargains, and when the entire city is full of the same kinds of items, you have to be competitive. Don’t look at it as an opportunity to make money, as much as an opportunity to get rid of things you don’t want anymore. If you put out a pram in good condition that cost €150 new, and you price it at €15, expect to get an offer of €5 and they will want you to throw in a few other items for free.
- Make sure to have plenty of small change on hand, and visit the ATM early.
- You may sell beverages and non-perishable food (containing no meat, fish, or dairy), but you may not sell alcohol without a license.
- Bring a comfortable chair, sip your favorite drink, put on some upbeat music, and sit back and enjoy watching the crowds.
- Shoppers looking for great finds should set out early, bring a large bag or rolling suitcase, and have plenty of small bills and coins.
Donna Bardsley is the travel-loving mother of three homebodies who hate to leave the house. After living in Amsterdam for six years, she has recently moved her family back to the US where she is experiencing all the joys of reverse culture shock.