Looking for an excuse to get out of town this month? Why not check out the Netherlands largest (and certainly most colourful) festival of the year, Queen’s Day. Held on the birthday of the former Queen Juliana, every April 30th the country fills with festivity. All shops are closed for the day, and almost the entire country becomes an open-air market. You’ll see everything from open-air concerts to food vendors and parades, all, of course, thoroughly covered in the country’s famous bright orange and completely open to the public.
And if you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the current Queen Beatrix, she’s rumoured to attend two Dutch cities’ celebrations each year.
A few of my favorite adventures from a trip in 2007:
Canal cruise: I know it sounds cheesy, and it is, but well worth it too! There is no better way to see the city than by canal. Relax, look up, and listen. You’ll see everything from the world’s smallest house (it really just looks like a doorway!) to the architectural peaks (building eras can be defined by the shape of a rooftop? Who knew.) Just don’t forget to bring your camera! There are tons of great photo-ops along the route.
A drink at a courtyard cafe or pub: while I wasn’t a fan of every food I tried in the Netherlands (raw herring anyone?) you can never go wrong with a Grolsch beer or an order of poffertjes (small, sweet pancakes dusted with powdered sugar). On a nice day, there’s nothing that beats an afternoon people-watching at one of the local cafes.
An entirely other type of cafe, is the famous Dutch “coffee shop“. These aren’t hard to find within the center of the city, and are, of course, an undeniable cultural icon of Amsterdam. Just don’t go sneaking off with anything you buy there, you hear?
The city center is quite small, after you’ve had something to snack on, take an hour or two to walk around! Or go on a walking tour.
Museums: don’t leave Amsterdam without seeing at least one of the famous museums! The Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum, and Rijksmuseum are the three most famous, and they’re popular with good reason. Prepare for long lines at all three, but each is life-changing in its own right and well-worth the wait for even the least culturally-inclined among us.
The Red-light District: no, really. It’s far more interesting than it is inappropriate, and everyone will ask you if you’ve gone once you get home. Don’t you want to be able to say yes?Take the Red-Light District Tour if you can, it contains tons of fanscinating and little-known facts. Don’t let its seedy reputation fool you, this strip (haha) is as culturally rich as the rest of the city.
And finally, if you have the chance to make it outside of the capital city in the springtime, see flowers! I don’t care where you go, but Dutch tulips en-masse is one of the most beautiful sights to behold. Really, they’re amazing.
The Keukenhof Gardens are even more colorful and so breathtaking in person.