If you love flowers and partying, although perhaps not at the same time, then yes it is! And with a new direct Eurostar service up and running for 2018, there really isn’t much stopping you. There is no better time to visit a city, than when the locals are celebrating their beloved King’s birthday. In 2018, this National Holiday arrives on Friday 27th April. King’s Day (previously Queen’s day) is now in its 137th year. It’s a time when the population of Amsterdam suddenly doubles in size, and sales of orange wigs go through the roof. If orange isn’t your colour, then you really should still wear orange! The wearing of this colour is traditional, in support of the House of Orange-Nassau, who played a part in bringing about Dutch independence after the 80 Years’ war (1568–1648).
The party begins the evening before, but the main event goes on for the whole day and through to the next evening. A good place to start things off is in the 45 hectare green space of the Vondelpark, which gets it name from a 3 metre high statue of a local poet, Joost van den Vondel, which first graced the park in 1867. If you haven’t found something orange to wear, this might be your last chance, as local people sell everything from 80s shell suits to home-made cookies at the free market (a bit like a massive bootsale). Their kids join in the action by performing songs, playing musical instruments and dancing. The smiles on everybody’s faces are infectious as an orange-clad posse offers out free hugs.
Following the action into town, the crowds become tighter as a DJ blares out loud dance music and golden confetti rains down on the excited revellers. Boats filled with tipsy friends float past and I wonder just how many people fall into the river on this day alone. Further down the street, a tall man attempts to hula hoop and two small girls giggle as he fails miserably. He now has to buy a bag of jelly sweets from them. If all the walking and dancing has built up an appetite, then Bitteballen are the perfect remedy. These small fried balls of ground beef, gravy and seasoned flour are the perfect hot snack to accompany a beer. But bear in mind when sharing, that it is considered rude to either take the first one, the biggest one, or the last one… the Dutch have impeccable manners (and somehow one of the lowest rates of obesity in Europe!). Across the street a band is playing a great rendition of the Pulp Fiction theme song and as the evening draws in, the private events begin, so its a good idea to buy a ticket well in advance.
The next day, if you’re not feeling too hung over, and even if you are, a spectacular sea of tulips will soothe your tired eyes and the scent of hyacinth and daffodil will lift your spirits once again. The Keukenhof flower show, just a 40 minute bus ride from Central station, runs throughout the whole of April, and is now in its 69th year. There are over 2000 varieties, planted in stunning arrangements, which weave through a woodland of trees surrounding a lake. Beautiful sculptures can also be found dotted around the park.
The name Keukenhof translates as ‘kitchen courtyard’ and literally started as a small herb garden in the 15th century. Two centuries later, the phenomenon of ‘tulip-mania’ occurred and it’s believed one special bulb was sold in exchange for 5 hectares of land, although there isn’t much in the way of records to back this up. Two centuries later, the estate had grown in size and the father and son combo who designed the Vondelpark (David and Paul Zocher) redesigned the plot in the style of an English garden and it was used to showcase the tulip bulbs, which flower in spring. In 1950 the park was first opened to the public.
Tulips are not endemic to the Netherlands, however, and wild versions can be found high up in the Himalaya mountains, as well as in Iran and Afghanistan. For 2018, the theme is ‘romance’, with a focus on roses. If you’re thinking of popping the question to your beloved, the cupid garden, or love paradise garden might just be the perfect place to do it!