Stepping into the living Vermeer that is Amsterdam, with its tableau of canals and tidy homes, is the ultimate Dutch treat.
Each spring, that poetic image turns on its head when thousands of merrymakers descend for Koningsdag, or King’s Day, the apex of the Dutch annual calendar, on April 27.
The holiday is a kooky and unlikely show of national pride. Otherwise staid citizens dye their hair orange, don silly costumes, and slurp orange drinks to honor the official birthday of young King Willem-Alexander, known as Queen’s Day until his mother Beatrix stepped down in 2013. The frenzy clogs streets in the city’s central and canal districts, forcing trams to grind to a halt.
“It’s absolute mayhem,” says Kimberley Lewis, who runs walking tours of the red-light district. “The old center turns into one gigantic party.” Meanwhile, every square inch of available sidewalk becomes a vrijmarkt, an open-air market where any Tom, Dirk, and Antje can hawk a few attic treasures.
Once the party’s over, experience Dutch riches of a natural kind at the kaleidoscopic spring flower show at Keukenhof Gardens, 40 minutes southwest of Amsterdam. Wander onto these onetime royal hunting grounds and marvel at the choreographed blazes of blossoms—including, of course, Holland’s world-famous tulips—blanketing 80 jaw-dropping acres. Tip: The famous gardens are open from late March to May.
Travel Trivia: In Amsterdam’s flower markets, 20 euros will get you a bag of premium bulbs. But in the 17th century, a speculative fever for exotic tulips—the most precious varieties having frilly edges and streaked petals caused by a louse-borne viral infection—pushed values to insane heights. Within a matter of weeks, the market collapsed, sparking a wave of bankruptcies.