Celebration of King’s Day in Groningen in 2022

The King’s Birthday

An international’s guide to Koningsdag

Celebration of King’s Day in Groningen in 2022
If you’ve never seen more then 17 million people dress up in bright orange for a birthday party, you’re in for a big, orange treat. Here’s a quick roundup of everything you need to know about Koningsdag, the biggest celebration in the Netherlands.
By Megan Embry and Saskia Jonker
23 April om 16:20 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 24 April 2024
om 9:34 uur.
April 23 at 16:20 PM.
Last modified on April 24, 2024
at 9:34 AM.

Koningsdag is the King’s birthday party. The tradition began in 1885 as Prinsessedag, a celebration of Princess Wilhelmina’s fifth birthday. Wilhelmina’s father, King William III, was widely disliked – but his young daughter was widely beloved. So in a clever PR move, William III threw a massive party in her honour.

Wee Wilhelmina paraded through the streets of Utrecht, waving and bowing to the charmed crowds from her royal carriage while people took the day off to cheer the procession and rekindle their love for the monarchy. When Wilhelmina ascended the throne in 1890, her birthday celebration became known as Koninginnedag, or ‘Queen’s Day’.

Queen’s Day was temporarily banned during WWII after Queen Wilhelmina exiled to London. From there she sent regular radio broadcasts into the occupied Netherlands, staunchly supporting the Dutch resistance and becoming a symbol of resistance herself. As ‘mother of the nation’, Wilhelmina earned popular support for the monarchy that continues today. The Queen’s Day tradition ultimately survived the war and became more generally a celebration of Dutch unity.

A Queen’s Day tragedy

In recent decades, Queen’s Day is marked by a goodly dose of national pride, an excess of bright-orange-everything, city-wide flea markets, live music, a royal procession, packed canals, and lots of Heineken. It’s always very merry – except in 2009, when 38-year-old Dutch national Karst Tates drove through an Apeldoorn crowd in a failed attempt to attack the royal family, killing seven people and himself. That year, the shock of tragedy cast a dark shadow over the holiday. But the Dutch rallied, and the celebration has only gotten more orange and more exuberant ever since.

When Queen Beatrix abdicated in 2013, Willem-Alexander, Prince of Orange, ascended the throne to become the youngest monarch in Europe and the first king ever to celebrate Koningsdag, which was moved to his birthday. This April 27, King Willem-Alexander and his family will celebrate in Emmen, a forty-minute drive from Groningen.

Top shelf royals

Most of the year, the Dutch royal family doesn’t enjoy the same celebré that, say, the British monarchy does. Want to know exactly how THAT family snapshot was photoshopped? No problem. Are you obsessed with the Meghan Markle polo match drama? The internet is here for you. Wondering about Charles and Camilla’s astrological compatibility? Ask and you shall receive. 

But what does anyone really know about the lives of the Dutch royal family?

A reported 50 percent of Dutch citizens couldn’t care less about the trappings of royal life. Thanks to their inherent egalitarianism, it’s basically a cultural imperative for the Dutch to shrug off the glamour of the ruling class. What they do like about their royals, is that the King and Queen behave ‘normally’.

King Willem-Alexander and his wife, Máxima, don’t put on a show; they are only ever photographed performing official duties. Their princess daughters, including The Princess of Orange and heir to the throne Catharina-Amalia Beatrix Carmen Victoria, ride their bicycles to public school just like everyone else. Heel gewoon.

But did you know that the Dutch royal family is more expensive than the British royal family? It’s true. So now that you’re in the Netherlands, go ahead: be smug. We’ve only got top shelf royals here!

What to do: King’s Night

King’s Day festivities kick off the night of April 26 – Koningsnacht – with live music all over the city. On the main stage at the Vismarkt, performances start at 9 p.m.

Or put your dancing shoes on and head to one of Groningen’s Kingsday club nights. Koningsvrij at OOST offers a few hours of disco, R&B, and house (tickets €30) and for bass music, go to SPOT Oosterpoort’s VISION King’s Night, where acts like Pendulum, Moody Good and Sachiko are playing. Tickets are €32.10.

For a real Netherlands party experience, get tickets for the patriotic sing-along at the Stadspark racecourse with ‘the Heroes of Orange’. Whatever you do, make sure you are dressed to impress.

What to do: King’s Day

For the ultimate King’s Day experience, you should head to Emmen, where the king will celebrate his birthday this year. Catch bus 300 at the central station, find a high vantage point along the route, or elbow your way through the crowd to the front, and who knows, you might even get a handshake from Willem-Alexander, Máxima, or Amalia.

Alternatively, head to Groningen’s outdoor flea market. Buy, barter, sell, and trade: put all your crap on a blanket and make some pocket money. Meet your neighbours; meet your neighbour’s neighbours; meet everybody. Park your blanket anywhere along Ubbo Emmiussingel, Praediniussingel, Ganzevoortsingel or Coehoornsingel. There’s no reserving spots, so if you want to snag a good location, show up before 7 a.m. 

There will be a special children’s flea market on Westerhaven and the smaller flea markets in neighbourhoods like Korrewegwijk, Helpman, Vinkhuizen and Hoornsemeer are also a little more family-friendly than the busy city centre.

To get a taste of Dutch-language music, go to Vismarkt, where Groningen cult figure TikTok Tammo will be performing, as well as the Weird Al Jankovic-inspired band VanDeStraat and rap artist Pjotr. Or just walk around for a while and see what you encounter: all through the city centre, there are bars with live music. 

And if you really want to let loose, don’t miss the Kingsland Dance Festival in the Stadspark, a student favourite. Find more information and tickets here.

Everything else you need to know

  •  Check here for a full King’s Day programme.
  •  Check here for a list of local clubs and parties.
  • And here are the essential Dutch phrases you’ll need for Koningsdag.

This article was previously published in 2018 and has been updated.