Top Dutch festivals 2016
Dutch festivals celebrate everything from life to flowers to music. This guide gives you a taste of the top Dutch festivals to see in 2016.
There is an abundance of lively festivals in the Netherlands, from the colourful to the quirky. Several festivals in the Netherlands have been celebrated for decades, and have strong cultural ties to their local regions. In true Dutch style, every festival in the Netherlands is a reason to celebrate and party, so grab your calendars to mark the top Dutch festivals to see in 2016. See which festivals coincide with Dutch public and school holidays or read our pick of top 10 Dutch festivals.
Top Dutch festivals
1 January: New Year’s Day dive (Nieuwjaarsduik)
If you want to start the year fresh, take a chilly dive taken on New Year's Day (Nieuwjaarsdag). This Dutch tradition was started by a swim club in 1960. There are over 60 locations in the Netherlands you can take a dive, although diving into the North Sea at Scheveningen, the Hague, is the most popular location with up to 10,000 people. Afterwards shivering swimmers are presented with a cup of erwtensoep, a meaty pea soup.
Late January–early February: Rotterdam International Film Festival
This festival has built an international reputation over three decades for presenting quality independent films. During more than 10 days, huge numbers of film buffs find their way to cinemas around the city centre to watch one or more of about 300 films shown on some 15 screens. In 2016 the festival runs from 27 January to 7 February.
January/February: Chinese New Year in the Netherlands
Multicultural Netherlands has one of the largest Chinese communities in Europe, predominantly living in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, in which there is a range of events celebrating the Chinese New Year. In Amsterdam, head to Dam Square and Nieuwmarkt/Zeedijk to see dragon parades, lion dances and fireworks. You can also attend special activities in De Bijenkorf department store, including calligraphy workshops, music performances and tea ceremonies, or in the Buddhist temple Fo Guang Shan He Hua. The day is also about food, and in Amsterdam you can eat at street markets, at the Sea Palace (Europe’s first floating Chinese restaurant) or at one of the many Chinese restaurants along the Stormsteeg and Geldersekade. In the Hague, you will find Chinese festivals in the atrium of the city hall and in Den Haag's Chinatown around Wagenstraat. You can find events in Rotterdam leading up to the Chinese New Year, topped off by a day of Chinese celebrations around Wijkpark het Oude Westen and West-Kruiskade Chinatown. If you're superstitious, on Chinese New Year’s Eve eat a raw fish salad (yu sheng) to bring good luck or fai-hai, a type of seaweed, for prosperity. In 2017, the Chinese New Year falls on 28 January. Gong Xi Fa Cai! (Happy New Year!)
February: Carnival (Mardi Gras), Maastricht
This Dutch town stages one of Europe’s biggest and most lively carnivals. For three days, from 7 February to 9 February 2016, the 'Prince of Fools' (Prince Carnival) and his entourage lead the city and the celebrations, with increasing numbers of people preparing costumes, materials and floats for the grand Carnival parade (Boonte Störrem). A number of Dutch cities host Carnival celebrations, parades and a range of vibrant events; get all the information you need in Expatica's guide to celebrating carnival in the Netherlands.
Flower fields in the Netherlands, Keukenhof
March: Opening of Keukenhof Gardens (near Lisse)
The greatest flower show on earth blooms with spectacular displays of tulips and narcissi, daffodils and hyacinths, bluebells, crocuses, lilies, amaryllis, and many other types of flower at this 32-hectare (80-acre) garden in the heart of the bulb country. There will be around eight million flowers on view in a spectacular display from 24 March to 16 May 2016.
March: Silent Walk (Stille Omgang)
This silent night-time procession through Amsterdam commemorates the Catholic 'Miracle of Amsterdam', which took place in 1345 in a house on Kalverstraat and turned Amsterdam into a pilgramage city of importance, the 'Miracle City'. The festival week starts each year on the Wednesday after the 12 March, with masses celebrated in the Beguinage from Wednesday to Saturday, and culminates in the Silent Procession held on Saturday night through Sunday morning. In 2017, the march will on 18 March.
March: Festival of trees (Boomfeestdag)
On the third Wednesday in March each year, the Netherlands celebrates this festival nationwide by encouraging children in Basisschool to plant trees in parks, streets, squares and rural areas.
April–May: National Restaurant Week
This is a festival for foodies, where you can dine in some of the top Dutch restaurants for up to 50 percent off of food and drink. It's important to book early as places fill up in advance.
Mid-April: World Press Photo exhibition
Each year the world’s largest photography competition starts in Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kerk before touring 45 countries worldwide.
April–early May: Flower Parade (Bloemencorso), Noordwijk to Haarlem
A procession with about 20 floats staging giant dolls made of flowers in addition to jugglers, dancers and players make their way in a 25-mile route from Noordwijk to Haarlem. After completing the course of some 12 hours, their arrival marks the start of well-deserved celebrations. Held from 20 to 24 April in 2016.
April 27: King’s Day (Koningsdag), Amsterdam
King’s Day, formerly Queen’s Day, is the annual holiday in honour of King Willem-Alexander, whose investiture took place on 13 April, 2013. A quarter of a million locals and tourists cascade into the centre of Amsterdam for what feels like the world’s biggest street party, in addition to celebrations held all over the Netherlands. There is a gigantic sunrise to sunset street carnival, while the city centre fills with stalls manned by everyone from kids selling old toys to a unique flea market and a range of bands playing on stages in the streets of Rembrandtsplein and Prinsengracht, as it's the one day people can sell without a licence. Special performances from musicians and theatrical folk are held for children and there are parades to entertain everyone. Orange ribbons, orange hair and orange-painted faces are everywhere, as are Dutch flags — don something orange, too, to fit in. The celebrations reach their climax in the evening with a firework display that emblazons the night sky. For party-goers, celebrations and music concerts start the night before on Koningsnacht. Read more in Expatica's guide to King's Day events and tips on surviving King's Day.
4 May: Rememberance Day (Herdenkingsdag)
Rememerance Day in the Netherlands commerates all those who lost their lives in wars or peacekeeping missions since the outbreak of World War II. The main events are held in Amsterdam's Dam Square, usually attended by members of the royal family and government, although events are held around the country, notably in Waalsdorpervlakte near The Hague and the war cemetery Grebbeberg. Dutch flags fly at half mast and there is a two-minute silence at 8pm, typically when people in towns gather around a monument, listen to speeches and lay wreaths.
5 May: Liberation Day (Bevrijdingsdag)
The Netherlands was occupied by Nazi Germany in May 1940 and many died in the period before liberation on 5 May 1945. Flags fly high as the Netherlands celebrates freedom and democracy with a range of Liberation Day events taking place around the country. One of the oldest pop concerts in the Netherlands, Bevrijdingspop, is held in Haarlem.
May: National Mill Day (Nationale Molendag)
The second weekend in May is dedicated to National Mill Day each year, where some 950 working windmills and watermills open to the public and millers decorate the mills and put on a range of family activities. Look for blue pennants or ask at your local tourist office for the best bike route.
May/June: The Hague Festival
This is the umbrella name for several huge festive multi-disciplinary art events — more than 200 — in several venues all over the city. During the festival days, the city becomes a centre for hundreds of enthusiastic visitors, locals and tourists who enjoy the great variety of shows. Check for 2016 dates.
The harbour, crowded with fishing boats and lined with restaurants that serve up just-caught seafood, is where the Dutch herring fleet is launched with a colourful Vlaggetjesdag (Flag Day) celebration each year on the first or second Saturday in June. Fishermen's wives dress up in their traditional costume. The fleet then returns with the new season's herring catch, amid much fanfare. Held on 18 June in 2016.
The Dutch way to eat herring
June: Holland Festival, Amsterdam, Den Haag, Rotterdam, and Utrecht
Each year, these four cities join forces to present a cultural buffet of music, opera, theatre, film, and dance. The schedule includes all the major Dutch companies, plus visiting companies and soloists from around the globe. The 68th Holland festival will be from 5 June to 25 June 2016.
June: Canal Run (Grachtenloop), Haarlem
A beautiful 'watery' trail along the Haarlem canals and canals lined with an enthusiastic audience guarantees a pleasant and sporty course evening for young and old alike. This annual midsummer evening stretch along the canals of Haarlem is over 20 years old now and provides an opportunity for both walkers and runners to tour around the centre of Haarlem, taking in the cultural and tourist attractions. In 2016 the event takes place on 24 June. If you decide to take part, the many spectators lining this beautiful route will cheer you on, so there’s a great atmosphere.
June: Pinkpop, Landgraaf
This huge pop and rock festival, held in the city of Landgraaf in Limburg, has been running since 1970, making it one of the oldest in the world. Its name comes from the Dutch pinksteren meaning Pentecost, which is when it’s traditionally held. It’s a three-day festival with all-star line ups from the worlds of rock, pop, dance, electro, hop, indie, punk, folk, alternative and more. Red Hot Chili Peppers is one of the headliners for the next festival which is on 10 to 12 June 2016.
July: Rotterdam Summer Carnival (Zomercarnaval)
Now more than two decades old, this carnival welcomes more than one million visitors to Rotterdam for the Dutch answer to Rio. Latin music and the vibrant energy of Brazil are played with gusto by more than 25 bands marching noisily through the city streets. At night, revellers can enjoy live music performances played on two stages in the city centre. In 2016, the carnival starts on 26 June, the Battle of the Drums is on 29 June and the street parade is on 30 June.
July: North Sea Jazz Festival, Rotterdam
The jazz festival began in 1976 and has run annually since then. The performances in the three-day event are held in an indoor sports arena and a concert venue, Rotterdam Ahoy. Up to 70,000 music lovers come to hear more than 1,000 local and international performers playing new and established music in a festival that is one of the highlights of the jazz calendar. Although the audiences are big the festival still seems to retain an intimate atmosphere. The 2015 programme opens on 8 July and continues until 10 July.
August: Amsterdam Gay Pride
One of Europe’s most gay-friendly cities sees 150,000 people turn out to watch the highlight: Canal Parade's display of 100 or so outrageously decorated boats cruising the canals — the world’s only floating gay pride. In addition, there are street discos and open-air theatre performances, a sports programme and a film festival. Celebrations take place all over the city from 4 August but the main events will take place between 6 August and 7 August 2016. If you get bored with festivities, there are more than 100 gay and lesbian bars, clubs, hotels, shops and social events in Amsterdam.
Every year fireworks producers head for this little beach town near Den Haag to participate in a contest exhibition — Scheveningen Fireworks Trophy. During four days of this noisy colourful festival, thousands of spectators gather to watch this vibrant and burst of noise and light. Two shows are held each evening and the organisers announce the winner on the third night. Get the best view of the fireworks from one of the beachfront cafes. Check for the dates of the 2016 festival.
This classical music festival is a showcase for concerts played in unique architectural venues of historic and cultural value. Music lovers of all ages are welcome and a special place is given to young artists. In addition to festivals for adults there is a children’s festival (Kindergrachtenfestival) from 12 to 21 August 2016.
This loosely organised festival in the trendy Jordaan neighbourhood features various genres of Dutch music played in the Westermarkt. The programme is very varied, so you might hear folk, drumming bands, opera or cabaret — and be prepared to join in the sing-a-longs. Check the dates of the 2016 festival online.
These processions and festivities commemorate the defeat of the Spanish siege on 3 October 1574 that came close to starving Leiden into submission. During the festival (sometimes known as 3 October), citizens distribute herring and white bread (haring en witte brood), just as the pirate-like band of Sea Beggars did during the siege, helping to drive the Spaniards away. You can also expect musical entertainment on the streets, fireworks, fairgrounds — and bowls of steaming hutspot, a carrot and onion stew which is traditionally eaten in the evening. Festivities centre around 3 October.
With more than a kilometre of floats and boats, Amsterdam hosts the largest Saint Nicholas parade in the world. Every year, Sinterklaas sails into Amsterdam with 600 black-painted assistants (Zwarte Pieten) and plenty of small-spiced biscuits (pepernoten). At least 400,000 spectators will line the canals to welcome him to the city on a Sunday in mid-November. From his arrival in mid-November until 6 December, Sinterklaas makes a number of appearances throughout the city and the Netherlands where he hosts exhibitions and meets children. The big gift-giving day is then 5 December (sinterklaasavond) when St Nicholas drops off presents on children’s doorsteps before leaving for Spain, following the traditional legend.
Mid-December: World Christmas Circus, Amsterdam
The best acts from the world's circuses go into action under the big top at Koninklijk Theater Carré. Check the 2016 dates at www.theatercarre.nl.
Updated 2012, 2014, 2016.
Photo credits: FaceMePLS (thumbnail), Werner Pellis (flower parade), François Philipp (tulip fields), Takeaway via Wikimedia Commons (herring), FaceMePLS (Rotterdam Carnival), FaceMePLS (gay pride), Sander van der Wel (Sinterklaas and Pieten).
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