The Netherlands’ festivals celebrate everything from life to tulips to Dutch music festivals, with glorious Dutch celebrations to experience. This guide to gives you a taste of the top Dutch festivals to see, including the best festivals in Amsterdam.
There is an abundance of lively Dutch festivals, from the colourful to the quirky Dutch celebrations alongside world-renown Dutch music festivals. Several festivals in the Netherlands have been celebrated for decades, and have strong cultural ties to their local regions far beyond the main festivals in Amsterdam.
The only problem will be choosing which Dutch festival to attend. The Festival Atlas report, compiled by Hogeschool van Amsterdam, recorded 1,340 different food, dance and film festivals in the Netherlands in 2016, which included more than 1,000 music events and 150 food fairs.
In true Dutch style, every Dutch festival is a reason to celebrate, eat Dutch food and party, so grab your calendars to mark the best of the Netherlands’ festivals, not least Dutch carnival and King’s Day. You can also see which Dutch festivals coincide with Dutch public and school holidays or read our pick of top 10 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 festival 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 Dutch 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 2018 the festival runs from 24 January to 4 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 2018, the Chinese New Year falls on 16 February. 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 10 February to 13 February 2018, 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).
Flower fields in the Netherlands, Keukenhof
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.
March: Opening of Keukenhof Gardens (near Lisse)
The greatest flower festival 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 22 March to 13 May 2018, in what is much more than just a tulip festival.
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 week of this festival in Amsterdam 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 17 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 Dutch festival for foodies, where you can dine in some of the top restaurants in the Netherlands 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 42km route from Noordwijk to Haarlem.
After completing the course of some 12 hours, their arrival marks the start of well-deserved celebrations. This Dutch festival is held from 21 April (parade) to 24 April (exhibitions) in 2018.
April 27: King’s Day (Koningsdag), Amsterdam
King’s Day, formerly Queen’s Day, is the annual Netherlands festival 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: Remembrance Day (Herdenkingsdag)
Remembrance Day in the Netherlands commemorates 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 as part of this festival in the Netherlands.
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 2018 dates.
Early-June: Flag Day (Vlaggetjesdag), Scheveningen
The Dutch way to eat herring
Fishermen’s wives dress up in their traditional costume. The fleet then returns with the new season’s herring catch, amid much fanfare.
June: Pinkpop, Landgraaf
This huge pop and rock Dutch music 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. Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters and Bruno Mars are a couple of the headliners for the next festival which is on 15 to 17 June 2018.
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 7 June to 1 July 2018.
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 event stretches along the canals of Haarlem. This Dutch festival is more than 20 years old and provides an opportunity for both walkers and runners to tour the centre of Haarlem, taking in the cultural and tourist attractions. If you decide to take part, the many spectators lining this beautiful route will cheer you on, so there’s a great atmosphere.
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 2018, the carnival starts on 27 July, the Battle of the Drums is on 29 July, and the street parade is on 29 July.
July: North Sea Jazz Festival, Rotterdam
This jazz Dutch 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 2018 programme opens on 13 July and continues until 14 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.
These Dutch celebrations take place all over the city from 28 July but the main events will take place 5 August 2018. If you get bored with festivities, there are more than 100 gay and lesbian bars, clubs, hotels, shops and social events in Amsterdam.
August: Scheveningen International Fireworks Festival (Vuurwerkfestival)
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 Dutch celebration, 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 2018 festival.
Mid-Late August: Amsterdam Canal Festival (Grachtenfestival)
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) for about 10 days in August.
September: Jordaan Festival in Amsterdam
This loosely organised festival in Amsterdam happens in the trendy Jordaan neighbourhood, featuring 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 2018 festival online.
Early October: Relief of Leiden (Leidens Ontzet)
These processions and festivities commemorate the defeat of the Spanish siege on 3 October 1574 that came close to starving Leiden into submission. During this Dutch celebration (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.
Mid-November/December: St Nicholas (Sinterklaas), Amsterdam
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. Read more about celebrating a Dutch Christmas.
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 2018 dates at www.theatercarre.nl.
Experience more top festivals in Europe and abroad:
- Belgian festivals
- French festivals
- German festivals
- Festivals in Luxembourg
- Portuguese festivals
- Russian festivals
- South African festivals
- Spanish festivals
- Swiss festivals
- UK festivals
Click to the top of our Dutch festivals guide.
Photo credits (CC-Licence): 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).