Queen’s Day (2)
Queen’s Day is a big outdoor event. It’s not about the dingy hash bars or seedy sex salons so loved by mashed-up tourists. It’s a day of live music and beer tents, and parties exploding onto the streets. Stages piled high with huge sound systems are set up in every available open space – the main stages are on Rembrandtplein and particularly Thorbeckplein, Leidseplein, Nieuwmarkt and Museumplein, where the big Amsterdam music stations hold their own mini festivals, blasting out the beats all day and night. The sheer density of people means that the streets are sealed off, and, whatever your inclination, you’ll find enough beer chugging, pill-popping and red-hot partying to satisfy the most voracious of appetites. There are only two rules to observe:
– You must dress as ridiculously as possible, and this normally involves donning orange – the Dutch national colour, which adorns virtually every building, boat and body on the day.
– You must drink enough beer not to care.
– Side effects, of course, include the desire to jump into canals, sing and dance like a baboon, and the misguided impression that you’re attractive to everyone you meet – despite the beer and vomit stains on your T-shirt. But that’s Queen’s Day for you. The big danger is in peaking too soon. Amsterdam is an exhausting enough place to party any time of the year and seasoned Ibiza campaigners have been known to struggle to last the festival’s full 24 hours.
Things wind down earlier on Queen’s Day itself, with all music stopping around 9pm and everyone trudging off home by about 10pm, as the street cleaners move in with masterful efficiency, but you still need to take it easy if you intend on getting this far. Numerous nightclubs await the hardcore party fiends who want to carry on, though. If you last till midnight, you’ve made it.
Messing about on the river
The extensive and picturesque canal system is one of the best things about Amsterdam. There’s nothing quite like taking one of the water-borne sightseeing tours and azing at the amazing seventeenth-century gables in a hash-induced coma as the history of the city gently babbles over you in five different languages. However, Queen’s Day means extra-special fun on the canals, as boating restrictions are lifted (or perhaps just ignored) and everyone goes berserk on the water – rowboats, barges and old fishing vessels crammed with people, crates of beer and sound systems pound their way around the canal system like entrants in some particularly disorganized aquatic carnival. Hang around hopefully on one of the bridges and you may get yourself on board; pick one with good tunes and people you like the look of, though, as it’s hard to get off. Otherwise, just watching the boats pass by can be a lot of fun: crowds gather on the larger bridges and canal junctions to cheer on each bizarre vessel – Prinsengracht is a good canal for this, with Reguliersgracht and Prinsengracht a particularly chaotic and enjoyable intersection.
Despite the huge number of partygoers, chill-out areas are easy to find on Queen’s Day. Many of the smoking bars are almost empty during the day, as the locals prefer to incapacitate themselves with Heineken rather than hash, so these serve as useful refuges. Another temporary respite from the partying can be found in the grassy relief of Vondelpark, where you can stretch out on the lawn for a bit of down time. For some mind-bending views, try the huge Ferris wheel set up in Dam Square, at the end of the main tourist drag that leads south from the train station. Or you might prefer to head for the Planetarium, situated next to the Artis Zoo in the east of the city centre. Here you get to lie in a reclining chair in the dark and speculate on he formation of the universe. If that doesn’t rev you up , or another assault on the party, nothing will.