Private: Dutch Festivals and Traditions

Celebrating Dutch Festivals: An Expat’s Guide

As an expat living in the Netherlands, immersing yourself in the local culture is an essential part of your experience. One of the best ways to do this is by participating in Dutch festivals and traditions. The Netherlands is known for its vibrant and diverse festival scene, offering a unique opportunity to celebrate and connect with the local community. In this article, we will introduce you to some of the major Dutch festivals and traditions, and provide tips on how expats can fully embrace these cultural experiences.

1. King's Day

One of the most anticipated events in the Netherlands is King's Day, celebrated on the 27th of April each year. This national holiday marks the birthday of King Willem-Alexander and is a day filled with festivities, street parties, and orange-colored everything. The streets come alive with music, food stalls, flea markets, and people dressed in orange, the color of the Dutch royal family. As an expat, you can join in the fun by exploring the bustling streets, trying traditional Dutch snacks like bitterballen and stroopwafels, and even participating in the famous vrijmarkt (free market) where people sell their second-hand goods.

To fully immerse yourself in the King's Day experience, consider joining a local social club or expat group. They often organize special events and activities for expats, providing an opportunity to meet new people and celebrate together. Don't forget to wear something orange to show your support for the Dutch royal family!

2. Carnival

If you're looking for a lively and colorful festival, Carnival is a must-attend event. Although traditionally associated with the southern provinces of the Netherlands, such as Limburg and North Brabant, Carnival has gained popularity nationwide. This festive season takes place in February or March, just before the start of Lent, and lasts for several days.

During Carnival, the streets are filled with parades, music, and people dressed in elaborate costumes. Each region has its own unique traditions and rituals, but the overall atmosphere is one of joy and celebration. As an expat, you can join in the festivities by attending the parades, trying local Carnival specialties like oliebollen (deep-fried dough balls), and dancing the night away at one of the many parties organized throughout the country.

To make the most of your Carnival experience, consider joining a local Carnival association or club. They often offer workshops where you can learn how to create your own Carnival costume or mask. This is a great way to connect with the local community and fully embrace the spirit of Carnival.

3. Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas, also known as Saint Nicholas, is a beloved figure in Dutch culture and the inspiration behind the modern-day Santa Claus. The Sinterklaas celebration takes place on the 5th of December, with the arrival of Sinterklaas and his helpers, known as Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes).

During the Sinterklaas period, which starts in mid-November, children eagerly await the arrival of Sinterklaas and put their shoes by the fireplace, hoping to find small gifts and treats the next morning. On the eve of Sinterklaas, families and friends gather to exchange presents and enjoy traditional Sinterklaas treats, such as pepernoten (spiced cookies) and chocolate letters.

As an expat, you can participate in the Sinterklaas festivities by attending the annual Sinterklaas parade, which takes place in many cities and towns across the Netherlands. You can also join in the tradition of giving small gifts or organizing a Sinterklaas-themed gathering with your friends and colleagues.

4. Liberation Day

Liberation Day, celebrated on the 5th of May, marks the end of the German occupation during World War II and the liberation of the Netherlands. This national holiday is a day of remembrance and celebration, with various events and concerts taking place throughout the country.

As an expat, you can participate in the Liberation Day festivities by attending one of the many concerts and festivals organized in major cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague. These events often feature live music performances, cultural activities, and exhibitions that commemorate the country's liberation.

Additionally, you can visit historical sites and museums dedicated to World War II, such as the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam or the National Liberation Museum in Groesbeek. These places offer a deeper understanding of the country's history and provide an opportunity to pay tribute to those who fought for freedom.

5. New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve, or Oud en Nieuw, is a festive occasion celebrated with fireworks, parties, and family gatherings. The Dutch take their fireworks seriously, and you can expect a spectacular display of lights and colors throughout the country.

As an expat, you can join in the New Year's Eve celebrations by attending one of the many public firework displays organized in cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague. You can also celebrate with friends and neighbors by organizing a gezellige (cozy) gathering at home, complete with oliebollen, champagne, and traditional Dutch snacks.

It's important to note that safety is a top priority during New Year's Eve. Follow the local regulations and guidelines regarding fireworks usage to ensure a safe and enjoyable celebration.


Participating in Dutch festivals and traditions is a fantastic way for expats to connect with the local culture and community. Whether it's celebrating King's Day, joining in the Carnival festivities, experiencing Sinterklaas, commemorating Liberation Day, or welcoming the New Year, each festival offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in Dutch traditions and create lasting memories.

Remember to embrace the spirit of each festival, try traditional foods, and engage with the local community. By actively participating in these cultural events, you'll not only deepen your understanding of Dutch culture but also forge meaningful connections with the people around you. So, put on your orange attire, grab some oliebollen, and get ready to celebrate like a true Dutch expat!