While there are plenty of things to do in the Netherlands in general,a bunch of those things to do are outside of Amsterdam. Yep, there are events in the Netherlands throughout the whole year that are worth visiting. No matter what your interests are, there’s probably something for you.
This country isn’t just about tulips (but we’ll definitely cover that!), we have some famous music festivals, cultural activities, and even a huge dance event. Depending on the time of year you visit will determine what kind of experiences await you.
December-February: Ice Sculpture Festival in Zwolle
Random? Maybe. Cool? Definitely! Open for 2.5 months, the Ice Sculpture Festival is a great one to catch if you’re visiting the Netherlands in winter. While there’s plenty to do in the winter, the weather isn’t great, so indoor activities are perfect. And seriously, ice sculptures? For some reason, I just love that it’s a thing! People have some serious talent and seeing that in art form just seems awesome to me. Have you ever seen a real ice sculpture? If you think it’s as cool as I do, head to Zwolle, in the east of the country to check out this festival.
February/March: Carnival in Maastricht
There are Carnival celebrations all over the southern part of the Netherlands, but Maastricht is the biggest and most well-known. Head down there for a taste of the pageantry that you think of seeing in other parts of the world.
Around the end of February and beginning of March, the city is taken over by parades and impressive events over these few days. Many shops and museums will be closed, so be prepared! Check out their website for the exact dates and more information.
March/April/May: Keukenhof in Lisse
In the spring, people want to see flowers when they visit the Netherlands. Can’t blame ‘em! This country does flowers right. The Keukenhof is the garden of what is now known as the Keukenhof Castle. YES! There’s a castle amongst all the beautiful flowers. Keuken is the word for “kitchen” and it started as a kitchen garden and then turned into a way for local farmers to showcase their flowers. Follow our guide on Keukenhof to have the most enjoyable experience!
April: Flower parade during the Tulip Festival
Level-up your tulip experience when you visit the Netherlands! Aside from the famous Keukenhof gardens, and the stunning tulip fields, the flower parade adds a whole new level for flower-lovers. There are dozens of floats covered with thousands of flowers that you just have to see to believe.
April: King’s Day in any city
King’s Day is one of our biggest and most famous events. You’ll find activities all over the whole country and the King and Queen will visit one or two town on the day, but you’ll have to check their schedule ahead of time for that. And no, they don’t tend to visit Amsterdam…it’s crazy enough! Learn how to have the best King’s Day ever in Amsterdam, but you can use these tips anywhere in the country. Watch our last King’s Day in Amsterdam on our YouTube channel (please subscribe!)
I’d suggest checking out a different city for this event for a more local, authentic, and cultural experience. It’s probably a bit calmer while still having that celebratory vibe.
June: Pink Pop in Limburg
In the most southern area of the Netherlands, you’ll find the music festival Pink Pop. It’s been around for 50 years and is the most well-known music festival in the country…and very well attended! They have 70,000 people on any given day and there’s plenty of room to stay and tent for the night. If that’s your scene, it’s a must-do life experience!
July: North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam
With huge names and a long list of artists, the North Sea Jazz Festival is the largest indoor music festival in the world. This year (2020) John Legend and Alica Keys are making an appearance. How cool is that?! Set over multiple days, there is ample opportunity to see some incredible Jazz from many incredible performers. It’s really a great reason in itself to visit the Netherlands!
July/August: Pride in Amsterdam
Ok…Pride is probably the biggest event that people come for in Amsterdam. It’s well-known around the world that we have a pretty rockin’ Pride party. It lasts about a week and ends in a spectacular canal parade — that’s just where we do parades in this city.
It’s one of my favorite weeks because it’s all about love and celebration of everyone. The warm and fuzzies are everywhere and there’s just an incredible feeling throughout the whole city. As for the parade, get a spot early! Check out the Pride’s website for more details.
August: SAIL in Amsterdam
SAIL is one of my favorite events, but it only happens once every five years (next is 2020) and is the largest free event in the country! This tall ship festival makes a splash in Amsterdam. People flock to the IJ to watch the large boats sail into the harbor and when they sail out–it’s almost like a parade! We were lucky enough to have a crazy cool spot in 2015 on a bridge they dismantle a section of to let the boats sail through. For SAIL out, we thought we were smart sitting by REM along a small patch of grass. We were, but many others had the same idea! During the festival, you can board the ships and learn all about their style and history. Some are vintage and some are replicas. Read our post about Amsterdam’s SAIL.
September: World Port Days in Rotterdam
Visit the Port of Rotterdam — the largest seaport in Europe — and get a better understanding of how a port this size (formally the busiest in the world for 40 years) operates so well. On World Port Days, you can visit shows, watch shows on the water and even take excursions! Anyone who loves boats or knowing how things work in the big picture of the world will love this event.
October: Amsterdam Dance Event
Amsterdam Dance Event or ADE takes over the city of Amsterdam for a few days in October. It’s THE place for anyone who loves dance music and electronic music. Some of the most famous DJs come in for this event and is one of the biggest there is. What’s really interesting is how it combines a huge dance/party component with a conference. There can be 1000 events independently happening around the entire city…it’s not just in one place.
Mid-November through December: Christmas markets in Valkenburg
Valkenburg has made it to the list of top 10 Christmas markets in Europe! It’s uniqueness is evident in every aspect. Explore the underground Christmas market in the caves of Valkenburg, see the miniature Christmas world that’s about 30 meters long, take a food tour, discover a winter wonderland, and catch a parade.
With so much to do and so much Christmas spirit, this is a must-visit place in the Netherlands from mid-November through the month of December. Find out more on their website.
December: Fireworks Festival in Scheveningen
In case you don’t know this, the Dutch LOVE fireworks, so this Fireworks Festival is incredibly fitting. And with the long coastline we have, it makes complete sense to do it at the beach. So, if you’re visiting the Netherlands in December, make your way to The Hague to be part of the International Fireworks Festival in Scheveningen (just outside of The Hague).
December: Amsterdam Light Festival
If it’s going to be cold, there might as well be a festival to entice you to still get in a boat for a canal cruise! The Amsterdam Light Festival is one of my favorite events. It might be cold but it gets pretty cozy on some of these boats. We used Boat Amsterdam and highly recommend them. They have seat-warmers inside where you’re also covered from the wind, you can sit outside if you want, there’s a toilet, and the staff is super nice.
The festival itself is beautiful and so interesting. They have a website where you can take a peak at the installations, but there’s nothing like seeing them in person. I think we’ve missed one year out of all the years we’ve been in the city. If you’re thinking of coming to Amsterdam during December or early January, this is a good reason to come!
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That’s all really just the tip of the iceberg! There is so much to do in the Netherlands and I hope you find something awesome that suits you. Remember, Amsterdam is incredible, but you’re missing out on some great places, people and events if you only stick to the capital city.
If it’s your first time to the Netherlands, come and see Amsterdam, do those must-do things (like a canal cruise), but don’t stop there! Spend a few days here, maybe use my 3-day itinerary, then hop on the train and take in a different city for a few more days. Planning around these events is awesome because you feel the energy around the events and when you move to a new city, get a completely different experience.
Let’s chat! Leave a comment below, or reach out on our social media (links above and below) and let us know what you’re excited about visiting the Netherlands. Or, if you’ve been, what was your favorite place?
Enjoy your trip! Wishing you joy and travels.