Top Events

King's Day, April

New Year’s Eve, December

Carnaval, February

Keukenhof Gardens, March

National Windmill Day, May

January

The first month of the year is unavoidably cold and dark but on the bright side, museum queues in major cities are nonexistent and you can thaw out in a cosy café by a fireplace.

National Tulip Day

The start of the annual tulip season is celebrated in mid-January with National Tulip Day. Amsterdam's the Dam fills with around 200,000 tulips, which you can pick and take home at the end of the day.

Elfstedentocht

It hasn't taken place since 1997 but it's the sporting event of the year everyone waits for with bated breath: ice-skaters race around frozen canals in 11 cities in Friesland, starting and ending in Leeuwarden.

February

It's still cold and the nights are long but if you head south, you'll find the Catholic provinces getting ready for the year's biggest party.

Carnaval

On the weekend before Shrove Tuesday there are celebrations that would do Rio de Janeiro or New Orleans proud, mostly in the Catholic provinces of Noord Brabant, Gelderland and Limburg. Maastricht's party means days of uninhibited drinking, dancing and street music.

Amsterdam International Fashion Week

Amsterdam’s fashion scene takes flight biannually during Fashion Week (www.amsterdamfashionweek.nl; February and September), with catwalks, parties, lectures and films around the city. Many events – both free and ticketed – are open to the public.

March

If the weather complies, you can get a jump-start on bulbfield viewing in March, and since the season is still off-peak, you won’t have to fight the crowds to enjoy them.

European Fine Art Foundation Show (TEFAF)

Europe's largest art show (www.tefaf.com) takes place across 10 days in the first half of March in Maastricht. It's your chance to pick up a Monet, or at least do some serious browsing.

Keukenhof Gardens

The world's largest flowering-bulb show runs mid-March to mid-May at Lisse in the heart of the Netherlands' bulbfields. Buy tickets in advance.

April

April is all about King’s Day in the Netherlands. It's the show-stopping highlight of Amsterdam’s jam-packed calendar, but you'll find celebrations taking place all over the country.

King’s Day (Koningsdag)

The biggest – and possibly the best – street party in Europe celebrates the monarch on 27 April (26 April if the 27th is a Sunday). In Amsterdam, expect plenty of uproarious boozing, live music and merriment, plus a giant free market.

World Press Photo

An annual show of stunning and often moving images shot by the best photojournalists on the planet. It's on display at Amsterdam's Nieuwe Kerk from mid-April to mid-July.

May

Alternating rainy and gorgeous weather and plenty of historic events make post–King’s Day a perfect time to explore the country. Hope for a balmy weekend to get out and visit the windmills.

Herdenkingsdag & Bevrijdingsdag

On 4 and 5 May the fallen from WWII are honoured on Remembrance Day and Liberation Day in an Amsterdam ceremony followed by live music, debate and a market the following day.

National Windmill Day

On the second Saturday (and Sunday) in May, 600 windmills throughout the country unfurl their sails and welcome the public inside (www.molens.nl). Look for windmills flying a blue pennant.

June

Visitors start flocking in for the summer peak season. The promise of great weather and very long days draws people outside. It's typically sunny and warm, prime for bicycle rides and drinks on canal-side patios.

Holland Festival

Big-name theatre, dance and opera meet offbeat digital films and experimental music as part of the Netherlands' biggest performing-arts extravaganza. The month-long, high-art/low-art mash-up happens at venues across Amsterdam.

Ronde om Texel

The largest catamaran race in the world is held off Texel; spectators line the beaches for hours on end watching boats jive back and forth on the sea.

Oerol

In the latter half of June, this outdoor performance festival on Terschelling is revered nationwide as a perfect excuse for going to sea.

Fashion Festival Arnhem

The modes of the moment take the spotlight with a month of events, exhibits and workshops at locations throughout the nation’s fashion capital (www.fashionfestivalarnhem.nl).

Rotterdam Architecture Month

The Netherlands' premier architecture city celebrates its world-class portfolio of striking contemporary buildings with a full month of events and happenings (http://rotterdamarchitecturemonth.com), including opening up its hidden rooftops during the weekend-long Rotterdam Rooftop Days.

Fiets Elfstedentocht

Thankfully not reliant on the weather gods like its ice-skating equivalent, this 11-city race sees 15,000 cyclists speed 235km around Friesland's 11 main towns and cities.

July

The days are long, the sun is shining, beaches get busy and outdoor cafés are mobbed with locals and tourists alike. Nobody wants to be inside.

North Sea Jazz Festival

In mid-July, Rotterdam hosts the world's largest jazz festival. It attracts around a thousand musicians from around the planet, and vast crowds.

De Vierdaagse

In mid- to late July, thousands of walkers, both locals and visitors, undertake a four-day, 120km- to 200km-long trek around Nijmegen.

André Rieu Season

Strauss-influenced extravaganzas fill Maastricht’s Vrijthof for much of July, and their countless attendees ensure that hotel rooms are at a premium.

Zomerfeesten

Around for more than half a century, this massive street party lures 1.5 million partygoers to Nijmegen for live music, theatre, performing arts, markets et al.

August

August is a surprisingly pleasant time to visit, with temperatures that are much milder than in many other European hot spots. Many Dutch decamp for holidays elsewhere.

Sneekweek

Sailing fans flood into small-town Sneek in early August for this festive regatta with fireworks, the largest sailing event on Europe’s inland waters.

Pride Amsterdam

The rainbow flag blankets Amsterdam on the first weekend of the month, with oodles of parties and special events. The highlight, the Pride Parade, is the world’s only waterborne spectacle of its kind.

Noorderzon

This hugely engaging 11-day arts festival, held in mid-August in Groningen, features everything from theatre and music to children's entertainers and electronic installations.

Lowlands

Held in mid-August in Biddinghuizen, Flevoland, this alternative music and cultural megabash has campgrounds for the masses (http://lowlands.nl) to make a three-day party of it.

Grachtenfestival

Classical musicians pop up in canal-side parks and hidden gardens during mid-August's 10-day Grachtenfestival. The highlight of the 'Canal Festival' is the free concert on a floating stage in the Prinsengracht.

September

Summer may be technically over but September is one of the best months to visit the Netherlands. There are some superb festivals along with fair weather and fewer crowds.

Wereldhavendagen

In early September Rotterdam celebrates the role of its port, Europe's largest (www.wereldhavendagen.nl). There are boatloads of ship tours and fireworks. Festival-goers don retro get-ups for the spin-off de Nacht van de Kaap (Night of the Cape), held in Rotterdam's former red-light quarter, Katendrecht.

Nederlands Film Festival

The Dutch film industry may be tiny, but its output is generally top-notch. Find out for yourself at Utrecht city's NFF in late September, culminating in the awarding of the coveted Golden Calf.

SUP11

Only the Dutch could come up with a 220km-long tour of Friesland's 11 key towns and cities by stand-up paddleboard. The race follows the same canal course as January's Elfstedentocht for skaters.

October

A kaleidoscope of autumnal hues colours the country's parks and gardens, and while the weather may remain mild, low-season prices kick in and queues thin out.

Leidens Ontzet

Leiden grinds to a halt on 3 October for Leidens Ontzet, commemorating the day the Spanish-caused starvation ended in 1574. Celebrations ramp up the night before.

Amsterdam Dance Event

An electronic-music celebration on a massive scale, ADE sees 2200 DJs and artists and more than 300,000 clubbers attending 450 events across the city over five long, sweaty days and nights late in October.

Dutch Design Week

The southern city of Eindhoven’s key event is this design expo, a knowledge exchange and showcase for young designers. It's held at the Dutch Design Academy in late October.

November

Cultural events and reduced low-season rates make up for the shorter days and chillier nights, while the arrival of Sinterklaas heralds the start of the festive season.

Glow

During the second week of November, the home town of Philips, the design hub of Eindhoven, switches on spectacular light installations all over the city during Glow (www.gloweindhoven.nl).

Sinterklaas Intocht

St Nicholas arrives in Amsterdam by boat from Spain for the Sinterklaas Intocht (www.sintinamsterdam.nl) in mid- to late November and parades on his white horse to the Dam and Leidseplein, to the delight of the city's children.

International Documentary Film Festival

Ten days in late November are dedicated to screening fascinating true stories from all over the world during this film fest (www.idfa.nl/en) in Amsterdam.

Le Guess Who?

Four days of alternative music, invariably non-Western and obscure, in Utrecht. Wildly popular among lovers of world music. Buy a four-day pass online in advance.

11-11

A wacky prelude to springtime's Real McCoy Carnival, the 11/11 is a huge street party in Maastricht kicking off at 11am on 11 November.

December

Winter magic blankets the Netherlands (as, some years, does snow), ice-skating rinks set up in open spaces, and the country is a vision of twinkling lights.

Sinterklaas

This long-standing Dutch tradition sees Sinterklaas (St Nicholas) bring children presents and families exchange small gifts on 5 December ahead of religious celebrations for Christmas.

New Year’s Eve

In Amsterdam: fireworks displays over the Amstel and elsewhere around town (try Nieuwmarkt). Big stages on the Museumplein host live bands and plentiful beer tents for a giant party. Other cities have impromptu raucous celebrations on main squares.