‘Sometimes I like to think I have my finger on the pulse when it comes to design and fashion. I am incorrect’ — Celebrating one of Europe’s biggest street parties in the cushion of contemporary luxury

On King's Day, Amsterdam drops everything and comes alive. That euphoria and joy has also spread into the Hotel De L'Europe, one of the city's most historic hotels.

It’s 3pm on a Friday April 26 and I am watching an Englishman go to the loo on a bridge in Amsterdam. There’s something about the way he’s dressed, the way he stands, the way he sways in the afternoon light which means there’s no doubt he is English. 

He’s not breaking any laws; there’s a loo there, placed with care by the good people of Amsterdam to prevent the shameless excesses of day drinking from seeping into the canals of this great European city. The good people of Amsterdam know what is coming. The good people of Amsterdam are prepared for the King’s Birthday, otherwise known as King’s Day, which begins in less than 24 hours. I am here to drink on a boat and have a good time. I am here to celebrate the birthday of the Dutch King. I am here to write about the Hotel De L’Europe and its brand new suites. The revelry is non-negotiable. 

Revellers get in the mood during King’s Day. Credit: Anadolu/Getty Images

It’s 8am on a Friday morning at St Pancras international station and I am having a pleasant enough coffee in the Eurostar Business Premier Lounge. A man next to me drinks a beer, a professional reflection of calm against the mild cacophony of stag- and hen-dos that are separated from us by a thin sliding door and a mild-mannered man checking tickets. 

The coffee is nice enough and I read the New York Times, only looking up as a man dressed like Batman is turned away at the door. I go and have another coffee, scooping up a couple of beers from the fridge to enjoy on the four-hour train to Amsterdam that departs in 20 minutes.

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It is 1pm on a Friday and I am cruising through the Dutch/Flemish countryside, trying to portray a sense of professionalism demanded by the luxury of Eurostar’s Business Premier carriage. Despite pinging a few emails here and there, the staff did not appear to get the memo, pouring champagne at will and, before long, one windmill blurs into another and the words begin dancing around my screen. 


It is 5pm on a Friday afternoon and I am at the Hotel De L’Europe in central Amsterdam. The lobby and, indeed, the whole city is crackling with anticipation about tomorrow’s festivities. The bar opposite has begun the party, and young people are already off work, and enjoying themselves by drinking and being carefree in the sun.

I am looking around the suites at ‘t Huys, the hotel within this hotel, where the established names of art, couture, film, print, music and beyond ‘carve out their own sanctuaries’. Each room is designed by someone, or some place, and they are quite unlike any hotel room I have seen before. The suites are designed by everyone and everything from the Van Gogh museum to Bibi van der Velden, and Harper’s Bazaar NL to the Sisters Janssen; all of it is achingly cool, functional and beautiful. Sometimes I like to think I have my finger on the pulse when it comes to design and fashion. I am incorrect. This happens often.

The Ronald van der Kemp suite. Credit: James Stokes

It is 8pm and I am on the outskirts of Amsterdam, eating Michelin-star food in what can only be described as the Garden of Eden. This is the home of Florian and Ueli, florists and decorators known as Wunderkammer, who are one of the ‘t Huys partners and are the nicest people in the whole world. Birds of paradise squawk as a vegan dinner is prepared by Bas van Kranen and we drink wine. Everything is quite surreal. I’m pretty sure I saw a tortoise wander past. 


It is Midnight and I am in Jordaan and I am caught up in it all. The streets are filled with people, dressed in orange and drinking just about everything. I am English, and therefore filled with dread about the impending carnage, but it never comes. There are no police, there is no drama and there is plenty of live music. Everyone is having fun and being nice to one another. I am in possession of a tulip that was given to me by Florian and Ueli. A pretty Dutch girl comes up to me and asks if she can have it. I say yes and watch as she skips away through the throng, her last words of ‘I’ll need to get it in some water as soon as possible’ barely audible above the celebrations. I turn to my friend Will and he hands me another beer. 


The first King’s Day was in 1885, and was more of a Princess’s Day, created as it was to celebrate the birthday of Princess Wilhelmina. Everyone thought that was a good and fun idea, so it continued, and continues, to this day. 

It was known as Queen’s Day up until 2013, when, for the first time in 123 years, the Dutch throne was inherited by a man. It takes place on April 27 each year, the King’s Birthday, unless that day falls on a Sunday, in which case it is held on April 26.

King’s Day in Amsterdam. Best place to be is on a boat. Credit: Ozan Yilmaz/Getty Images

It is 1pm on April 27 and I am drunk on a boat. There is lots of music and things to drink. I am orange. Everyone is orange. The sun is out and even it might be orange today. The canal is full of boats and the streets are full of people. It is most likely the mixture of alcohol, good music and positive energy, but I feel like I have never been happier and that there has never been a more joyful place on Earth than Amsterdam at this very second. Another boat comes close and a young man jumps across. He high fives many people, downs a beer, and then hops back onto his own boat. Everyone cheers. Someone pours champagne directly from the bottle into my mouth.

4pm. Someone on our boat fell off the side and is floating in the canal.

4:05pm. The renegade swimmer has been rescued, dried off, and is now drinking and dancing again. The sun is still shining.

6pm. We are back at Hotel De L’Europe. My eyes swim as I eat pizza. The crowds drift past, the party continues, and I reminisce of my early 20s where I could stay out until the early hours after drinking all day. I vow to myself to keep the party going.


It is 9:30pm and I am asleep. The party continues without me.


It is Sunday at 11:30am and I am talking to Linda Stulic, who might be the coolest person I’ve ever met, and I have a hangover. She is one of the ‘t Huys partners, a dynamic photographer with a shock of white hair mixed in with the black, and I am a broken man before her. She asks me questions and I smile weakly as I reply. She knows I am hungover. She knows I know she knows I am hungover. She is nice to me anyway.

The Media Nanny suite at ‘t Huys. Very jazzy. Credit: James Stokes

The issue with a lot of very expensive hotels in nice European cities is that they can feel very serious a lot of the time. By their very nature, hotels are things to be used — an interactive museum of sorts where you can play with the exhibits. But at the high-end of luxury, the urge to touch and to enjoy can be shrouded by the realisation that the place you are staying might frown upon such adventures. It is a fine tightrope to walk.

There is no doubt that the De L’Europe is one of the grand old dames of Europe. Owned and operated by the Heineken family, there is very little of the building that doesn’t feel best in class. The restaurants are divine, from two Michelin star dining at Restaurant Flore (where Bas cooks), to the authentic and indulgent Trattoria Graziella, to the more traditional Brasserie Marie. 

But despite the inexhaustible elegance that seems to hang on every wall in between the countless old Master paintings (don’t touch those), there is a sense of fun here. The staff are nowhere near as intimidating as their uniforms might imply. The rooms are elegant, comfortable, traditional and yet modern. And when it was time to celebrate King’s Day, the hotel did not hesitate to provide a boat to get involved in the festivities. 

Nowhere is that sense of fun made more clean that ‘t Huys. The rooms are eccentric, but more importantly, the idea of ‘t Huys is one of fun. That sense of patronage is something that seems to have been lost a little bit, especially here in the UK. A successful entity such as De L’Europe didn’t need to push their chips into an endeavour such as ‘t Huys, but then again what is the point of operating in one of Europe’s cultural hubs without showcasing just how cultural that hub can be? At a time when it seems The Arts are in peril, how refreshing to see somewhere like De L’Europe take an interest. 

One of the ‘standard’ rooms at De L’Europe – the prestige suite. Absolutely nothing standard about it at all to be honest.

It is Monday at 4pm. We are heading back towards London on the Eurostar and the Kent countryside slides past. Despite my best efforts to once again look at and reply to some emails, a different man with the same passion for pouring champagne is wandering up and down the aisle, hunting empty glasses with vigour. I have been in Amsterdam for three days, but I have seen and done and imbibed so much. 

I wonder if we could have our own King’s Day in the UK, but quickly realise such a thing would be impossible. The British could not be trusted to enjoy a party left to their own devices. We have tried in the past and we have failed. We take things far too seriously, despite being grand old dames of Europe ourselves. The Arts are something that happened a long time ago, not now, according to those with the power to actually save them. We treat the young and the revelrous with suspicion.

I succumb to the man with the champagne, not for the first time this weekend, and I sigh. We arrive at St Pancras and a member of our party is dragged away by the Border Patrol for a search. It is unclear what for. It was a good party. It’s over now.

A suite at ‘t Huys costs starts at €1,500 per night

A standard room at Hotel De L’Europe costs from €799 (on a B&B basis) per night