One of the biggest and most eagerly awaited events in Holland is the Elfstedentocht, the 11-cities race, in which skaters compete over a 200km (124-mile) course through Friesland province. The first race was run in 1909, and it has been run only 14 times since, most recently in 1997. Perhaps the weather and ice conditions will allow the race to be held when you are visiting. If so, it's well worth going out of your way to see -- or even to take part in. Contact VVV Friesland (tel. 0900/202-4060).
New Year. This celebration is wild and not always wonderful. Youthful spirits celebrate the New Year with firecrackers, which they cheerfully -- if not drunkenly -- throw at the feet of passersby. This keeps hospital emergency rooms busy. January 1.
Rotterdam International Film Festival. More than 300 indie films are screened at theaters around town. Contact tel. 010/890-9090 or www.filmfestivalrotterdam.com. January 21 to February 1, 2009; similar dates in 2010.
Carnival, Maastricht and Den Bosch ('s-Hertogenbosch). Contact VVV Maastricht (tel. 043/325-2121; www.vvv-maastricht.eu) and VVV Den Bosch (tel. 0900/112-2334; www.vvvdenbosch.nl). Seven weeks before Easter.
ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, Rotterdam. The world's top men tennis players converge on the port city for this ATP Tour event. Contact Ahoy (tel. 010/293-3300; www.ahoy.nl), or go to www.abnamrowtt.nl. February 9 to 15, 2009; similar dates in 2010.
Windmill Days, Zaanse Schans. All five working windmills (out of eight windmills in total) are open to the public at this recreated old village and open-air museum in the Zanstreek, just north of Amsterdam. Contact Zaanse Schans (tel. 075/616-2862; www.zaanseschans.nl). March to October.
The European Fine Art Fair, Maastricht. Top-rated international art and antiques fair at the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Center (MECC). Art dealers from around the world present their finest objects. Jewelry, silver, carpets, Egyptian and classical antiquities, and 20th-century art are among the items on view. Contact tel. 0411/645-090 or www.tefaf.com. March 13 to 22, 2009; similar dates in 2010.
Opening of Keukenhof Gardens, Lisse. The greatest flower show on earth blooms with a spectacular display of tulips and narcissi, daffodils and hyacinths, bluebells, crocuses, lilies, amaryllis, and many other flowers at this 32-hectare (80-acre) garden in the heart of the bulb country. There's said to be nearly eight million flowers. Contact Keukenhof (tel. 025/246-5555; www.keukenhof.nl). March 19 to May 21, 2009; similar dates in 2010.
National Museum Weekend. A weekend during which most museums in the Netherlands offer free or reduced admission and have special exhibits. April 4 to April 5, 2009; similar dates in 2010.
Bloemencorso van de Bollenstreek (Bulb District Flower Parade). Floats keyed to a different floral theme each year parade from Noordwijk, through Sassenheim, Lisse, and Bennebroek, to Haarlem. Contact Bloemencorso Bollenstreek (tel. 0252/428-237; www.bloemencorso-bollenstreek.nl). April 25, 2009; similar dates in 2010.
Koninginnedag (Queen's Day). Countrywide celebration honoring the queen's official birthday, with parades, street fairs, and street entertainment. Throughout Holland, but best in Amsterdam. April 30.
Herdenkingsdag (Memorial Day). Countrywide observance for victims of World War II, principally marked by 2 minutes of silence at 8pm. May 4.
Bevrijdingsdag (Liberation Day). Commemorates the end of World War II and Holland's liberation from Nazi occupation. Throughout the country, but best in Amsterdam. May 5.
National Windmill Day. Around two-thirds of the country's almost 1,000 working windmills spin their sails and are open to the public. Contact Vereniging de Hollandsche Molen (tel. 020/623-8703; www.molens.nl). Second Saturday in May: May 9, 2009, and May 8, 2010.
National Cycling Day, throughout Holland. On this day, Dutch people get on their bikes and pedal. So what else is new? Second Saturday in May: May 9, 2009, and May 8, 2010.
Holland Festival, Amsterdam, the Hague, Rotterdam, and Utrecht. Each year, these four cities join forces to present a cultural buffet of music, opera, theater, film, and dance. The schedule includes all the major Dutch companies and visiting companies and soloists. Contact Holland Festival (tel. 020/530-7110; www.hollandfestival.nl). May 31 to June 29, 2009; similar dates in 2010.
Vlaggetjesdag (Flag Day), Scheveningen. The fishing fleet opens the herring season with a race to bring the first Hollandse Nieuwe herring back to port (the first barrel is auctioned for charity). Contact Stichting Vlaggetjesdag Scheveningen (tel. 070/345-3267; www.vlaggetjesdag.com). June 13, 2009; similar date in 2010.
Terschellings Oerol Festival. Open-air performances by international theater companies on this island in the Wadden Sea. Contact Terschellings Oerol (tel. 0562/448-448; www.oerol.nl). June 12 to 21, 2009; similar dates in 2010.
Amsterdam Roots Festival. Various venues. This festival features music and dance from around the world, along with workshops, films, and exhibits. One part is the open-air Oosterpark Festival, a multicultural feast of song and dance held at Oosterpark in Amsterdam-Oost (East). Contact Amsterdam Roots Festival (tel. 020/531-8181; www.amsterdamroots.nl). June 13 to 29, 2009; similar dates in 2010.
Open Gardens Days. If you wonder what the fancy gardens behind the gables of some of the city's houses-turned-museums look like, this is your chance to find out. Some of the best are open to the public for 3 days. Go to the website of Grachten Musea (tel. 020/320-3660; www.grachtenmusea.nl). Third week in June.
Over Het IJ Festival. Performers stage avant-garde theater, music, and dance in Amsterdam-Noord, beside the IJ channel, at the old NDSM Wharf, TT Neveritaweg 15. Contact Over Het IJ Festival (tel. 020/492-2229; www.overhetij.nl). July 2 to 12, 2009; similar dates in 2010.
North Sea Jazz Festival, Ahoy, Rotterdam. One of the world's leading gatherings of top international jazz and blues musicians unfolds over 3 concert-packed days at the city's giant Ahoy venue. Last-minute tickets are scarce, so book as far ahead as possible. Contact North Sea Jazz Festival (tel. 0900/300-1250 in Holland, or 31-10/591-9000 from outside Holland; www.northseajazz.com). July 11 to 13, 2009; similar dates in 2010.
Skûtsjesilen, the Frisian Lakes and the IJsselmeer. Sailing races feature skûtsjes, traditional Frisian sailing ships. Contact VVV Friesland (tel. 0900/202-4060; www.skutsjesilen.nl). July 18 to 31, 2009; similar dates in 2010.
Amsterdam Gay Pride. This is a big event in Europe's most gay-friendly city. A crowd of as many as 150,000 people turns out to watch the Boat Parade's display of 100 or so outrageously decorated boats cruising the canals. In addition, there are street discos, open-air theater performances, a sports program, and a film festival. Contact Amsterdam Gay Pride (www.amsterdamgaypride.nl). First weekend in August: August 1 to 3, 2009 (Canal Parade Aug 2); similar dates in 2010.
Grachten Festival (Canal Festival). A 5-day festival of classical music, on a different theme each year, plays at various intimate and elegant venues along the city's canals and at the Muiziekgebouw aan 't IJ. There's always a performance or two designed for children. The festival culminates in the exuberant Prinsengracht Concert, which plays on a pontoon in front of the Hotel Pulitzer. Contact Stichting Grachtenfestival (tel. 020/421-4542; www.grachtenfestival.nl). August 15 to 23, 2009; similar dates in 2010.
Festival Oude Muziek (Festival of Early Music), Utrecht. Concerts of music from the Middle Ages to the Romantic era. Contact Stichting Organisatie Oude Muziek (tel. 030/232-9000; www.oudemuziek.nl). August 28 to September 6, 2009; similar dates in 2010.
Uitmarkt. Amsterdam previews the cultural season with this open market of information and free performances at impromptu outdoor venues, and at theaters and concert halls. Both professional and amateur groups take part in the shows, which run the gamut of music, opera, dance, theater, and cabaret. Go to the website of Uitmarkt (www.uitmarkt.nl). Usually the last weekend in August, but dates are not confirmed until the preceding March.
11 Steden Fiets 4 Daagse (11 Cities 4 Days Bicycle Tour), Friesland. The bicycling version of the famous Elfstedentocht ice-skating race through Friesland province, based on the idea that roads and bikes are more reliable than frozen canals and skates. Contact VVV Friesland (tel. 0900/202-4060), or go to www.11stedenfietsvierdaagse.nl. End of August.
Open Monumentendag (Open Monument Day). A chance to see historic buildings and monuments around the country that usually are not open to the public -- and to get in free as well. Contact Vereniging Open Monumentendag (tel. 020/422-2118; www.openmonumentendag.nl). Second Saturday and Sunday: September 12 and 13, 2009; September 11 and 12, 2010 (probable).
State Opening of Parliament, the Hague. On Prinsjesdag (Princes' Day), Queen Beatrix rides in a splendid gold coach to the Knights' Hall in the Hague to open the legislative session by delivering the Troonrede (Speech from the Throne). Contact VVV Den Haag (tel. 0900/340-3505; www.denhaag.com). Third Tuesday in September: September 15, 2009; September 21, 2010.
Leidens Ontzet (Relief of Leiden). Procession commemorating the anniversary of the raising of the 1574 Spanish siege of Leiden. Haring en witte brood (herring and white bread) are distributed, just as the piratelike band of "Sea Beggars" did after helping drive the Spaniards away. Contact VVV Leiden (tel. 0900/222-2333; www.leiden.nl). October 3 (Oct 4 when the 3rd is a Sun).
International Horti Fair, Amsterdam. The largest exhibit of autumn-blooming flowers in the Netherlands takes place at the RAI convention center. Contact Horti Fair (tel. 0297/344-033; www.hortifair.nl). October 13 to 16, 2009; similar dates in 2010.
Leather Pride is a growing happening of parties and other events for gays who are into a leather lifestyle. Contact Leather Pride Nederland (tel. 020/422-3737; www.leatherpride.nl). Last weekend of October.
Crossing Border Festival, Den Haag (the Hague). Literature, poetry, and music are combined in this 5-day festival. Contact Crossing Border (tel. 070/346-2355; www.crossingborder.nl). Mid-November.
Sinterklaas Arrives. Holland's Santa Claus (St. Nicholas) launches the Christmas season when he arrives in Holland from Spain, accompanied by black-painted assistants, called Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), who hand out candy to kids. During the next 2 weeks he makes his way to towns across the land. Contact local VVV offices. Third Saturday in November: November 21, 2009; November 20, 2010. He arrives the next day in Amsterdam.
Winterland Maastricht. For the city's annual Christmas Market, stands selling seasonal trinkets, traditional craft items, and food and drink, alongside a nativity crib with live animals and an ice-skating rink, are all set up on the beautiful Vrijthof Square. Every day there are performances by choirs and traditional bands, and Father Christmas hands out presents for the children. Contact VVV Maastricht (tel. 043/325-2121; www.vvv-maastricht.eu). Throughout the month, daily from 10am to 10pm.
Sinterklaas. St. Nicholas's Eve is the traditional day in Holland for exchanging Christmas gifts. Join some Dutch friends or a Dutch family if possible. December 5.
Gouda bij Kaarslicht (Gouda by Candlelight). In the evening, all the electric lights are turned off around the Markt, and Gouda's main square, the 15th-century town hall, and a giant Christmas tree are all lit up by thousands of candles. Contact VVV Gouda (tel. 0900/468-3288; www.vvvgouda.nl). Second Tuesday before Christmas.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.