About the Netherlands

Ice Fun

Skating in the Netherlands

It doesn’t happen every year, but when the Netherlands freezes over, everybody goes crazy for ice skating. And finding the proper venue is not difficult. A large part of the Netherlands is below sea level, and kept dry by an elaborate network of smaller and larger canals which pump out rising groundwater. As a consequence, the Dutch landscape is crisscrossed by thousands of shallow waterways, ideal for ice skating once the thickness of the ice is sufficient.

But not all the fun is in the vast, flat countryside: many Dutch cities such as Amsterdam, Utrecht and Delft have an extensive canals running through the old town, and as soon as these old transportation waterways freeze over, the urbanites don their skates and slip onto the ice for some quick pirouettes, a longer trek across town or just to have a quick hot chocolate and some freshly baked cookies at one of the "Koek en Zoopies" food stands that are erected on the ice.

The most famous national skating event is without a doubt the "Elfstedentocht", or 11-Cities Tour, a skating event that meanders along a 200 kilometer track over frozen canals, lakes and rivers in Friesland, the Dutch province in the very north of the tiny country, passing through eleven towns in the region. Since its first run in 1909, is has only been held 14 times, because most Dutch winters are too mild to meet the strict criteria for ice thickness – 15 centimeters minimum. Every winter, the nation watches the thermometer drop, and waits anxiously for the verdict of the official "ice master" for a go or no-go.

Even thick ice is no guarantee that you can skate in this national event: only association members are allowed to participate, and tickets are issued by invitation only, with some members granted a slot in even numbered years and others in odd numbered years. But when the 16,000 or so lucky ones finally gather at the starting line for the grueling 200 kilometer track across the frigid and windblown Frisian landscape, they know that up to a million and a half spectators will be lining the route to cheer them on.