You may hear Dutch people grumbling about how cold it is, how the cold weather is slowing down trains, how flights are not taking off from Schiphol, how long it took them to get to work and how it makes for a freezing commute by biking – but I’ll let you in on a little-know fact: secretly they like LOVE it.

Yes we can!

They love the cold temperatures, the frosty wind, the frost-capped canal houses and the gleaming sunshine. They love the excitement it brings; the excitement it adds to an otherwise gray and dreary endless dutch winter.

Couple the snow, the sun and the cold with the anticipation of….wait for it… skating on natural ice, and collectively you have almost 16 million people on the brink of a national orgasm. Dutch people love to skate but more importantly they love the elusiveness of skating on natural ice in the great outdoors.

Of course being able to skate outdoors for a few days every few years is one thing, but add the Elfstedentocht to the mix and you have an entire country in the grips of  joyful anticipation.

Haven’t heard of the Elfstedentocht yet? Why, you must be walking around with your hands firmly on your ears! Every year when temperatures hit a certain degree the big debate begins: Will it or won’t it happen?! Oh my! Oh my!!! The Eleven Cities Tour, the Dutch’s national pride, is an ice-skating marathon held in Friesland with participants joyfully skating through 11 Dutch towns on a mere 200 kilometers of natural ice paths. In the past 20 years, the Elfstedentocht has happened all of … ONCE (in 1997). The thought of it possibly ever happening again is pretty darn freakin’ exciting to those ice-loving Dutch people!

The odds each year are pretty grim, but that doesn’t stop Dutch people from wishing and hoping, and more importantly – practicing! Go to any rink or body of slightly frozen water in the middle of a cold Dutch winter and you will see scores of Dutchies sharpening their blades and practicing their moves in hopes of a great 11-city race!

Coming from a country that has Siberia-esque winters, outdoor activities (including skating on endless kilometers of outdoor ice) are not that special and certainly nothing to write home about! However, I must say that a palpable vibe of happiness and excitement sweeps the country every time the possibility of outdoor skating presents itself.

The race almost took place in 2012. In fact, the ice was set, the date was announced, the tickets distributed….and then the darn sun started to shine, parts of the race started to melt, and the whole thing was called off – painfully – a mere 3 days before the big event! This past week temperatures have made for some frosty conditions, but nothing significant yet. The rule of thumb seems to be: 3 nights of -10C before the canals are safe enough to walk/skate on. This hasn’t happened yet…but it doesn’t mean we can’t keep our hopes up and our freezing cold fingers crossed!

I had the extreme pleasure of ice skating down Amsterdam’s city center canals in 2012 and it is a memory I will never forget!! 🙂

p.s. Our good friends at have kindly informed us that the ice is not yet thick enough to skate on. Stay safe friends!


First written: 2012. Updated 2016.

72 Responses

  1. Anouk

    I am one off the Dutchies who is following this amazing site. I just want to say that it is not true that everyone loves it. I hate the cold and I really don’t care if there is coming a elfstedentocht!

    • roP

      you don’t care because you were born after 1997?

      • Marthe

        Well, it annoyes the shit out of me too when, on those scarce days it’s really cold, noone can shut up about whether the ice will be strong enough. Reading this did make me really excited, though.

  2. Joey11

    It giet oan!
    “The race will continue!” in Frisian

    • Willem

      It giet net oan!

      The race will not take place. In Frisian

  3. Steffen M. Boelaars

    The article is incorrect: “In the past 20 years, the Elfstedentocht has happened all of … two times!”

    The race has only happened once during the past 20 years. Only in 1997. The time before that was 1986, which is already 26 years ago.

      • Eefje

        there was also an unofficial one once, in a year it didn’t get organised but some people skated it anyway. That was in the season of 95-96, and the “genootschap us eigen houtsje” later organised an event for them later.

  4. Thijzzz

    I’ve lived in Leeuwarden, the starting point and finish of the Elfstedentocht. I was there the last time, in 1997. It was awesome, but I didn’t quite fathom the fact that I was witnessing a historic event. I’d love to go back again to see it all again with the same good friend as in 1997 😉

  5. Eefje

    I just got back from skating on a lake and then saw this post :p

    I did feel very dutch today, as I cycled there, skated, and even ate a piece of cheese.

  6. M V

    In the past 30 years, the Elfstedentocht has happened all of … three times: 1997, 1985 and 1986.

  7. Emily

    I know this! My badass grandmother competed in the 1940s, when she was a hardcore athlete. She said that the Prince of Wales also competed.

    • Joris Driepinter

      Yep, people all over the world come to compete. There’re limited places and there’s a for-members-only-lottery that will decide who can compete/do the race. Our prince of Orange did the race too when he was young – incognito, under the name of W A van Buren in 1986.

  8. Nichola

    I agree the Dutch are going mad for it. The housemaster on campus has even turned our football pitch into an ice skating rink. Hence all the Dutch have gone home and brought skates galore with them and they are all very excited, though I am not so taken by the Dutch want for speed in skating, when I think skating I think figure skating and when I skate we just play games and push people over 🙂
    Whatsmore I am taking a class called “Discovering the Dutch” and the teacher had to inform us all of the elfstedentocht and told us we must go see it. She was very enthusiastic so if it goes ahead I hope to be there for this very Dutch tradition!

  9. Thijzzz

    Funny: the official Twitter account!/11stvereniging has:
    8 tweets (since Feb 3d)
    20 following
    I thinks this is now officially the Twitter-account with the least tweets and biggest number of followers for such a short timeline!

  10. siska

    I am dutch and I dislike skating! They can have it in Holland and we will take the mild weather in Canada!

  11. Gerrit

    “…country that has Siberia-esque winters”. We have “Siberia-esque winters” if we include Eurasia. I now live in this country with supposedly “Siberia-esque winters”, but it’s bloody 18 deg. Celsius and I can’t go skating, and this year not even snowboarding. Even if I would move north I’m sure those “Siberia-esque” people would not be able to keep up with my “rarely” trained winter skills, as their notion of “outdoor activity” is often limited to driving to work in their SUV. Sure they ski, but you can’t possibly call that activity at the level it’s being performed at.

  12. Corrie

    elfstedentocht 2012 with 15.287 followers and 249 tweets since. See this one, every hour some tweets!

  13. Dionne

    I don’t ‘secretly’ love the cold, I love it out in the open! If there’s snow, I’ll build a snowman and if there’s ice, I’ll skate!

    And, as mentionend above I feel very Dutch doing so. But it’s one of the times I really love Holland and living in the Netherlands 🙂 And I can get really pissed off at all the people complaining about the cold. It’s awesome. Much better than the rain we usually have to deal with..

  14. Paul Oosten

    Next subject: the “koek-en-zopie” – stuff Dutch people eat in between skating on natural ice

    • Nathan

      yes, you should write/have written about this!

  15. Lynn

    Oh my!
    Before the Frysian folks whack you around the ears with their skates please acknowledge this correction: it is NOT “skating through 11 Dutch towns” but “skating through 11 FRYSIAN towns”.
    It’a all about national pride, you know!

    • Daan

      How can it be national pride when Friesland isn’t a country? National pride would still say “Dutch towns”.

      • Lynn

        DAAN ! ! ! HUSH ! ! !
        You don’t get it, do you? 😉
        You and I know that Fryslân isn’t a country, but please don’t tell that to the Friezen!

  16. Lynn

    I was living in Groningen both in 1985 AND 1986, having an aunt living in Frentsjer, But I would be absolutely NOT be persuaded to go stay with her to stand out in the freezing cold watching a bunch of ice-crazy fanatics either whizzz by, nor kluun by or strompel by. I watched those 2 races very cozily in a comfy blanket in front of the tv, with the start taking place like at 4 a.m. (I might remember the time wrong but it felt like a little after midnight).
    Now so many years later I still get kriebels, and I wish I was more daring 9and less lazy) in those years!

  17. Thijzzz

    “whizzz by, nor kluun by or strompel by”, and “I still get the kriebels” hahahaha!

  18. Marieke

    Love your articles. Hate winter and people jabbering about the “elfstedentocht” though. The only place I allow some ice is in my fridge.
    It is on national news every day, right after the updates in Syria! Bunch of idiotic Frisian people tripping about the thickness of the ice… I couldn’t care less.
    O and we’re calling it ‘horrorwinter’! Because it’s cold, it snowed a little and it’s freezing for about a week. That’s really weird for this season I guess 😉

    • Eefje

      I guess it was because they predicted a true “horrorwinter ” – temperatures of -20, lots of snow and stuff – and then we got this soft thing. Now it’s finally getting cold they’re calling it horrorwinter againg because of the forecasts.

    • mieze zoldr

      the remark horror winter was thre before it even froze because some idiot weatherman predicted a horrorwinter wich will have prolonged periods of extreme cold with temperatures under -23 in the day time! well at first that didnt seem to happen, remember those cosy +12 temps a fes weeks back, so people started to ironicly calling it a horrorwinter. ;D

  19. Haps

    Helaas het is afgeblazen, Zondag dooi het Jammer heeeeel jammer

  20. Lynn

    @Thijzzz :
    I was in a hurry, I KNOW there doesn’t excist an english word for ‘klunen’ and had to hurry so I didn’t bother looking up ‘strompelen’ (stumble, totter, hobble, limp, dodder) and ‘kriebels’ (itching).

    ‘Klunen’ is a Frysian loanword that means ‘walking on skates’. This is done at those places on the route where the ice is too thin making it way too dangerous for 16.000 people to go there.

    • Thijzzz

      @Lynne: I know! (I’m Dutch and lived in Fryslan for a long time. That mix of Dutch and English was hilarious 😉

      • Lynn

        LOL. We call it Dunglish.
        Too bad I never learned more Fries than : beadwieger!
        But I learned this in Grunnings: quiet night! (‘k wait nait)

      • Thijzzz

        Beadwieger? Beats me! Kwait nait and “goud mien jong” is also nice. Groningen has a funny diale ct, but they’re all around good people.

  21. Citizen_Stu

    My how family-in-law (Dutch) go crazy every time the ice starts to form. They have real ice fever.

  22. STCP

    Don’t forget our own prince Willem-Alexander who participated in 1986 under the name of W.A. van Buren.

  23. dark_man_x

    My girlfriend and some of her friends have gone crazy for skating in the last week. On the other hand, the temperatures were so cold, my bike refused to function and I ended up spending most of last week in bed with a fever, which I possibly got from biking to work in -11c. Wait until the summer when it’s 28c, and I’ll be enjoying myself with friends in the park, whilst my girlfriend stays at home after getting feverish from the heat.

  24. jan

    You posted a nice picture of our first Dutch Worldchampion Iceskating, Jaap Eden…

  25. yvonn

    I am Dutch. but I really need sun … I hate winter 🙁
    I dont enjoy ice and snow at all.
    if i had the option, i would migrate to a tropical country right away…

  26. Vrisovooruit

    I love this site!!!

    By the way you should have an article about the Den Haag of in Rotterdam. They are even funnier I think.

  27. Vrisovooruit

    I meant the poeple in Den Haag or in Rotterdam

  28. Monique

    They say you have to be Dutch to understand it, I was also surprised to see how much passion they put into it and how news is overwhelmed with information about how thick is the ice and how all people come together and help to take the snow away. Amazing!

  29. Menno

    The cultural origin of skating in the lowlands might be as dutch as ‘de Elfstedentocht’ is and might be background on why ‘they’ like it…

    It started out as a way for Dutch resistance, during the eighty-year war against the Spanish, to fight back. During winters is was a great advantage and even when the Spanish acquired skates of their own they were unable to use then in battle (for lack of skill in skating).
    Following that period (late 1500) all the catholic events (like carnival) made place for a sober protestant existence. When, in winters, the lakes and canals froze up and people got on it, they figured; ice is no-ones land or property. Government nor church had anything to say while on ice. Suddenly there was no difference between someone’s social status. A lot of relationships started on the ice (and consumed in between reed). There was gambling for skating-races and binge drinking on the ice, even on a sunday! 😉 I even heard a historian talk about prostitution on ice, which I’m not totally sure about if it’s true. Needless to say the priests tried to act against this, and, needless to say as well, this was without chance.

    Even later on in (roughly) 1950-1970 during the ‘verzuiling’ (compartmentalization between catholics and protestants) there were no protestant or catholic clubs in skating. Even if a town had two skating-clubs, both had an place to skate and were open for both beliefs. This in contrast with other sports/activities. So even in modern days skating on natural ice is a ‘joyful liberation’ for the Dutch.

    I’ve relied on these sources; (I’m sorry they are in Dutch though)

  30. Hank Prinsen

    Nature ice is great.
    I love it and have skated the 11Stedentocht twice. (’86/ ’97). Dutch are traditionally strong in longtrack speedskating but to many foreigners it’s as exciting as seeing the grass grow. Or to watch paint dry. Luckily the Dutch are now also more and more dicovering shorttrack speedskating. Man, I love that even more!

  31. Michael. Cornelissen

    Elfstedentocht is a Dutch culture highlight. Each time it does happen, it is brought. With a different Fryslân sentence. You have noticed the anticipation but see what happens when it really takes place. The Dutch will immediatly clear their agendas and take that day of. It falls nothing short of public imposed public holday. People will call in sick if they are not allowed to take that day off. In schools they either give the kids the day off or make a special day for it while tv or reports are brought in regularly. People riding the course are celebrated at work afterwards. The biggest acheivement our New King has that earns him national respect is completing the course. The winner of the course is considered a national hero and celebrated as such, including being bestowed with thehighest royal honer. There is no money involved in the course itself, only honor. This course is not about money, it is about our national pride, perseverence. Many have died attempting to complete the course. And most of all, people participating are only interested in completing and getting. As early through the finish as possible. This is authentic sports thats why we love it. The eevent surpasses queensday, and even tops soccer world championsships.

    • Lynn

      “public imposed public holiday.”
      Yeah, that’s exactly what it is! I love the way you put it.

  32. Hockeyman77

    Just a little update on Dutchies and skating… Seen the Sotshi Olympics ? We got a recordd ( well record for us anyhow ) 24 medals… All in speedskating, 23 longtrack & 1 shorttrack , 4 sweeps gold, solver and bronze… 😀

    • Lynn

      Oh yes, Dutch speedskaters TOTALLY ROCKED SOCHI ! ! !

  33. Nic

    Erm, has it been brought to attention that, during the 80 year war, when the Spanish sought to capture Dutch cities in winter (because the canals were frozen over and easier to cross), the dutch retaliated by… Well, skating circles around them? Seems like a good bit of trivia for this particular entry.


Leave a Reply to Nic Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.