Dutch winter culture: time to get your skates on!

Dutch culture is famously known for fields of tulips, windmills turning in the breeze, cheese and of course clogs. Something that I had not personally linked with the lovely Lowlands was the ice skating fever that glides into the Dutch psyche as winter creeps across the country.

As the days draw chillier, everybody eagerly turns toward the daily weather forecast in the hopes of hearing news of sub zero temperatures. When the plunging temperatures are confirmed, the whole country wills the cold snap to hang around long enough for the many canals and lakes to freeze over.

Waiting for the canals to freeze over

In order for true outdoor skating success the ice naturally has to become thick enough to allow an arabesque or two to be made. For many giddy people the wait is too much and they jump fearlessly onto the lake/canal/pond or former puddle to try their luck at skating in style.

On more than one occasion has this impatience lead to hilarious and rather wet and cold consequences, we advise to skate safely and therefore in style like these guys below!

Elfstedentocht — the elusive Dutch tradition

When or if, the big freeze does happen, the next question on everybody minds is “Will the ice be thick enough for the Elfstedentocht?!The Elfstedentocht aka “The Eleven City Tour” is a 200 km skating route that weaves its way through eleven Frisian cities, crossing lakes, rivers and canals.

The last Elfstedentocht to take place was way back in 1997, although preparations were made again in 2012, however the event literally melted away before skaters had chance to take on the challenge. Whilst, some believe the Elfstedentocht will never happen again due to global warming, others remain hopeful.

READ MORE l 2021 Elfstedentocht? Dutch cabinet in favour of ice skating competition as Netherlands freezes

This makes the longing for the event a much bigger part of Dutch culture than the actual event itself. Each event promises huge parties leading up to and on Elfstedentocht (naturally) particularly in Leeuwarden, where the start and finish of the race is held. The fun and festivities carry on throughout the race day itself, as thousands of supporters turn out to cheer on those insane enough to battle the grueling course.

Think you are up to the challenge? Well, besides wishing for some arctic conditions you also have to be a member of De Vereniging De Friesche Elf Steden and have your name chosen out of the thousands of members in a lottery style. Failing this, grab a “koek en zopie” and soak up the atmosphere!

The atmosphere of the event is something else! Image: Rob Bogaerts/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain.

Don’t waste an opportunity

While the Elfstedentocht is an extremely rare occurrence, sometimes, it still gets cold enough for people to enjoy a frozen canal or two where you can safely (depending on your skill level!) step on the ice and show off some tricks normally restricted to the indoor rink!

giethoorn, ice skating, winter
Canals will sometimes be safe to skate on. Image: Michel_van_der_Vegt/Pixabay.

Although safety is very important it is very common in Dutch culture to try the ice even if you’re not sure it’s thick enough. No skates? No problem! The kringloop — or any second hand stores are filled with cheap skates you can pick up for your frosty adventure!

You never know, you may be right next to one of the Netherlands naturally occuring ice rinks! Be sure to head out sooner rather than later though, otherwise your chance to try out the favourite wintry Dutch past time may just melt away!

Will you be trying out the ice skates this year? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below! 

Feature Image: IngevGelder/Wikimedia Commons/CC3.0.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in January 2017 and was fully updated in February 2021 for your reading pleasure. 

Samantha Tinsdeall
Samantha Tinsdeall
Originally from the UK, Samantha has pursued her love of travelling. A graduate of English Literature, she is now focusing on 'what she wants to be when she grows up', whilst finding her feet in the Netherlands after being side-tracked by a Dutch man she met in Budapest.

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