What were Elfstedentochten really like? Vintage 50s video in full colour inside!

There are some things we really wish would make a comeback: flip-phones, playing in the street, and of course, the Elfstedentocht.

While we had a close call this year, we can’t have everything. But, we can have one thing: a brand-new, fully-colourised video of 1954’s and 1956’s Elfstedentochten — and that’s pretty dang good.

Why is it so good? Because the incredible vintage goodness of the early days of the video is gifting us unobstructed views of how the Netherlands used to be in the winter (nostalgic sigh).

What is the Elfstedentocht?

Any mention of the Elfstedentocht to an older member of Dutch society is likely to be met by happy nods and glassy eyes. It was an annual event that stopped the nation, something as Dutch as the Netherlands itself.

The Elfstedentocht was essentially a Tour de France but for ice-skaters, running through a closed or circular route of frozen canals, rivers and lakes. The 200-kilometre route took the skaters through 11 historical Frisian towns: Leeuwarden, Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker and Dokkum.

Over 15,000 skaters, all from the Association of the Eleven Frisian Towns, would take part each year. The rest of the Dutch population watched starry-eyed canal-side or from the warmth of their living room.

What happened to the Elfstedentocht?

The last Elfstedentocht was held 24 years ago, in 1997. Since then, the ice hasn’t quite met the 15-centimetre thick requirement for the whole course — and of course, a pandemic doesn’t help either.

READ MORE: Why the Netherlands will never have an ‘Elfstedentocht’ (Eleven cities tour) again

Extra points if you manage to spot the Frisian flag waving in one of the shots!

Did you ever experience an Elfstedentocht? What was it like? Tell us your story in the comments below!

Feature Image: Fries Film Archief/Screenshot.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in February 2020 and was fully updated in February 2021 for your reading pleasure. 

Samantha Dixon 🇦🇺
Sam isn’t great at being Dutch. Originally hailing from Australia, she came to study in the Netherlands without knowing where the country was on a map. She once accidentally ordered the entire ice-cream menu at Smullers. She still can’t jump on the back of a moving bike. But, she remains fascinated by the tiny land of tall people.


  1. Hello from the States. I always start my mornings with Dutch Review! Thanks for another great article. You guys do a great job covering The Netherlands! Your content is unfailingly charming, insightful, useful and succinct! Keep up the good work! And thanks again! Dag!


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