Why the Netherlands will never have an ‘Elfstedentocht’ (Eleven Cities Tour) again

An Elfstedentocht in Friesland, the Netherlands is what the Dutch people want more than winning a World Cup in football or unlimited free cheese.

However, the chances of an actual Elfstedentocht (‘Eleven Cities Tour’) happening again are getting smaller each and every year.

If you’re reading this and thinking “well the canals are freezing over now, so why can’t there be an Elfstedentocht?” — well, we’ve got four great reasons for you.

What is the Elfstedentocht? 

First things first, what is this Elfstedentocht all the Dutch are talking about — and why do they act like like it’s some golden ring that will give power forever? 

The Elfstedentocht is an ice-skating tour that follows a closed or circular route along frozen canals, rivers and lakes visiting the eleven historical Frisian towns of Leeuwarden, Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker and Dokkum.

The almost 200-kilometre long tour is held only if the ice is, and remains, at least 15 centimetres thick along the entire course. That’s because about 15,000 skaters will take the route (and a gazillion people will watch).

The last tours were held in 1985, 1986 and 1997. All participating skaters must be members of the Association of the Eleven Frisian Towns, so if you’re wondering if you can ever participate then the answer is a flat-out no.

Here’s the one I actually experienced in my life (safely and warmly from behind the TV)

So why will the Netherlands never have an Elfstedentocht again?

Global warming and temperature extremes

As you might have seen the past years, temperature extremes are all over the place, you can’t have missed it (unless you’re Donald Trump). The thing is, all the extremes in the Netherlands have been hot temperature records — not cold ones. The chart above will immediately kill the last hope Dutch people had for another Elfstedentocht.

Oof. Not much chance of the Elfstedentocht happening, it would seem. Image: datagraver/KNMI

As you can see, plenty of heat records — almost no cold records. So whatever the reason for global warming and such is, it doesn’t change the obvious trend that the Netherlands is warming up in general.

But hey, science might save the Elfstedentocht right? Look at these new techniques Dutchies are using to improve the chances of an Elfstedentocht happening again.

Coronavirus made crowds impossible

But hey! It’s 2021, and as far as we can see there is ice on the canals. Why can’t we have an Elfstedentocht this year?

The answer, like for everything else that brings us joy, is that “we can’t do it because of coronavirus.” Yep, it hurts. Before the first snowflake even drifted in the air The Royal Association of the 11 Frisian Cities came together and said that they won’t organise the event under the current coronavirus measures.

That’s just one more thing that the pesky pandemic has managed to ruin for us. But what if it snows next year? Surely we can have an Elfstedentocht then? Yeah, nah. Here’s why:

The Elfstedentocht media circus will be too big for an Eleven Cities Tour to happen

Just for a moment look at those images from 1997 again. Quite a happening back then, and even then we thought that it was a complete media frenzy. And holy shit, more than 1.5 million people were present in Friesland and 2000 (international) reporters. And that was in 1997 when the internet was still this:

Can you imagine the record-breaking media circus that would come about with an Elfstedentocht in this day and age? Might even break some US inauguration records! Friesland can’t even handle three million people normally, let alone three million on ice.

The Dutch are way too ‘safety-first’ to allow such a mega-event as the Elfstedentocht to happen

So mega crowds and thin ice. Some of you readers might just say ‘Let’s get it on’ (or as they say in Frisian: ‘iet gat oan‘ or better yet and more realistically: it giet nea mear oan).

So if you’re thinking that the Dutch will just jump for any excuse to have another Elfstedentocht than you’re not thinking it through. No mayor or minister will take a gamble with so many people and such thin ice. Hell, we even have a saying in Dutch that goes like that: niet over één nacht ijs gaan, which means “don’t go over one night of ice” meaning that you don’t want to take any stupid risks.


So there you have it, I love to be wrong about never having an Elfstedentocht again, and will be the first one to stand there in Heeg boozing it up and sure the temperatures might plummet to below zero for three weeks once in the future — but realistically speaking, the Elfstedentocht in Friesland will never happen again.

Have you ever been to an Elfstedentocht? What was it like? Let us know in the comments below.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in February 2018 but was updated in February 2021 for your reading pleasure. 
Feature Image: Rob Bogaerts/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Abuzer van Leeuwen 🇳🇱http://www.abuzervanleeuwen.nl
Founded DutchReview. Rotterdammer living in Leiden. Politics, innovation and epic food-reviews are his thing. Interested in doing anything with DutchReview? Contact him at abuzer[at]dutchreview.com

8 COMMENTS

  1. Reasons 2 and 3 are total nonsense. Reason 1 is the most credible of the 3 but if that ice gets to the required thickness, you watch it happen.

  2. Although I have several close relatives who have skated the elfstedentocht, and I have skated the canals, ditches and grachten in my youth, I have never come close to skating the Elfstedentocht. However, I have an aunt, my father’s sister, who skated it THREE times : in 1941, 1942 and 1947. She may have very well been the only woman to have ever done so. However, what makes her very special and unique is that she is most likely the first AMBONESE to have even skated ONE, let alone THREE. Her tile is on the Gietsjerk Bridge, a couple of meter below the one of HRH Willem Alexander. She will be 103 yer old at the end of this month; however, sadlly, she has been dement the last ten years. I will try and attach the photo of her tile.
    Marie Josien (“Mia”) Tehupeiory, 28 Jan 1917, a most determined woman. Incidentally the daughter of Dr WK Tehupeiory about whom a bio was written in 2004.

    • It was nice you shared the story of your aunt. God bless her for reaching 103. Who knows, maybe a photograph of the race might trigger some memory in her, if you go and visit.

  3. Thank you for this information. I kept an interest until the final race. i did know that the canals had to be thick and safe. I think I began my interest when I was in the army in Heidelberg Germany l958.

  4. We used to live on Marken and my wife lived for the Elf Steden Tocht.
    As an Irishman that had never seen ice at all it was hugely scary to walk out on ice for the first time looking down to see the lake bottom and plants move beneath my feet. However I became a competent scater and even once got to ride an ice-boat. Once. Coldest experience of my life.
    However I agree, even if the ice returned, no council would allow the media and public frenzy that would result. 1997 proved that.

  5. Bedankt voor your explanation. However, there is no treason to have made comments about Pres. Trump. Er is hier helemaal geen reden voor. Talk about things Dutch, leave politics out of your comments.
    Bedankt.

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