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

Doei, beloved old tradition 😢

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 three 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 it’s some golden ring that will give them power forever? 

Let me enlighten you: the Elfstedentocht is an ice-skating tour that follows a circular route along frozen canals, rivers and lakes and runs through eleven historical Frisian towns: Leeuwarden, Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker and Dokkum.

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

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 would take the route (and a gazillion people would watch).

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.

This used to be an annual event that stopped the nation, but it hasn’t been held since 1997. Here’s some footage from the last one, the only one I ever experienced in my life (safely and warmly from behind the TV):

So, why will the Netherlands never have an Elfstedentocht again?

Sounds like a fun even, right? Well, unfortunately the chances of it ever happening again are very slim. Here’s why:

Global warming and temperature extremes

As you might have noticed, temperature extremes are all over the place lately, 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. Unfortunately, this pretty much kills the last hope Dutch people had for another Elfstedentocht.

Graph displaying daily temperature records in the netherlands
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 is, it doesn’t change the obvious trend that the Netherlands is warming up in general.

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!

It’s just unrealistic to think that Friesland could 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).

READ MORE | Natural ice skating in the Netherlands: where to go and what to bring

So if you’re thinking that the Dutch will just jump for any excuse to have another Elfstedentocht, then 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 would translate to “don’t go over one night of ice”, and means that you don’t want to take any stupid risks.

So there you have it, I would love to be wrong about never having an Elfstedentocht again, and will definitely be the first to stand in Heeg booze it up.

But, 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

Did you know about this Dutch tradition? Share your thought in the comments!

Feature image: Rob C. Croes/Anefo/Wikimedia Commons/CC3.0

Abuzer van Leeuwen 🇳🇱
Abuzer van Leeuwen 🇳🇱http://www.abuzervanleeuwen.nl
Abuzer founded DutchReview a decade ago because he thought expats needed it and wanted to make amends for the Dutch cuisine. He has a Masters in Political Science and IT but somewhere always wanted to study history or good old football. He also a mortgage in the Netherlands and will happily tell you too how to get one. Born and raised in Rotterdam, Abuzer now lives in Leiden but is always longing back to his own international year in Italy.


  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.

    • Thank you. There are a million stories related to the elfsted route, and this one is fantastic.
      I have a Dutch friend- no longer with us- that competed in the race 10 times. He showed me the toughness of the natural ice skaters and the peace and humor of the Dutch people generally.
      Having skated it (skeelers) three times I understand its difficulty. Chapeau to your aunt.

  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.

  6. sorry na jaren in canada ga ik did schrijven in het Nederlands.
    ja zo het nu is het haast onmogelijk om nog eens de elfstedentocht te organiceren.
    ten eerste : de enorme deelname,[meer dan 20 000 te verwachten]
    ten tweede: alle leden mogen deelnemen!]om reden dat er
    zoveel jaren tussen zitten en dus velen geen kans krijgen.
    ik heb zelf net de 19jan.1963 gevierd dat ik de laatste elfmerentocht[wedstrijd]won.
    dat gaat de zeifde richting teveel deelnemers. men spreekt van op 3 verschillende
    plaatsen te starten.
    zo de enige hoop is op een heeeeel ouderwetse winter,
    en dan te hopen dat men de huisen warm kunnen houden
    groeten henk fennema

  7. Of course some day an Elfstedentocht could happen again, but until then many Frisians (and Dutch) are doing it by Bike. Or even walking.


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