Ice skating is a big deal in the Netherlands

Ice skating is a big deal in the Netherlands

When you think of the Netherlands, you may not necessarily think of them as a nation of champion ice skaters, but that they certainly are. The Dutch are a bunch of ice skating fanatics and they are genuinely awesome at it!

It’s no wonder that as soon as it starts to freeze, you’ll hear Dutch people talking about “taking their skates out of the fat” and rumours of an Elfstedentocht. But, what is the Elfstedentocht actually?


The Elfstedentocht is, literally translated, the eleven cities tour. It is a 199-kilometre ice skating, and speed skating tour through eleven historical Frisian towns. The tour starts in Leeuwarden and journeys through the towns of Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker and Dokkum, before finishing again in Leeuwarden.

The route has participants skating on frozen lakes, canals and rivers. In order for the event to be held, the ice must be at least 15 cm thick- something that doesn’t happen very often.

Should the ice be satisfactory, a tour is announced and starts within 48 hours. The last Elfstedentocht was held in 1997 on January 4. This was the 15th ever Elfstedentocht, the first was held in 1909 on January 2.

The last two editions, in 1997 and 1986, were skated in temperatures of -3,6C and -6,9C respectively. It’s not something you just skate either; you first have to be a member of the Association of the Eleven Frisian Towns and pay for a starting permit and bib.

In the run-up to an Elfstedentocht, after a few days of freezing temperatures, speculations can be heard about whether or not the tour will be held, and the longer the freezing temperatures stay, the more excited people become about the possibility of the next edition. The Dutch even have the saying, “When it starts to freeze, the Frisians thaw”.

No one is sure when the next Elfstedentocht will be held, but one thing is for sure, if it starts freezing outside, you are sure to hear rumours of this legendary race.

Winter Olympics

The extremely long Elfstedentocht is not the only kind of skating that the Dutch are good at. Dutch Olympic athletes have won countless medals during the Winter Olympics, namely, 130 in total. Of these 130 medals, 41 are bronze, 44 are silver and 45 are gold.

To date, the Netherlands has won 1 medal in snowboarding, 3 in figure skating, 5 in short track speed skating and a whopping 121 medals in speed skating. So, there you have it, the Dutch are simply brilliant when it comes to speed skating. Let’s take a look at the medals they have won in the last two Winter Olympic Games.

2014 Winter Olympic medals

At the 2014 Winter Olympics, medals were won in short track speed skating and speed skating.

Short track speed skating wins

  • Bronze for the 1.000m

Speed skating wins

  • Gold for the Men’s 500m, 1.000m, 5.000m, 10.000m and Men’s team pursuit
  • Gold for the Women’s 1.500m, 3.000m and Women’s team pursuit
  • Silver for the Men’s 500m, 1.500m, 5.000m and 10.000m
  • Silver for the Women’s 1.000m, 1.500m and 5.000m
  • Bronze for the Men’s 500m, 1.000m, 5.000m and 10.000m
  • Bronze for the Women’s 500m, 1.000m, 1.500m and 5.000m

2018 Winter Olympic medals

In 2018, medals were won, yet again, in short track speed skating and speed skating.

Short track speed skating wins

  • Gold for the Women’s 1.000m
  • Silver for the Women’s 500m
  • Silver for the Men’s 1.500m
  • Bronze for the Women’s 3.000m relay

Speed skating wins

  • Gold for the Men’s 1.000, 1.500m and 5.000m
  • Gold for the Women’s 1.000m, 1.500m, 3.000m and 5.000m
  • Silver for the Men’s 1.500m and 10.000m
  • Silver for the Women’s 3.000m and team pursuit
  • Bronze for the Men’s team pursuit and mass start
  • Bronze for the Women’s 1.500m, 3.000m and mass start

With all these wins, it is no wonder that ice skating is a big deal in the Netherlands; they are obviously darn good at it. But beg my pardon if I don’t ask where they skate? You see a lot of water in the Netherlands, but not necessarily ice, and contrary to some beliefs, the Dutch don’t skate over the canals to get to work.

It might come as a surprise, but there are quite a few ice clubs and rinks in the Netherlands - why not grab a pair of skates and have a go yourself!

Mina Solanki


Mina Solanki

Completed her Master's degree at the University of Groningen and worked as a translator before joining IamExpat. She loves to read and has a particular interest in Greek mythology. In...

Read more



Leave a comment