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The Magic of Skating on the Canals in Amsterdam

Once in a while the canals in Amsterdam are transformed into long ice rinks. It’s not a phenomenon that happens every year, in fact very difficult to foresee, but when it happens, the winter picture of the city is unbeatable. People all convene in the street, because for them it is a truly national event. Of course, skating on the canals of Amsterdam is a magical experience.

Attention fans of winter sports: Amsterdam becomes the Mecca of skating when its canals freeze. Since it doesn’t occur very often, it has become a tourist attraction. More and more visitors arrive at this time of year in hopes of getting to see this unique event.

ice skating amsterdam

In general, temperatures have to stay below 4 degrees Celsius for 4 or 5 consecutive nights to enable this phenomenon to happen. This usually occurs during the cooler months, January and February when the country experiences the icy Siberian winds. Only when the ice measures at least 15 inches does the city government give permission to go out onto the canals. Until this minimum thickness has been reached, it is forbidden to step on the ice, because it can be dangerous. When 30 inches depth has been reached, it’s possible to hold a classical music concert on the ice.

The best known, and one of the oldest in Amsterdam, is the Keizergracht where stalls are set up to sell sweets, chocolate, mulled wine (called Glühwein) and even cups of typical Dutch pea soup (Erwtensoep).

When the canals are frozen, naval traffic stops to make way for the hundreds of skaters who come out in force. For a few days, they are without the yachts and tourist boats. Instead, they are full of families, couples or just groups of friends who take to the makeshift streets. The pedestrians (or in this case the skaters) then take precedence. By the way, it’s also possible to traverse them by sleigh or on foot. Yes, one must do this very carefully.

The Dutch have been fans of ice skating for a very long time. In fact, in some 17th-century genre paintings, such as by well-known artists like Salomon van Ruysdael Jacobsz or Jacob Grimmer, there depictions of ice skating on the frozen canals of Amsterdam.


Ice skating on the canals is practically a national sport. It’s enough of a hobby for many Dutch in the winter season that they constantly consult the weather forecast to know in advance whether the water will solidify or not. Due to this and a thousand more reasons that you’ll discover while visiting Amsterdam, its canals were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2010.

The image of the frozen canals is known around the world. Admittedly, it is as picturesque as can be. And one worth seeing in person.