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Ice skating on Amsterdam canals – Winter of 2018

Before the winter of 2018, the last time we were able to ice skate the canals of Amsterdam was in February 2012.

Folks, this is an archived article – kept available because people love to see what ice skating on the canals of Amsterdam looks like.

This year, the ice never really got thick and strong enough to be officially declared ‘reliable.’

Nevertheless, thousands of people took the to canals. The fact that dozens of people broke through the ice did not seem to discourage anyone.

Ice skating on Prinsengracht in downtown Amsterdam. In her famous journal, Anne Frank wrote that she could hear the bells of the Westerkerk (church) from her hiding place.

But now the skates can be greased-up and stored again:

Update: Sunday March 4, 2018

STAY OFF THE ICE, Amsterdam police warns. The ice that still remains is extremely unreliable.

Venturing onto the ice does not only endanger your own life, but also the lives of emergency personnel.

Since there is no outlook for a new period of frost, Waternet has opened the Eenhoornsluis lock and lifted its boating ban.

Meanwhile, a Waternet icebreaker traversed the canals to break up any remaining ice.

Update: Saturday March 3, 2018 — Evening

Thaw set in this afternoon, and temperatures are expected to rise tomorrow and throughout the week.

Police now cautions people not to venture onto the ice.

Update: Saturday March 3, 2018

No doubt lots of people will venture onto the ice today.

But this afternoon thaw sets in, with a daytime high temperature around 3° Celsius (37.4° Fahrenheit).

Sunday sees even higher temperatures, as well as some rain. That pattern will continue through the week.

Update: Friday March 2, 2018

The ice on the canals has not been officially declared to thick enough, but lots of people are taking the opportunity to skate:

And this guy is one of several people who today discovered that yes, the ice is indeed unreliable:

Update: Thursday March 1, 2018

The ice memo went into effect on Tuesday, February 27, 2018.

Police and Waternet say the ice is still unreliable, but the first few skaters — here on Keizersgracht — have been spotted.

Oh, did we mention that the ice is still unreliable?

Talk to old locals in Amsterdam and you hear stories about winters the likes of which we haven’t seen in recent memory.

Weather is always a topic of interest, especially in a country of which it is said — more or less jokingly — that you can experience four seasons a day.

ice skating keizersgracht amsterdam
Ice skating on the canals of Amsterdam. 1

The weather in the Netherlands isn’t really all that fickle, but fact is that the climate has been changing over the past years. Noticeably so.

Whether or not it is due to global warming, we don’t know. But we’ve had quite few relatively mild winters these past few years.

Then again — as we say in our February Amsterdam Weather article — the weather in just about any given month can be quite different from year to year.

In February 2012 a big freeze kicked in. I can assure you that we had not seen weather that cold in a long, long time — even though February usually is the coldest month of the year.

And yes, the canals froze over with ice strong enough to safely carry lots of skaters (and walkers, and bicyclists).

Ice skating on Keizersgracht, a canal in the center of Amsterdam

Come we now to February 2018. Will we be able to skate on the canals again?

The weather forecast does seem promising.

How Amsterdam’s Water Company facilitates ice skating on the canals

When it looks like its going to be freezing long and strong enough for a while, the Amsterdam city council instructs Waternet — the Water Company for the area of Amsterdam and surroundings2 — to put into action the so-called IJsnota (literally, Ice memo).

This ‘ice protocol’ enables Waternet to set in motion various processes that may, if the weather cooperates, eventually make it possible for people to skate the canals.

Waternet would shut a number of locks — and stop or slow down pump stations — in and around the city. That causes the flow of water through the canals to slow down, facilitating the formation of ice. Normally fresh water from the river Amstel flows through the city’s canals into the river IJ.

The company would also issue a sailing prohibition for certain canals. Boats are then not permitted to sail through (sections of) these canals in the center of Amsterdam, including Prinsengracht, Leliegracht and Keizersgracht.

The sailing prohibition knows two phases:

  • Phase 1
    At the first sign of a layer of ice, along with weather forecast promising night frost, a sailing ban is issued for a limited number of canals. (Magenta lines on the image below, with the canals listed below it)
  • Phase 2
    Starts when there is a prediction of at least 5 days of moderate to severe night frost — while daytime temperatures may not be above 0° Celsius (32° Fahrenheit). In that cases, more canals will be closed to boat traffic. (Dark blue lines on the image below)
frozen canals amsterdam
Canals on which boat traffic is prohibited in order to allow ice to form

These Amsterdam canals will be allowed to freeze over during Phase 1

In the center of Amsterdam, most of these canals are located within the Jordaan area.

  • Brouwersgracht from Lijnbaansgracht up to and including Keizersgracht
  • Prinsengracht from Brouwersgracht up to Leidsegracht
  • Keizersgracht from Brouwersgracht up to Leidsegracht
  • Leliegracht from Prinsengracht up to and including Keizersgracht
  • Lijnbaansgracht from Brouwersgracht up to and including Passeerdersgracht
  • Passeerdersgracht from Lijnbaansgracht up to and including Prinsengracht
  • Looiersgracht from Lijnbaansgracht up to and including Prinsengracht
  • Lauriergracht from Lijnbaansgracht up to and including Prinsengracht
  • Bloemgracht from Lijnbaansgracht up to and including Prinsengracht
  • Egelantiersgracht from Lijnbaansgracht up to and including Prinsengracht
  • Korte Prinsengracht
  • Westlandgracht
  • Postjeswetering
  • Admiralengracht
  • Erasmusgracht
  • Burg. Tienhovengracht

Mind you, Waternet reminds people that a boating ban does not mean it is safe to venture onto the ice just yet.

Details for Phase 2 will be posted when it happens :)

Here’s what else happens when Amsterdam’s canals are frozen

A lot more happens on the frozen canals than just ice skating. You’ll see people strolling — some carrying shopping bags, bicycling(!), or enjoying hot chocolate, hot dogs, and whatever else is on sale.

Some house boat dwellers see the ice as a window of opportunity, and sell hot drinks and other goodies from their canal-facing kitchen windows.

Here’s what that looked like in February 2012:

On the ice at Prinsengracht

Video: ICE Amsterdam

The video below is titled ‘Ice Amsterdam’ — a playful reference to Amsterdam’s marketing slogan, I Amsterdam

Ice skating on the canals of Amsterdam

This beautiful video was shot by Jaap van den Biesen and Justin Knaven, using a Canon 7D and Glidecam HD2000.

The song is called ‘To Build A Home’ by Cinematic Orchestra.

We discovered that Knaven is the Managing Director of Provide Media and the Online Production Manager of Wefilm

Video: Ice skating in ‘Old Amsterdam’ style

This video looks old, but it was filmed in 2012. The song is by Kris De Bruyne. Read an English language translation of the lyrics at that link.

This video, produced by Yoran Staas of YESimages, is shown in 8mm retro style – like an old 20’s movie.

Staas says he was inspired by the black-and-white Dutch TV commercials for Old Amsterdam cheese. Those ads featured a song by Flemish artist Kris de Bruyne. Click the link to view those commercials — along with a translation of the song’s lyrics.

Keep an eye on the weather in Amsterdam

More about Amsterdam


  1. The photo of Keizersgracht is © Amsterdam Toerisme & Congres Bureau. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited. Used by permission.
  2. Waternet is the municipal organization responsible for drinking water, waste water, surface water and safety behind the dikes
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