The winter games: a look at the winter sports season in the Netherlands

Edition 31 October 2019, by John Mahnen

As the days grow shorter and the weather even less predictable, the temptation to put the feet up and watch sports on television is even more tempting.  Then again, the idea of not overheating draws plenty of us outdoors to take part in our favorite fall and winter activities.  For armchair managers, outdoor enthusiasts and everyone in between, here’s a rundown of what’s on in this chilly sporting season upon us.

The early fall and winter lineup of sports here in the Netherlands is dominated by the King and Queen – not Willem Alexander and Maxima but soccer and skating.  If you want to follow the conversation at the water cooler, you’d do well to have an inkling about what’s happening on the football pitches and speed skating ovals in this country.

With Ajax Amsterdam and PSV Eindhoven competing in the Champions League and AZ Alkmaar and Feyenoord Rotterdam taking part in the Europa Cup, rest assured that football will be a popular subject in the coming months.  Whether you watch the matches or just check the scores, knowing when the matches will be played will save you the embarrassment of making plans on evenings that might conflict with say Ajax versus Arsenal. These matches are broadcast on Ziggo Sport and Veronica.

Meanwhile, the Dutch national football teams are busy with their European Championship qualification programmes.  The men are looking to emerge from Group C and will lock horns with Belarus, Estonia and Northern Ireland. With matches slated to take place in Amsterdam for the Euro 2020 it would be almost unthinkable that Ronald Koeman’s Oranje would fail to qualify. The action can be seen on the national broadcaster NPO.  Meanwhile, the Lionesses will look for wins against Slovakia and Turkey to secure a ticket to the women’s European Championship and the opportunity to defend their European title. Their matches are televised by Veronica.

As the outside temperature drops, the pulse rises at the speed skating ovals thoughout the country and the world.  Skating season for the Dutch means an afternoon near the tube watching their heroes and heroines skate for national and international fame.  You can’t possibly immerse yourself into Dutch culture without watching the likes of Irene Wust and Sven Kramer whizz around the ice breaking national and world records.  Newcomers such as Jutte Leerdam and Patrick Roest are among the new talents to watch out for.  The season is underway but there is still plenty yet to see.

1 – 3 : Qualification World Cup Skating Thialf Heerenveen
15 – 17: World Cup Skating Minsk, Belarus
22 – 24: World Cup Skating Tomaszow Mazowiecki, Poland

6 – 8: World Cup Nur Sultan, Astana, Kazakhstan
13 – 15: World Cup Nagano, Japan
27 – 29: KPN Netherlands Championship Distance and Mass Start Thialf Heerenveen

10 – 12: ISU European Cup Distance Thialf Heerenveen
25 – 26: KPN Netherlands Championship Allround & Sprint Thialf Heerenveen

While we debate the merits of winter tires, the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen will still be burning up slicks through the remainder of the Formula One season.  With fixtures in Brazil and Abu Dhabi left to be contested, the Dutch will be glued to the tube looking for local hero Max Verstappen to pilot his Red Bull RB15 to at least one more victory in 2019.  On the odd chance you didn’t know, the F1 circus will come to town next year, with the circuit in Zandvoort set to host the Dutch Grand Prix for the first time since 1985.

Naturally, it’s also the season for bundling up and heading to the stadium for football.  Unless you’re a full-blown supporter of a Dutch club, you may not have a compelling reason to plant your behind in a pricey seat but if you’re looking for some affordable family fun, consider taking in a women’s game.  We all know the standard in the Netherlands is good given the success in the latest offerings of the European and World Championships.  Eight professional teams are taking part in the KNVB women’s competition this season: ADO Den Haag, Ajax, vv Alkmaar, Excelsior Barendrecht, sc Heerenveen, PEC Zwolle, PSV and FC Twente.

Perhaps soccer is just not your cup of tea and a basketball, handball or ice hockey match would be more appealing.  You’re in luck then as these competitions are now in full swing. You’ll need to find a local club and venue at the sites respective national federations:, or  Basketball in the cramped confines of the Vijf Meihal in Leiden or hockey in the modern Uithof in The Hague with drink between periods in the wintery lounge are both highly recommended.

If you are looking to get out and join the locals, there are many opportunities. No winter in the low countries could really be complete without a skate.  The Uithof in The Hague and the Jaap Edenbaan in Amsterdam are two of this country’s best-known venues for skating.  Amsterdam’s Museumplein features a temporary rink with the Rijksmuseum as a backdrop.  If skiing or snowboarding is more your thing and you just can’t wait to hit the slopes in the more mountainous areas of the world, there are several indoor ski centers where you can get your legs in shape and enjoy a Glühwein.  Snow World has three facilities with slopes near Amsterdam, The Hague/Rotterdam and in Landgraaf (Limburg).


All of this is not meant to discourage Holland’s international community from following their traditional[JM1]  favorite teams and sports.  After all, the Dutch are also following the Premier League, the NBA and countless other international competitions.  That said, a little bit of local sports scene knowledge goes a long way towards fostering good conversations and feeling just a little bit more at home here in the Netherlands. Let the games begin!