Ask anyone about Holland and the first thing that comes to mind is Amsterdam. The capital city of the Netherlands is renowned for city breaks that allegedly allow travelers to indulge in all manner of sins. In that sense, the Netherlands can often be mistaken for a country that is famous for the somewhat unusual and downright unsavory, depending on how prudish you are, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
Forget everything you’ve been told
This is in fact a country that is obsessed with the outdoors and staying fit. Indeed, a large majority of the population of just over 17 million people make it their duty to remain active all year round. You’ll even see the footloose and fancy-free Amsterdammers jogging past you as you sip a drink on a night out in one of the picturesque restaurants that flank the historic canals of the city. The flow of these runners is actually never-ending and can cause you to feel a bit guilty about being on holiday given that it seems to be toned person after toned person flicking up dust into your local brew, all with smartphones attached to their arms and the latest wireless earbuds plugged into their ears.
All of this makes me think about Katie Melua’s song about there being nine million bicycles in Beijing, which amusingly the Guardian newspaper unsurprisingly managed to find a way to take great offense to by calling it bad science. Well, after landing back at Gatwick, I’m prepared to be lumped into the group who unashamedly practice bad science because I can safely say that there are ten million joggers in Amsterdam.
The long and short of it is that the jogging craze in the Netherlands’ capital represents the country’s total fixation with exercise. But what is the explanation for this fascination?
Perhaps one can find an answer by drawing similarities with our reality in the United Kingdom. Predictably, the weather is never a subject that is far off from conversation, but to my surprise, I found that the Dutch are equally as guilty of speaking about it too much. In fact, you’d think that the weather was indeed wetter in Holland than it is in the UK. Well, as it happens, it is, who would have thought? This list of the wettest cities in Europe places Amsterdam at number 11, whilst London is all the way down in 35th place. Anyway, I digress, but the point is, the Dutch seem to make more of an effort to get outside because of how bad the conditions are. They rebel in the face of the otherwise dreadful elements and take to the great outdoors as few countries do in Europe.
The Dutch and their deep love affair with football
It won’t come as a surprise to many, but the outdoor activity participated in by most in the Netherlands is football. Incredibly, the Dutch Football Association counts as many as 1,193,357 active members who play football in the country. That is an astonishing number when you consider the population is 17 million. Additionally, there are 2919 amateur clubs that play football and 61 professional clubs that make up the Dutch footballing pyramid. Quite simply, the people of the Netherlands have an insatiable appetite for the game. Intriguingly, this has led to the rise of a number of betting sites in the Netherlands even though the betting laws of the country can be contrasting, as the above site discusses. The good news for the Dutch betting hopefuls is that local bookmakers and foreign betting sites are rubbing their hands together at the prospect of gaining increased and legal exposure to a population who, as mentioned, enjoy gambling.
Yes, this nation’s unquestionable zest for life covers many different spheres, from the exhilarating to the tranquil.
Happy birthday to Giovanni van Bronckhorst 🎉
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) February 5, 2020
The list goes on
Indeed, if it’s not football or betting, it’s walking and that’s not hard to figure out why. The Dutch make the most of their exceptionally flat landscape, which is only 322.7 meters high at its most extreme point, by enjoying long walks through the most extraordinary scenery. The trails really are endless and comprise forests, countryside, dunes, and beaches. With crisp air, moderate temperatures, and an obliging landscape, walking in the Netherlands is truly a dream.
Hockey is another firm favorite outdoor pastime and that’s probably down to the success that the national teams have enjoyed at the Olympics. Data shows that two percent of the population take part in the team sport – that is slightly higher than that of horse riding, which is nevertheless still enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of Dutch citizens. So too is cycling. Astonishingly, on any working day between 8 am and 9 am in the morning, almost 2 million bicycles will be on the roads of the Netherlands. It’s not just tourists either, given that the locals seem to explore every inch of the countryside not by car, but by bicycle.
The Westerpark is the perfect place for a Saturday picnic 🌸 [📸 IG @maxmousee] pic.twitter.com/hcVeSGS553
— I amsterdam (@Iamsterdam) April 17, 2021
Who can blame everyone for doing so? Making your way past a turning windmill near a field of bright tulips really is one of the most therapeutic activities you will ever experience.
The lack of hills also means the feeling of euphoria won’t be abruptly ruined anytime soon, although even if there were Tour de France style climbs, I don’t think it would stop the Dutch from doing it, in fact, nothing could stop this country from getting outdoors. They’re quite frankly never going to be defeated by the weather and have a deep yearning to stretch their legs.