Every summer, groups of schoolkids stay up late to walk the Avondvierdaagse. What is this strange tradition and is it worth skipping bedtime for? Amanda van Mulligen explains all.

1. What is the Avondvierdaagse?

It’s basically a community walk that takes place over four evenings. Thousands of children, and some of their teachers and parents, walk either 5, 10 or 15 kilometers per evening. The majority opt to shuffle along behind each other for 5 kilometers so that children actually get to bed before midnight.

It is worth noting that, because of the sheer volume of bodies moving in the same direction at one time, it feels like you walk at least twice the 5km distance.

Many children are accompanied by one parent, whilst the sane one enjoys the peace and quiet at home.

2. Who takes part in the Avondvierdaagse?

Schools, families, sports clubs, walking groups, random people and their dogs.

3. What’s the point of the Avondvierdaagse?

The idea is to be the first one from your school to reach the finish point, dodging and weaving your way through the crowds; anything goes to get ahead, so long as you don’t run or injure more than three other people along the route.

Of course, that is not in the slightest bit true, but at times it felt like that was indeed the case. The real purpose is gezelligheid. What else would it be living in the land of the Dutch? A lovely walk after dinner with a few thousand strangers is gezellig, right? That, and it promotes exercise.

4. How much does it cost?

Now let’s get down to the nitty gritty. If you have been in any way Dutchified since living in the Netherlands, you’ll want to know about the financial side of it. It’s NOT gratis. We paid five euro each but I have no idea if that is a standard charge.

5. So, I hear you cry, what do I get for my money, apart from gezelligheid?

You get a drink and something to eat at the halfway point provided by the school you signed up with. You get a bag with a few snacks, vouchers, a cap, badge, and stickers on your first day; and on the last day you get a medal. Plus, an amount goes to a local charity. Well, that’s how it worked for us. It’s possible that each school and council arrange it differently.

6. How did this Avond4daagse lark start?

It’s an offspring of the Nijmegen four-day international marches. In 1940, the Nijmegen march didn’t take place because of the mobilisation of Dutch troops. As a result, there were lots of restless walkers milling about in het Gooi. Some bright sparks therefore decided to throw together an evening walk spread over four days in het Gooi, and before anyone could say, “This reminds me of that Forrest Gump movie,” the idea had spread far and wide. In the Netherlands, at least.

7. Is it fun?

Is the Pope Catholic? Are the Dutch gezellig? Of course it’s fun. Why would thousands of people in one town alone do it if it wasn’t fun? Moving along…

8. I’m not a fast walker. Can I still take part in an Avondvierdaagse?

We watched snails overtake us. There were numerous near misses as tortoises hurtled by the walking masses. So, yes, slow walkers can join in.

9. Do I have to scream in every tunnel or subway I walk under?

It’s only obligatory if you are under ten years of age. Ear plugs are handy for accompanying parents and teachers.

10. If I suffer from hay fever will I be able to walk the Avondvierdagse?

I won’t lie. In places the hay fever was debilitating. The sneezes came hard and fast, one after another, as we walked alongside high grasses next to sloot after sloot as the spring evening descended. The sneezing, coupled with the fact I’ve birthed three children and every evening spontaneously needed the toilet almost as soon as we were given the ‘go’ to start walking, made the Avondvierdaagse a bit of an extreme sport for me personally. I’m sure non-hay fever sufferers had a very different experience.

11. Can I walk the Avondvierdagse with a pram?

Yes. As long as you are trained to the black belt equivalent in pram manoeuvrings. You’ll need to be ruthless whilst refraining from resorting to out-and-out attacks on those who step over your pram WITH YOUR CHILD IN IT in order to get ahead or catch up with schoolmates/family/strays/their dog on a long lead.

12. Are the roads/cycle paths closed off to traffic during the Avondvierdaagse?

In some towns they are. In Zoetermeer they weren’t. Again, I’ll be honest. There’s a risk element to walking the Avondvierdaagse: will I/won’t I get hit by a car/angry cyclist/motorbike/oblivious brommer demon? Depending on your outlook on life, this can be attractive.

13. Aren’t the kids a little tired as the week goes on?

They are knackered. Late to bed, school all day, and then a 5km walk. Four days long. Tired isn’t the word. I’d use words like: Grumpy, short-fused, chagrijnig, unreasonable, uncooperative and reluctant to get out of bed each morning. But the Avondvierdaagse is still gezellig, right?

14. Do crowds line the finish point on the last night, adorned with flowers and sweets for the children who have completed their four evenings of walks?

Why, yes they do. Some children had more bouquets of sweets given to them as a reward for walking 20 km in four evenings than my children have seen in their short lives so far. Nothing says ‘well done for getting all that exercise this week’ like a couple of kilos of snoepjes.

15. Would you do it again next year?

Absolutely. In a heartbeat.

This article was adapted from Amanda’s blog, Turning Dutch, and has been reproduced on Amsterdam Mamas with full permission from the author.

photo credit: Amanda van Mulligen

Amanda van Mulligen

Amanda van Mulligen is a mother, writer and expat. In that order. She is British-born but has called the Netherlands home since 2000. She is 'mama' to three boys, and blogs about her expat way of living, loving and parenting over at Turning Dutch. You can find out more about her on her Facebook Page or follow her on Twitter.