Go for a twirl!
What better way to get into the holiday spirit than to skate into it at one of the world’s most beautiful ice rinks? Most of these come complete with Christmas markets, fun rides, music, seasonal events, and a hot toddy. So lace up your boots and glide into good cheer!
WHERE: Quebec City
It’s small, but with a fairytale backdrop of Quebec City’s ancient walls and the stately Palais Montcalm, this little ice rink celebrates the winter season with exquisite perfection. In the evening, thousands of colored lights create a most magical setting, especially when snowflakes float down from above. It’s located right outside St.-Jean Gate, leading into the old city, where more magic awaits along cobbled streets.
INSIDER TIPQuebec City has some 12 different ice rinks, including the much larger track at Plains of Abraham.
The rink is open mid-November to mid-March. Access to the rink is free, and skates can be rented at the nearby Pavillon des Services.
Rideau Canal Skateway
This one’s for the record books. The Guinness Book of World Records, to be exact, where the Rideau Canal Skateway—a 4.8-mile section of the 136-mile Rideau Canal—is listed as the world’s largest naturally-frozen skating rink. This immense strand of ice ribbon winds throughout Ottawa, with more than one million skaters taking to its ice every year (including the many who use it to skate to work and school). Since it’s natural, its opening date is flexible, but rest assured it’s typically open in time for the city’s Winterlude in February, when all of Ottawa comes out to celebrate the joys of winter.
The rink is open January to late February or early March (depending on the weather). Access is free 24/7 (lights illuminate it at night). You can rent skates at the Capital Skates on the Skateway.
Tower of London
Some of Britain’s most blood-curdling history may have taken place at this ancient Norman fortress, but the scene becomes downright enchanting during the holidays when an ice rink occupies the dry moat. Glide past medieval towers and stone walls beside the Thames, with the chance of even spotting a Beefeater warden skating past. Come evening, sparkly lights illuminate the ancient fortifications, adding a touch of drama. A rinkside café offers mulled wine, rum punch, and other festive treats.
The rink is open mid-November to early January. Ticket prices start at £15 for adults, £10.50 for children, and include skate rentals. You can reserve online in advance.
Vienna Ice World
As soft flakes drift down from the sky, the iconic (illuminated) Rathaus (Town Hall) glows, and romantic waltz music fills the air; skate through a winter wonderland during the “Vienna Ice World.” A large rink fronts the Town Hall, from which several ice paths wind through a small sparkly park; it’s especially popular with couples. Booths along the way offer warm punch and tea, and feel free to warm up at the Almhütte.
INSIDER TIPVienna Ice World also has eight lanes for curling.
The rink is open mid-January to early March. Ticket prices are approximately 8 euros for adults, with skate rentals available for approximately7.50 euros. Children and beginners can skate for free in a small separate area.
City Park Ice Rink
Since 1870, skaters have come from far and wide to skate in the shadow of the Disneyesque Vajdahunyard Castle on Europe’s largest open-air ice rink—130,000 square feet! Well, it wasn’t always so big—it’s gone through various iterations through the years, including an enormous reconstruction in 2011 that expanded it to its present size. Catch your breath at the palace, which offers majestic views of skaters with your dessert, mulled wine, and hot chocolate.
INSIDER TIPYour skate ticket gets you into the fascinating Hockey Museum for free. It’s open daily between 1 and 4 pm during the skate break; book in advance at [email protected]
The rink is open December to February. Ticket prices vary depending on day and time; on weekends, adults pay approximately $6.50 and students pay approximately $5; children under 6 skate free. Skate rentals are available for approximately $2.50. Purchase online tickets in advance to avoid standing in the ticket line.
The Rink at Rockefeller Center
Of course we need to include this one, the epitome of holiday spirit. But back in 1936, this part of town had a problem: no one visited the “sunken plaza” near Rockefeller Center. Then, according to legend, along came a skate salesman who demonstrated his wares on the center’s frozen Rockefeller Plaza fountain. Seeing the man skating on the makeshift rink, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., had a lightbulb moment, and he built a proper ice rink. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, the festive area effervesces with over-the-top decorations, thousands of lights, and the famous Rockefeller Christmas tree.
The rink is open mid-October through April. Tickets are sold on a first-come, first-serve basis at the rink. You can purchase in advance several experiences, including a VIP skate, breakfast and skating, and a “first skate” package that will get you on the ice at 7 am, before the crowds.
The Grand Palais alone is a magical place, with its beaux-arts blend of steel, stone, and glass built for the 1900 World Fair, all overarched by its lacy glass-domed ceiling. Come December, the vintage pavilion transforms into an ice palace holding France’s largest ice-skating rink (19,375 square feet). And that’s not all. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, the ice rink becomes a giant dance floor, with music pulsating throughout the house. The pop-up Café Jules serves up vin chaud, waffles, and hot dogs “French.”
The rink is open mid-December to early January. Adults pay 17 euros in the morning, 25 euros in the afternoon, and 29 euros in the evening; children pay 12 euros all day. Skate rental is available at the rink.
The Ice Rink at Alexanderplatz
Christmas market. It’s a festive place, and bustling, too, with Europe’s largest walk-in Christmas pyramid, fun rides, daily shows, and stalls selling traditional crafts, bratwurst, gingerbread, and mulled wine. Santa appears three times an evening.
The rink is open from late November to December 26. Admission is free.
Maggie Daley Park
It’s called a “skating ribbon,” and this sinuous ice path ambles through a rolling landscape of a 25-acre park, offering spectacular skyline views (at some point in the future, the trees will have grown to make it seem like you’re skating through an urban forest). Along the way, stop for hot chocolate or perch on a bench for some of the best people-watching around.
The rink is open mid-November to mid-March. Admission is free, with skate rentals available for $15 on weekends ($13 weekdays).
In the depths of winter, Kunming Lake becomes Beijing’s largest skating rink—172 acres, with six entrances! And at this one, you don’t need ice skates. Instead, hop on an ice bike or ice cart for singles or doubles (though ice skates are perfectly fine, too). As you glide about this expanse of ice, you’ll have captivating views of the Qing-era Summer Palace, once China’s most impressive imperial playground; Longevity Hill, Tower of the Buddhist Incense, Seventeen-arch Bridge, and other ancient structures sprinkle the shoreline like an ancient Chinese watercolor.
The rink is open early January to late February (depending on the ice conditions). Admission is about $7.