For many people – and for many years – New York City (in the shape of the open-air rink at the foot of Manhattan’s Rockefeller Centre) had the monopoly on seasonal ice-skating, not least when given a go by visitors to a major world metropolis and basking in a wistful Christmassy vibe. But what goes around, comes around. And now, London has well and truly got in on the act.
Because, in the run-up to the festivities of the 25th of December, ice-skating’s suddenly become the big thing for both visitors to and locals of The Big Smoke; that is, in between their Christmas shopping and various sightseeing excursions. And, if you’re a little unsure about taking to the ice, if you suspect you’ll prove a little unsteady on a pair of skates, don’t worry; because it’s truly all about the family-friendly atmosphere, the high-quality refreshments on offer and the often spectacular backdrop – that is then, the whole package – when it comes to ice-skating in London. So, here are the best of the rinks available this winter – and why you should definitely get your skates on…!
Natural History Museum
(Cromwell Road SW7 5BD/ 26th October 2017-7th January 2018; usually open 11am-9pm)
Enchanting is the word for the skating experience outside South Ken’s Natural History Museum. Together with the Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), this venue makes up the holy trinity of world-class museums that millions flock to each and every year in the graceful area known as ‘Albertopolis’. But it’s precisely because the temporary open-air ice-rink erected in front of this building makes for such a, well, magical environment and experience that it just about deserves first place on this list.
With the gorgeous neo-Gothic architecture of the museum itself in the background and the twinkling Christmas-light-topped, yawning bows of the old, ancient trees looking down on it, this rink’s one to treasure skating on, for sure. There’s even a selfie-worthy Christmas tree positioned in the centre of the rink and the likes of hot chocolate, cream teas and, of course, a glass of Prosecco are all available when you decide to step off the ice.
Nearest Tube station: South Kensington (District, Circle and Piccadilly lines)
Skate at Somerset House
(Strand WC2R 1LA/ 15th November-14th January; usually open 8.45am-10.15pm)
Possibly the capital’s most famous and so best-recalled location for a winter’s day or evening’s skate on the ice, it’s the rink that’s erected in the oh-so elegant forecourt of the 18th Century masterpiece of architectural munificence that’s the one-time-government-building-now-tourist-destination Somerset House.
Being that, back in the day, this was one of the first venues to install a temporary outdoor rink this time of year, the sheer novelty of the fact it did so was all that was needed then; now though, with so many great venues in the capital having gone ice-skating crazy, it requires a couple more tricks up its sleeve to stand its ground versus the opposition. So, what are they? Well, one savvy innovation is ‘Skate Lates’; which ensures the rink remains open until late into the evening, complete with cool, laid-back playlists courtesy of local radio stations’ DJs spinning ’90s R&B and hip hop classics. Meanwhile, who could resist the chocolate fondue and champagne offerings at the Fortnum & Mason-run Skate Lodge or the glistening appeal of the stalls in the Christmas Arcade?
Nearest Tube station: Temple (District and Circle lines)
The Tower of London
(The Tower of London EC3N 4AB/ 17th November-2nd January; 11am-9pm Monday-Friday; 9am-9pm Saturday-Sunday)
Unfortunately, despite a particular image on the venue’s website, there’s no proper evidence to suggest you’ll espy any of the marvellously tailored Yeomen Warders donning skates and taking to the ice with all the punters here, but frankly, with a backdrop that’s as dramatic as the stark yet beautiful medieval fortress that’s The Tower (especially in the evening when it’s lit up and looks oh-so impressive), who could truly turn down a session of skating at this most illustrious of venues?
Plus, even non-skaters are likely to be won over by all the tasty morsels on offer at the Ice Rink Café & Bar, thanks to the excellent winter dining and drinks menu, compiled and delivered by The Pie Man of Chelsea Green restaurant; which means it’s all homemade sausage rolls, succulent sausages, party pies and supreme vegetarian options. Additionally, you’ll find glasses of champagne, Prosecco and craft beer on offer, as well as coffees, hot chocolate and other hot drinks to warm your insides. And, who knows, you may get lucky… and spot a Yeoman Warder on the ice.
Nearest Tube station: Tower Hill (District and Circle lines)
(Canada Square Park E14 5AB/ 4th November 2017-24th February 2018; usually open 9.45am-9.45pm)
Yes, it’s true; the long-established temporary rink at Canada Square Park, in the heart of London’s plush and upmarket Docklands area, has been up and running for more than a month now – and will be around all the way until practically the end of February. That’s a genuine winter stint; this ice-rink’s far from just for Christmas then (if not quite for life!).
Perhaps what otherwise makes it stand out from the competitive crowd, though, is that it also offers a ‘skating path’ (the only in the capital), enabling non-novices to glide away from the public pack for some skating solitude – really rather lovely should you be visiting the venue with a loved one (or if you’re on a date). Plus, being that the rink’s located in the heart of Canary Wharf, there’s not just food and drink refreshment stalls to sample on the sidelines, but a plethora of high-quality outlets (and some terrific high-street shopping) in the surrounding area; less than a hop, skip and a jump away once you’ve removed your skates, in fact.
Nearest station: Canary Wharf (Jubilee line)
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
(Hyde Park W2 2UH/17th November-1st January; usually open 10am-9pm)
Frankly, the ultimate all-in-one festive-festival package, Winter Wonderland, hosted for yet another year in the ginormous natural environs of Hyde Park, certainly offers an ice-skating facility. In fact, it’s something of a doozy. How so? Well, the rink here is boast-worthy, indeed; it’s only the largest open-air one in the whole country. It’s erected around the park’s own elegant Victorian bandstand (from which you’ll be serenaded by suitably seasonal tunes as you glide round and round) and once you’ve skated for all your worth, be sure to check out the rest that this über-festive-flavoured venue has to other – a cacophony of attractions, in fact; among them two bars (one of them made entirely of ice), two circuses, an ice-sculpture zone, a Christmas market (of course), fairground rides a plenty and a 60-metre-tall observation wheel. How’s that for a seasonal treat – possibly to work up your appetite for one of the restaurants in Hyde Park?
Nearest Tube station: Marble Arch (Central line)
Hampton Court Palace
(Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey KT8 9AU/ 24th November 2017-7th January 2018; 11am-9pm Monday-Friday; 9am-9pm Saturday-Sunday)
Yet another rink bestowed with an awesome backdrop, especially at night – this time a stylish, grandiose palace whose first incarnation dates all the way back to the 16th Century –Hampton Court’s does come with something of a drawback for visitors to London (especially those who may have chosen for their stay hotels in Hyde Park); yes, it’s a little way out of the capital itself. That said, it’s not *that* far out, merely a short-ish train ride away.
And, should you fancy an historically-themed day trip, then a visit to the palace and an hour or two to take in its utterly elegant grounds (should the weather be up for it) comes highly advised. Oh, and then topped off, of course, by a turn or two or three (or more) on the ice-rink. As with The Tower’s rink, the refreshments are supplied by The Pie Man, so you can be assured you’re on solid ground there (as opposed to thin ice – sorry!).
Nearest train station: Hampton Court (National Rail)
(Clapham Common, Windmill Drive SW4 9DE/ 23rd November 2017-1st January 2018; 12noon-10pm Monday-Friday; 11am-10pm Saturday-Sunday)
Sort of a hipper version of the (love it or not) very commercial Winter Wonderland, Winterville has moved south of the river for this year’s festive season, having spent last year’s in the East End’s Victoria Park. But don’t doubt the wide, green expanse of Clapham Common’s a fine home for it, not least because the area itself’s rather hip and trendy too.
Being this is an all-bells-and-whistles Christmas-focused festival, though, the ice-skating’s just one offering you’ll find on the roster, but the rink’s not bad at all and undoubtedly roomy enough for many a punter wishing to take to the ice before – or after – they’ve ventured elsewhere into the festive throng and discovered the Underbelly-run Spiegeltent (offering many an entertaining showcase), the Backyard Cinema and the Plonk Golf.
Nearest Tube stations: Clapham Common and Clapham South (Northern line)
Greenwich Winter Time Festival
(Old Royal Naval College, King William Walk SE10 9NN/ 1st-31st December; 10.30am-10pm daily)
Yes, it’s true there’s something of a repetitive theme when it comes to Christmas-cum-winter festivals; they tend to be held in the open-air and many of the best of them have a stunning, iconic backdrop that makes them an even bigger draw. As is the case with this one, for which the Georgian architectural masterpiece that’s the Old Royal Naval College is the pristine setting for Greenwich’s effort. And, as far as this list is concerned, it’s specifically the setting for the event’s open-air ice-rink. Splendid, indeed.
To distinguish it from similar events’ ice-rinks, though, this one comes complete with a musical backing of specially-composed compositions, which means that while you skate you’ll be accompanied by your own unique soundtrack (sort of). Plus, although skating’s not available all-day-and-evening-long at the rink, as it’s broken up into a trio of three-hour-long sessions, rather nattily the organisers have decided to kick-off each session each day with a short performance by professional skaters. No pressure to follow that on to the ice then!
Nearest transport link: Cutty Sark station (Docklands Light Railway/ DLR)
Skylight Rooftop Rink
(Tobacco Dock, Wapping Lane E1W 2SF/ 2nd November 2017-6th January 2018; 5pm-11pm Thursday-Friday; 12noon-11pm Saturday-Sunday)
Finally, should you be based in the City of London or the East End during your time spent in the capital, then don’t fear; yes, despite Winterville having upped sticks for Clapham, open-air ice-skating’s well served this winter by this particularly scenic venue in the Docklands area (north of the river). However, it’s not just about the rooftop-enabled views with this rink, for the refreshment options don’t just include the usual likes of mulled wine and Christmas-styled cocktails, but also fondue. Fantastic stuff.
Nearest transport link: Wapping (Overground station)