World's Coolest Skating Rinks
You don’t need to be on the Eiffel Tower’s observation deck, one of the world’s coolest rinks, to appreciate the romantic appeal of skating. It’s a fun, invigorating way to experience a destination in winter and to, yes, break the ice, whether you’re doing figure eights together or taking in the view with a cup of hot cocoa on the sidelines.
After all, skating rinks typically place you in a picture-perfect location. It could be a pristine wonderland like the Canadian Rockies or the center of a major city decked out for the season. Some of the coolest can be found where you’d least expect them—say, in the desert. The Venetian Hotel debuted a rink in 2011, complete with a holiday-theme light show. It now touts a package deal that combines a skating session with an outdoor gondola ride—only in Vegas, indeed.
It’s more fitting that the world’s largest ice-skating surface is found in Canada, where Ontario’s 4.8-mile–long Rideau Canal freezes over each winter. You can skate the entire length, connecting the cities of Ottawa and Kingston, and break at snack stands and an outdoor art gallery along the way.
Some locals even use the Rideau Canal to commute to work or school, much like the earliest skaters, who simply needed a way to get around. According to a study at the University of Oxford, ice skating got its start in present-day Finland, with blades fashioned from animal bones.
Steel blades, introduced in the 13th century, aren’t the only subsequent improvement. Synthetic ice allows for year-round gliding by palm trees in southern California, while other rinks keep skaters toasty with bonfires or stands that sell mulled wine. (A few glasses can do wonders for any frustration with the likely crowds or aching muscles.)
Whether you’re looking for a little romance, some thrills and spills with kids, or a kitschy night out with friends, you can find it on ice. Start here, with our picks for the 13 coolest skating rinks.
Ice Skating on the Strip, The Venetian, Las Vegas
At the Venetian hotel’s brand-new rink, skaters are surrounded by rink-side bar kiosks and appropriately flashy decorations like 30 giant sparkly snowflakes. A holiday-theme light show takes place nightly, and there’s a package available that combines a skating session with an outdoor gondola ride. Only in Vegas.
Admission is $24, including skate rental. Through January 8, 2012. venetian.com
Curry Village Ice Rink, Yosemite National Park, CA
The Yosemite Winter Club flooded an unused parking lot to create a makeshift skating rink back in 1928, and it’s since become a cherished park tradition. Half Dome and Glacier Point loom above, while an outdoor fire pit and warming hut keep skaters going. And ice skating is just the warm-up; Yosemite also offers downhill and cross-country skiing, as well as snowshoeing, ice climbing, sledding, sleigh rides, and even fishing.
Admission is $9.50 for adults, $8.50 for children, not including skate rental. Through early March 2012. yosemitepark.com
Rideau Canal Skateway, Ottawa, Canada
Is it any surprise the world’s largest ice-skating surface is in Canada? Ontario’s Rideau Canal bobs with boats in summer, but once the temperature drops, the 4.8-mile–long waterway—the size of 90 hockey rinks lined up end-to-end—teems with tourists and with locals skating to work or school. North America’s oldest functioning canal goes through Ottawa, Canada’s capital, all the way to Kingston. If you skate the entire frozen canal (and many do), there are plenty of snack stands along the way, and even an outdoor art gallery.
Admission is free, not including skate rental. Through February 2012. canadascapital.gc.ca
Hotel del Coronado, San Diego
Swimming, surfing, and volleyball come to mind when you think of beachside activities. But if you happen to be in San Diego, you can add ice skating to that list. The city’s Hotel del Coronado hosts a 10,000-square-foot skating rink that overlooks the Pacific. As you spin around the synthetic ice, gaze up at the palm trees and listen to the soothing sound of the waves.
Admission is $25, including skate rental, a portion of which goes to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Through January 8, 2012. hoteldel.com
Sun Valley Outdoor Rink, Idaho
Ice skating in July? Yes, please! This Sun Valley public outdoor ice rink is one of the few spots in North America where you can skate any time of the year. Even Olympic figure skaters congregate here to perform their mind-blowing stunts at the Sun Valley Summer Ice Shows. And because Sun Valley is a premier resort town, you can opt to ski, hike, play tennis, or even hunt for celebrities when you’ve spent enough time twirling around the ice.
Admission is $11 for adults, $9 for children, not including skate rental. Year-round. sunvalley.com
Eiffel Tower Ice Rink, Paris
Skating doesn’t get much more dreamy than in Paris, where you can glide hand-in-hand 188 feet above the twinkling city—on the first-level observation deck of its most iconic landmark. The view includes the famous golden dome of Invalides, Napoleon’s final resting place. Linger over a cup of hot chocolate or mulled wine with cinnamon at the bar next to the skating rink.
Admission is free, not including skate rental or the general ticket to the Eiffel Tower. Through January 31, 2012. eiffel-tower.com
Red Square Rink, Moscow
Last winter, 56,000 people descended on Moscow’s Red Square—not to protest, but to skate. The rink spans 32,000 square feet and covers one quarter of the historic square, shared with St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin. It stays open until midnight, so you’ll have ample time to take in the beautiful lights.
Admission is about 30 cents to $3, depending on the date. Through March 11, 2012. gum.ru/katok/
Fuji-Q Highland, Fujiyoshida, Japan
Japan’s Fuji-Q Highland is known for scary roller coasters like The Dodonpa. But you can still get your kicks in winter, when the amusement park unleashes the largest outdoor ice-skating rink in Japan at 165,750 square feet (3.8 acres). It’s a prime spot for viewing snowcapped Mount Fuji—and for skating newbies: staff are on hand daily for free lessons.
Admission is about $15 for adults, $8 for children, not including skate rental. Through March 20, 2012. fuji-q.com
Vienna Ice Dream, Austria
In time for Christmas, Vienna transforms the front of its imposing Rathaus (City Hall) into a 75,000-square-foot rink. They call it Wiener Eistraum, literally, Vienna Ice Dream, and skating here can feel downright magical. Listen to music from live DJs as you whiz past the elaborate light displays, and refuel at one of the glühwein (mulled wine) bars.
Admission is about $8, not including skate rental. Through April 3, 2012.
Tower of London Ice Rink, London
This London rink gets its cool factor from allowing you to skate on a centuries-old moat. As you practice your figure eights in full view of the castle’s fortress battlements, alongside the River Thames, consider that you’re right by the world-famous Crown Jewels and—legend has it—the ghost of Anne Boleyn, beheaded in 1536 for treason against King Henry.
Admission is $16-$19 for adults and $12-$13 for children, including skate rental. Through January 8, 2012. toweroflondonicerink.com
Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada
Winter’s drama is on display here within Banff National Park, where skaters take in views of the Canadian Rockies and Victoria Glacier. Cooler still is the ice castle carved by the Fairmont Chateau chefs as a centerpiece for the lake’s rink.(If hockey is more your speed, there’s an additional rink nearby.) When you’re ready to warm up, enjoy free hot chocolate while huddling around a big bonfire.
Admission is free to the public, not including skate rental. Through mid-April.
Wollman Skating Rink, New York City
There’s no shortage of cool city rinks, from Bryant Park’s free rink to grand Rockefeller Center, still the go-to skating destination for many tourists. But our pick is Wollman Rink, which is more than three times the size of Rockefeller’s and has better views from the ice—a forest of skyscrapers and Central Park’s trees. Just keep an eye out for teetering kids as it’s a popular family spot; the Central Park Zoo is nearby.
Admission is $10.75 to $16, depending on the day of the week, not including skate rental. Through March 2012. wollmanskatingrink.com/
The Depot Rink, Minneapolis
The lone indoor rink on our list, the Depot Rink is located in a historic downtown Minneapolis train> station. At its peak in 1920, it operated 29 trains a day before closing for good in 1971. Now the rink’s floor-to-ceiling glass windows let you keep nice and toasty as you skate past a spectacular view of the Minneapolis skyline.
Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for children, not including skate rental. Through March 18, 2012. thedepotminneapolis.com