Imagine skating hand-in-hand on a crisp winter night. A few stars may be visible above, but the really breathtaking view is of Paris’s twinkling lights—188 feet below your skates.
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.