Wintertime is one of my favourite times of year in London. Every year ice rinks and Christmas markets pop up all over the city, each in their own uniquely magical setting. Ice skating has to be one of my favourite activities to do with J. We both laugh the entire time, and the atmosphere can be really special. In my opinion, skating with children can be so much fun, and so rewarding watching their skills and confidence improve.
Even if you’ve never skated before, you can pick it up really quickly. Lessons are also available at most locations. I’d definitely urge every dad to try ice skating with their children at least once. Even if you spend the entire session on your bum, it’ll really make your kids laugh. It’s not so fun if it has been raining though, as the ice can become wet and too slippery. Yes you read that correctly, ice can be too slippery for skating. Also, having wet clothing after falling on wet ice or being splashed by puddles can really ruin your day, so be sure to check the weather before to go. If booking on the day, check the ice is dry before you purchase the tickets. Keep in mind that very few, if any places offer refunds if it’s wet, so this is something to consider if you are going to book ahead.
My favourite each year has to be the Canary Wharf Ice Rink. Set amongst the gleaming skyscrapers of London’s Canary Wharf, with the stunning backdrop of the O2 arena, this rink is one of London’s finest and most accessible. I took J ice skating here for the first time 4 years ago and we’ve returned each year since. Most rinks open mid-November to early January, but this year Canary Wharf opens its gates from late October until mid-February. This is a great move and will surely make it one of London’s most popular rinks this winter.
Each year the operation seems to get a little bigger, and for the last 2 years, the rink has incorporated a unique skate path which detours through fairy lit trees. This is great for those who aren’t confident on the ice and tend to stick close to the sides. There is a large café and bar run by Boisdale, the upmarket restaurant better known for steak, oysters, whiskey and cigars. I have to say I really miss the old Moose Bar log cabin, which used to give the experience a really cosy feel. It was really appealing to relax by the fire on leather sofa’s in a scene reminiscent of Alpine ski resorts, but that’s all been done away with and replaced with a much more slick and modern affair. This rink has great toilet facilities available. Personally I am not sure this partnership works for families, as for the last two years we were in and out without being even tempted to stop for a hot chocolate. Boisdale seems to me like an odd partner for a venture like this. Still, the partnership must have been successful for it to return this year, and I can’t ignore the main demographic of Canary Wharf’s 93,000 workers. Let’s hope that next year there is some scope to include something a little more cosy and family friendly for après skate scene.
Canary Wharf has some of the best transport links in London, and one of the few places that remains car friendly. Though be aware parking charges are rather prohibitive during peak times. 3 hours of free parking is available at weekends and there are reduced rates on weekday evenings after 6pm, of £2.50 for the first 2 hours jumping to £6.50 flat evening charge after that. I would like to see the reduced evening rate extended to 3 hours and not 2, as 2 hours isn’t really long enough to skate and eat. £6.50 off peak is a little excessive, even by London’s standards, where free on street parking can be found in most places after 6.30pm. Surely this hurts trade, which is a shame because there are plenty of kid friendly restaurants to enjoy around Canary Wharf. I’d recommend Jamie’s Italian or Wagamama for dining out with kids. Both restaurants offer impressive children’s menus, Jamie’s with the added benefit of unlimited cordial for kids.
In its setting out of the way of London’s hustle and bustle, I have always found it easy to walk up and book skating sessions at Canary Wharf so booking ahead is not essential, unlike some of the others below which can often sell out of busy sessions. That said things can change at any time so be sure to check the website below for booking and availability
This is set in London’s Hyde Park as part of Winter Wonderland, London’s number one family attraction during the Christmas period. This can get very, very busy and booking well in advance is often essential. Perhaps not the best option for less confident skaters, but great to try if you are already visiting winter Wonderland. The rink itself is quite stunning, and possibly the largest in London. There are endless children’s attractions in Winter Wonderland make this a very appealing option. Be sure to check back for my complete review of Winter Wonderland.
Natural History Museum
This is another of my favourite rinks in London. In fact, I think the Natural History museum is one of the most beautiful buildings in London, so it offers one of the most breath taking experiences. The location, set in one of London’s busiest tourist areas, means it can get very busy, but don’t let this put you off. There is plenty to explore nearby in the Natural History or the Science Museums. The Natural history museum boasts a smaller children only rink which is a great benefit of this location, along with a viewing gallery where spectators can enjoy hot chocolates and snacks. The lighting is incredible, the whole scene is like something straight out of a Christmas movie.
If skating here take a trip to eat at nearby “Big Easy” the kid friendly American Barbeque and Crabshack where you’ll find some of the best homemade style BBQ in London.
Set beside the Tower of London, in the shadow of Tower Bridge, this is perhaps one of the most magical sites to skate at. It isn’t one of the largest but is certainly one of the most attractive. Just across the road is Bodeans restaurant which offers fantastic American style BBQ meals like ribs and pulled pork. There is a reasonably priced kids menu on offer and one of my favourite places to eat with J. Well worth a visit if you are skating at Tower Bridge.
This rink is a little on the small side but handy to add to your itinerary if you are exploring London’s Southbank. London’s Southbank comes alive at Christmas time with a Christmas Markets. There is a great atmosphere at Christmas time and plenty to explore. Along with the usual street performers, the markets boast an array of Crafts and lovely Christmas street food to sample, from Kangaroo burgers to Bailey’s hot chocolates. Perfect place to pick up presents or unique gifts. In previous years this has been a more relaxed alternative to the market at Winter Wonderland but this can change at any time so be prepared for it to be a little crowded.
Options are available to combine skating with rides on the London Eye which offers spectacular views across London.
Hampton Court Palace
This rink is set in front of the backdrop of Hampton court palace and is definitely worth a visit. It is also very near to Bushy park which has free roaming Deer walking around, so make a day of it. If you’re lucky enough you might me able to get up close to a deer but remember deer are stags are wild animals so use common sense.
Set aside a striking Christmas tree, SKATE at Somerset House is popular with adults and children. Although spectacular and Christmassy in its own right, this is somewhere I felt would suit an older crowd. Perhaps that’s because I skated during a late evening session. I’d recommend visiting in the day and making a day of it. This is very near to the theatre district and London’s Covent Garden so a perfect location if you want to combine skating with a theatre show or even just to explore nearby Covent Garden Market. Covent Garden has gone all out with the Christmas decorations this year and is a stunning place to visit with children. There’s lots going on here with street performers and great places for food. If stopping by, be sure to take your little ones to check out the fabulous food available from Shake Shack or to sample Christmas sweets from around the world at J’s favourite sweet shop Cyber Candy. Every kid deserves a visit to Cyber Candy.
This is one of the smallest rinks in London and personally my least favourite, however it is probably one of the better options for those looking to skate regularly or avoid the crowds. It is set directly in the middle of the Broadgate development in London’s financial district. In my view this location lacks the soul and charm of the other rinks. The rink is overlooked by bars, which during the week are filled with city workers who double as spectators cheering embarrassing falls like a gladiator ring. It would be a good place however to brush up on skills during weekends or school holidays when the area is deserted.
On the other hand the location is great for public transport, set directly next to London’s Liverpool Street station, ideal for anyone travelling into London from further afield with limited time. There are plenty of restaurants a short walk away at London’s Spitalfields. For those looking for a truly special dining experience with Children nearby, try Duck and Waffle, the UK’s highest restaurant, set 40 floors up in London’s Heron Tower. It’s not the cheapest and as far as I’m aware there is no children’s menu, but the elevator ride alone is worth the journey. Duck and Waffle is great for breakfast or Brunch and there’s plenty of individually unique dishes on the menu. The view if one of best on offer in London and I’d imagine quite a magical experience for a children young and old. Avoid with children during peak times and weekdays as it will be heaving with city workers.
I hope this list has been useful to you, if you have any comments or suggestions be sure to share them via the comments box below.