What better way to celebrate the festive season with a whirl around one of London‘s romantic outdoor ice rinks? Robert Szmigielski checks out the capital’s finest… and sees if they measure up to his skate expectations.

Londoners love to ice-skate. Fact. Indeed, the first recorded example of recreational ice-skating, on the outskirts of the capital, can be traced as far back as the 11th century when William Fitzstephen (servant to the archbishop Thomas Becket) described children whizzing across the frozen moors of Finsbury and Moorfield with bones attached to their feet:

“They fly across the ice like birds, or well-fired arrows. Suddenly, two children will run at each other, sticks held high in the air. They then attack each other until one falls down.”

Rink-a-rama at Somerset House
Rink-a-rama at Somerset House

In writing what he saw that day – and perhaps blissfully unaware that what he described appeared to be evidence of medieval child ice-jousting – Fitzstephen’s account cemented an intimate relationship between Londoners and ice-skating that would continue right through to the 3rd millennium. Whereas beating one another with sticks is generally frowned upon in this enlightened age, winter in modern-day London provides a host of opportunities to practice one’s Bolero like it’s 1984, as dozens of seasonal ice rinks bring a bit of Christmas cheer to millions of Londoners. With many of these outdoor arenas located in sumptuous surroundings, you may want to join them! Read on for Urban Travel Blog‘s Top Five guide to getting your skates on in London…

Somerset House

Full Metal Jacket on ice
Full Metal Jacket on ice

A beloved favourite with Londoners, Somerset House ice rink is perhaps the capital’s most alluring skating venue. A 200-year-old neoclassical masterpiece, it’s surrounded by a central courtyard that insulates visitors from the hustle and bustle of London’s busy streets. The ice rink also celebrates its 10 year anniversary this year with plenty of special events scheduled – worth taking advantage of before it closes for the season.

Verdict: Great location (a stone’s throw from Covent Garden) and breathtaking surrounding architecture. Adventurous couples can also polish up their Death Spirals to some top tunes during one of the many DJ nights.

Judges Marks: 6.0

Information

Open until: January 24th 2010,
Standard ticket: £12.50
Location: The Strand
Travel: Charing Cross Station or Temple Tube
Official Website

Tower of London Ice Rink

The skate escape
The skate escape

Combine a trip to see Her Majesty’s Crown Jewels and the United Kingdom’s finest torture chamber (which, incidentally, is not Wembley’s Fountain Studios, home of Britain’s X-Factor) with a visit to another fine outdoor city rink. Situated on the Tower’s dry moat against the Outer Curtain Wall, it’s definitely worth a visit after dark – if only to check out the beautifully lit fortress walls.

Verdict: Another wonderful, historic venue in which to bust out a few axels. Pipped to the post by Somerset House’s DJ nights…

Judges Marks: 5.9

Information

Until: 10th January 2010
Standard ticket: £12
Location: HM Tower of London
Travel: Tower Hill Tube (Circle & District), Fenchurch Street & London Bridge.
Official Website

Hampton Court Palace

Portly royal philanderer King Henry VIII could have done with an ice rink at his former residence to help him get rid of a few pounds (instead of five wives), although he certainly left his mark; monarchical excess surrounds the rink at Hampton Court. For a start there are two palaces – one Tudor, one Baroque – acres of manicured shrubbery, and an impressive hedge labyrinth bound to test even the most intrepid visitor. The perfect place in which to practice rusty triple Salchows.

Verdict: Grand 17th century landscape gardens, magnificent buildings and the 60-acre maze! However, not convenient for a fleeting visit; a little far out from the centre of town.

Judges Marks: 5.7

Information

Until: 10th January 2010
Standard ticket: £11.50
Location: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey
Travel: Hampton Court (from London Waterloo)
Official Website

Natural History Museum

More fun than the NHM's butterfly collection
More fun than the NHM's butterfly collection

Before dashing off to outdoor rink, it may be worth visiting the adjoining museum’s newly-opened Darwin Centre to ponder the evolution of figure skating. Researchers claim to have traced the origins of the humble ice-skate back to 3000BC when lazy Finns used animal bones with straps as a novel method of transportation. Thankfully, there’s no danger of dodgy blades here. Although if you do spot an inquisitive museum curator trying out a pair of 5000-year-old skates, be sure to stay well clear.

Verdict: Cosy rink – albeit a bit close to the road – with Café Bar and viewing terrace open to non-ticket holders.

Judges Marks: 5.7

Information

Until: 17th January 2010
Standard ticket: £13
Location: Cromwell Road
Travel: South Kensington Tube (Circle, District & Piccadilly)
Official Website

Canary Wharf

Located in Canada Square, and surrounded by London’s towering financial powerhouses, the Canary Wharf ice rink is the perfect venue for exhausted local bankers and stockbrokers looking to unwind after a hard day’s graft bringing down Britain’s entire economy. However, regular members of the public (or those who won’t be collecting millions in bonuses this Christmas) are also welcome. And the view ain’t bad either.

Verdict: Modern, stylish and well-organised with brand-spanking-new skates – but just not as aesthetically pleasing as those mentioned above.

Judges Marks: 5.6

Information

Until: February 21st 2010
Standard ticket: £12
Location: Canada Square Park
Travel: Canary Wharf (Jubilee, DLR)
Official Website


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