Ice skating has been a passion for Londoners since it was introduced to the U.K. by Dutch tradesmen in the 1600s. While early skating took place solely on the frozen surfaces of bodies of water such as the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park, modern technology allows you to take to the ice in atmospheric locations all over London. So, have your pick from our list of top pop-up ice rinks. And while you’re at it, why not make an afternoon or an evening of it with a spot of shopping, dancing or eating out? All these rinks have skates available for rent, though you’ll want to bring plenty of warm clothes with you — and, depending on your skill level, perhaps a pair of pants with some padding to them.
Natural History Museum Swarovski Ice Rink
Through January 3, this ice rink will serve as the ideal place to take a breather during a day exploring the wonderful museums of South Kensington. Ice skating was enormously popular in 19th-century London, the period when the Natural History Museum was created — even Queen Victoria was a fan, skating on the lake in the gardens of Buckingham Palace with her husband, Prince Albert. Then, just like today, skating was a pastime enjoyed by all ages and levels of society. Children are welcome on the main rink at the NHM, but there’s also smaller kids’ rink alongside it. The Penguin Skate Club has lessons for youngsters between the ages of four to eight on Saturdays. Advance booking is recommended.
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
You can’t skate on the Serpentine these days (even if it did get cold enough for the lake to freeze over), but the pop-up rink at this enormous celebration (through January 3) in the park is a pretty tempting alternative. Built around a Victorian bandstand and lit by more than 100,000 lights, it’s the biggest outdoor rink in the U.K. Those skating with beginners might like to hire an ice guide to look after their group. And look out for the professional photographer zipping around to record those magic moments. Once you’ve had your fun on the white stuff, visit the ride-filled fair, take in a circus show or explore sculptures in the Magical Ice Kingdom.
Not all of London’s skating experiences are grand and historical — the city also does grand and contemporary right in the heart of the finance district. Canary Wharf’s entry is most magical after dark, when the sky is lit up by windows of the skyscrapers towering over the ice. There’s a skate path through lit-up trees — the only one of its kind in London — and a large, heated outdoor viewing terrace for those not so keen to get in on the action themselves. Skate aids that help with balancing on the ice are available. You can also book individual or group lessons with coach Robert Burgerman, seen recently on the British TV program Dancing on Ice. The rink is open to February 27.
The most convenient ice rink for West End holiday shopping this winter (to January 10) is in the courtyard of this grand 18th-century palace on the banks of the River Thames. Whiz around the ice in the daytime, stopping to refuel at Fortnum’s Lodge, a pop-up eatery from renowned retailer Fortnum & Mason. Stop by on selected evenings to dance-skate the night away during the rink’s Club Nights; you’ll find DJs from Ministry of Sound and Island Records working their magic. There’s a pop-up Christmas arcade from Fortnum’s, too, selling confectionery, teas and coffees, gifts and more, with late-night skating and shopping on Tuesdays. On top of all of that excitement, Somerset House has also teamed up with Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The Savoy this holiday season to offer a package that includes a two-night stay, skating and post-skating champagne and chocolate truffles at Fortnum’s Lodge.
Hampton Court Palace
Escape from the city center with a trip to the former home of King Henry VIII. This riverside treasure is well worth a visit at any time of year, but it’s particularly spectacular in the winter, when the forecourt becomes the home to an enormous ice rink. There’s mulled wine and warming grub available at the Ice Café and private lessons are offered from a team of experienced coaches. While classes will stop after December 28, the rink will remain open until January 3.