Over the past several years my family and I have criss-crossed the city trying out different ice skating rinks. I’ve loved it since childhood, when I would force my mother to drive from 2 1/2 hours to the nearest ice rink so I could pretend I was an ice princess. (I have a great picture of me trying to do an arabesque on ice — the minute my mother hit the shutter, I hit a chink in the ice and she captured me on my way down.)
This past weekend we went to a press preview of the Canary Wharf ice rink. We’d visited this one before in 2011 while reviewing a family weekend at the Four Seasons Canary Wharf. I keep hearing that the Wharf is transforming into a destination great for visiting with families. Just in the course of a year it’s become more bustling with children and parents and fun things to do.
This year, the Canary Wharf rink has changed from a big square skating space to a smaller main square and a little route – an ice lane that winds around a sculpture by Ron Arad that looks like a giant flying saucer, past the windows of the cafe (a pop-up Boisdale) and back to the other side of the main ice section.
While there’s less space for a triple salchow, going “round the lane” kept the kids entertained for most of our session. I like this part of town on the weekend as well because you’re not battling huge crowds. On Tuesday nights there are live jazz sessions, and you’re just above the big underground shopping mall, where you can also visit a Santa’s Grotto.
“I’m not going in to see Santa!” both kids kept saying as we queued to see the jolly one. “Oh yes you are!” my husband and I said firmly. Helper elves worked the line, entertaining the children. Eventually we were ushered into a small room decorated in a homey style with a tree, wooden toys and Father Christmas in an old fashioned white-trimmed robe.
He invited the children to sit on the bench and chair and had a good line in friendly patter about their names, if they’d written a wish list and if there was something they really want. There’s always the chance that an encounter with Santa is a forced cheer moment, but this one had a very nice feel and the children got age-appropriate books as little gifts after their visit.
The Olympics got all of us more accustomed to looking to East London for entertainment and activities. Transport via the DLR couldn’t be easier. If you haven’t considered skating in the shadow of skyscrapers rather than historic buildings, it’s time you tried.
Adults and over age 13 – £12.50; children under 13 years – £8.50; Family tickets for 1 or 2 adults and 3 or 2 children – £32.00
Open every weekend before Christmas and from Monday 17th to Monday 24th December, leave with an early Christmas present. There is no need to pre-book, but please do arrive early as the queue may close earlier to ensure that everyone queuing can see Santa before the Grotto closes at 5pm.
Natural History Museum Ice Rink – Out in front of the building, with a small area under an overhang for smaller children. A good idea, but we found this area quite dark with a “skating in a garage” feel. This rink’s in a great part of town, in the shadow of a beautiful building but gets busy. Through January 6, 2013
Somerset House Ice Rink – The classic spot to skate in London. You couldn’t ask for a more gorgeous setting than this 18th-century courtyard. There are skating lessons for adults and children, plus some DJ’ed sessions as well. Expect a lot more couples and teens. This has much less of a family feel but is still one to visit at least once. I wish they hadn’t gotten rid of the ice climbing wall!
Westfield London Ice Skating – A fun way to skate without worrying about inclement weather, while watching and being watched by all the shoppers. My daughter particularly likes this venue because “all the Christmas lights inside are festive!” This is perfect if you love the glitz and glitter of Christmas. Another bonus: you have a full range of snacks or meals in the mall to enjoy after your session and aren’t restricted to the ice rink’s offerings. Read my full review and see pictures of the rink.
Hampton Court Palace – It’s been several years since I visited this venue, set in front of Henry VIII’s former home — it’s less urban, more palatial. The children’s skating lessons are very popular so book well ahead. I remember thinking that the palace looked gorgeous but that the rink was set well away from it, compared with some of the other rinks that are right beside historic buildings.
Jenography and family were a guest of Canary Wharf. All opinions are my own.