7 natural ice skating destinations

Richard Mellor 

From Canadian commuter canals to strikingly blue Alaskan lakes and places for Kiwi kite-skating, here are the world’s best natural ice rinks.

Rideau Canal, Ottawa, Canada

Rideau Canal Ottawa Canada

When conditions allow, a five-mile stretch of central Ottawa’s Rideau Canal becomes the world’s largest natural ice-skating spot.

Expect Ottawans to promptly descend en-masse: figure-skating past Parliament, contesting impromptu hockey games or merely commuting to work.

The canal is even floodlit at night, with hot chocolates and cinnamon-topped BeaverTail pastries on sale. This year’s unusually warm winter has so far nixed any fun, but hopes are high that February’s annual Winterlude Festival will go ahead.


Old Danube, Vienna, Austria

Old Danube, Vienna, Austria
Image via Jordan Ink 

The Old Danube is a former branch of Europe’s second-longest river, now dammed off from the original and become a shallow lake.

Some winters it freezes over. In such a happy event, many Viennese go twirling upon the ice, merrily ignoring signs that say the pursuit’s at their own risk.

From the city centre, take the U-1 metro line seven stops to Alte Donau.


Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm Sweden ice skating

Come the chilliest Stockholm winters, most of this archipelago city’s waterways solidify, the ferries stop and locals take to gliding between islands.

It’s not exactly allowed, but not completely forbidden, either. Safety-wise, the brackish ice’s salt content makes it less dangerous in that it cracks very slowly.

Even so, take some safety equipment and warm clothes, just in case. Or book a 5-to 9-hour tour with local firm Iceguide.


Östergötland and Södermanland, Sweden

Södermanland ice skating
Image via Jarl Adventures

Further southwest, another Swedish option is an excursion across the wild lakes of Östergötland and Södermanland.

Placid in summer, they transition into gorgeous, crystal-clear ice come the cold months, and are far-flung enough to guarantee ample space.

Guided, multi-day trips are available through the British tour operators.


Keystone Lake, Colorado, USA

Keystone Lake Colorado
Image via Family Trek 

A good one for families, Keystone’s ice is cleaned and smoothed by Zamboni resurfacing machines and comes surrounded by shops, restaurants, hotels and spa options. The views aren’t bad, either: snow-topped mountains and forested slopes. Skates can be hire, as can pucks for a game of ice hockey.


Kenai Lake, Alaska, USA

Kenai Lake Alaska
Image via Coast magazine 

Depth. That’s why this vast lake boasts such an incredible, deep blue sheen. America’s northernmost state has many skating-ripe locations, but none can beat Kenai.

A 25-mile epic skate is possible in perfect conditions, but global warming makes that wholly unlikely. However much ice forms, Kenai remains very much a wilderness-skating option, so bring ample safety kit and don’t try it alone.


Lake Joux, Jura, Switzerland

Lake Joux Jura Switzerland
Image via NBC Photo Blog

Being small has its perks. 

While other Jura lakes in the French-Swiss border region are bigger and deeper, Lake Joux’s shallow waters enable it to freeze over much more reliably, with the Jura Mountains creating a gasp-inducing natural amphitheatre.

Hence the keen post-Christmas crowds, the skate-hire shops and the various food-and-drink vendors.

Access is easy by car or train from across the Lake Geneva region.


Lake Lyndon, Canterbury, New Zealand

A glacial lake in the middle of Porters Pass which typically ices over every few years, Lake Lyndon is an easy day trip from Christchurch.

Bring a camera, too, for the Craigieburn, Torlesse and Big Ben ranges all loom majestically above.

Another South Island option is the three-mile-long, aptly-named Lake Clearwater, where wind funnelled down through surrounding mountains enables a rarely-witnessed sport: kite-skating.