It’s that time of year again when the crisp weather and festive cheer conspires to make us overcome our fear of falling and take to the ice. All around the world there are extraordinary ice-skating rinks that will satiate your need for exercise and architecture. From a loop in front of Mies van der Rohe’s Chicago skyscrapers to a twirl beneath Le Grand Palais’ glass dome, here are 12 of the world’s most beautiful ice-skating rinks. This year, don’t skate anywhere less than spectacular.
GUM Ice Rink, Red Square, Moscow
Moscow’s main ice-skating rink is an architectural feast, bookended by the multi-coloured curlicues of Saint Basil’s Cathedral and the baroque towers of the State Museum. Skaters can also take in Lenin’s Mausoleum and the glass-roofed GUM department store as they twirl around the rink. Covering 3000 sq m with capacity for 500 people, it’s one of the city’s biggest winter attractions.
Maggie Daley Park, Chicago
It only opened in 2014, but Chicago’s downtown skating ribbon has already become a central fixture in the city’s winter schedule. Designed as part of the Maggie Daley urban park by architect Michael van Valkenburgh, it is a rolling loop of ice that not only provides a skating challenge but also extraordinary views of Chicago’s shimmering skyline.
The Depot, Minneapolis
Originally built in 1899, The Depot was designed to house the trains that travelled the Milwaukee Road line. The last train left in 1971, but the historic building has been given a new identity by The Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel as one of the most unusual ice-skating rinks in the United States.
Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto
Nathan Phillips Square is at the centre of Toronto, positioned just in front of City Hall, and was designed in 1965 by the same architect Viljo Revell, with help from landscape architect Richard Strong. The square is full of sights, including Henry Moore’s The Archer, a sculpture of Winston Churchill and a reflecting pool, spanned by the Freedom Arches – which have a piece of the Berlin Wall sunk into the base. In winter, the pool turns into a beautiful ice rink, allowing visitors to skate around history.
Somerset House, London
Rather like the first sighting of the Coca Cola advert, for Londoners the opening of the Somerset House ice-skating rink marks the start of the festive period. Once the site of a Tudor palace, the current Neoclassical building dates back to the 18th century, with a vast central courtyard that is transformed, between November and January, into one of the most romantic ice rinks in the city.
The Samuel J and Ethel LeFrak Center, Brooklyn
New York’s big name ice-skating rink is, of course, the Rockefeller Centre, but if you’re prepared to leave Manhattan, Brooklyn can offer something very special in Lakeside Prospect Park. The 2013 design by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects is the first new building added to the park since the 19th century and it is beautiful. One highlight is the blue underside of the rink’s roof – carved with swooping lines of silver.
Rosa Parks Circle, Michigan, USA
Designed by artist Maya Lin – who has just won the Presidential Medal of Freedom – this plaza was built in 2000 as a memorial to one of Michigan’s most famous residents, the civil rights activist Rosa Parks. It’s also a multipurpose outdoor facility for concerts in summer and an ice-skating rink in winter. The romance of the location is upped at night by the carefully designed lighting – Lin included 166 fibre optic lights beneath the ice that mirror the starlit winter sky above.
Liège Ice Rink, Belgium
If you’ve ever wanted to know what Jonah felt like when he was swallowed by the whale, then we’ve got the place for you. The 2012 brainchild of architecture firms Bureau d’Etudes Weinand and L’Escaut, this dramatic silver building is covered in 200,000 shimmering aluminium scales, while a ‘whale head’ dome at the back forms the entrance to the car park. The playful exterior conceals a serious purpose – an Olympic ice-skating rink spanning 1800m2, seating an audience of 1200. But when not hosting competitions, the ice rink is open to the public.
Kayseri Ice Rink, Turkey
Nine miles outside the Turkish city of Kayseri sits one of the more unusual ice-skating rinks on our list. Built by Istanbul architecture firm BKA in 2009 and open all year round, the site features a 2000m2 rink lit from overhead by hanging disc lamps and strip lighting. Both the exterior and interior are bright white, with windows carved in amorphous shapes and filled with multi-coloured glass.
David S Ingalls Skating Rink, by Eero Saarinen, Yale University, USA
This ice-skating rink is an architectural classic. Built between 1953 and 1958 for Yale University, it was named for its principal benefactors, a father and son who had both been captains of the Yale hockey team. The 3,500 capacity building – commonly known as The Whale – cost $1.5m to build, more than double the original estimate. The rink was targeted during the Black Panther trials in 1970 – two bombs were set off in the building during a protest concert being held inside, shattering the glass doors and cracking the roof.
Pyongyang Ice Rink, North Korea
Opened in 1982, with seating for 6,000 people, this futuristic structure was the first indoor ice rink anywhere in the DPRK and remains, to this day, the largest in the country. The 61m-long and 30m-wide rink plays host to ice hockey games, figure skating and speed skating contests, which all take place under the watchful gaze of large posters of the ‘Glorious Leader’, Kim Jong Un. According to Lonely Planet, the rink can ‘sometimes be visited’.
The Grand Palais, Paris, France
From when it first opened in 1900 Paris’ Beaux-Arts monolith has taken on innumerable guises – hosting art exhibitions, fashion shows, sports competitions and, every winter since 2012, the biggest temporary ice rink ever built in France. The combination of the glass domed ceiling and spectacular light shows make it one of the most dramatic skating experiences in the world.
Read next: Berlin’s best swimming pool architecture