Ice Rinks in London: What’s the Atmosphere Really Like?

We’ve long loved an annual whirl around Somerset House and, more recently, have missed the icy madness of Parliament Hill. …

We’ve long loved an annual whirl around Somerset House and, more recently, have missed the icy madness of Parliament Hill. Yup, the festive rink has swiftly become an iconic tradition of winters in present day London.

So at this year’s first opportunity for an icebound teetering bonanza, we headed down to the Natural History Museum, excited kids in tow.

The first thing to note is that being in charge of two under 5s on ice is a high stress business. An intense initial half-circuit of tears, screaming and slippery dramas later, we’d hastily sorted out a system of taking turns, and were then just about able to enjoy the simple pleasure of gliding around the rink basking in the golden tint of a crisp autumnal morning.


Virtually everyone is rubbish at ice skating. It’s a sport for which very few take any instruction before attempting, so the average rink is an amateur free-for-all. And there’s nothing like an unusual physical challenge to lay bare a few unbecoming traits in grown adults.

Pent-up frustrations, petty ego issues, reversion to childhood temper tantrums; all were highly evident around us. And yet they felt that bit more incongruous when set to a jolly seasonal soundtrack with a picture postcard backdrop.

‘Don’t you know there’s a children’s area,’ a well-dressed woman hissed at me through passive aggressive clenched teeth as she wobbled past on our inside lane.

The squeals from the 50% of skaters who were real children had now become mainly of delight, while the adults seemed to be descending further into performance-related bitterness and rink rage.

Soon my daughter and I came up upon a body, sprawled lifelessly on the hard ice. As she finally sat up and composed herself, the woman, probably in her late 50s, let out a tirade about the young girl who had ‘completely cut her up’.

We carefully pushed our penguin onwards past this charming scene to a more positive corner of the ice, the traffic already thinning out as the adults quit early, already fixated on a pre-midday mulled wine.

The little one’s rapid progress continued and the only remaining drama was at having to leave the ice when the session was over. But then there’s a strategically placed merry-go-round for just that purpose.

The organised chaos of London’s seasonal ice rinks is certainly a load of fun and you really will feel like a child again. Just be careful what direction that emotion takes.

Day and night skate sessions at the NHM until 6th Jan. Similar hours at other locations too. Early booking advised at all.

Words & pics: Tom Kihl

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