Right, it’s Christmas, which means you’re thinking about going ice skating. A grim looking pop-up rink has appeared in a car park on your commute. You’ve been staring at the same Groupon ice-skating-plus-mulled-wine offer for a week.

Look, it doesn’t have to be this way. If you’re going to go ice skating this winter, do it properly. And as usual “doing it properly”, means “doing it in Amsterdam”.

Aw, someone's done a big heart in the ice there. Flickr image courtesy of Yorick_R

Because sure, Amsterdam has its pop-up rinks. And yeah, they’re good! ICE*Amsterdam in the museum district, with the Rijksmuseum as the backdrop, is stunning. They even have their own Winter Wonderland style set-up in the Leidseplein. But really, neither of these compares to skating over Amsterdam’s canals, to the soundtrack of classical music, with pop-up stalls serving hot toddies and Dutch delicacies; a brilliant and unique way to see the city.

Full disclosure: this isn’t possible every year. We’re talking about an entire body of water freezing here, so it does have to get pretty cold. Thankfully, the Dutch know when the canals are right for skating. If the mercury drops below minus-four degrees, for four nights consecutively, then you’re in luck. If conditions look right, traffic gets blocked from entering certain stretches of the canal to allow the water to freeze.

Nearly there. Flickr image courtesy of Arden

Now, there are advantages and disadvantages to this kinda of guerilla-ice-skating. The real hurdle you have to overcome is finding somewhere to rent skates, but the city has you fairly well covered for that.

Also, if you’re a beginner, then starting out on one of the pop-up rinks might be wise, just so if you do clatter to the floor, you do it surrounded by graceful European in high-vis jackets on-hand to pick you up and dust you down.

The only other thing to remember when canal skating is to be careful underneath the bridges themselves, as the ice is slightly thinner, and generally don’t go anywhere the locals aren’t. Trust us though, if the canals are frozen, they’ll be full, and you’ll know what’s safe and what isn’t very easily.

Flickr image courtesy of Mobileinformationlab
Flickr image courtesy of Wisse

Over two days in Amsterdam a couple of years ago, spent on my own and with absolutely no money, I fell totally in love with the city. I walked along the canals, I bought books and drank beer in the Jordaan district, I sat on top of the science museum and looked out over the whole city – the best view you’ll get. I fell instantly and overwhelmingly in love, in that brilliant way you do when a new city just feels right. 

But at Christmas time, the relaxed atmosphere so ingrained into the city’s identity dials itself down even more, and bedecked in Christmas lights, it confirms its title as Europe’s most beautiful city. So when you consider shelling out a small fortune for 20 minutes of skating round an urban pop up rink, take a breath, and think about booking a weekend break instead.

Header photos from Arden and Yorick_R

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