When the temperature drops, any true aficianado of winter wants nothing more than to grab their skates and hit the rink. The New East has some of the most gorgeous and Insta-friendly spots on the planet. Here are our picks of the most iconic locations on offer.
Situated in VDNKh, a Stalinist trade show exhibition centre, this open-air behemoth is one of the biggest artificial rinks in Russia. Rather than the standard rectangular shape, it’s divided into zones, with ice “paths” taking up the entire central alley of the park. The rink is a good option if you’d like to skate among the relics of Soviet excellence: VDNKh houses a model Soviet space shuttle and examples of the USSR’s most iconic architecture, from Brutalist apartment blocks to the detailed decorations on the fair’s pavilions, and the giant Worker and Kolkhoz Woman sculpture — all lit up in surreal neon lights with a soundtrack of Christmas songs and tacky Russian pop music. What more can you ask for? There are several cafes to warm up (be prepared to pay double the standard city prices for hot chocolate) and you can rent skates and sharpen your blades on site.
Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw
This rink’s location is key: at the foot of Warsaw’s most famous high-rise, the Palace of Culture and Science (PKiN) — featured on the cover of Vogue and the subject of fierce debate on the heritage of Stalinist architecture. If you fancy skating while pondering the role that Communist monuments play in modern cities, this is the place to be. Make a day of it and go inside the Palace itself to explore the cafes, bars, and cinema inside; or brave the cold and go onto the viewing platform on top on the building. It’ll be windy and icy but the views of wintry Warsaw are worth it. Entrance to the rink is free and there are skates for hire.
City Park, Budapest
Budapest’s City Park ice rink is one of the largest and oldest (it opened in 1870) natural ice skating rinks in Europe. Situated against the fairytale backdrop of the 19th-century Vajdahunyad Castle, this regal rink is a boating pond during the warmer seasons. The site has a special connection ted to the person known as the grandfather of modern figure skating, American ballet dancer Jackson Haines. He performed here for Hungarian audiences in the 1870s, helping popularise ice skating among the locals. The ice rink has also hosted various speed, figure skating, and ice hockey competitions for the last three centuries. Channel your inner diva and take to the ice. There are Christmas market stalls around to have a mulled wine after.
Gorky Park, Moscow
This rink, the hipster skater’s go-to spot in Moscow’s Gorky Park, is a must if you’re visiting the Russian capital in winter. Similar to VDNKh, this ice rink is not just a rectangular slab of ice, but a network of icy paths and alleys that you can skate on as you explore the park — much more fun than just going around in circles. Go on a snowy evening as the park turns into a true frozen winter wonderland. Apart from the peaceful snowy paths there is also an array of light tunnels and flashing disco lights, while the occasional DJ spins Christmas and New Year tunes if you’re inclined to try out your dancing on ice. There is also a food court to warm up and recharge with a donut or two.
Situated 1,691 metres above sea level, the old Medeu open-air stadium hosts one of the highest ice rinks in the world. Surrounded by snowy mountain tops, here you skate among truly breathtaking views and in the wake of numerous world-record athletes. Indeed, the stadium is known as the “factory of record-breakers”, which some attribute to the clear mountain spring water that is used to make its ice, and others to the crisp air and inspiring nature all around. The stadium itself, built in Soviet times, is a beautiful Brutalist structure, and there are opportunies to try other winter sports — the Chimbulak ski resort is a cable car ride away — plus a hotel with a sauna if you’d like to spend a couple of days in the mountains.
Red Square, Moscow
Yes, this is the third Moscow location on the list, but that’s simply a reflection of Russians’ passion for skating. This is the most luxurious location, right on Red Square itself, in front of St Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, and Lenin’s Mausoleum, on the premises of Moscow’s deluxe department store GUM. The intricately decorated rink is on the smaller side, but knowing you’re a stone’s throw away from Lenin’s preserved body and President Putin makes it worth it. Around the rink there is a winter fair with hot drinks, snacks, and souvenirs.
For more hard-to-find spots in Moscow, St Petersburg, Tbilisi, Riga, and other cities, download our New East Travel Guide app. For recommendation on where to stay in Russia and beyond, check out our edit of amazing hotels and hostels across the New East.