Edinburgh’s Christmas ice rink, Lidl on Ice, was one of the few attractions that was able to stay open last year amidst late-stage pandemic restrictions that had theatres, cinemas, and other gathering places close their doors at the busiest time of year.
The open-air, pop-up rink had relocated from St Andrew Square to George Street, after an absence of two years from the annual Christmas festival. We had fun skating up and down what was more of a slinky ice track in the historic New Town setting (read our review of Lidl on Ice 2021). At the same time, the skating experience left room for improvement.
This year, the temporary Christmas ice skating venue is back in the same location at the Charlotte Square end of George Street, but the rink configuration is significantly changed. What’s more, the new Edinburgh’s Christmas organiser, UniqueAssembly, appears to have learned from some of the shortcomings of last year’s skating experience and introduced some welcome improvements.
Times have changed in the space of a year in terms of Covid-19 fears, and the first obvious change is that this year’s rink is covered. Protection from the elements, given Scotland’s damp winter climate, means there’s less weather risk when booking ahead.
The one drawback is that although you are aware of the Georgian buildings on either side of the rink, you can’t fully appreciate the romance of gliding down George Street in the open air. With its cream-coloured roof it feels like more of an indoor experience. Organisers say that next year the roof will be transparent, so that you can enjoy those iconic New Town views as you skate, especially toward West Register House.
Inside, the decor is very much in keeping with the season with multi-coloured lighting and classic Christmas tunes drifting over a backtrack of scratching metal blades on glassy ice and the thwack of bodies crashing into the side panels. Minimally decorated Christmas trees line the sides of the ice, with strings of white lights and disco balls spinning above the ice adding to the festive atmosphere.
The rink is a significantly different shape this year - a more traditional, rectangular design measuring 65m (213 ft) by 15m (49ft): more of the available street space is used for the rink itself, doing away with the platform for drinking and dining for non-skaters like last year.
Instead, a red-carpeted cafe-bar, at the East end of the rink, has mulled wine, hot chocolate and, of course, beer. There’s also a brightly lit carousel and spinning chair ride on the same block right beside the cafe-bar.
The rink can get busy, but on the ice it feels like there’s more space for skaters. Skaters move now in the same direction, in a kind of oval shape around the centre. There’s a long, central paddock with Christmas trees in it preventing skaters from cutting across the ice and two small islands at either end of the rink around which skaters pass through on either side.
Up to five or six people can skate comfortably abreast, compared to last year which was more of a two-way street where if you were skating with any more than two or three people together, you ran the risk of colliding with someone coming the other way.
The sides of the rink are straight and long enough that you can get a good amount of speed up, and the route is more predictable for those who are more tentative on the ice. My 10 year-old and 14 year-old certainly appreciated the new configuration.
Our party was also impressed by the quality and smoothness of the ice compared to last year. Not only was the ice surface dry, without too much loose, frosty “snow”, but it felt less corrugated, more polished. According to Edinburgh’s Christmas, the ice-grooming machine smooths the ice after every session and certainly it showed on our visit. Incidentally, sessions start on the hour and last 40 minutes each. There are special sessions for toddlers and also relaxed sessions. For younger and inexperienced skaters there are penguins for hire, which provide some stability as you skate around, although the £5 rental price seems a tad steep.
Skates are provided as part of the session and this year’s skates seem better, at least, the buckled skates I had this year were newer than the lace-ups from last year.
Also, more thought has gone into the changing process. Last year, it was fairly chaotic and there were puddles in the boot room, which meant we ended up getting wet socks. That wasn’t a problem this time. It’s more orderly and there’s a better seating area for swapping shoes for skates. It’s worth noting that there are also lockers (£1 each) for leaving bags.
As a festive, family outing this was a great success. We’re not the best skaters, but thanks to the wider and more predictable rink layout, we had a fun and memorable skating experience. A couple of hours well spent.
Time slots are for 40 minutes between 10am and 10pm, from 26 November to 3rd January 2022.
Prices vary depending on whether it's a peak (e.g. Saturday evening) or off-peak time (e.g. weekday afternoon). Edinburgh residents with an EH postcode get a discount.
There are special times for toddler and relaxed sessions.
£10-£16: (£9-£15 concession)
Resident (with EH postcode): £8-£12.80
Penguin skating aid: £5