Finland in the Bronze Age must have been a grim, cold, pitiless and mostly an incredibly boring place.
Hunt, farm, fish then hunt again. Skin some animals, eat what’s left, wait for a few hundred years so the Swedes and Danes can invade and bring something to do with them. That’s pretty much it. Not even any runes to read before turning off the night campfire. So it’s easy to imagine a fur-draped, fluffy Finnish individual in this time, finally done curing a reindeer or something. Looking up, he sees just how far he has to trek back to his hut over a frozen lake, with his fragrant new carpet dripping down his back, and hurrumphs in a manly fashion. As he starts trudging across the ice – which hopefully won’t break like it did underneath poor Aantero two moons ago – he slips on a bone, travels a metre and lands flat on his behind. And lo, ice skating was born. Strapping bones to each precursor Ugg Boot, our hero invented ice skating and noblemen, farmers, royalty and first daters have been slipping and slaloming over patches of frozen water (also animal fat in some warmer places before refrigeration) to greater and lesser success ever since.
In honour of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia next month; here are ten of our favourite outdoor rinks and lakes to strap on some stainless steel (or bone, if the story made you feel a little medieval), laugh and trace circles in the ice with your favourite people. Or if you like it a bit faster, carve furrows like you’re being chased by Danes. On horses.
Red Square Ice Rink, Moscow
Brilliant for tourists, skating in the Red Square allows you to combine visiting one of Moscow’s most famous and picturesque landmarks with acting like a complete child, gaily slipping and sliding all over Russia’s biggest skate rink. And if you’re in town while the Winter Olympics are on, even though Sochi is over a thousand kilometres away, winter sports will be especially popular and exciting.
FlevOnIce , Netherlands
The longest ice skating rink in the Netherlands at 5km, if you like marathons then FlevOnIce is where to go. It’s a one hour drive from Amsterdam (you can also get a train) in the town of Biddinghuizen, so you should make a day of it.
Central Park, New York
New Yorkers and visitors alike agree, there’s nothing quite like serenely meandering over the ice of Wollman Rink in Central Park, with the famous Manhattan skyline right behind you. Frozen for your skating pleasure on the south side of the park. Trees and panoramic cityscapes included.
Beaver Lake, Montreal
Lac des Castors if you’re French speaking, which Montrealers of course are. This is the locals’ favourite place to skate, and it isn’t hard to see why. Beaver Lake is on top of the mountain from which the town gets its name, Mount Royal, and the fact that the city stretches out below you is brilliant. Best enjoyed with the family, skating at Beaver Lake is an amazing day out with the kids.
Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Valencia
This year the shopkeepers around Valencia’s most famous square clubbed together to build an ice rink in the heart of town. While the rink closed a few days ago for the year, make sure to keep your ears to the ground (don’t get frostbite though) to see if it will make a return in 2015, because it’s a unique and beautiful place to skate.
Hotel de Ville, Paris
The most popular rink in town, and for good reason. The ice skating outside the Hotel de Ville in Paris is free, has a smaller children’s area and opulent 19th century architecture as a backdrop. We advise coming in the evening, when the buildings light up in all their glory. As a night-time skate here is possibly the most romantic thing to do in Paris, and Paris is the most romantic city on earth, this is a top contender for the single most romantic thing you can possibly do. Valentine’s Day idea-seekers take note.
Honourable mention must also go to the Eiffel Tower Ice Rink. It isn’t in action every year however, the last one was 2012, but who knows? You may be able to ice skate atop Paris’s most famous landmark next year.
Munich Ice Magic, Munich
credit: Mark Simons
Grab your earmuffs, pull on your big clumsy gloves and head to Bavaria’s favourite frozen puddle for figure-eights. Muenchner Eizsauberi in Munich’s frankly beautiful to behold shopping district is a huge hit with locals and visitors. Delicious and warming cups of glühwein from the stalls that encircle the rink probably help too.
Tower of London, London
There are a few contenders for best ice rink in London (our other favourites are at Hampton Court Palace, the Natural History Museum and Somerset House), but the Tower of London comes out trumps because of being a singular and unique location. With the ancient and forbidding walls of the ancient Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress looming over you, you can almost feel the thousands of years of history seeping into your feet through your skates.
For as long as humans have been rearing children, we’ve known that getting kids to do something fun and physical will send them to bed quickly and happily. If you find yourself in Copenhagen then make sure to take them to Genforeningspladsen for a day of twirling, chasing with snowballs and collapsing into an exhausted pile of childhood memories. It’s a really big area so they’ll have plenty of space to flail wildly, or whiz passed you.
So we’ve come full circle and ended where we begun, with a Fin and some skates. Helsinki’s Ice Park is the hottest meeting point in town, and a great way to experience Finnish culture and meet its people. And as the people of Finland drink more coffee per capita than anyone else in the world, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a coffee shop afterwards to warm up.
So there it is, ten of our favourite places outdoors to skate. Make sure to check opening times, especially for non-Scandinavian places as they are open for shorter periods every year.
There are two certainties this time of year: no one loves turkey enough to eat it three days running and holiday adverts are ready to roll the minute midnight strikes on December 26th. And why not? If you weren’t one of the lucky ones who found their stocking filled with ‘get out of winter free’ cash on Christmas morning, planning a holiday could just be compensation enough to make up for the disappointment.
But if you’re as cynical as I am about the endless ads where sweet, cherubic toddlers daintily sip organic juice on remarkably deserted beaches while their equally gorgeous parents lounge nearby looking so relaxed they could quite possibly be dead, you’ve probably already been on a family holiday or two. You’ll know that for every romantic dinner and charming child photo-op there’s a sun, sea and surveillance flipside. And experience will tell you, the secret of harmony, peace and relative calm, is good forward planning and choosing the best spots early.
credit: Jess Pac
So – with still a few shopping days till Christmas – here are my 5 top family holiday destinations for 2014. I’ve mixed it up with beaches and cities, picked with an eye on a wide choice of family-friendly holiday rental accommodation and tried to cover most of the bases.
NEW YORK CITY – FOR TEENS AND TODDLERS
New York basically looks as if it was built for the sole purpose of training superheroes and does attitude as standard so it couldn’t be more perfect for the average world-weary teen. Think they’ve seen it all? Take them up a few of the taller buildings, into Lady Liberty’s hat or for a compulsory sail on the Staten Island Ferry (it’s free) and your teen can think again. And that’s before you even get started on the stores, streets, snacks and the utterly self-assured New Yorkers themselves. What might be a little less obvious is how good New York can be for tinier travellers and teens-in-training. The city’s approach to parenting is as determinedly competitive as just about everything else it does. So you can’t swing a buggy without hitting puppet shows, ferry rides, zoos, funfairs, circuses, bike rides in Central Park, gargantuan toy shops and an almost endless supply of interactivity.
DUBROVNIK – FOR ALL ROUNDERS
Between the beautifully quaint prettiness of its Medieval Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), ideal Mediterranean climate and Adriatic beaches, Dubrovnik’s a grown-up city where children fit perfectly too. Don’t let the relaxed, shorts and sandals dress code deceive you, Dubrovnik is ancient and cultured and has a 45 day Summer Festival of art, music, drama and spectacle to prove it. When it’s not actively entertaining, the city is still walkable and wonderful to explore. Beaches, islands, forests, gardens and parks tick all the child-friendly boxes. And a few days in the company of the unfailingly polite and charming people of Dubrovnik and you’ll soon see why one of the city’s most historically renowned exports is Diplomacy.
CRETE – FOR ESCAPISTS
Crete might be the largest of the Greek Islands, it’s certainly one of the best known, but if you avoid the big beach crowds there’s still plenty of unspoiled adventure to be had. Mountains of all shapes and sizes make the perfect escape routes for hiking, walking and climbing. The main beaches come complete with cafes and bars but, pack a picnic (local food markets are part and parcel of a Cretan holiday), and you’ll find coves and bays to call your own. There are safe waters for swimming, caves to explore, gorges and valleys to conquer, cycle routes for all types of cyclists and countless places to just stop and stare. The Greek Islanders are famous for their child-centred lifestyle and that easy, relaxed attitude is effortlessly extended to visitors.
VALENCIA – FOR CITY TYPES
Spain’s third largest city used to languish in the shadow of Madrid and Barcelona but that’s all changed. Valencia is as fresh and smart as Barcelona, with just as much going on as Madrid and – because third always comes with a complex – the city tries harder every which way. Sure you’ll find all the galleries, museums and monuments you could possibly wish for, but if you’re with tech-savvy small travellers Valencia goes all out to interactively entertain. I can guarantee you’ll be roped into more than one visit to the city’s innovative Biopark, you might as well get a season ticket for the aquarium and if you’re not renting next to the Science Museum make sure you’re on a direct transport route. And – like all Spain’s major cities – Valencia loves to shop, eat out, party and stay up late, so grown-ups get a big chunk of a holiday here too.
CORSICA – FOR THRILL SEEKERS
credit: cremona daniel
Cliffs, coves and corniches are the three ‘C’s’ that define Corsica. It’s one of Europe’s most exciting destinations for travellers who like their cycling with hard climbs and hairpin bends, don’t want crowded beaches and won’t give a village a second look unless it’s precariously balanced on a crag. A small enough island to enjoy every aspect, Corsica does resort style beaches as easily as secluded coves. Sea caves and sailing are almost compulsory. Towns, characterised by elegant plazas and pristine architecture , are very French but with plenty Italian in there too. Small villages range from remote and mysterious in the heart of the mountains to hanging over the sea round the island’s rugged coastline. And because eating is second only to climbing and cycling here, the food is wonderful, fresh, local and you’re expected to make a meal of every meal.
So here ends my top five family holiday recommendations for 2014. But since it’s not even Christmas 2013 yet, I’m bound to think of a few more to add to the list before the year’s out.
Featured image by jonmartin ()
If your children are animal lovers, care for a treasured pet or deliver heartfelt speeches on the terrible effects of whaling on the sperm whale population; they’ve probably already told you that today is World Animal Day.
To celebrate a day of caring for the cute and fuzzy, the feathered and winged, even the scaly and slimy; we’ve put together some pictures ideas for your next holiday break, if you want to centre your holiday around getting your little activists enthused about some of the amazing creatures to be found in all corners of the globe.
When some animal rights lovers think of a zoo, they sometimes think of dank, dark cages and sad animals in wretched captivity. But the truth is that many zoos around the world are beautiful places to live, dedicated to animal conservation and providing their fluffy guests with plenty of room to roam and live free-range, as it were. These are some of the best.
Chester Zoo, Chester, England.
credit: Adam Foster
Tiergarten Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria
National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Bronx Zoo, New York City, United States
Berlin Zoological Garden, Berlin, Germany
credit: Tambako the Jaguar
Apart from the only way for many of us to experience incredibly tough to spot deepwater fish (such as the rarely-seen-in-captivity Sunfish which you can find in Valencia or Lisbon) – and the slow, otherworldly elegance of the earth beneath sea-level, aquariums are homebase for many marine biologists, whose jobs are to try and keep the oceanic ecosystems in balance.
Dubai Aquarium and Discovery Centre, Dubai, U.A.E.
The Deep Aquarium, Hull, England
credit: Bruce Stokes
L’Oceanogràfic, Valencia, Spain
credit: Jofre Ferrer
Turkuazoo, Istanbul, Turkey
Oceanário de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal
Featured image of Squid, the HouseTrip office dog, by reversepanda.
There are many good things about a brand new year. It gives you a chance to wear your new Christmas socks, the opportunity to write a list of resolutions you will enjoy mostly ignoring, and an occasion to start planning a fun in the sun holiday for you and the family for the coming summer. While we doubt you need help putting your socks on, and we probably couldn’t help you keep any New Year resolutions (unless they are to visit somewhere new), we can help you consider some warm and exciting holiday destinations for when the sun rears its shiny head.
Here are our top recommendations for family fun in Spain this summer.
Valencia has to be one of Spain’s best locations for satisfying children of all ages while keeping the adults entertained too. It doesn’t suffer from the intense heat of the south of Spain. The relative cool of the Valencian region and city is thanks to the welcoming sea breeze blowing in from the nearby Balearic Sea. In addition to the nearby beach – voted one of Lonely Planet’s Top 10 City Beaches – the city has the BioParc Zoo, and many interesting sights inside the striking City of Arts and Science such as an open-air oceanographic park, brilliantly set up to be explored by bike.
City of Arts & Science © JosSoria
Once just a run-down coastal town with plenty of history, but perhaps not enough beauty to entice holidaymakers, Alicante has undergone something of a facelift over the past decade. You could now mistake its luxurious expansive marina and elegant waterfront promenades as distant cousins of those found in Nice or Monaco. The old town remains quaint and quirky, with narrow hilly streets full of lively family-friendly restaurants. And a walk up to the Castillo de Santa Barbara is rewarded with some stunning views. For a history lesson you should head out to explore the Roman ruins at the nearby town of . For some added culture you could easily spend a few hours in the Museu de Fogueres – which explains the local Fiesta de Saint Joan that revolves around costumes and fire – or the Museo de Bellas Artes Gravina, a collection of fine art housed in a beautiful 18th century villa and its grounds.
Playa de San Juan © César Poyatos
Elaborate architecture, guaranteed sunshine, one of the largest churches in the world and all situated in the heart of Andalucía, Seville has much to offer those in search of summer culture. But what about fun, particularly for the little ones? A day at nearby Isla Magica should keep them smiling for a while and it’s not unheard of for adults to enjoy this colourful theme park too. A Sevilla Card gets you free admission to Isla Magica, most of the city’s museums (a popular one with visitors is the Flamenco Museum) and also includes a trip on most public transport and cruises on the Guadalquivir River. Refuel your family with some of the local tapas dishes that the region is so fiercely proud of.
Isla Magica © Mario Seekr
Southern Spain’s gateway to the Costa del Sol, Malaga is in an area that provides exactly what the name says it will – miles of beaches and long sunny summers. But beaches can only keep you entertained for so long, which is good news because Malaga has many more ways to keep families entertained. Discover how locals live, eat and shop by visiting the lively Atarazanas market; open every morning except Sundays. Then burn off the olives, ham and cheese you may have nibbled on by walking up to the Alcazaba fortress looming over Malaga, where you can easily convince your kids they’re lost in a small jungle when they enter the tropical garden grounds.
Malaga beach © MarkyBon
Foreign visitors for the beaches closer to Barcelona often overlook one of Catalonia’s almost secret destinations, Salou. Yet this town on the Costa Dorada has been keeping Spanish holidaymakers happy for a long time. Once a Greek and Roman port, it’s now well set up to keep families entertained, with the nearby Port Aventura theme park, traditional fishing villages to go back in time, Go Karting Tracks and even Jeep Safari tours available to those who think relaxing is too dull. Of course, we think there’s nothing wrong with relaxing, and beaches along the Golden Coast welcome the dull and adventurous just as warmly. It’s also worth letting the kids stay up after a Catalan dinner to see Font Illumina all lit up on the Jaume I Promenade. Pure magic!
Cybernetic fountains, Salou © Joaquim F. P.
A good idea when planning a trip to Spain in the summer is finding out when a family friendly fiesta is taking place. So if running with the bulls or being in the world’s largest tomato fight is a bit too much excitement for your young ones, consider the fact that almost every single city, town, hamlet and village in all of Spain celebrates at least one major fiesta in the summer time. Olé!
First image © oooh.oooh