(Or, in my case, glide less than gracefully into the barrier, arms flailing in a desperate attempt to stay upright.)
Vienna has a delightful habit of taking traditional experiences like ice skating and giving them a glorious setting that combines modern convenience with ambiance and authenticity.
And so it is with the Wiener Eistraum (Vienna ice dream), where the Rathausplatz and park, overlooked by the imposing Rathaus (city hall) itself, turn into a giant ice skating venue from late January to early March.
Rinks and romance
There are 8,000 m² of ice, equivalent to the biggest-sized football pitches. Which is good, because the Eistraum attracts a lot of visitors: around 650,000 in 2016, for example.
And the best thing is – it’s not all one big chunk of ice.
True, there is a main rink directly in front of the Rathaus, which is impressive. But the uniqueness of the experience comes from the ice skating routes that wind their way romantically among the park and trees, linking to two smaller rinks.
If you’re uncomfortable on skates, help is at hand. The main square also has a (free-to-use) rink reserved at weekends – and during the day on weekdays – for both small children and large beginners.
All lit up at night, the whole venue makes quite a sight, and there’s also musical entertainment courtesy of Radio Wien.
Never fear if you forgot to pack your skates, either. There are hundreds of pairs available for hire, as well as lockers and even free helmets for kids. Children on the practice rink can also use penguin supports for free as they get used to the ice.
Check the official website for up-to-date prices and opening times (usually from around 10am to 10pm). You can also book one of eight curling alleys (“sheets”) online for weekday evenings.
Skate and eat
Like most events on the Rathausplatz, such as the summer film festival, food and drink are a big part of the experience. Actually, in Vienna, food and drink are a big part of just about any experience.
The central area has a number of high-quality stands featuring a diverse range of tastes and styles, from traditional Viennese winter fare and imperial desserts to organic and vegan dishes, and more exotic options for the curious or adventurous visitor.
There’s also an indoor multi-level seated area, so you can enjoy watching others test their skating skills against the elements while you relax with a beer and grilled pork.
How to get there
The event is easily reached by public transport. The trams 1, 71 and D stop right outside (the stop called Rathausplatz / Burgtheater). Alternatives requiring a short walk are…
Tram: Lines 2 (get out at the Stadiongasse / Parlament stop), 49 and 46 (both Dr. Karl-Renner-Ring), 37, 38, 40, 41, 42, 43 and 44 (all Schottentor)
Subway: U3 (get out at Volkstheater) and U2 (get out at Rathaus or Volkstheater)
Bus: 1a (get out at Schottentor) and 48a (Dr. Karl-Renner-Ring)
Address: Wiener Eistraum, Rathausplatz, 1010 Vienna
Website: https://www.wienereistraum.com/ (with a full English version)
P.S. If the Wiener Eistraum is too crowded for you, you can always try the Eislauf-Verein near the Konzerthaus. The open-air rink has less atmosphere, but perhaps more space.
(Top photo credit: © stadt wien marketing)