When the worst of winter arrives, some people hibernate on their couches with Netflix and a bottle of wine. Heartier souls, though, embrace the weather, charging outdoors to enjoy the pinpricks of wind on reddened cheeks while taking deep breaths of cold, fresh air.
If you count yourself in the latter group, few activities in the Washington area can compare to ice skating. Beyond the joys of exercise and being outside, it can serve as the perfect way to let children burn off energy, or make for the ideal seasonal date — after all, doesn’t ice skating practically demand that you hold hands?
With that in mind, we assembled a list of six of the region’s best outdoor ice rinks, featuring a few extra ways to turn these outings into a day with the kids or a date night with your sweetheart.
Seventh Street and Constitution Avenue NW. $8.50, $7.50 age 12 and younger, age 50 and older and students with ID. $3 skate rental. Open through March 12.
The most picturesque rink in Washington offers views of John Russell Pope’s magnificent National Gallery of Art building, and the chance to see sculptures by Louise Bourgeois and Alexander Calder while whizzing around the ice.
Its central location on the Mall means it’s popular with tourists and families, as well as groups of young professionals — similar to the crowds who flock to the free summer Jazz in the Garden concerts. The scene is especially pretty at night, when the ice is ringed by glowing lights. The Pavilion Café offers snacks, mulled wine and beer if you need a break.
Family outing: If the kids still have energy to burn after two hours of skating, they can explore the sculpture garden or race across the Mall to the carousel in front of the Smithsonian Castle. In inclement weather, head indoors to the National Gallery, which offers free self-guided family audio tours, or next door to the National Museum of Natural History (10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW), where families can immerse themselves in the Butterfly Garden, Insect Zoo or the Hall of Mammals.
Date night: The sculpture garden is just a few blocks south of Penn Quarter and Chinatown, making it easy to follow skating with happy hour, barbecue and a free country or blues show at Hill Country BBQ (410 Seventh St. NW) or a few games of Skeeball and Pop-a-Shot basketball at Penn Social (801 E St. NW). Plan ahead, and you can make a reservation for dinner at José Andrés’s Peruvian-influenced China Chilcano (418 Seventh St. NW) or the inventive Indian restaurant Rasika (633 D St. NW), a fixture on Tom Sietsema’s best-restaurants lists.
3050 K St. NW. $10, $9 children, seniors and military. $6 skate rental. Open until March.
The largest outdoor ice rink in Washington covers 11,800 square feet of real estate on the Georgetown waterfront, which means it doesn’t feel crowded even at prime times. Those who feel a little wobbly on skates don’t need to worry (as much) about running into people.
It’s a popular destination for college students from Georgetown and George Washington — admission is $2 less with a student ID on Thursdays — as well as tourists. A DJ spins from 8 to 10 p.m. on Saturday nights, and admission is two-for-one from 4 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays.
Family outing: Georgetown’s historic Tudor Place (1644 31st St. NW) mansion is decorated for the holidays, with a 1945 theme that you can see on daily family-friendly tours. The Pinstripes bowling alley (1064 Wisconsin Ave. NW) at Georgetown Park has different deals depending on the day: Weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon, children age 12 and younger bowl for $3 per hour while parents bowl free; on Sundays, kids eat for half-price after 5 p.m.
Date night: The rink is surrounded by restaurants, including the classy seafood-and-cocktails destination Fiola Mare (3100 K St. NW) and the beachy, happy hour-friendly Orange Anchor (3050 K St. NW). It’s not that far of a walk to Chez Billy Sud’s Bar a Vin (1039 31st St. NW) for cheese plates and French wine by the glass.
For a more festive seasonal vibe, head up Wisconsin Avenue to Martin’s Tavern (1264 Wisconsin Ave. NW), the oldest pub in Georgetown, where even the large fish mounted over the door is covered in ribbons, tinsel and greenery.
600 Quiet Waters Park Rd., Annapolis. $6, $5 age 60 and older and ages 4 to 12; free age 3 and younger. $3 skate rental. $6 daily vehicle entry to the park. (Cash or check only.)
Many of the Washington area’s outdoor ice rinks are located in town center settings, which is a win-win for the developers of open-air malls: They get to offer a popular community asset while also luring skaters to a destination where they might do a little last-minute shopping at Williams-Sonoma or the Apple store after turning in their rented blades.
Okay, maybe the holidays are making me a little cynical. But this all-too-common scenario is what makes skating at Quiet Waters Park so appealing. The large, smooth ice rink is set in the middle of a 340-acre county park, surrounded by trees and a lake, so you actually get to enjoy the great outdoors, not a faux-urban environment. No wonder Quiet Waters is a popular destination for local families and teens, some of whom wear their school’s hockey shirts.
It’s a little too cold to enjoy the picnic areas with views of the South River, but Quiet Waters has a visitor center with art galleries, a small cafe and a dining area.
Family outing: Point your car toward Sandy Point State Park (1100 E. College Pkwy.), where the annual drive-through Lights on the Bay features more than 70 illuminated displays — some of which are 3-D — ranging from Annapolis scenes to the North Pole, and a scavenger hunt with prizes.
Date night: Quiet Waters is only a 10-minute drive from downtown Annapolis, making it easy to extend your day. Window shop on Main and West streets, which are festooned with holiday lights; sip eggnog or Irish coffee at the cozy Galway Bay pub (63 Maryland Ave.) on Sunday afternoons when Irish musicians perform, or have dinner at Preserve (164 Main St.), a year-old restaurant serving pork and sauerkraut and traditional chicken pot pie in a hip, stripped-down setting. Rams Head On Stage (33 West St.) has several holiday shows booked this month, including two by celtic/bluegrass/klezmer band Scythian on Dec. 18.
131 Gibbs St., Rockville. $9, $8 age 12 and younger. $4 skate rental. Open through mid-March.
The largest outdoor rink in Montgomery County — although at 7,200 square feet, it’s smaller than the National Gallery of Art and Washington Harbour rinks in the District — sits in the middle of Rockville Town Square.
Regular events include Happy Hour Wednesdays, with specials at more than a dozen nearby restaurants and bars, and a monthly Friday night skating costume party. The next one, Jan. 6 from 6 to 10 p.m., is retro-themed.
Family outing: Rockville’s landmark VisArts Center has a pop-up on the square (36 Maryland Ave.) that hosts regular arts events for children. On weekend afternoons, kids can visit Santa’s Workshop to create ornaments or sign up with parents to build a gingerbread house. (Registration is required.) The weekly Fantastic Friday is a no-adults-allowed painting and drawing session for ages 5 to 12. Most of the restaurants around the rink have kids menus.
Date night: Rockville Town Square’s streets are lined with restaurants and pubs, as if designed for a moveable feast. Have Korean fried chicken at Bonchon (107 Gibbs St.) before going for a pint of Guinness at Finnegan’s Wake (100 Gibbs St.) where they’ll have live music if you’re lucky. Split a pizza at Mellow Mushroom (33A Maryland Ave.) then walk around the corner to sample the house-made brews at Gordon Biersch (200 E. Middle Ln.). Cap the night by watching a film in a recliner at the Regal Cinema (199 E. Montgomery Ave.).
1201 S. Joyce St., Arlington. $9, $8 age 12 and younger and age 55 and older. $4 skate rental. Open through mid-March.
Stop by Pentagon Row’s rink right after work, and you’ll find it full of small kids pushing penguin-shaped stabilizers around the ice to maintain balance, while their older siblings glide past them. After dinner, the crowd shifts toward singles and couples who live in nearby apartment buildings.
When you need a break, order a cup of tea at Capital Teas or grab hot chocolate or coffee from Starbucks — both located next to the rink — and take a seat by the stone fireplace and its flickering gas flames.
Family outing: There aren’t a lot of nearby activities targeted toward children other than the food court at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City (1100 S Hayes St.), which might be a good place to refuel. Options range from McDonald’s to Shake Shack.
The new Earth Treks rock climbing gym (1235 S Clark St.) in Pentagon City has family programs on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons.
Date night: Located steps from the rink, Sine Irish Pub (1301 S Joyce St.) has a decent happy hour with $3.50 beers and nightly food specials. For the holidays, it’s covered with twinkling lights and festive ribbons.
1961 Chain Bridge Rd., McLean. $10, $9 children, seniors and military. $6 skate rental. Open through early March.
If you take Metro to Tysons Corner Center, it’s impossible to miss this large rectangular ice rink, which sits on a public plaza between the station exit and the mall entrance. It’s surrounded by clusters of all-weather couches and gas-fueled fire pits for warming up before or after a turn on the ice.
Customers are often families who decided to go skating while finishing their holiday shopping. Kids show up on Saturday mornings to skate with popular cartoon characters, but the crowd gets older later, when a DJ spins from 7 to 9 p.m. as part of the weekly Rock & Skate. College students get a $2 discount on Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m.
Family outing: Take advantage of one of the largest malls in America. Children can visit Santa, build custom figures in the Lego Store, browse through American Girl, climb on the playground or watch a 3-D or Imax movie at AMC Theatres.
Date night: A tented-and-heated après-ski lodge has sprung up on Barrel + Bushel’s (7901 Tysons One Pl.) patio next to the ice: Think long tables topped with throw blankets and Pinterest-friendly reindeer-and-pinecone centerpieces. Happy hour, which runs from 2 to 7 p.m., includes discounted cocktails, craft beers and sharable appetizers; hot toddies and warming drinks are also available.
The revived TenPenh restaurant (7900 Westpark Dr., McLean), known for its Asian-fusion mix of dim sum snacks, bao buns and Peking duck, is on the other side of Route 123. Tysons Biergarten (8346 Leesburg Pike), which is a five-minute drive or one-stop Metro ride, has a heated outdoor festival tent where you can order American craft or traditional European beers and, on weekends, listen to live music.