Skating in the great outdoors is a marvellous pursuit, free from harsh arena lighting and odours wafting from the change rooms. In Toronto, you can glide underneath the Gardiner Expressway or zip around a winding trail next to Lake Ontario, play a game of shinny in High Park or twirl outside of City Hall.
As an ex-figure skater with a history of dragging friends of every skill level to rinks all over town, I can proudly tout that I know the ins and outs of the city’s free outdoor skating options. Here are my top eight picks.
The Bentway Skating Trail
Twisting between the hulking concrete trestles of the Gardiner Expressway, the Bentway is situated in a locale unlike any other skating spot in Toronto. For its inaugural season, a slew of events (weather permitting) are programmed to take place along the one-kilometre trail, including ice breaking workshops, Friday DJ nights and free figure skating lessons. When you need a break, grab a hot cider and take a breather in one of the warming centres (aka, converted shipping containers).
Ideal for: The urban explorer the approximately 70,000 folks that live within a 10-minute walk of the trail.
Monday to Thursday and Sunday 11 am-9 pm. Friday and Saturday 11 am-11 pm. Skate rentals (from 4 pm Monday to Friday, weekends all day) $5-$10, free on Mondays. From Fort York to Bathurst.
Set against the shoreline, Ontario Place’s brand new 600-square-metre rink isn’t actually made of ice, but a solid polymer material designed for regular metal-bladed skates. After an evening of skating, check out a winter light exhibition featuring 12 installations by local artists and then warm up around the bonfire near the rink.
Ideal for: Skating-and-a-movie date nights. The Cinesphere now has IMAX screenings on Friday, Saturdays and Sundays.
Monday to Thursday 6-10 pm, Friday 6-11 pm, Saturday 10 am-11 pm, Sunday 10 am-8 pm. Skate rentals $5-$10. 955 Lake Shore West.
Grenadier Pond in High Park
Located in the southwest corner of the park, it’s one of the city’s most pictureseque skating spots. Two years ago, council lifted a 14-year ban on skating on the pond and implemented an ice monitoring program where experts test the thickness of the ice daily. A red flag means the ice is unsafe yellow means skate at your own risk. Check the flag status online before you go at toronto.ca/skate.
Ideal for: Skaters who can withstand the cold – proximity to the lake means it gets blustery.
No skate rentals. Southwest corner of High Park.
Nathan Phillips Square
Sure, evenings and weekends get pretty crowded, but it’s worth the visit. This downtown cornerstone is popular with both locals and tourists, families, couples and the odd figure skater doing corkscrew spins in the middle of the rink. If you prefer a quieter atmosphere, stop by on a weekday during lunch hour.
Ideal for: People just as happy sitting on benches drinking hot chocolate as they are actually skating.
Daily 9 am-10 pm, Skate rentals, $5-$10. 100 Queen West.
In the winter, the splash pad transforms into a 920-square-metre rink, with views of Lake Ontario and the downtown skyline.
Ideal for: Architecture buffs. The park, designed by landscape architecture firm Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, and the striking zinc-clad pavilion by Teeple Architects, have both won design awards.
Daily 9 am-10 pm, no skate rentals. 61 Dockside.
Colonel Sam Smith Skating Trail
Before there was the Bentway, there was the Colonel Sam Smith Skating Trail. Its two interlocking loops are surrounded by trees, bushes and long grass poking through the snow, a scene that’ll make you forget you’re only a 15-minute drive from downtown.
Ideal for: Balmy days – the ice is artificially cooled so no worrying about puddles.
Daily 9 am-10 pm, no skate rentals, 65 Colonel Samuel Smith Park Drive.
Dufferin Grove Park
The two rinks at this park are perfect for skaters of all stripes. Along with public skating, there’s designated ice time for shinny for kids, adults and a women’s-only game, as well as a skate aids for beginners. The local clubhouse has a snack bar, wood stove, games and lockers.
Ideal for: Skaters of every skill level. Both rinks have boards, which is crucial for beginners who can only stop by crashing into them.
Daily 9 am-9 pm, see shinny schedule online at dufferinpark.ca. Skate rentals, $2. 875 Dufferin.
For more than 30 years, Torontonians have flocked to this spacious rink that’s practically on the lake. After a day of skating, grab a coffee and snack at the rink-side restaurant, Boxcar Social.
Ideal for: Skaters who want to bust a move. Every Saturday evening there are DJ skate nights.
Sunday to Thursday 10 am-10 pm, Friday and Saturday 10 am-11 pm. Skate rentals $6.25-$12.50. 235 Queens Quay West.
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