15Feb2013

Ice Skating in Beijing

Ice Skating in Beijing-13

When it comes to ice skating, like everything else, the Chinese do it differently. Very differently.

And ice skating in Beijing is really something else. Especially on Qianhai Lake.

PLA soldier guarding ice bikes.

It’s not just the unavoidable presence of the PLA, whether riding ice dodgems, guarding ice bikes, administering the ice slide or guarding the ice skates.

The Chinese Army is the single biggest employer in the world, and they need to put that manpower somewhere.

Ice Skating in Beijing-16

It’s not just the robot-powered ice rickshaws, undoubtedly the most unnerving thing I’ve seen or heard in three years of travel. They’re musical, you see. Yes, they are singing, walking Chucky-esque robots.

Honestly. Would you entrust your child to this?

Ice Skating in Beijing

Although the ride-on skating animals, that one propels with a pair of pointy sticks, or a parent or grandparent trudging lovingly behind, are also kind of freaky.

Ice Skating in Beijing-4

The ice carriages are kinder, and make an excellent snack table.

Ice Skating in Beijing-5

It wouldn’t, of course, be China without a bit of live entertainment on the ice…

Ice Skating in Beijing-7

Neither of us had ever skated on natural ice, let alone in the retro white lace-up skating boots they still use in China. While I stuttered along, feeling every ridge, every crack, every embedded stick, terrified of breaking an ankle, Zac was, pretty much, in his element.

Ice Skating in Beijing-6

Though I like to think even I was marginally more stable than this guy…

Ice Skating in Beijing-15

I loved this little girl taking her turn at pushing her grandpa on an ice chair.

Ice Skating in Beijing-10

And these tinier tots enjoying their different rides… And, yes, that guy is about to fall over. That’s kind of part of the fun.

Ice skating in Beijing: little kids enjoying their skating chairs.

Zac, naturally, loved the ice slide…

Ice Skating in Beijing-11

And the soldiers who were administering it clearly loved watching the kids have fun.

Ice Skating in Beijing-12

One of the best things, though? Just watching everyone have so much fun, out in the fresh cold air, framed by birches and lanterns, enjoying a place that would have been reserved for the Emperor and his court back when Qianhai was part of the imperial pleasure gardens.

Ice Skating in Beijing-17

And if you’re in Beijing in winter, I thoroughly recommend you try it.

Perhaps accompanied by some candyfloss as big as your head.


Want to go ice skating in Beijing? There are two separate skating grounds on Qianhai Lake, one that is well groomed and only for skaters, another that is larger, less well-groomed and includes all ice toys. Head south from Gulou Dajie station (Line 2 and Line 8) and it’s a few hundred metres past the Drum and Bell Towers — cut right through an alley.

Payment for all activities is by a prepay card that you buy at the ticket desks: the card ONLY works on the skating area that you have chosen, but all unused charge is refunded at the end. Just charge your card at the ticket desk, head onto the ice and pay for what you want once you’re there.

Tickets to get on the ice cost 15RMB Monday to Friday daytimes, and 20RMB on weekends, holidays and evenings. Unlimited skate hire is 20RMB plus 100RMB deposit; unlimited ice carriage hire costs 20RMB plus 30RMB deposit; the ice bikes, which are excellent fun, cost 40RMB per hour plus 50RMB deposit; and the ice slide is 5RMB per turn.

For more on things to do in Beijing, click here.

20 Comments

  1. Yvette says:

    Hahaha looks awesome!

    I saw a few of these contraptions last year when all the canals in Amsterdam froze, though definitely more a homemade, spontaneous kind of thing around here. My favorites were the mom pushing her kid in a stroller as she skated along and the kids who sold hot chocolate with shots of liquor for a Euro extra from their stand, because something stupid like liquor laws never kept the Dutch from making a buck. :)

    • Theodora says:

      I still can’t believe the amount of stuff they have here in China for playing on the ice. Although — it’s a long, hard winter up north. Love the notion of the Dutch just skating spontaneously along their canals….

  2. Talon says:

    Okay, those Chucky-esque things creep me the hell out.

  3. Conrad says:

    This made me smile and for the first time want me to go to China – like every dutch of a certain age I can skate, badly, but just imagine me, there, The King!

    • Theodora says:

      This is what I really love about China. Not the big tourist stuff, which is incredible, but the sheer every day bizarreness and alien-ness of it, for all its urban sophistication and wealth.

  4. Beijing is one of my favorite cities but I would have never thought to visit it in the winter because it is so cold.

    Your pictures gives me a reason. Thanks for blogging about this.

    • Theodora says:

      I actually really like China in the winter. Beijing IS cold, but it’s dry cold, or snow and ice cold, rather than that horrible greyness you can get in Europe. Had some absolutely stunning bright, clear days while we were there…

  5. Steve says:

    Happy memories of doing this in Chaoyang Park. Last year in Changdian Taoranting Park they didn’t separate the ice skaters and the zorbing balls, creating a dangerous game of ten-pin bowling…maybe that’s why the military are overseeing it this year.

    • Theodora says:

      And this is precisely what I love about China. That no one sat down and said, “Hmmm… zorbing and ice skaters! Maybe we should put a fence up!”

      Zac drove a mini-tank on the ice on the river in Harbin, through this assault course with high ice walls. No helmet. On a tight turn, he went up the ice wall, could have flipped the entire thing over onto himself if he’d been going fast. And no one, but no one, has ever looked at that and thought, “Hmmm… tanks… kids… ice… Maybe we should get some helmets?” (And body armour, possibly. It wasn’t a light tank.)

  6. Wait… those aren’t little kiddies pulling the rickshaws!!?! Damn, that IS creepy.

  7. Larissa says:

    We were there in summer, and enjoyed boating on Beihai Lake with the locals. . . this looks like the winter equivalent. Lots of fun–and love the way you did the photos!

  8. I remember seeing these in Harbin and thinking that people were nuts for doing that. Is there not a monument to all the people who have died in that river?!?! Beautiful red touches, too!

    • Theodora says:

      There’s the flood control monument, in Harbin, so, yes…

      These are actually from Beijing, where we still are on the blog, because it’s taking a while for my writing to catch up with my life…

  9. Yeah I agree with you…those ice rickshaws are scary. Great photos, I love the red color effect.

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