Watching Yuna Kim look more delicate than an ice sculpture through a youtube live stream, binging romantic anime, or exploring your hometown's frozen lake in the winter months: everyone has different experiences as to how they fell in love with ice skating. On Canada’s Rideau Canal, ice lovers can have a memorable ice skating experience in the largest ice skating rink in the world!

Rideau Canal (or Canal Rideau, if you’re in Québec) is one of Canada’s most visited and beloved natural attractions - a tall order in a country full of them - a National Historic Site of Canada since 1925 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007.

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Canal Rideau

Located in Ottawa, Ontario, Canal Rideau starts at Lake Ontario and runs its course until the Saint Lawrence River, in Kingston, spanning more than 200 kilometers. It’s one of the only canals of the 19th century still fully functioning with most of its route and structures still intact.

The Canal was constructed between 1826 and 1832, following the War of 1812, because of fears that the United States’ Army planned to invade the then British colony of Upper Canada. As a precaution, the canal was built though it hasn’t been used in military operations since its construction, it was integral for the early economical development of early Canada, encouraging shipping and trade up until 1854.

Today, the Canal is mostly used for recreational purposes, like boat riding and, of course, skating.

The very first skating season at Canal Rideau took place in 1971, when a few NCC (National Capital Commission) members, following a proposed idea by a fellow member, took brooms and shovels and cleared the frozen track themselves. Thousands of people are said to have skated the nascent Rideau Skateway that day.

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Largest outdoor ice skating rink in the world

Come winter, the Rideau Canal becomes the Rideau Skateway, winding around Ottawa in over 7.8 kilometers, the largest outdoor and naturally frozen ice rink in the world according to the Guinness World Book of Records.

A chill in the air and the promise of snow will get many Ottawa natives and curious visitors eager for the ice - but merely that is not enough for the rink and Skateway to open. The Skateway opens every winter, but only after the ice has been properly prepared once the weather conditions are proper for it.

According to the NCC (who manages, prepares, and maintains the frozen Skateway portion of the Canal 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the skating season) it's necessary at least 10 to 15 days of consecutive cold, at least 10 to 20 degrees below zero for the ice to build the necessary 12 inches thick ice for the rink to be safe for skaters, who come to Rideau Skateway by the pound, around 20 thousand per day and nearly a million every year.

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Maintenance is kept every day, with NCC personnel clearing the ice of any snow or ice shavings, filling in cracks on the ice, or making sure the structure is always secure, for it main winter attraction in the city or not, the whole structure is still, at the end of the day, floating on water.

When the Skateway does open though, access is unrestricted, open all day long, and completely free to be explored by eager skaters. Stairs, ramps, and access are installed along with the rink, which has a surface area that is equivalent to a whopping 90 Olympic size skating rinks. That's a lot of ice to glide on, used and beloved not only by tourists and skaters but also by the local population was a quick (and let’s be real, extra fun) way to get to work in the colder months.

Along the icy road that makes up the Skateway, kiosks and little lodges are installed, rest areas, skate and equipment rentals, and plenty of hot chocolate stand to warm the ice-loving visitors that spend their days at the Rideau Skateway. An iconic presence is definitely BeaverTails, a Canadian fried dough snack topped with whatever you can think of - BeaverTail and hot chocolate at the largest ice rink in the world is probably the most Canadian leisure activity ever.

Rideau Skateway is also the main stage for the Winterlude in February - a Canadian winter festival held in Ottawa-Gatineau every year, celebrating the winter season with style - and a lot of ice. Tube riding, ice skating, the curling challenge and snow sculptures, ice carving, and ice dragon boat festival (Yes, that is a real thing!) are just a few of the Winterlude attractions.

As soon as the banners for the skating season come up and access is liberated, make sure to grab your favorite skates and head down to Ottawa for a next-level icy winter experience.

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