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How to have a great skate at Rockefeller Center Ice Rink

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The most important things I learned on my first visit to the Rockefeller Center Ice Rink.

I probably should have known that skating at the Rockefeller Center ice rink would be spectacular. As in, a complete spectacle. What can I say? I don’t watch the Hallmark channel or rom-coms so honestly had no idea how crazy New York City is about Christmas! I did know about the Rockefeller ice rink though. It’s been a bucket list skate for me for a long time.

What I learned trying to get tickets and get onto the ice is that’s a whole production. So if you’re dreaming or planning to go skating at Rockefeller Center, here is an honest review with things you need to know to have the best time!

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Skating at the Rockefeller Center ice rink
Photo by Johnell Pannell via Unsplash

The Rockefeller Center Ice Skating Rink is a big deal

New York calls this rink the world’s most famous skating rink. I don’t know if that’s true. (Ahem, Rideau Canal in Ottawa!) But still super famous. Also really old.

The Rockefeller rink first opened on Christmas Day in 1936, as a temporary attraction. It was so popular they made it permanent in 1939. It’s been featured in many movies and TV specials over the years including high-profile scenes in Elf and Autumn in New York.

The rink also gets plenty of shine from being right beside the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. With that backdrop, it’s a very beautiful spot to skate. I’m not a Christmas person but if you are this seems like second only to the North Pole for Christmas vibes.

How popular is the the Rockefeller Center Ice Skating rink? More than 250,000 people skate here each season. Thankfully not at once!

Endless Possibilities

Reserve a timeslot in advance.

You can’t just show up and skate. And it’s not free.

To manage those quarter of a million skaters, the rink allows access in one-hour timeslots. They clear the ice in between slots.

Tickets go on sale in advance, and prime times do sell out: Christmas eve, early evenings, and weekends in December for example. I bought mine a month before my December weekend trip, and many slots were already non-available. For the most availability, try in the morning. You don’t get the pretty Christmas tree lights though!

They claim that “a limited number of immediate-access Skate Now tickets are available at The Rink Box Office each day” but I didn’t try my luck with that.

For January, February and March tickets to the Rockefeller ice rink there is much more availability.


Skating at Rockefeller Ice Rink is expensive

Ticket prices start at $21 for anyone over age six but go up to $73. “Tots’ under six will cost $11 to $37 but also require an accompanying adult ticket. The cheapest slots are early mornings, with the highest price on evenings closer to Christmas. Skate Rentals are additional $11.

Sidenote: did you know you can bring ice skates carry-on on planes? I guess we have hockey players to thank for that. But in the USA and Canada it’s allowed. So I actually packed my own ice skates for my Rockefeller ice rink skate and saved the rental fee.

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Expect crazy crowds

The number of people on the rink is controlled, which makes for a nice amount of space to go around. But to get yourself into the rink in December? Crazy!

The crowd on surrounding streets, and right in front of the rink entrance was one of the most dense I’ve ever seen on my world travels. Everyone is trying to get up close to that beautiful tree. I found it tricky to push past everyone to get to the entrance. And the security guards were managing entry, only letting ticket holders in a few minutes before their time slot, so there’s no point in going too early.

Enjoying the Rockefeller skating rink
Fuzzy but feeling the magic!

The skating itself is really great

All those disclaimers aside, skating at the Rockefeller Center ice rink was actually pretty awesome.

Once I got inside, it was easy and quick to lace up and hit the ice! It was in good condition, and not too crowded. It’s all lit up in blues, greens and reds. They have a lot of staff to help with newbie skaters too.

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I also appreciated that the music wasn’t all Christmas tunes. When they played “Close to Me” by The Cure I was about as happy as I get!

The view of course is spectacular, with the famous 100-foot tree glistening in multi-coloured lights towering right above you. And on the other side, you can glimpse some of the Saks 5th Avenue light show.

Rockefeller Center ice skating during the day
Photo by Marc Ruaix via Unsplash

Is Rockefeller Center Ice Skating worth it?

I’m used to skating for free. I get that the Rockefeller Center Ice Skating rink is a big attraction, but $75 CDN is a lot of money for an hour of rink access. I did it because it was on my bucket list.  And I’m glad I did.

Rockefeller Center Ice Skating is not just an ice skate it’s a whole experience.

I really enjoyed my time on the ice. It was actually one of the calmest spots I found in New York City in December, once you got down away from the crowds. And really, there’s no alternative ice rink if you want this kind of vibe, it’s a unique place.

I felt the magic!

Know Before You Go

  • The Rink at Rockefeller Center is located at Fifth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets.
  • Open daily from 9am until 11pm.
  • It opens in November – before the tree is installed. So if you want the tree, wait until after the tree lighting ceremony (dates vary).
  • It usually closes in March but that depends on the weather. It looks like for 2024 it closes March 24.
  • Advance tickets here: https://www.rockefellercenter.com/buy-tickets/the-rink/
  • Tickets are non-refundable.
  • There are no in-and-outs.
  • If you’re late, you still have to leave at the end of the hour so you just get less time to skate.
  • Lockers are free. You’ll need them since you can’t take anything onto the ice that doesn’t fit in your pockets. No backpacks or big purses. And everything is subject to search on your way in.
  • An accessible entrance is located just west of 5th Avenue on 50th Streets, through the lobby of 620 5th Avenue and down the elevator to the concourse level.
  • They sharpen skates for $20. Get there 20 minutes early if you want this done before your skate.

    Happy skating!

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