Christmas comes to London town with sackfuls of seasonal cheer at the sparkling spectacular that is Winter Winterland. Set amid the splendour of Hyde Park, it’s a fabulous feast of festive frivolities for all the family.
Now in its seventh year, Winter Wonderland has become one of London’s best-loved seasonal highlights. Wrap up warm and take a wander around its magical world of twinkling lights where there’s excitement at every turn, whether you fancy a swirl down the helter-skelter, a merry cantor in a reindeer derby or a munch on a marshmallow stick dipped in warm melted chocolate. Yum!
From the moment you step through the decorative welcome arch, you will be dazzled by the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas. There’s strictly no room for Bah Humbug here.
There are over 50 attractions to choose from, including an Ice Rink and the Magical Ice Kingdom, and there’s plenty to see as you explore. Most of the terrain is flat and level, with only gentle inclines, so it’s relatively easy to navigate with a buggy, although the crowds at busy times are likely to slow your progress, especially if your buggy is on the big side.
If you start to feel the chill, seek out one of the covered seating areas with heating to warm up; there are also benches where you can perch while you sup a warming hot chocolate. As you sit, you can soak up the atmosphere and enjoy live music ranging from pop to disco to rockabilly and German oom-pah bands – not to mention endless renditions of all those favourite Christmas songs you’ve heard a thousand times before. Oh, I wish it could be Christmas every day…
There’s plenty of shopping opportunities at the Fairy Christmas Market (on the thoroughfare that leads from the main entrance at Marble Arch) and the Angels Market with wooden ‘chalet’ stalls selling everything from crafts and handmade decorations to wooden toys, ceramics, candles, jewellery and gifts galore. Forgot to bring your hat? Don’t worry: treat yourself to a faux-fur Davy Crockett number and buy cosy comedy headgear for your toddler that transforms her into a cheeky woodland creature into the bargain – and definitely keep her ears toasty.
The Zones Santa Land is the area best suited to small children, with gentle rides and Santa’s Grotto. The Arctic Circle is decorated with giant white snowman and polar bears, and features a host of cool, icy themed attractions including the Magical Ice Kingdom, and the Alpen Hotel Fun House. Alpine Adventure has thrills and spills with high speed roller-coasters and white knuckle rides (the names of the XXL and the Xmas Maus XXL Rollercoaster are a bit of a giveaway), while the Nostalgic Victorian Fair is home to more traditional carousels and roundabouts, including the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups, and the Helter-Skelter.
• Santa Land is the perfect haven for little ones as it’s quietly tucked towards to one side and is an enclosed space for toddlers to explore. There are gentle rides, including a carousel and roundabouts for mild thrills and the Santa Express train that chugs merrily around Santa Land. For the slightly more adventurous, there’s mini flying chairs, a twirling penguin ride and an activity fun house with lots of dangling punch bags and moving walkways to navigate. There’s also Penguin bumper cars with considerably shorter queues than the Snow Drifter bumper cars in the Alpine Zone – a handy tip on busier times! You can also visit Santa’s Toy Factory to see the elves at work, and meet the man himself. And in the true spirit of giving, there’s no charge to visit the grotto, which is open daily from 10am–6pm – Santa even has a sackful of goodies to give away every day, while his stocks lasts!
* For kids who like indoor play centre style fun, head to one of the many ‘fun houses’ which feature obstacle course trails with foam shapes to punch, moving walkways, spinning discs and mirror mazes (Yes, think toddler-style Wipe-Out assault courses, though in our experience the youngsters sail through – it’s the grown-ups they leave behind who are suffering dizzy spells and vertigo). Our favourites, for ages 4+, are the Irrgarten Mirro Maze, complete with a gallery of distortion mirrors that causes much hilarity, the North Pole Fun House and Alpen Hotel.
• The Magical Ice Kingdom is a bit like a icy art gallery showcasing sculptures crafted from snow and ice, curated on a theme of myths and legends where you can wander a forest of fabled creatures (unicorns and dragons), pose behind a frozen mirror, sit on an ice throne or try your luck at pulling the sword Excalibur from its icy stone. Of course, all the icy art comes at a cost: the temperature is a constantly chilly -8°c so you can definitely see your breath. There’s also an ice slide which kids and adults alike queue for – wear a shiny coat for the most speedy descent and expect a soggy bottom afterwards!
* Located around the picturesque Victorian Bandstand, the Lycamobile Ice Rink is the UK’s largest outdoor rink where you can twirl and pirouette – oh, and possibly take a tumble – to a live musical soundtrack. There’s no age restrictions for the hour-long sessions, but the smallest skates available are size 9 (European 27). Although there’s no skating aids (like the clever ‘penguins’ that waddle around the kids’ zone at Somerset House Ice Rink), they do have double-bladed skates to help youngsters balance (available on a first come, first served basis).
• Zippos Circus performs two shows up to 8 times daily: their ever-popular daytime show for all the family, Zippos Christmas Circus has a Caribbean theme, while the Cirque Berserk is a more contemporary affair, starring some of the most dangerous circus acts in the world, including the jaw-dropping Globe of Death where three motorbikes roar furiously at the same time at up to 60mph, all the while encased in a small steel globe. The brand-new custom-made Mega Dome, which stands over 65ft tall, is also heated making it a perfect short-term haven from the chill.
Dining tables Whether you fancy a hale and hearty hog roast, a bite of bratwurst at the Bavarian Great Hall or a warming hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows to go, there’s plenty of food and drink options at venues across the site.
Top Tip Winter Wonderland gets very busy during peak times and queues for rides can be long (up to an hour for the most popular attractions). If you can visit midweek and early in the day, you’ll find it less crowded. It gets dark from around 4.30pm, so you’ll still get to appreciate all the lights without the late crowd. There are also concessions on fees for big attractions, like the Ice Rink and Magical Ice Kingdom, at off-peak times (November 25–28 and January 2).
THE PRICE TAG Entrance free. Rides from £2 each. See website for prices for Ice Skating ; Zippos Circus; Magical Ice Kingdom and Big Wheel. Family tickets available; advance booking strongly advised.