There are lots of Christmas-themed fairs all over the UK, but the biggest and best remains London’s Hyde Park Winter Wonderland.
Disclosure: We received passes to attend the Winter Wonderland press day. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.
This was our fourth visit in the last five years and the experience gets better every time. With over 100 rides and attractions to choose from, everyone will find something that appeals to them.
Our day out
Winter Wonderland is more than a brief diversion for a couple of hours. It’s a genuine family day out. We arrived shortly after 10am and didn’t leave until 5pm – and only then because we wanted to have a proper sit-down meal and see the Christmas lights in the West End before heading home.
For youngsters, there are smaller fairground-style rides and you can take them to visit Santa’s Grotto. Munich Looping, the world’s largest mobile rollercoaster, is the big draw for thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies. (Naturally, our youngest, Kara, immediately singled it out as her ‘must-do’ ride.) And kids of all ages, from 5 to 95, can enjoy the 70-metre high Ferris wheel, the largest transportable wheel of its kind in the world.
Now that our kids are a bit older (11, nine and seven), we spent our visit focussing more on the rollercoasters. But my favourite thing of the day was the Magical Ice Kingdom that tells the story of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in the form of ice and snow sculptures. (Warning: it is Arctic-level cold in there!) We went from there to watch the Zippo’s Circus show. Okay, there was no Hugh Jackman or Zac Efron. But the performance included some great acts and offered a welcome opportunity to thaw out in the heated and spacious Circus MegaDome.
What else did we do? Virtual reality represents the next evolution in ride-based thrills. We tried the Doctor Archibald ride, which offers an immersive – if slightly surreal – VR experience. (It didn’t work for me as I had to take off my glasses for the ride, but the kids enjoyed it.) And some of the more traditional rides offer VR upgrades, just in case the rides themselves aren’t thrilling enough already.
And there’s more …
The above filled out a six-plus hour visit, relatively little of which we spent in queues. And then there’s all the other things we didn’t do.
We decided the Paddington on Ice and Mr Men and Little Miss shows were a bit young for our children. And we didn’t stay long enough to check out the evening Cirque Berserk and Comedy Club – but I have heard from others who did go to these that they’re good fun.
I have the balance and grace of an arthritic elephant, so the UK’s largest ice rink wasn’t for me. And, as I was driving, I refrained from partaking in beer and gluhwein – although I was sorely tempted given the chilly temperatures.
Even if you don’t want to shell out for the big rides – you’ll scream at the prices as much as the loops, drops and turns – there is plenty else on offer. Foodies will enjoy the extensive and truly international street food selection. There’s karaoke for the budding X Factor contestant in your family. And, of course, more traditional fairground games and Christmas market stalls.
Like I said, there’s something for everyone.
And the entire park comes to life once the sun goes down. This is when it’s at its busiest and the atmosphere is buzzing. Everywhere you look, you are surrounded by splashes of colour and garish neon lighting. It makes the Las Vegas strip look like a dimly-lit back alley.
It’s enough to bring out the five-year-old in even the most jaded of adults. If you haven’t experienced Winter Wonderland before, don’t settle for a pale imitation. Make a day or a weekend of it, do a few rides and shows and generally soak up the experience. Lose yourself in a land of child-like wonder. You deserve it.
10 tips for your visit to Winter Wonderland
Here are ten tips to help you make the most of your trip to Winter Wonderland.
- Do your research. Especially if you want to take in the shows and major attractions where you have to book time slots. You can get tickets on the day but avoid disappointment by booking in advance on the website.
- Book off-peak time slots. All the major attractions are significantly cheaper if you’re willing to book slots earlier in the day.
- Don’t drive. Parking in central London is a nightmare at the best of times. Arriving from the west, we park at the Westfield mall in Shepherd’s Bush and it’s then a simple tube or bus ride (Central Line to Marble Arch or the 94 bus).
- Dress sensibly. It’s November/December. Hyde Park is a wide, open space. To say it can get quite chilly is an understatement, so wrap up warm. Also, while there is hard-wearing temporary flooring throughout, you don’t want to be wearing six-inch heels. Some of the rides also have rollers and wobbly floors in the queuing line where you’ll really want to be wearing flats.
- Take a small bag. Or better still, no bag at all. The bag-check queues can be long and you don’t want to be constantly lugging a big bag on and off the rides.
- Agree a meeting place. It’s easy to lose your bearings. Agree either a central spot to meet, or one of the colour-coded entry gates. Better still, download the what3words app to your phone, and you can send out your location to within three metres.
- Don’t worry about food. There are dozens of food stalls and bars, offering everything from waffles to shawarma and from hot chocolate to gluhwein. Expect to pay festival prices, though, so you may still want to bring your own.
- Set a budget. Winter Wonderland is categorically not cheap, so brace yourself and plan accordingly. A peak-time family ticket for Paddington On Ice will set you back £80. (Other shows are more in the £50 range.) And while the big rides definitely deliver the thrills, expect to pay up to £9 per person for the privilege. (£10 for the big wheel.) However, the upside is that high prices keep the queues short, so you won’t spend hours freezing in line.
- Leave the fairground stalls to the end. Honestly, do you really want to be carrying an oversized soft toy around with you all day?
- Keep an eye on your valuables. It’s a busy, crowded place. You’ll be looking around constantly. Stay vigilant. Don’t spoil your day by making yourself an easy mark for pickpockets.
Most of all, though, enjoy your visit. We had a great time at Winter Wonderland. You will too.
Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland is open from 10am until 10pm every day until January 5th. You can find out more on the Winter Wonderland website.