“ Location: Hyde Park / London / W2 2UH „
'Winter Wonderland' is a temporary theme park type set up held in Hyde Park every year over the Christmas period. It's got a large ferris wheel, various rides, circus, ice rink and numerous festive stalls and food and drink vendors. In 2013 it opened on 22nd November is open everyday exclusive of Christmas day, until 5th January 2014. My work colleagues had been going on about WW the last few years, and seem to count down the days until it's on. So this year, I went on the first weekend to find out what all the talk was about.
We went to Marble Arch tube, and one of the entrances to Winter Wonderland is just a 2 minute walk from there. Other tube stops nearby are Green Park and Hyde Park Corner. Also easily accessible by bus and, well it's central London so you're never stuck for transport. Just don't drive, it makes no sense as you won't save any time or money and good luck finding that parking space.
The actual site is free to enter but don't be fooled into it being a nice free day out. All the attractions cost extra. Here's a few examples -
Ice Skating - Adult £10.50 (off peak) - £14.50 (peak) / Child £8.50 (off peak) £9.50 (peak)
Ice Kingdom - Adult £7.00 (off peak) - £9.00 (peak) / Child £5.00 (off peak) £7.00 (peak)
Giant Wheel - Adult £7.00 (off peak) - £8.00 (peak / Child £5.00 (off peak) £6.00 (peak)
Circus - Prices from £6
Fairground rides - average £3
There is a full price list for all the main attractions on the Winter Wonderland website including Family tickets and details of concessions. You can either buy tickets for the attractions online before you go and save yourself the queuing, or at the various vendors around the site which can get rather busy at peak times. As you can see it can easily add up to a costly day out.
What's worth doing /not doing?
I guess, it depends what you're into. There are a good selection of rides for thrillseekers which throw you up in the air and whizz you round at a million miles and hour, which if they has a 'pay once and everything is included' ticket, I'd probably taken advantage of but a £3 a go and a heap of queuing to boot... nah.
The ice skating is always a favourite at Christmas time, and of you're nearby or visiting anyway and fancy getting you skates on then why not? I wouldn't make a special trip, however. With lots of pop up ice rinks in and around London with much more impressive views and atmosphere such as Somerset House, The Tower of London and Hampton Court to name a few, Winder Wonderland's offering isn't really up there with the best.
The Giant Wheel and the Ice Kingdom are the more worthwhile attractions and have a bit more 'wonder' to them than the rest. The Ice Kingdom has impressive ice sculptures while the giant wheel will give you a views over the park - but it's a bit chilly at the top!
Maybe I'm getting a bit old for the main attractions because the main draw for me was the food and markets. The food is mainly based on the German Christmas markets so expect plenty of sausages, hog roast, beer, hot chocolates, waffles and warming boozy concoctions. The food here is pretty good, thought not a lot of variety. The markets were also a let down, not nearly as may stalls as I was lead to believe and again, a lot of the same. Once again I wouldn't advise a special trip to Hyde Park for these as there a far more superior Christmas markets about.
But it gets you in the Christmas spirit...right?
Well I have to say, no... not really. The element are there - the pretty lights, the smells from the stalls, but it's just lacking in atmosphere. I think it's become a bit of a victim of it's own success because it's so popular you simply can't move for people. Looking at some of the stalls is almost impossible and just as you're about to take a swig of your eggnog, it's likely to get poured all over you as you get elbowed from all sides. Also it's a pretty big site and it's tiring being on your feet all day. I think if the organisers want people to spend a decent amount of time there they need to think about some more seating areas as trying to find somewhere to park your bum is pretty impossible. Even without the crowd rage though, I think they have overstepped festive and ended up with tacky.
Overall, Winter Wonderland is a one stop shop for festive attractions, though the quality and atmosphere is compromised and there are many other places doing the festive thing much more effectively. As I took the painfully slow walk back to the tube in the crowd of zombie like visitors, I could only feel relief to be out of there plus a good measure of Bah Humbug.
More information - http://www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com
Winter Wonderland has been in London's Hyde Park over winter/Christmas for a few years now. I first visited a few years ago, but it was a spontaneous visit and no one was dressed appropriately so we went into a pub to warm ourselves up. This time I was more organised and after a few drinks in Regent Street we ambled across to Hyde Park.
It is free to get in and runs from about the third week of November until 6th January - actual dates would vary each year - and is open 10am to 10pm. I have only ever gone in the evening, and the lights from the fairground make it look very festive and fun.
WHAT TO DO?
Even though admission is free, it is not a cheap trip out as there are lots of ways to spend money here. The first time I came here we all went on the big wheel. It is brightly lit and makes a fabulous photo against the night sky. You can get some good views across London from here though - it is 60m high. Currently it is £8 for an adult (£6/7 for children/concessions). The 'flight' lasts about 12-15 minutes and it is a slow circuit as they stop to allow people to get on/off and then you get a full trip round without interruptions. Each pod is closed from the elements and holds six people. Even though I was with someone who was scared of heights, they found the journey gentle and did not feel panicky. I do think this is worth doing if you can afford it. I recommend booking in advance to get the right time slot.
Other activities include ice skating (£13.50 for an adult/£6 child/£12.50 concession). I didn't do this as I considered it ridiculously expensive. I can't skate anyway, so it is a lot of money to sit on some ice getting a cold, wet bum. Each session lasts an hour and you need to arrive in good time to sort out skates etc. I quite fancied the Ice Kingdom which appeared to be sculptures in ice, the price for that was the same for the wheel. It is extra cold in here and should take about 15 minutes to walk around. I had heard positive reports of it. Unfortunately there were no tickets when we went - it is strongly recommended that you book in advance to get the time slot you want - this can be done online. There are also a couple of circuses which were £10.50 adult/£7 per child/£9.50 concessions). Again these needed to be booked in advance as the shows only happen a few times a day. Each show is 45 mins, and there appears to be a family orientated one, and slightly more adventurous stunt show which may scare the smaller children.
All prices quoted are peak time prices - there are only a few off-peak dates and the details are on the website
They have a big fairground here and it is all very bright and noisy. You can take a zip-wire across the site, or go on roller-coasters or more sedate rides, as well as the stalls where your 'skill' at throwing of whatever will win you a cuddly penguin. Previously I went on one of the towers that drop you at speed from a great height. I forget how much it was but I remember screaming a lot. They seem to have more now as the whole site has become more popular. My friend and I fancied the Wild Maus XXL which seemed to be a waltzer/roller-coaster cross but it cost 6 tokens (1 token = £1) which we thought over-priced. The cheapest rides (for children) cost two tokens. Prices did vary but I wasn't tempted any further. You also have a traditional merry-go-round with horses and a 'star-flyer' which is a 60m high roundabout where you fly out. That looked great fun, but I reckon it would be nippy up there.
There is a Santa Land for the kids with kiddie orientated rides, and a little train ride around Santa Land. I believe Father Christmas hangs out here during the day time.
By the main entrance to the park there are a number of stalls in their 'Christmas Market' area to tempt money from you. My friend brought a beautiful scarf for £8, which I thought was a reasonable price. Some are Christmas orientated, some sell fancy sweets, some gifts, clothing or accessories. Stuff is mainly original that you will not find on the high street and it is nice to browse.
EATING & DRINKING
There are plenty of places to eat and drink. There are some sit down places, such as a Bavarian beer hall and a carousel bar that rotates or you can buy from the stalls as you go round. We bought jacket potatoes each (from £3.50 depending on filling) and hot chocolate (from £2.50). Bars are licensed and there are plenty of places to buy mulled wine as well as a good range of food places from proper restaurants to fish & chips. If you do buy from the stalls there are not always places to sit so you need to think about logistics when trying to cut a jacket potato with a plastic fork...Various places around the site also had live music at certain times.
We used the official park public toilets. Naturally there was a queue for the Ladies' loos. They will never be the nicest toilets you have ever used but there is an attendant here, so they are not as bad as expected - there is toilet paper, soap etc. We did spot some porta-loos near the rides area which didn't seem to have a queue. The whole area is out in the open apart from a few attractions, so a wet day might not be as fun. A cold, dry day will add to the atmosphere. I would recommend going here by tube - Green Park, Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch are all about 5 minutes walk from the park. It is easy to walk around as the areas you will visit will be either paths or have mats down to prevent the park getting too muddy. Cards are accepted at some stalls, but best to bring cash and book 'special' attractions online.
I really enjoyed my evening here, we had a lot of fun walking around and soaking up the atmosphere but overall it is an expensive treat. If you come as a family this could be very expensive. I would definitely come again next Christmas but would plan my visit a bit better, rather than winging it, to take advantage of some of the special attractions.