Queuing to sit on Santa’s knee in a shopping centre is so last decade. Celebrate the festive season in style instead, by whisking yourselves away to London’s fairytale Winter Wonderland. This huge festival dedicated to all things Yuletide pops up in Hyde Park from the end of November and stays for six weeks each year. Open from 10am to 10pm each day, there’s an ice rink, an ice bar for the grown-ups, a Christmas market and the chance to meet the bearded one himself. Although you have to pay for some of the attractions, Scrooges will be happy to learn it’s free to enter. And to really start your seasonal big day out in style, why not make a weekend of it, by booking into a Premier Inn near Hyde Park. That way you can get a good night’s sleep and get into the attraction as soon as it opens, to beat the merry-making crowds.
Winter Wonderland started life in 2007 when it was just an outdoor ice rink and a Christmas market. Since then it’s grown to become a must-visit London destination for anyone seeking a little festive fun.Throughout late November and December, a huge area of Hyde Park near Hyde Park Corner is turned into a fairytale land, complete with traditional fairground rides, a giant observation wheel, a circus and Santa’s grotto. And while children are well-catered for, there’s plenty for Christmas-loving grown-ups too with beautiful illuminations, a traditional Christmas market and lashings of mulled wine and hot chocolate served from Bavarian-style bars and cafes.
Forget fighting through London traffic in the car. The best way to get to Winter Wonderland is by public transport. While getting here is easy, think carefully about when you want to come. Winter Wonderland looks spectacular all lit-up at night, but it’s so much quieter during the day - and wandering around the stalls with a hot chocolate and a waffle on a crisp winter morning has it’s own charm. So if you want to beat the crowds, the closer to the 10am opening time you can get there, the better.
Driving in central London is not for the faint-hearted - traffic can be heavy and parking is a nightmare (and an expensive one at that). Should you need to drive, there’s pay and display parking on West Carriage Drive and in car parks at either end of Serpentine Bridge. There’s also a Q-Park car park with entrances at Park Lane and Marble Arch.
The postcode for your sat nav is W1K 7TY.
The nearest mainline stations are Paddington and Victoria, but there are several Tube stations nearby, too. Marble Arch and Hyde Park Corner are closest, while Green Park station is best if you want a Tube station with no steps. Bus-wise, you’re spoilt for choice. Buses approach Hyde Park from all directions and if you do get off too early, you can always have a lovely stroll through London’s largest Royal Park.
If you bring your own bike, make sure you park it in an authorised place, as bikes attached to railings are prone to be taken away. If you fancied hiring a bike, there are Santander Cycle Hire docking stations all over Hyde Park. You can hire a bike from as little as £2, then just put it back in another station when you’ve finished with it. No need to book in advance, just take your bank card and touch the screen to start.
Apart from all the exciting exhibits on offer, the Museum also has some great facilities for its visitors. Read about them here, along with other important information to help you plan your day.
The Museum opens every day at 10am and closes at 6pm (7pm in the school holidays). Last admission is at 5.15pm and galleries start to close at 5.30pm. It is shut between the 24th and 26th December.
Guidebooks are available to buy from the Museum shop and, if you’re here with kids, a great idea is to buy them an Explorer Book, to help them get the most out of their visit.
Admission is free, but unlike other London museums, there is some pressure to pay a suggested donation of £5. Factor this in, because you’ll also pay extra for the Wonderlab gallery (a must if you have children), temporary exhibitions, the Imax cinema, the simulators and rides.
Even the cloakroom can be quite expensive if you have lots of items you need to check in.
There’s a small selection of gifts and toys available just outside the Wonderlab gallery that are great for the kids to spend their pocket money on, but there’s also a much bigger shop on the ground floor, next to the main ticket desk. Perfect for geeky gifts, it’s filled to bursting with a quirky range of toys, gadgets and high-tech gizmos. If you can leave here without parting with some cash you’re doing very, very well.
A small number of wheelchairs are available which may be booked in advance by calling 0870 870 4868, or borrowed on the day. All of the Museum is accessible with lift access to all floors. There are disabled toilets in the basement and on the ground, first, second and third floors. They are also available on all floors of the Wellcome Wing. To find them, use the Museum map or the touchscreen information points.
If you're coming to Winter Wonderland to take in some attractions, you’ll need to plan ahead. Tickets have to be bought in advance to most of the main attractions, including the ice rink, the Magical Ice Kingdom, the Ice Bar, the circus and the observational wheel.
He’s making a list. He’s checking it twice. Then he’s sitting in his grotto in Santa Land every day from 10am to 6pm. It’s free to see the big guy and kids even get a small gift afterwards - just make sure to manage their expectations first. You can’t book so queues can be long and on busy days they may close the queue early to ensure everyone can be seen by 6pm. Santa Land itself is also free to enter, but you’ll need to pay for all the children’s rides with tokens you can buy at the Token Booths. Rides cost from £2.
There’s a traditional fairground complete with helter skelter, carousel and old-fashioned games. If that doesn’t exactly get the adrenaline pumping, there are more modern fairground rides that will. But what really draws thrill-seekers in their thousands are the roller coasters. There are several, including the Munich Looping - the world’s largest transportable rollercoaster - and Ice Mountain. This magical indoor ride takes you through a mountain cavern, complete with northern lights, penguins and polar bears.
What could be more romantic than gliding around Hyde Park, being serenaded by live music from a beautiful Victorian bandstand as you skate? The largest open air ice rink in the UK is open from 10am to 10pm every day. Sessions start on the hour and last for 50 minutes, but must be booked in advance - they’re so popular that you can’t just turn up. If you’re a bit unsteady on your pins, you can even book an Ice Guide for a lesson (or just to help you up when you fall over). Ice Guides look after a maximum of 15 skaters.
Each year, Winter Wonderland plays host to a raft of bookable attractions from ice shows to entertainment just for kids. A must-see is the Magical Ice Kingdom, where everything is crafted out of snow and ice - 500 tonnes of the stuff. You book a ticket and then walk round at your leisure. More fun for the adults can be had at the Ice Bar where sub-zero temperatures keep everything inside frozen solid. It’s not cheap though - about £15 for a 20-minute visit, which includes a cocktail. It’s so cold you wouldn’t want to stay for longer.
You’ll feel like you’re on a city break to Munich while strolling through Angels’ Market. Here, over 200 Bavarian-style wooden chalets offer you the chance to buy some lovely Christmassy things, from buables to hand-crafted festive arts and crafts. Great for last-minute gifts for friends or family (or something lovely for yourself), you could just have a wander and window shop while snaffling down some hot chestnuts.
There are plenty of places to eat and drink within the Museum but, as it’s free to get in, serving food is a way for it to make money, so don’t expect it to be cheap. You don’t have to buy food here though, there are picnic areas where you can eat your own sarnies - you’ll find these in the Basement, on the first floor opposite Time Measurement and on the third floor.
Nothing warms the cockles like traditional festive fayre, and Winter Wonderland is packed full of it, from pancakes and waffles to the finest hot chocolate money can buy. Just make sure you come hungry!
Share a cheese fondue at the Alpine-style Apres Ski Chalet, or head to the Outpost for some pulled pork, a festive pie or a toastie. The Bavarian Beer Gardens is packed with outdoor food stalls selling chicken and salmon grills and pancakes. There’s also the chance for a sit-down meal at the Bavarian Beer Hall. This must be booked in advance but it’s worth it for the experience of tucking into bratwurst, sipping a stein of beer and watching live oompah bands perform.
There’s more places to buy Christmas drinks like mulled wine and cider than you can point a cinnamon stick at. However, for the kind of hot chocolate that really has to be tasted to be believed, head for the Beltane & Pop kiosk. With free-flowing taps of white, milk and dark chocolate, you can add various shots or different toppings. For something more alcoholic, there’s a traditional pub available at the Outpost. Called the Grizzly Inn, it’s great if you just fancy a pint.
Had too much festive cheer at Winter Wonderland? Why not walk it off with a stroll in Hyde Park? The largest of London’s Royal Parks, it really is a beauty. Go and feed the ducks on the Serpentine, take in some dubious political views at Speakers’ Corner or visit the beautiful Albert Memorial. If culture’s more your thing, there are two contemporary art galleries within Hyde Park. The Serpentine Galleries are free to enter and are a five-minute walk from each other, across the Serpentine Bridge.