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.
Make sure you take plenty of cash because not all of the shops, restaurants, bars or cafes accept cards. It’s a good idea to bring this with you, as the on-site cash machines charge a fee each time you withdraw money.
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.
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.
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 its 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.
By bus and train
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.
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