The Winter Wonderland is a huge pop-up festive theme park in London’s Hyde Park, returning each year. This year they are celebrating their 10th Anniversary, and the list of entertainment and activities is mind blowing. You can go ice skating, enjoy a glass of mulled wine at the German Christmas market (probably in that order!), whizz down an iceslide, enjoy a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows at the fire pit (definitely in that order!), view the world from the top of the big wheel, meet Santa, Sooty, Sweep and Su, go to the circus, or watch the Nutcracker on ice… I could go on!
If you fancy a full-on day of festive fun this year, the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park fits the bill, we’ve tried and tested it. Bear in mind that although entrance to the Winter Wonderland is free, pretty much everything apart from seeing Santa is a paid attraction. It is definitely worth doing a spot of planning before you go.
Here’s the low-down on the family version, and some hints and tips from our experience. We certainly had loads of fun!
We travelled down from Oxford; The Oxford Tube coach took us to Marble Arch and within a minute’s walk to the gates of the Winter Wonderland. It was 10am and we had the whole day in front of us; the kids were super excited.
Our first big excitement of the day was the Sooty Christmas Show at 11am.
Enticingly advertised as ‘It’s warm inside!’ it was good to take the chill off the morning in the Mega Dome with a cup of tea and indulge in treats of popcorn and candy floss for the kids.
I have a Sweep hand puppet at home from my childhood and I was ready to enjoy the nostalgic lighthearted silliness, but what would my Dutch husband make of it? And my oldest who is now eight? Both of them loved it, as did five year old Libby, and two year old George. More gentle than your average Christmas pantomime, it still had all the obligatory water squirting, pie-in-your-face slapstick, and brought back memories for me of Sweep’s obsession with sausages, Su’s obsession with new outfits, Sooty’s magic wand and plenty of high squeaks. Oh, and that phrase “Izzy-wizzy let’s get busy”! Proper blast from the past. And made all Christmassy with songs and a party flavour.
A big thumbs up from us!
After the show, time for a quick wander – Libby went all dreamy over one of the stalls.
And they all had a laugh on these high stools in the café beside the Mega Dome.
Then to Zippo’s Circus. Although not showing the acts advertised on the posters, the family-friendly show at 12.30 was good, and had plenty of wow moments. Some of our favourite acts were- the tumbling acrobats who made human pyramids with ease, a wonderfully crafted fireman act with a spinning ladder, a clever Houdini style escape stunt that had us all guessing, and a pretty impressive finale with a motorbike act on a tightrope.
The kids especially enjoyed the clown with his jokes and random musical instruments but his counterpart seemed rather lacklustre, which was maybe intentionally so, but took the edge off his performance for me.
This is what the girls thought about the fireman stunt (all my photos of it are too blurry to show you, it was too fast!)
Afterwards we were ready for a change and we walked back through the fairground and Bavarian Christmas market to find the ice sculptures.
Housed in a large tent of its own, the Magical Ice Kingdom is stunning; Full of icescapes and huge towering ice sculptures crafted with the tiniest of detail. It is perfect for anyone is hankering after a truly frosty yuletide.
However, beware! We had no idea just how cold it was… Signs on the door, telling us of sub-zero temperatures did not full trigger in us the significance. We wandered in without fully kitting ourselves with gloves and hats which left us reaching into our bags with numb fingers and running after kids with extra woollies who were already complaining of the cold.
Excuse the blur, but my cold hands were less functional. 🙂
As incredibly beautiful as it was, we could not stay there for long, my most hardy toddler, with all his baby fat, would not stop crying from the cold and the wait to go down the ice slide meant standing still for what felt like an eternity, with no signs indicating expected waiting times. Even the top of the tent had large icicles hanging that had naturally formed there.
We left and were welcomed by a roaring fire in the firepit at the Explorer’s Rest café.
Warmed by hot chocolate and having de-iced most fingers, we spent the rest of the afternoon trying out some of the rides and happily surprised ourselves at doing two of the rides as a whole family.
The first being the Giant Wheel, which had a long wait, the queue carefully hidden round the back of the attraction, so we were sucked in before we realised – oh help, and a loo request from one of the kids in the middle of that longest queue! The staff were happy for us to jump round and under ropes and we were back before we got anywhere near the front of the queue. And even now, I think it was worth the wait. Two turns round the wheel, seeing the night time lights of London and the Winter Wonderland. It was beautiful!
The second, a proper family fun fair experience, was on the penguin dodgems. My oldest declared, with all her eight year old knowledge, that she was sure she could drive one on her own, and was seconded by the ticket sales guy. She was right! Libby sat with her Dad in a second car and George came with me in a third. I ended up driving one handed with my arm around his neck to protect George from being bashed around too much. He had his second cry of the day, not because he didn’t enjoy being bumped into. Oh no! He was complaining that he wasn’t doing most of the driving on his own!
If you were to ask the girls what they enjoyed most, surprisingly this would be at the top of their list – a bounce on a trampoline with bungee ropes. The guys who ran it were great, fun to chat to and I saw them watching out and making sure some of the kids didn’t run off without their parents who were buying food close by, and were careful to make sure they got the safety harness on each child right.
A side note on the toilet facilities, which had been our first stop of the day, were pretty close to the entrance, but not as easy to find as I hoped. When we got there the cleaners were out in force. I’m in no way OCD about cleanliness, but we followed behind one cleaner expecting, well, a sit-able loo, and ended up leaving the whole block in search of better. Jack had a similar experience wheeling the pram into disabled loo with our newly potty trained two year old. Toilets are a big deal when you have three littl’uns, one potty training! Credit to the army of cleaning staff though – our experience improved slightly through the day.
All in all fantastic day out!
My last hint – if you want to see Father Christmas, don’t leave it until 4.30 like we did. It is a free sit and photo opportunity and the queue was an hour long when we got there. Instead we made do with a photo from afar:
And yes, very last tip – as you would expect- leave longer than you think to get from A to B because of the crowds and the (distractions) attractions. Time got away with us and we were there 10 hours, which meant Very Sleepy Children on the way back home! However, it was all worth it!