You know Christmas has come to London as Winter Wonderland has just opened for the season in Hyde Park. If you haven’t been, this is a fairground and traditional German Christmas market in one – with an Ice rink and a chance to visit Zippo’s Circus thrown in. I love the atmosphere, the wooden huts selling chestnuts and Christmas decorations, covered in fairy lights, the talking tree, the outdoor rink under a canopy of trees and the busy excitement everywhere. It’s especially magical in the evenings but also a lot more crowded, so I know many friends who prefer to go in the mornings when they say it’s quieter and more relaxing .
We were invited along for the press and VIP night. I’m not too disappointed that I didn’t notice any VIPs, though there were a few women in tight white jeans high boots , leather bomber jackets and Russian fur hats. As a friend once said it van be hard to tell whether someone’s a member of the SuperRich/a celebrity or just splashed out at TKMax. There were some long lenses trained on the Alpen Hotel ( a strange German funhouse with silly mirrors, mazes, lifts and moving walkways which will keep you amused for a long time) so I assumed their might be some celebs inside, but maybe they were just amazed by the Alpen Hotel!
We were extremely lucky that the heavy rains didn’t hit Wonderland the night we were there, as much of the rest of the country was battling the floods, although sadly the high winds did close the huge Ferris wheel which is one of my favourite things and definitely worth going on as long as you have a head for heights.
The market is made up of little wooden stalls covered in fairy lights selling decorations, hats and scarves – many with an animal theme, jewellery, sweets and of course food : mainly hotdogs mulled wine and beer. The mulled wine at £4 or so a glass I thought pricey, but maybe I don’t get out much – the tiger hats, scarves and mittens all in one for £15 I thought fairly reasonable.
The outdoor ice rink is picture pretty and you may be happier sipping your gluhwein and watching others skate. Because it’s outdoors, the earlier in the day you skate the better as by the end of the night it tends to get covered with a layer of water at the edges and that’s the very place where beginners ( ie us and most people with young kids!)are liable to be stranded. And the charm of skating under trees threaded with twinkling lights is slightly offset by the small twigs and leaves on the ice which can destabilise the already very unstable. We managed to get round once largely by clinging to the side but you can hire a skateguide and actually if there’s a group of you I think it’s money well worth spending. It’ s also worth wearing ski type clothing if you have it ie waterproof and padded or taking a change of bottom halves. If this is all too much then make the rink your last stop so you can go home straight afterwards and change if anyone falls down on their bottom! It’s worth taking an extra pair of thick socks too as the plastic skates provided – as in any commercial rink – do dig in.
We didn’t go to the Circus this year but loved it last time and there are performances aimed at children and others for grown-ups. You should book in advance online for this and the skating.
A new attraction this year is the ice kingdom and having seen the photos I’m gutted we didn’t go in – it’s full of ice and snow sculpture and sounds amazing – definitely top of the list for next time – again it’s something you need to book in advance.
The Fairground is in three sections. There’s Santaland for the younger children really an entire fairground in itself with a small ferris wheel, helterskelter, merry go round, swinging pirate ship (be warned this swings quite high though I screamed far louder than my children !) a Santa’s grotto; a funhouse with the theme of Santa’s elves; side stalls where you can shoot at cans and win tigers and my favourite: inflatable penguin boats a little like bumper cars on water. So cute! I really wanted a go but they are strictly for children!
Then there are slightly larger rides still aimed at children such as a bigger helterskelter , traditional roundabout with horses , swing chairs, funhouses, kids roller coaster and so on. And then there are the thrill rides. Be warned 1. These tend to attract long queues and 2. They gave height restrictions of 1.2 metres These may vary but it’s worth knowing your children’s heights before you go so you don’t queue for 45 minutes and get turned away. The staff we met tried to be generous about this – but really if the ride is not suitable it’s not and when you are whizzing round on the rollercoaster 20 feet up you understand why a smaller child should not be up there! I held extremely tightly onto my younger son’s hand just in case!
Some of them also have age restrictions. The Fair gives the impression of being fairly strictly run. The guys on the rides know what they are doing and I had no problem with younger kids being banned where appropriate. The only thing is of course your kids won’t see it like that so might be worth avoiding these areas.
DOs and DON’Ts so you have a good time and are not overwhelmed by the crowds
DO prebook the circus , skating and the ferris wheel
DO visit in the morning rather than evening to avoid the crowds and the queues
DON’T rely on mobiles to communicate. There’s a black hole so make sure you arrange a meeting point before you arrive.
DO go on the website and print off some maps. The site is large and if will save you walking backwards and forwards. .
DON’T expect to see everything. We were there for five hours last year and didn’t
DO take some small drinks and snacks for the children. There’s lots on sale to eat but it’s great to have something in a small rucksack that they can munch on while you are waiting to see Santa. And you are likely to have to wait!
DO wrap up warm. Everything is outside DO take cash to buy the tokens for the rides though there are cash machines on site, there are likely to be queues
And finally DO take a small camera – it’s a day out you will want to remember.
Winter Wonderland is open until January 6th from 10am to 10pm. The nearest tube is Hyde Park Corner.