Hyde Park Winter Wonderland – view from the big wheel…
For Londoners, and many visitors alike, the opening of Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland every November marks the start of Christmas. The sprawling behemoth of thrilling rides, gingerbread and street food-laden stalls, and snow coated grottos gets bigger, and better, every year.
For 2019, although bigger, the layout seemed improved. Better signage and wider pathways accommodate the huge crowds – because yes, fair warning, it does get crowded with adults and kids alike, eager to ride, eat and play. But, there are oodles of new attractions to ease the numbers and waiting times, this year. Among firm favourites, such as the big wheel, (which stands at 70 metres this year), circus, ice rink and child-friendly Santaland rides, there is a Paddington Bear live ice skating show and a Mr Men live theatre show. Both of which are ideal for when the weather turns less than family-friendly. Lone adult groups can head to the bigger-than-ever Bavarian Village for hot toddies and related Christmas cheer.
It is free to enter Winter Wonderland, (bag checks operate at the doors), but, once inside, everything except the high-on-sugar-and-Santa atmosphere is chargeable. Santaland children’s rides are around £3 a go, but do note that there are only a few for children under the age of 3 years. We trialled the train, the carousel and the merry-go-round… sensing a theme? Yes, all of these go round and around, and I have no idea how more children don’t ride the ‘vomit comet’ after their trip, but there we go. My daughter couldn’t have been more thrilled to watch the same scenery whizz past while bobbing up and down on a train/horse/London bus. For scream-if-you-want-to-go-faster thrills, there are a ridiculous amount of towering rollercoasters and themed rides, for which you can divvy up childcare to have a go on.
The Ice Kingdom at Winter Wonderland
Our favourite family ride was the traditional Helter Skelter, in the classic funfair area. Fabulous fun, sailing down on a mat at super speed. We were also impressed by the Christmas Carol themed Ice Kingdom, which houses giant figures of Scrooge et al. The crowd-pleasing ice slide is also in there, but do wrap up warm as it is a teeth-chattering -10 degrees in there. We are talking thermals and gloves at the ready! And an insider tip – wear one of those shiny sleeping bag style coats if you want to go at any real pace down the slide. My jeans meant I did the classic bum shuffle to the bottom. Another insider tip, forgo the dusty Cadburys hot chocolate for the cheaper, but far superior, Hotel Chocolat offering, located in the Chocmobile outside the Ice Kingdom.
Winter Wonderland is a fixture in a growing number of people’s Christmas calendars, and personally, it wouldn’t feel too much like December without our annual trip. Yes, it can get busy, yes, it can be expensive, but it will kick start your festive season with a sugary high. Avoid crowds by avoiding obvious peak times (we arrived at 10am and it was very pleasant, with almost no queues), and babies and toddlers are just as happy to watch from afar as ride the carousels. The sensory experience of walking around the markets and rides alone must be off the charts. Note: older children and teenagers are sure to be tugging at coat pockets for money to go on rides and for food to devour.
Allow yourself an hour or so, on arrival, to simply get your bearings and just take it all in. The sights, sounds and smells can lead to overwhelmed premature spending on less than worthy food and rides – and you want to save yourself for the unrivalled mac and cheese stand, surely? See you next year.
Admission to Winter Wonderland is free. Charges apply for rides, ice skating, big top shows, the observation wheel, Magical Ice Kingdom and Bar Ice. Open until 5th January 2020. Reopens November.
This article originally appeared in Project Baby