It may have passed you by, but it’s almost Christmas. The weather is getting colder. The decorations are up in the shops. Christmas songs are playing. The crowds are out doing their final bits of shopping. Everyone seems to be donning a festive jumper at any given opportunity. We are almost there folks.
One of my annual days out in December is a trip to London to visit Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, an event which has now been running for over ten years. Starting out as an open air Christmas market, it has now evolved into huge winter extravaganza with over 100 rides and attractions, Christmas markets, an ice rink, a giant observation wheel, a circus, festive bars and a host of live entertainment scattered across the large park.
Depending on you what you choose to see and do, Winter Wonderland can be an expensive day or evening out, however admission to the event is free and you can then choose to do as little or as much as you like. Wandering around the markets areas taking in the atmosphere is equally as rewarding as experiencing some of the paid attractions.
In past years I have mostly soaked up the atmosphere, wandered through the markets, been on a couple of rides and spent some time in the many of the bar areas on the site. This year I decided I would try out some of the paid attractions as well.
The first of these was the Magical Ice Kingdom, a walk through experience with a Deep Sea Adventure theme, set in -10ºC temperatures (did I mention that you should probably wrap up warm to visit?). The Magical Ice Kingdom is filled with impressive ice and snow sculptures featuring many deep sea creatures, mermaids and gods.
Secondly, keeping with the cold and wintery theme was Bar Ice, a temple-style bar where everything is made of, funnily enough, ice – the tables and chairs, the bar and even the glasses you drink from. Bar Ice serves a range of vodka based shots (sponsored by Smirnoff) and cocktails as well as some non-alcoholic drinks. You are provided with a thermal poncho and gloves before you enter the bar, as again the temperatures inside are down to -10ºc!
There are many other paid attractions including Ice Skating, a Cinderella on Ice show, the Cirque Berserk show, a Giant Observation Wheel and Zippo’s Christmas Circus. It’s worth noting that these attractions should all be pre-booked before you visit as it can get VERY busy, and the attractions (Bar Ice for example) can sell out before the day.
If funfair rides are your thing and you fancy an adrenalin rush, there are rides to suit all ages and thrill levels.
There is a traditional style fairground area featuring a Victorian style carousel, a helter skelter and many other vintage rides. I love the ornate features and detail on these styles of rides.
For something a little faster and thrilling, there are a number of large scale roller coasters including the Wilde Mause XXL, Ice Mountain and the Christmas Coaster.
However, if you are a big fan of roller coasters (as I am), then don’t bother with the rest and throw all of your money (£9 per ride!!!) at Munchen Looping (or Munich Looping). Also known as Olympia Looping, this is the world’s largest travelling roller coaster, featuring five loops which resemble the Olympic Rings, hence the name. This is an intense ride for a travelling coaster, pulling as much as 5.2g’s at some points. Great fun. Slightly uncomfortable restraints, but great fun.
There are many other thrill rides, drop towers, star-flyers and fun houses as well as games stalls where you can try and win, for instance, giant Toblerones (we were one number away from winning!) or giant teddies which seem almost impossible for people to carry around afterwards! All great fun as long as you have plenty of money in your pockets.
So, after wandering around the markets, trying out some of the attractions and rides, what’s next? Food, drink and some entertainment perhaps? Well, this is the area where Winter Wonderland excels. The amount, and variety of food vendors on site is fantastic. The ever expanding selection of bars and entertainment is quite mind-blowing. I wandered the whole site a couple of times to make sure I could get a clear idea of everything that was available, and there was a lot!
Bar Hutte – A mini alpine-style village where groups can hire out their own cosy hutte which includes a karaoke (or Carol-oke) machine!
The Fire Pit – An open air bar with a fire-pit great for toasting marshmallows while watching a band on The Fire Pit Stage.
The Arctic Lodge – A two storey lodge with roaring fires, along with an outdoor seating area and a stage providing live entertainment.
Carousel Bar – A bar styled to a traditional carousel, which rotates slowly whilst you sip your drink. If you don’t fancy a slow spin while you drink, take a seat in one of the waltzer cars or the dodgems off to the side.
THOR’s Tipi Bar – Set in three intertwined Scandinavian style tipis, this cosy bar is full of twinkly lights, crackly log fires and cosy blankets.
If you don’t think that’s enough to keep you amused then never fear, because you can just head across to The Bavarian Village – a vast and picturesque area which brings a taste of Bavaria to central London. A collection of food stalls featuring traditional Bavarian fare such as Bratwurst, chicken and flame-grilled salmon, along with several bars serving Steins of German bier, or warm mugs of Gluhwein, this area transports you across to a wintery Germany with the help of all the traditional theming of the area. It’s quite simply stunning.
As well as the standard bars and food offerings available in the Bavarian Village, there are two larger areas to visit.
Firstly, The Almhutte – a large indoor bar and table service restaurant with a traditional oompah band playing in the background.
Secondly, the Bavarian Hall – a huge hall lined with tables, bars down both sides and a large stage to the far end. This is definitely the place to be for dancing and partying late into the evening (although The Almhutte did get fairly rowdy while we were there!). It’s worth noting that on a Friday evening in December, the Bavarian Hall was completely booked up with a large queue outside for the whole evening. Pre-booking these tables can be expensive, so it could be better to visit on a week night or to call in during the day (pre 5pm).
Winter Wonderland really impressed me this year, more so than any other year. It seems to improve year on year and is definitely a spectacle – especially if you visit in the dark. Standing on the first floor balcony of a bar in the Bavarian Village, you could really get a scale on how big this event has grown to. I am already looking forward to 2018’s event.
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland is open 10am until 10pm every day (apart from Christmas Day) until the 1st January 2018, so there is still plenty of time to visit.