There are Christmas markets and there are Christmas markets. This is the latter. A huge set-up of Bavarian beer houses and fairground rides complete with an ice rink, ice bar and even a Nordic tipi tent. Welcome to Hyde Park Winter Wonderland in the heart of London, quite possibly the most festive fun you can have while in the capital.
Somehow, two years ago we missed out on Winter Wonderland. After arriving at Gordon Ramsay’s Petrus restaurant only to see the staff standing around having a pre-meeting at well past our booking slot we decided to head elsewhere. By the time we hit Hyde Park, the queues were crazy and our mood was the exact opposite of festive. So we called it a night.
Wind the clock forward to the opening weekend of the Hyde Park extravaganza and here we are, stood in line at the security checkpoints – a sad sign of the times in London – ready to enter the action. The organisation is pretty good around the event, tube station are clearly signposted as are toilets and exits. Multiple entrances mean that whichever side of the park you end up at, you can easily get in from a selection of tube stations, we opted for Hyde Park Corner.
Once inside the Winter Wonderland after a brief bag search we headed for the Bavarian beer and bratwurst stall – one of many! Parting with a reasonable £6.50 ($7.94 US) for currywurst – which turned out to be a hotdog which you have to apply the curry sauce and mayonnaise to yourself from the hanging dispensers. This was tasty though as we sat eating on the rows of benches that made up the seating area around the live music bandstand. A real taste of Bavaria, even with the covers of Queen, DJ Otzi and Neil Diamond.
As everyone knows, you can’t have bratwurst without a German beer. Prices for pints of Bavarian beer were actually quite respectable for London at £5.50 per pint ($7.28 US) and contains actual beer, not the watered down stuff you pay double for in Soho. Suitably refreshed we left our benches and went for a wander around the site – and this was some site!
Walking past the typical fairground mainstays such as the house of mirrors, basketball shoots and carousels was an enjoyable experience, mainly due to getting early entry into the Winter Wonderland so that you could freely explore instead of battle the crowds. This was 6pm and with it already being dark you had the atmosphere as well as room to manoeuvre – we would highly recommend doing this as you will read further on.
The open fires really were a nice touch dotted around the place, all that was missing were sticks of marshmallows to toast around them, maybe the organisers missed a trick there? Onwards we travelled into ‘Thor’s’ Nordic Tipi tent, an amazing concept. Inside is the most cosy atmosphere with small seating areas wrapped around an open fire. The bar sells prosecco, beer and other alcoholic delights but frustratingly with no advertised pricing.
Children can visit Santa but unlike other shopping centres and suchlike you can actually see the big man as you walk by so that everyone gets to enjoy it. We also noticed that elves take your picture with Santa which is then available to purchase from the booth next to the grotto. All this was very in keeping with the festive spirit but what about the food? I hear you ask…
Well Hyde Park doesn’t let you down on that one. The street food area is just beside Thor’s tipi tent and contains some tempting delights at very reasonable prices. The stalls include mac and cheese, duck rolls, Thai street food and many more – all set up to resemble a small market, such a clever idea and a great option for dinner.
Watching the ride’s, we came across a large snow slide. Looking at it from ground level it was an impressive size but watching someone actually go down it was another experience entirely, sadly not a good one. The idea is you trudge your way to the top carrying a round rubber ring and one of the staff then pushes you down the slide. The journey down wasn’t fast at all and it was more of a skid than a slide, not one worth paying out for.
Full up on bratwurst, beer and having had our fill of rides and excitement we headed for the exit. On the way we passed a huge line for the ice bar – which as you may have guessed, is made out of ice. I doubt there was much difference in temperature between inside there and outside, the cold snap had really taken to London.
On our way out the lines for entry were now crazy and the site was filling up, this at 7.30pm which hammers home the point of arriving early, especially if you have small children. The Winter Wonderland is fantastic and we thoroughly enjoyed our experience. The prices were surprisingly decent as you always have the fear that any event in the capital is going to require the advice of your bank manager. The food and drink is all decent with quirky settings like the tipi in which you can enjoy something different. The Winter Wonderland is best accessed from either Marble Arch or Hyde Park Corner tube stations.
Opening times: Daily (November 18th-January 1st) 1000-2200
(closed Christmas Day)
Nearest tube: Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly Line)