On the rare occasion we went to London as a child, my fondest memory was always the wonderful window displays in places like Oxford Street and Regent Street at Christmas time. They always looked so grand and somewhat magical. I remember spending a long time mesmerised by the lights and winter animals.
Now that T is of an age where he’s into Christmas and all it’s magic and wonder, we decided to take him to London last weekend to get the Christmas season started with a bang. We had also been invited by the YHA to stay in one of their hostels so we thought we’d take full advantage and take a look at what London had to offer.
I was also interested to see if it still had the same magical feel as it did when I was a child.
Every year when Winter Wonderland arrives at Hyde Park I’ve always been tempted to take T. I’ve only been once before, and whilst it was lovely; walking around the market stalls and drinking mulled cider, there’s so much for children to do that it’s a waste to visit as an adult alone. So when we were invited to stay up in London for the weekend we made sure that Winter Wonderland was on our list of places to visit. Plus, it’s really easy to get to, and once you’re done with Winter Wonderland you still have the rest of Hyde Park to explore!
One of the best things about Winter Wonderland is that it’s free to enter and walk around, so even if you don’t want to spend any money you can still enjoy the festivities, as well as the lights and smells! That being said, it would be a real shame if you didn’t experience at least some of whats there. We made sure we set aside a small budget for food and rides whilst we were there as it would have been cruel not to let T go on at least one ride.
As soon as you enter through the gates and past the security check point you’re free to roam as you please. Everywhere you look there’s a colourful stall selling delicious food or drink, or a brightly lit fairground ride calling you. Despite so much going on, there’s actually lots of room to walk around. It got busier as the day went on, but I was never worried about the crowds.
Tip: Before getting drawn in we would recommend you take a brief tour of the site (as well as locate the toilets before you really need them!), even if it’s via the Winter Wonderland Map to get your bearings. We had a few shows booked so we made sure we knew where they were so we didn’t find ourselves too far away and running back to where they were.
What I appreciated whilst we were was that there wasn’t just one stall for each food type. For example, if you fancied grabbing some churros you could guarantee there would be at least five places selling them. This meant we didn’t have to mark the one churros or mulled wine stand on the map or live on the hope that we’d find it again when we wanted them. There were some areas that were clearly dedicated to food, but generally you could look in ay direction and grab something to eat.
As the day went on we treated T to a few rides and games, which were actually reasonably priced for a seasonal event. The rides were also really varied and, as expected, perfectly themed. We purchased 20 ‘tokens’ for £20 and most rides suitable for T ranged between 2 and 3 tokens per ride and lasted between 5 and 7 minutes, which was perfect. It meant you didn’t have to queue for long, but it also felt like you had a decent turn. There were a handful of rides that required adult supervision, but generally the adult cost less than the child’s entry.
As well as children’s rides, there were of course much larger rides for older children and adults; ranging from Roller Coasters to a Ferris Wheel. These were a little bit more expensive, and the queues were much longer – even if we did fancy it – so we gave those ones a miss for this year. One year though, I’d love to give the Ice Rink a go!
I think if you were with a group of friends – and had saved for the event – the Winter Wonderland fairground alone would be the perfect place to spend a day. There is so much to see and do – I’m not even sure you could ride all the rides in one day!
As well as the fairground, there’s also lots of events and shows happening at Winter Wonderland. In the evening there’s the more risky Cirque Berserk (which we went to recently when they visited Hove Lawns) as well as Paddington on Ice for the family, or the Comedy Show in the evening. There’s also The Magical Ice Kingdom based around the Christmas story; A Christmas Carol.
Tip: You can buy tickets at the various box offices on the day, but we would recommend booking in advance to save any disappointment – they get booked up pretty quick going on the crowds we had – or purchasing the ‘Family Bundle’.
For our visit, we were invited to see Mr Men & Little Miss: The Show as well as a firm favourite in our house; Zippos Circus. Each show is roughly 45 minutes and is located within the circus tent.
Mr Men & Little Miss: The show!
Our first show of the day was Mr Men and Little Miss: The Show a story featuring all your favourite Mr Men & Little Miss characters, from Mr Bump to Little Miss Chatter Box. This is a wonderful show and shares four stories from the Mr Men & Little Miss books. We’ve recently read a few Mr Men books from our collection so it was great to see them being played out live.
Although there was lots of singing and audience involvement (don’t worry, you didn’t have to leave your seats!), the show still felt really intimate – similar to something from Brighton Fringe – despite being located in the circus top. It was just a lovely little show.
After some lunch at the ‘Street Food’ corner (some of which I recognised from Camp Bestival!) we made our way back to the circus tent for our final show of the day; Zippo’s Circus. You would think by now, based on the amount of shows we have under our belt, that we would be tired of Circus shows, however this really isn’t the case – not with a Zippos show anyway.
Although it’s only 45 minutes in length, it’s absolutely jam packed with acrobatics and contortionists, unicycles, and boomerangs (the plastic kind, not the one on your phone). I even had to look through my hands at one point – I don’t know what it is about the words ‘no safety net’. There’s also lots of laughs along the way – you will absolutely leave feeling entertained.
When we arrived we thought it would be a slimmed down version of a previous show, however it really wasn’t. It’s a brand new show with lots of new acts – some of which were being debuted at Winter Wonderland.
After Zippo’s, we decided to finish our day with a trip to the Christmas markets, which were located right near the exit that we needed to leave via anyway, but not before grabbing some festive drinks. As well as mulled wine and cider, there were also several hot chocolate stalls on site, as well as one that sells Coffee with Baileys. We treated T to some hot apple juice.
The Christmas Market is probably our favourite part about Winter Wonderland. If it’s not the gorgeous lighting and smell of pine, wood, and roasted chestnuts, it’s just the variety of things on sale – I’m sure it’s doubled in size since our last visit. We easily spent a good hour – if not longer – going around the different stalls.
Within the markets there’s places to buy gifts and stocking fillers, Christmas decorations, woolly hats and gloves, even cheese and chutney. I could have easily spent a fortune here.
After browsing the Christmas markets it was safe to say we were finished and ready to head home. It had just started to get a little crowded with the evening visitors starting to arrive, so we took that as a hint to make our way back to the hostel. Once we left, the night became bit of a blur what with tube stations being closed early and an over-tired and over-stimulated four year old being, well, over tired and over-stimulated, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing about our visit to Winter Wonderland. It was the perfect day out.
We arrived just after opening around 10:30 (it opens at 10am) and spent the whole day here until around 4pm. We took our time walking around different areas; often stopping to look at the scarier rides, and generally took everything in. As T gets older we will absolutely bring him back to try out the bigger rides, and maybe some mulled wine one day.
In comparison to Saturday, Sunday was definitely a more chilled and relaxed affair. We certainly needed it!
Starting the day by grabbing a tube to Covent Garden, we treated ourselves to a decent breakfast and then walked around the market (we never tire of markets!). We took T into a couple of shops and even stopped to watch a few street performers, one of which I absolutely watched through the cracks of my hands (and not because he had Union Jack boxer shorts on).
After, we then got on another tube and finished our weekend with a visit to Hamleys Toy Shop. I don’t know what came over us, but the thought of watching T’s face in the biggest toy shop we know – at Christmas – prompted us to choose this weekend as the first time he’d experience it. I know, crazy.
As soon as we entered I began to regret my decision as there were toys being flown everywhere and the sound of crying children and stressed parents at every corner, however it was actually really fun (for us, anyway). Despite it being incredibly busy, T was fantastic and thoroughly enjoyed playing with all the demo toys and looking at what was offer. He was so good, that we even treated him to a toy for the journey home. I know, madness!
Despite the hiccups on Saturday night, we had a thoroughly good time in London. We left feeling exhausted, but incredibly festive; ready to get Christmas started. Although it was busy, it didn’t put us off doing it again another year. One day, we’d love to even explore an international Christmas Market!
When was the last time you visited London at Christmas? Were we mad? Do you have any recommendations for international Christmas Markets?
We were provided tickets to the Mr Men & Little Miss Show as well as Zippos Circus in exchange for an honest review and social media coverage during the event, however all thoughts, opinions, and imagery are our own. We were not provided compensation for our coverage of Winter Wonderland.