London’s never had any shortage of things to do during the festive season – for inspiration, see this year’s London Christmas highlights with kids. But Winter Wonderland, which began in Hyde Park in 2007, provides a good focal point and some traditional sparkle that emulates, to some degree, festive celebrations at Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens – albeit at a potentially hefty price.
Wonderland is free to enter, which means that you can just stroll through, pick up some warming food and drink from a stall (anything from churros with chocolate and German sausages to mulled wine) and have a go on a couple of rides, should you choose. If you stay longer, you can spend a LOT of money – there’s also a large ice rink set around a Victorian bandstand, twinkling with more than 100,000 lights, a Magical Ice Kingdom with snow and ice sculptures, a giant observation wheel and Zippo’s Circus. There’s also a wide choice of rides, from reindeer carousels for tots to cardiac-inducing rollerscoasters, for which you need to buy tokens.
As with many days-out attractions, it's a case of managing kids’ expectations. Arm yourselves with a map and decide on your must-sees and must-dos. Take a stroll around first, too – don’t just leap onto the first ride you see and then have to face tears and tantrums when you see better ones when you’re spent all your tokens.
Everyone will have their favourite rides and experiences at Winter Wonderland. We enjoyed the skating but I find the rink at Somerset House much more scenic. The circus was fun, and the boys loved the weird and very schlocky Alpen Hotel Fun House, the Snow Jet, Santa’s Flying Sleigh and the penguin dodgems in Santa’s Land. The Ice Kingdom was interesting enough but overpriced, I felt, for a five-minute walk-through experience.
There was plenty more the kids would have liked to have a go on, but we ran out of time despite spending four hours at the attraction. Still, we had a great time and it certainly got us into a Christmassy mood. Those with younger kids would be well-advised to visit in the daytime on weekdays – it will be much less crowded, and prices are lower.
Check out our expert guide to London with kids, including family-friendly places to stay.