Past the gates of Buckingham Palace and into the heart of Hyde Park you’ll find the ever-popular Winter Wonderland. You’ll also find it tagged in just about every Instagram post during the festive season. So why does this place gain so much hype when there are plenty of other Christmas markets across the UK?
Admittedly, I have taken the two-and-a-half-hour-long train journey to London for the sole purpose of seeing Winter Wonderland with my own eyes and not from behind a screen. As I spent approximately seven hours at the fair, it’s safe to say that you will never be short of things to see or do. However, this surplus of festive fun does come at an expense, there is even a price upon entry at peak times costing either £5 or £7.50 depending on the time.
This payment upon entry is unlike other Christmas markets in places such as York, Liverpool and Leeds, but having visited all of the above, Winter Wonderland sets itself apart due to the scale of the fair and the vast number of things to do. The entry fee can also be avoided at off-peak times or if you pre-book up to £20 worth of other activities online.
To determine whether Winter Wonderland is a hit or miss it’s important to first weigh up what it has to offer. Winter Wonderland has everything from a professional acrobatic show, Zippo’s Circus, to my personal favourite, the Ice Bar. Inside the bar, everything was made entirely out of ice, from the seats to the walls and even the cups themselves, inside of which was a complimentary free cocktail (per booking). The Magical Ice Kingdom also elevated my Winter Wonderland experience, with its breathtaking giant ice sculptures at every turn.
Speaking of giant ice sculptures, there’s also a real ice slide on which you can race your friends down twice for £5. Furthermore, unlike other festive markets which have only a few rides for the thrill-seekers, Winter Wonderland was packed full of terrific rides that seemed as tall as the London eye and as fast as the Piccadilly tube line.
One thing that immediately captures the senses when walking around the fair is the food, and when questioning whether Winter Wonderland is worthy of its popularity, weighing up the food factor is a must. The Bavarian-themed markets offered plenty of vegan and vegetarian options to suit everyone, as well as a wide selection of festive food and plenty of mulled wine.
The food was delicious, and I particularly recommend the Yorkshire pudding wrap stall, which provided a filling and tasty reminder of the North. One thing that was disappointing, however, was the price of the food and drink. With free outdoor seating and some live music it is a pleasant dining atmosphere, however, even opting for a simplistic meal of jacket potato with cheese the bill came to a whopping £8, which is, in my opinion, very overpriced.
Whenever Winter Wonderland is brought up in conversation, the term ‘overpriced’ is circulated just as much as the hype and praise. Despite its wide range of stalls, food and drink, rides and activities, I would have to agree that the place is, on the whole, overpriced. The game stalls had hook-a-duck at £6 a go and ice skating was £14.50 for an adult ticket for just 50 minutes on an overcrowded rink. In total, including food and drink, 3 activities and 2 rides, I spent approximately £80 per person!
However, despite being overpriced, I still think that Winter Wonderland is worth the hype. Winter Wonderland can also be visited on a tighter budget – if you decide to avoid the add-ons and just walk around taking in the sights, smells and sounds it is still a worthwhile trip.
The uniqueness of the bar entirely made from ice and the beautifully crafted ice sculptures were what sold the experience for me and made the money worth spending. Therefore,even if it does slightly break the bank, Winter Wonderland will guarantee any old Scrooge a joyous and festive experience.
Words by: Caitlin Fisher
Edited by: Emma Critchley