hyde park at christmas: the perfect escape for the holidays

From a festive fair to a pet cemetery, there’s plenty to discover in Hyde Park in winter.

The winter holiday season is a wonderful time to visit Hyde Park. Join us as we explore the history, wildlife, art and entertainment of London’s favourite park.

a brief history of hyde park at christmas

Skating in Hyde-Park, John Leech, 1832-1864. © The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

“Hyde Park. What a world of memories is suggested by the name,” wrote Mrs Alec-Tweedie in Hyde Park, Its History and Romance.

If you are familiar with London’s popularity as a holiday destination, you’ll know it is busiest during the summer months, with many events and activities to draw the crowds. Things used to be quite different however – in the Georgian and Regency periods, the nobility left the city in the summer for their country estates, or other travels, and stayed in London to attend parliament between October and June. Given how difficult travel could become in the wintery weather, the upper classes were essentially confined to the city.  What was there to do for the bored aristocrat? The answer was love and enlightenment, as the winter ‘season’ revolved around match-making for marriages and interesting political debate. The capital buzzed with all manner of events and performances to ensure the elite remained well entertained. Christmas celebrations started on 6 December, St. Nicholas’s Day, marked by the sharing of presents, and concluded on 6  January, Twelfth Night. This period was dedicated to gatherings, feasts, and social gatherings among relatives and companions, along with a focus on philanthropy towards the less fortunate.

Thanks to the colder temperatures endured by London in Britain’s Little Ice Age, wintertime in Hyde Park was transformed into an Alpine scene. In the nineteenth century, frosts and snowfall would last for months. Horse-drawn sleighs would glide around Hyde Park and the frozen Serpentine would be used for skating, fairs and sports. 

“In severe winters, when the Serpentine River is frozen over, the ice is almost covered with people,” explains The Picture of London, for 1807, a contemporary guidebook. “In one winter there were counted more than 6,000 people on the ice. A number of booths were pitched for the refreshment of the populace.” Though not everyone skated. One particular account from The Morning Post on Saturday 20 January 1810 recalls a young lady, dressed as a swan and attended by a servant, who “appeared to take particular delight in sliding”. 

Despite the freezing temperatures, there was always a risk to playing on the ice. People fell through into the icy waters with such frequency that the King gave the Royal Humane Society a spot on the Serpentine’s banks to build a “receiving-house”, providing emergency treatment to the hyperthermic unfortunates. 

Yet despite the excitement of the season, winters in the city were brutal for all but the upper classes. Before central heating, access to modern medicine and readily available food, the colder months were a feat of endurance. As Alec-Tweedie puts it: “Then come autumn tints, winter fogs, and utter desolation.” Today, thankfully, we can assure visitors to the park that they can set their sights higher than utter desolation. With a warm jacket, ample refreshments, and our suggestions to hand, there’s plenty to commend wintertime in Hyde Park.

things to do in hyde park over the christmas period

Winter Wonderland offers an extravaganza of attractions for all ages. Photo: Eric Aydin Barberini

Winter Wonderland offers an extravaganza of attractions for all ages. Photo: Eric Aydin Barberini

1. festive fun at winter wonderland

A guide to Christmas in Hyde Park would not be complete without mentioning Winter Wonderland, the annual festive fair that has been transforming Hyde Park into a vibrant hub of activities since 2007. Running from 17 November to 1 January, Winter Wonderland offers an extravaganza of attractions for all ages. With funfair rides and a massive Christmas market, a Bavarian beer hall, family-friendly performances, an ice skating rink and hot picks from London’s street food scene, there’s something for everyone. The best part? Your attendance supports the conservation and maintenance of Hyde Park’s unique landscapes.

2. contemporary art at the serpentine galleries

Located in the centre of Hyde Park – either side of the Serpentine Bridge – the Serpentine Galleries are the perfect destination for anyone looking to bring some culture into their festive excursions. Split across two galleries, Serpentine South was originally a tea-room which evolved into an artistic hub housing innovative exhibitions, while part of Serpentine North was a gunpowder store until the early 1960s. Both galleries present a diverse array of art – from traditional to avant-garde works. With exhibitions covering art, design, architecture, and community projects, featured artists include Georg Baselitz and Maria Lassnig. Make sure to check opening times before you visit – Serpentine North is closed until February 2024 and Serpentine South is closed from 24 December – 2 January, as well as on Mondays.

3. embrace hyde park’s nature

Even in the cooler months, Hyde Park remains a haven for wildlife. Alongside squirrels, pigeons, and the occasional sighting of a fox, an iconic feature in the British winter landscape is the European robin. Known as the gardener’s friend for their habit of hovering around recently dug-up soil, these rotund park dwellers can be surprisingly territorial. Don’t be surprised if you come across one wittering angrily from a branch or fence.

Early morning visitors might be lucky enough to witness the serene scene of waterfowl gracefully navigating the mist-covered waterways. Particularly remarkable, if you can spot him, is the elegant resident black swan. As daylight wanes, the park unveils its twilight secrets. Dusk is the moment to catch a glimpse of the unexpected as bats gracefully swoop near the Dell or Serpentine Bridge. These astonishing creatures thrive due to the park’s Serpentine and Long Water lakes which attract a veritable buffet of insects.

4. monuments and marbles in hyde park

A stroll around Hyde Park, Hyde Park corner, Kensington Gardens and Marble Arch reveals 53 monuments and sculptures, commemorating people, animals and events from military success to classical mythology, historical memorial to literary markers. Using 545 pieces of Cornish granite, The Princess Diana Memorial Fountain was built as a testament to Diana’s remarkable life and legacy. Nearby, the Wellington Arch – known originally as the Constitution Arch – stands as an iconic ode to the Battle of Waterloo, where the Duke of Wellington defeated the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815. The impressive monument depicts the Angel of Peace riding a four-horse-driven war chariot. Ramblers might also stumble upon the Hudson Memorial bird sanctuary, honouring naturalist William Hudson and providing a refuge for various small bird species. Hudson was born in Argentina and emigrated to England when he was 33, where he became an early member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. 

History is weaved through every corner of Hyde Park. From the haunting tales of the Tyburn Tree, a site where notorious criminals met their end, to Speakers’ Corner, famed as a haunt for the capital’s more free-thinking individuals, there is a wealth of stories to uncover. One unusual fixture for wintery explorers is the Victorian Pet Cemetery, a unique testament to Victorian sentiments on loss and remembrance. As Alec-Tweedie artfully put it: “To write fully the history of a space so crowded with pregnant memories would be too great a task for any one pen, nor could a single book hope to hold one tithe of the interesting memories which throng these precincts.”

5. indulge in culinary delights

No festive expedition is complete without a cup of something warm and a slice of cake at one of Hyde Park’s cafes. Choose from the modern elegance of Colicci Serpentine Coffee House, a classical aesthetic at The Lodge Café or venture into nearby Mayfair for an even greater choice of food and drink. Located right across the road from Hyde Park, EL&N Park Lane’s pink decor and tantalising baked goods make the café a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.

a park for every season

Hyde Park is filled with wildlife throughout the year. Photo: Paolo Nicolello/Unsplash
Hyde Park is filled with wildlife throughout the year. Photo: Paolo Nicolello/Unsplash

Though the concept of park life might bring to mind hot summer days and picnics, Hyde Park over the winter holiday period has plenty to offer. From the festive exuberance of Winter Wonderland to cultural edification at Serpentine Galleries, the tranquil embrace of nature, the echoes of history, and the joy of a good slice of cake, Hyde Park is well worth a visit in the colder months.

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