Answers from Our Experts (5)
The city is blessed with a plethora of parks and green spaces, varying from the immaculately manicured to the wilderness of the countryside, and feel a world away from the pedestrian-heavy shopping streets. For a breath of fresh air, pack a picnic (or flask of something hot, if it’s chilly), and head to one of these:
Hampstead Heath: With bright green parakeets chirping happily from one tree to another, quiet spots to pitch up and throw out a fishing rod, and bathing ponds to take a dip in all year round, Hampstead Heath is one of the city’s best parks. Its rustic charm mentally transports you to the countryside, with only the occasional glimpse of a London landmark bringing you back to reality. The 790-acre Heath caters for runners, cyclists, dog walkers and duck feeders alike.
St James’s Park: Set at the core of London’s iconic Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace and the Houses of Parliament, St James’s Park – the oldest of the eight Royal Parks – is the hub for witnessing some of the city’s age-old traditions: the Changing of the Guard; annual Trooping the Colour, to mark Her Majesty’s birthday; and the Royal Marines Beating Retreat, a drum-filled musical display by the Household Division Beating Retreat. The central lake, photo-worthy flower displays, and The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk, are among the other contributors to the park being one of Europe’s most visited.
Regent’s Park: You could easily lose a day here with the host of things to do and see at Regent’s Park: walk among the kaleidoscopic flora in Queen Mary’s Garden; sneak a peek at the animal antics at London Zoo; don your sneakers and take to the running tracks; pedal along on the boating lake; take a seat at the open air theatre; or just lie back on the perfectly maintained grass and soak up the rays on a hot summer’s day. Its central location also makes it a great respite in between shopping on nearby Marylebone High Street and Camden Town.
Escape to London's green spaces for walks and wildlife, plus unrivaled views, sporting pursuits and unexpected artworks.
Richmond Park, the biggest enclosed space in London, has been home to herds of wild deer since 1529 (pictured). You can cycle and ride horses in this magnificent landscape and there's a gorgeous protected view of St. Paul's Cathedral from King's Henry's Mound, the park's highest point.
Lincoln's Inn Fields is technically an historic public square (the largest in London) and not a park, but it's almost big enough to count and is glorious, so I'm including it. Tucked away in the back streets of Holborn, it's full of enormous old London plane trees and offers a breath of fresh air right in the centre of town. The buildings that surround it are pretty special too, including Lincoln's Inn, one of the London's four ancient 'Inns of Court', where lawyers are called to the Bar, and Sir John Soane's Museum, full of remarkable antiquities.
Hampstead Heath feels like a genuine wilderness, with its woods, ponds (three of which are open for swimming), and sprawling wild-flower meadows. Climb to the top of Parliament Hill for superb views over London, or better yet, join the enthusiastic kite flyers that gather there at the slightest breath of wind.
The Regent's Park, with its formal landscaped gardens and wide open sports fields, is a rather different park experience. Highlights include Queen Mary's Gardens, home to around 12,000 roses; the Open Air Theatre, known for its summertime musical theatre revivals; and the Boating Lake, where you can hire pedaloes and row boats between April and September. ZSL London Zoo is part of the park too – another good reason to visit.
Crystal Palace Park was laid out in 1854 following the removal and re-erection of the famous Crystal Palace from the 1851 Great Exhibition. The building burned down in the 1930s but the statues of dinosaurs and other extinct creatures that were installed in the park when it first opened remain. They are surely one of London's most incongruous sights.
London is an incredibly green city—there are roughly 7 million trees within the city limits, and both the centre and its outer boroughs have a fine crop of parks.
Among the central parks, Hyde Park is the marquee name. Follow Rotten Row, the first London "street" (actualy a bridleway) to have gas lighting installed—it was where King William III used to ride out in the late 1600s. Kids will love to boat on the Serpentine or to play on the pirate ship in the Diana Memorial Playground, in neighbouring Kensington Gardens. The playground was named in honour of the late Princess Di.
If you want a view of nearby Buckingham Palace, however, take your camera to the bridge over the lake in nearby St. James's Park. The weeping willows and other lakeside trees frame the palace perfectly.
For a view over the entire centre of London, climb Primrose Hill, a public park in Camden, and just north of Regents Park. The entire city is laid out below like a postcard.
There's another great view from the top of Greenwich Park, in the southeast of the city. The park was used as a venue for the 2012 Olympic equestrian events, and a decent snowfall even brings out the odd snowboarder. The top of its hill is crowned by the Greenwich Observatory, where the Prime Meridian lies. There's always a long line of visitors waiting in line for the classic shot, with one foot in the eastern hemisphere and the other in the west.
London is a very green city and there are parks in every area. The largest is the Lee Valley regional park, which stretches for an extraordinary 26 miles from the river Thames out past the M25, and is home to the Lee Valley White Water Centre, which saw Britain win gold and silver in the canoe slalom. You can follow in their paddle strokes here, with canoeing, kayaking and whitewater rafting all on offer.
Out to the west, Richmond Park is a vast wilderness, created by Charles I in the 17th century as a deer park and now home to literally hundreds of red and fallow deer. A similar sense of wilderness abounds on Hampstead Heath to the city's north, where you can bathe in the open-air swimming ponds - divided into mens', womens' and mixed.
Closer to the city centre, don't miss Greenwich Park, not only for its world-famous Observatory but also for its stunning views over London. And in the centre of the action, call in to Hyde Park for welcome respite from the West End crowds, or to walk all the way through London's green lung to Kensington in the west. Finally, Regents Park is the place to go for cricket, softball and football in London's largest outdoor sports facility, as well as open air theatre and the excellent London Zoo.