With a seemingly endless array of parks and green spaces, London can lay claim to being one of Europe’s greenest cities. And one thing is for certain: Londoners love their parks. From grandiose Royal Parks to pretty garden squares, stretches of woodland, heaths, meadows and more, there’s something for every lover of the great outdoors in the English capital. In this week’s blog we’re rounding up 10 of our favourite parks in London - read on to discover where to escape when the bustle of city life gets too much!
Offering commanding views over London from its position on a hill at the northern edge of the city centre, the gentle hills, flower-strewn meadows, copses of old-growth trees and peaceful ponds make Hampstead Heath a wonderful oasis of tranquillity just minutes from the bustle of downtown London. At the centre of the park stands the pleasing neoclassical bulk of Kenwood House, with its impressive art collection and bustling cafe. The rolling lawns surrounding the building are a favourite spot for local picnikers, whilst the more adventurous are likely to be found making a splash in Hampstead’s famous bathing ponds, where a bracing dip is something of a rite of passage for aspiring Londoners. Make sure to arrive at Parliament Hill for the golden hour, meanwhile, and enjoy one of the most spectacular sunset views in all of London.
The most centrally located of London’s historic parks, Hyde Park cuts a long green dash through some of the city centre’s most densely populated areas. It’s certain that you’ll find yourself heading here at some point on any visit to the English capital, whether it's to catch some contemporary art at the Serpentine Gallery, feed the ducks and geese in the Round Pond, follow in the footsteps of Diana in Kensington Gardens or listen to the rantings of soapbox proclaimers at Speaker’s Corner. Hyde Park is London’s most visited park, and Indeed all of the endlessly varied life of the city is contained here as if in microcosm.
Stretching over 395 acres of prime real estate, Regent’s Park is both the largest and arguably most impressive of London’s Royal Parks. Home to London Zoo, Regent’s Canal, a boating lake, an outdoor theatre and endless wide-open green spaces, Regent’s Park is also beloved by Londoners for its extensive sporting facilities. The park was originally commissioned by the future George IV on the site of a royal hunting ground from the renowned architects John Nash and Decimus Burton, whose ambitious plan for a series of aristocratic palaces ringing the green spaces was only ever partially realised - look out for the houses on the outer circle to get a sense of what their vision might have looked like. The Regent’s Park was first opened to the public for two days a week in in the 1830s, and was firmly established as a people’s favourite in the 1930s with the inauguration of Queen Mary’s gardens, where broad boulevards divide flower beds that are transformed into a riot of colour each June when the roses are in bloom.
Wide open spaces and impressive wildlife are the order of the day at this sprawling park in southwest London. Checking in at more than 2,500 acres, it’s the largest nature reserve in the capital. Herds of wild red and fallow deer roam the park’s extensive grasslands and forests, which began life as a royal hunting ground in the 17th century, and it’s the perfect spot for some free-nature rambling or cycling far from the madding crowds of central London. Stop off for a cup of tea and a cake in the elegant Georgian tea rooms of magnificent Pembroke Lodge when in need of a pick-me-up.
Guarding the southeast corner of the city is the sweeping expanse of Greenwich Park, located at the heart of the famous London neighbourhood of the same name. The views across the Thames, over London and all the way to Hampstead Heath beyond make the climb up the park-s steep hill more than worthwhile, but there’s a lot more to enjoy here than breathtaking panoramas. The Royal Naval College and Maritime Museum are fascinating museums documenting the area’s proud maritime history, and James Thornhill’s magisterial Painted Hall is home to some of London’s most impressive frescoes. The Christopher Wren designed Royal Observatory, meanwhile, is located on the Prime Meridian, and features a planetarium as well as interesting instruments documenting the history of astronomy.
Nestled in one of leafy west London’s most charming neighbourhoods, Chiswick Park can lay claim to being the world’s first English Landscape garden; when William Kent was tasked to design the grounds of neo-Palladian Chiswick House in the 1720s, he broke from the strict formal requirements of the traditional garden inspired by French tradition, preferring instead to lay out Chiswick Park in a more picturesque and apparently natural manner replete with stands of trees and hedgerows, wild flowers and glittering ponds - a nod to his patron the Earl of Burlington’s desire to recreate the verdant gardens of antiquity.
The picturesque result quickly proved a hit with European aristocracy, and English gardens were to pop up in the grounds of grand houses all across Europe in the coming century. Few can match the original, however, and the wandering along the garden’s foliage-covered laneways, uncovering fountains and classical statuary as you go, is one of our favourite experiences in London.
The steep grass slope of Primrose Hill might look unassuming, but it is located at the heart of one of London’s most desirable areas just to the north of Regent’s Park. The park offers great views over the city from its summit, and retains an agreeable neighbourhood feel thanks to the groups of locals habitually picnicking from hampers on its slope. Make sure to explore the surrounding neighbourhood, whose beautiful pastel-coloured Victorian houses were once home to luminaries like Irish poet WB Yeats and philosopher Frederich Engels. These days the lovely cobbled lanes and flower-decked homes are the preserve of A-listers such as Jude Law and Tim Burton, and it’s not hard to see the appeal!
From woodland to playing fields and landscaped gardens, there’s something for everyone in Holland Park. Located in the well-heeled surrounds of Kensington in west London, the historic Holland House itself is a highly suggestive ruin - destroyed by a bomb during World War II - that plays host to an opera festival every summer. A series of gardens in different styles surround the House, the highlight of which is the fabulous Kyoto Garden, where cherry trees frame a waterfall and ornamental fish pond surrounded by landscaped paths - the perfect setting for a meditative stroll. Oh, and look out for the park’s peacocks!
A hidden gem in south London’s Forest Hill, the Horniman Gardens offer breathtaking views across the city from its spectacular hilltop perch. The gardens surround the fascinating (and free) Horniman Museum of natural history, making a trip out to Forest Hill a fun and educational day out for all the family. Say hi to the gardens’ live-in population of alpacas and chickens, and get to grips with the science of sound by having a go on the massive xylophones in the sound garden. Look out too for the spectacular Victorian conservatory. If you’re interested in the history of medicine or pharmacology, finally, the museum’s collections of plants and herbs will be sure to be of interest.
East London might have comparatively fewer large green spaces than other parts of the city, but Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets is the glorious exception. It’s the oldest public park in London, and has been providing a space for relaxation and recreation to Londoners for over 170 years ever since it was opened in 1845 on the suggestion of epidemiologist William Parr, who was convinced that public health would be well served by having the opportunity to spend more time outdoors. Highlights of the park include a Chinese pagoda, a bandstand, a boating pond and the excellent Pavillion cafe. Look out for contemporary sculptures made from hay by Romanian artist Erno Bartha on the West Lake, commissioned as part of the Cultural Olympiad in the runup to the 2012 London Olympics.
If you’re planning a visit to London and want to get the best out of your time in the city, then be sure to check out Through Eternity’s range of private, expert-led London tours. We’ve got something for every interest, and are happy to customise our itineraries to suit you - so get in touch today to start planning your London adventure!