The 7 best London parks and public spaces
The very best of London’s outdoor spaces.
Did you know that London has so many trees that it can be officially classified as a forest? Crazy, right? Here’s our pick of the top 7 parks and public spaces in the capital. Make sure you and your loved ones take advantage of what London has to offer – there’s nothing quite like a stroll in the park.
1. St James’ Park
Located in the heart of the city, St James’s Park is probably the most frequently visited of all of the green spaces on our list. It is one of London’s eight royal parks and is surrounded by numerous stunning landmarks recognised the world over. This includes The Mall, Horse Guards Parade, Marble Arch, Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Whitehall – not to mention the London Eye which is visible from the park towards the east. So, don’t forget to pose for a photo on the famous Blue Bridge and snap Europe’s tallest observation wheel in the backdrop while you’re there.
The park’s 57 acres also boast flower beds, a lake, a fountain, a children’s playground, deckchairs, Duck Island Cottage, St James’s Café and pelicans! These birds were originally presented as a gift from the Russian Ambassador to King Charles II in 1664. Today’s pelicans are the descendants of the original arrivals. You can catch the pelicans being fed at 2:30 pm every day.
2. Hampstead Heath
Hampstead Heath is a huge space that transports you far away from the hustle and bustle of the capital. There’s so much to do on the 790 acre Heath, you’ll easily fill a whole day with activities. A highlight is Parliament Hill, with terrific views over London. Another is Kenwood House, which sits on the edge of Hampstead Heath and is open to the public for free. You might recognise it from the classic rom-com, ‘Notting Hill’.
A zoo and a butterfly house can also be found on Hampstead Heath, located in the Golders Hill Park section, as well as three swimming ponds, splash pools and an open air Lido – this area really is ideal for bathing in the summer. Among the wide expanse of grassland and ancient woodland can be found numerous sports pitches, an athletics track, cafés, playgrounds and the mesmerising Hampstead Heath Pergola. Make sure you set aside a day to visit the vibrant parkland.
3. Regent’s Park
Regent’s Park is a royal park that covers an area of 395 acres. It is host to the famous Open Air Theatre, the oldest, professional, permanent outdoor theatre in Britain with one of the largest auditoria in London. It offers a range of theatre, music, comedy and film events every year from May to September. Hurry and you’ll catch the events for 2018, click here to take a look. Filled with stunning scenery and areas to eat, it’s a theatrical experience you won’t forget.
As well as the theatre, there’s elegant formal gardens that include 12,000 roses in Queen Mary’s Gardens, four children’s playgrounds, the Broad Walk Café, Primrose Hill with spectacular views across London and the ZSL London Zoo, with Regent’s Canal running through it. For more information on the walk from Little Venice to Camden that runs through the ZSL London Zoo click here.
4. Greenwich Park
Grab a picnic blanket, relax and experience breath-taking panoramic views across the city from this stunning royal park. This is where East meets West, the home of longitude and Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
This historically rich location, which has the Prime Meridian line running through it and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, also features lively markets, the Cutty Sark, the Royal Observatory and royal deer that are descendants of Henry VIII’s hunting stock.
One of the best parts of Greenwich, however, is that it houses the National Maritime Museum which is free to enter. It contains fabulous art and insights into maritime culture and history. Discovering Greenwich is a full day out, an ideal trip for all the family or anybody with a keen interest in ships, the ocean and British art.
5. Hyde Park
Another one of London’s stunning royal parks covering an area of 350 acres, Hyde Park offers so many exciting activities to the public. The Serpentine Lake where you can boat or brave an open air swim is one of the best parts of the park alongside the glorious Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain where little ones can have a paddle. In the centre of the lake sits Christo’s London Mastaba, a huge temporary floating sculpture made of 7,506 painted barrels secured to scaffolding and anchored in the water. This was entirely self-funded by the artist and is a cool new attraction to feast your eyes on whilst strolling through its grassy surroundings.
Moving away from the water-based activities, there’s tennis, horse riding and places for you to cycle and run. Speakers’ Corner, which cements Hyde Park’s long history as a place of protest, hosts people from all walks of life sharing their views on Sunday mornings.
There’s also plenty of festive fun at Winter Wonderland from November 2018 until January 2019, to find out more click here.
6. Crystal Palace Park
This park in south east London is a cornucopia of exciting things to see and do.
The ‘Dinosaur Court’ was a symbol of British influence in science when it opened in 1854 and helped encourage ‘Dinomania’ in the public. The sculptures found in this part of the park are not considered accurate today but they are key evidence of how dinosaur biology developed. The sculptures were famous worldwide at the time they were built and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited often.
Crystal Palace Park is also home to one of the largest mazes in the country. Its diameter spans 160 feet and has been bewildering tourists and Londoners alike since the 1870s. Nearby is Capel Manor Urban Farm, a fun place to visit with the little ones with pigs, horses, snakes, lizards and more available. For teenagers and young adults, there’s a new 1,100 square metre skate park. It’s a historic location as the first major UK national skateboarding competition took place there in 1977.
7. Battersea Park
Battersea Park is an area rich with history. An extremely unique part of the space is the Peace Pagoda, built in 1985 and located in the Old English Garden. A single Buddhist monk cares for it on a daily basis. Reverend Gyoro Nagase spends his days cleaning the Peace Pagoda, often helped by volunteers, and relies on donations to live. On 9th August every year, a floating lantern ceremony takes place at dusk on the Thames in front of the Peace Pagoda to commemorate the anniversary of the Nagasaki atomic bomb.
If you venture onto a path north of the Old English Garden, you are likely to come across a statue of a dog. This is known as the Brown Dog Statue, and was erected in 1985 (like the Peace Pagoda) to replace the original statue, which had been somewhat controversial.
The original was erected in 1906 in memory of animals that had undergone vivisection experiments at University College, London, by people who were against animal testing. It was seen as provocative by medical students and, as a result, was vandalised several times. In December the following year, 1,000 medical students marched through London, clashing with police. This event became known as the Brown Dog Riots.