The Great Parks of London

January 24, 2012

London Sights

Here’s a guest post from Jess, extoling the virtues of one of London’s finest features:

Green lawns and leafy trees aren’t usually the first things that spring to mind when people think of London, but there are some stunning parks here. Many of them were laid out centuries ago, and combine carefully groomed ornamental walks with rambling, open parkland. There are dozens to choose from but here are a handful of the very best:

Hyde Park. Without doubt, one of the world’s most famous parks. Hyde Park is big, beautiful, and right in the heart of London. It’s been around since 1536 although it wasn’t open to all-comers until a century later. As you wander through the landscaped gardens, stop in at the Holocaust Memorial and the Princess Diana’s Fountain. One of the most iconic spots within the park is Speaker’s Corner. Traditionally, this is the place Londoner’s go when they have something to say and want to say it loudly, whatever it may be. You never know quite who you’ll see there or what you’ll hear – it might be a paranoid conspiracy theory, a piece of performance poetry, or speech on the thorny political issues of the day.

Hyde Park is also a popular open-air swimming venue. The Serpentine Swimming Club hold a weekly race in the lake on Saturday mornings all year round, no matter what the weather is like. In summer the water can be surprising mild but in winter it’s not for the faint of heart. Sometimes they have to break the ice first. The Lido (outdoor pool) is open to the public during the warmer months and you can also hire boats on Serpentine Lake.

Hyde Park is favoured by our feathered friends...

Regent’s Park. Covering more than 400 acres adjacent to the ZSL London Zoo, there is more to do and see in Regent’s Park than you could possibly fit into a single day. Locals come for the views from the top of Primrose Hill, which is one of the finest vantage points in London, while tourists come to walk in Queen Mary’s Garden, easily one of the best examples of an ornamental flower garden anywhere in the world. If you like roses, don’t miss it.

Richmond Park. Less a standard city park and more a nature reserve. It’s a little way out of central London over in the west and it’s huge – 2360 acres in total. It’s home to several hundred red and fallow deer, which are allowed to roam free (as is Fenton!). The tradition dates back to the days when the royal parks were used as private hunting grounds. These days all the deer have to worry about is posing for photos (and Fenton!). There’s a particularly good view of St Paul’s Cathedral from the top of King Henry’s Mound inside Richmond Park, and some lovely woodland gardens. Given the size of the park, the only way to see it all in a reasonable amount of time is by bike. The park is conveniently criss-crossed with cycle tracks and if you’re not local or don’t have your own bike they can be hired on site. Those who prefer their transport four-footed can also take a horse riding tour. Book in advance, though!

Deer protection required in Richmond Park!

Greenwich Park. Like Richmond Park, this one is some way out of the city centre (this time to the east) but don’t let that put you off. The most interesting way to get there is by getting on the Thames Clipper ferry from several spots in central London along the Thames, which passes lots of famous spots including St Paul’s and Tower Bridge. Greenwich’s most famous landmark is the Royal Observatory, which you can reach by passing the old naval college buildings and National Maritime Museum and then ascending the short, steep hill in the centre of the park. Even if you have no interest in astronomy or time-keeping it’s worth the stiff walk up to the top just for the views back down over the Thames. Those in a map-making mood can even stand on the Meridian Line, from which all longitude is defined (and which you’ll also find marked at various other spots across London). You might also hear some odd chattering noises coming from the trees in Greenwich Park – these are the sounds of escaped parrots who have colonised it and can usually be seen flitting about. There’s also a deer enclosure tucked away in a corner of the park and a boating lake on the Thames side.

The long walk uphill to the Greenwich Observatory

If this post has has inspired you, just remember that this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to London’s open spaces – it is not known as Europe’s greenest capital city for nothing. From the carefully manicured spaces in the centre of town to the suburban parks and the big swathes of common land out on the urban fringes, there are any number of opportunities to get out into the fresh air in London. What’s your favourite open space in the city? Let me know in the comments below.

Guest writer Jess Spate is a former Londoner now living in Cardiff. She writes for South Wales Parks and Gardens, which seeks to educate people on the similar attractions to be found on the other side of the Bristol Channel.

About The Londoneer

Pete Stean is a keen blogger, amateur photographer, singer and ham radio enthusiast in his spare time... Google+

View all posts by The Londoneer

4 Responses to “The Great Parks of London”

  1. Emm Says:

    What a great post! I still have not made it to Richmond Park yet which is a travesty because I kind of have this thing for deer. I must make a plan this year.
    Emm recently posted..Llyn Padarn, Llanberis, Snowdonia


  2. thelondoneer Says:

    Well unfortunately when I went over there last autumn I didn’t see a single deer, which was a shame – perhaps Fenton had eaten them all or something…


  3. MyDestination Says:

    I am so guilty of not taking the time to enjoy these parks. We are so lucky to be able to have places like this in the heart of the city and use them to ‘get away from it all’ for a bit. Really nice write up and great photos (here are a few of Regent’s Park too… These parks are going on the ‘To Do’ list immediately!


    • thelondoneer Says:

      I’ve got to admit that, out of all of these, while I regularly find myself in the others I haven’t visited Regent’s Park in a while. Once upon a time I had a friend who occupied a grace-and-favour apartment overlooking the park (with a balcony no less), so I was a regular visitor at that time…


Leave a Reply


CommentLuv badge