So what makes London’s royal parks so special? In this article, I share 5 of the best that you must visit when going to London, as well as one bonus “park” that you may not have known about!
As a property agent, I help many buyers or renters moving to London to find the perfect home. So it’s really important that they get a sense of the area and what it has to offer. Many people come in thinking that London is a typical city and pretty much a concrete jungle, but it’s definitely not that. In reality, London is a beautiful city that does an incredible job of providing green space to residents. I’ve heard it said that you are never more than a 15-minute walk to your nearest green space. So I wanted to highlight some of London’s most beautiful and famous parks – the royal parks of London. They are steeped in history and part of what makes London such a beautiful and great city live and work.
My Top 5 Royal Parks to Visit in London
Let’s start with the most famous and largest of the royal parks – Hyde Park. This Grade I listed park covers 350 acres, includes 2 lakes, and is part of a massive network of other major parks in prime central London. It starts at the entrance of Kensington Palace with Kensington Gardens, then Hyde Park to Hyde Park Corner, Green Park next, and then St. James’s Park at the main entrance of Buckingham Palace.
Hyde Park was established by Henry VIII in 1536 when he took the land from Westminster Abbey and used it as a hunting grounds. It opened to the public in 1637 and quickly became popular. While you can spend endless hours on a leisurely strolls, the park has only been the site of free speech and demonstrations for many years. Speakers’ Corner was established back in 1872 as a location for debate and free speech while the suffragettes staged multiple protests there. The park is also the location of major events including concerts and the annual Winter Wonderland festival started in 2007.
The park includes the Serpentine Bar and Kitchen, Princess Diana Memorial and Fountain, Lido Bar & Café along with South Carriage Drive Playground, The Rose Garden and Hyde Park Tennis and Sports Centre. You can enjoy the Serpentine lake as there are numerous paddle and row boat available for rental; in addition there is the Long Water lake. One of the nicest walks I’ve had is to enter the park at the south side in Knightsbridge near Royal Albert Hall and then meander through and come out on the north side at Bayswater Road. Of course some of London’s most expensive real estate is located on the edges of the park including the multi million pound flats of luxury building One Hyde Park in Knightsbridge.
Next, let’s briefly mention Kensington Gardens, which used to be part of Hyde Park but there is no obvious delineation. Located inside Kensington Gardens are the Serpentine Galleries showcasing modern and contemporary art at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery and the Serpentine Gallery. The gardens are on the edge of Kensington Palace with it’s beautiful Kensington Palace Gardens which includes The Sunken Garden. Also included is the Diana Memorial Playground where kids will enjoy the huge wooden pirate ship, sensory trail and play sculptures, inspired by the adventures of fictional park hero, Peter Pan.
Next up is Green Park, one of my favourites, as our office used to be in Mayfair at the edge of the park. Interestingly, Green Park doesn’t really have much when compared to the other royal parks as there are no lakes, buildings, playgrounds, and only minimal flower plantings. What it does offer is a simple and easily accessible oasis in central London. A convenient place to come enjoy a nice day in the park or host a simple picnic. They also have the ever-present green and white striped chairs for rental so you can pop down and just relax for a few minutes. It too dates back to the 16th century and was landscaped around 1820. The park sits between Hyde Park and St. James’s park and as I previously mentioned, it’s part of an unbroken stretch of green space in prime central London. What’s also nice about the park is that instead of jumping onto the tube at Green Park, it’s a really nice stroll through the park to get to Victoria station or Buckingham Palace – a really easy way to get some exercise instead of rushing onto public transport.
St. James’s Park
St. James’s Park is one of the prettiest little parks there is. Where Green Park lacks flowers and plantings, St. James’s Park is practically bursting with them. At 23 acres, I call this a little boutique park compared to the others. It is at the heart of quintessential English aristocracy with Buckingham Palace to the west, the Mall to the north, Horse Guards to the east and Birdcage Walk to the south, and oh St. James’s Palace itself.
The park has a small lake, St James’s Park Lake, with two islands, West Island and Duck Island, and it’s easy to see why the name as there is a whole flock of waddling residents hanging around. There are over 15 species of birds, including a resident colony of pelicans that have been a feature of the park since a Russian ambassador donated them to Charles II in 1664! But as I said, the park is most notable for its gorgeous flowerbeds. If you’re on the south side of Duck Island, you’ll have great views of Big Ben and the London Eye. There’s also a children’s playground with an enormous sandpit and another smaller, separate sand area.
Now let’s head over to Regents Park located in northwest inner London. At 410 acres, the park is massive and actually contains Regents University, and the London Zoo. It includes an outer and inner ring that contains Queens Mary’s Gardens where you can see more than 12,000 roses. The park was designed by famous architect John Nash as were the beautiful stately homes that surround the south, east and west side of the park while running through the north end is Regents Canal, part of the Grand Union canal network.
The park offers a wide range of amenities and activities including beautiful gardens, a lake with a heronry, waterfowl and a boating area; sports pitches; and children’s playgrounds. The northern side of the park is the home of London Zoo and the headquarters of the Zoological Society of London. There are several public gardens with flowers and specimen plants, including Queen Mary’s Gardens in the Inner Circle; there are also formal Italian Gardens and informal English Gardens. There is also the Open Air Theatre founded in 1932, which is the oldest professional outdoor theatre in Britain. Winfield House, the official residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the UK, stands on private grounds in the western section of the park, near to the capital’s first large mosque.
If you want to enjoy a day in the park playing sports, Regents Park is a great place as many people enjoy the park to cycle, play tennis, football, softball, hockey, and athletics.
On the northern side, Regents Park edges into Primrose Hill, another open space which offers stunning views of central London to the south-east, as well as Belsize Park and Hampstead to the north, some of London’s prettiest, inner suburb neighbourhoods, as I would call them!
Bonus royal park in London to visit – Brompton Cemetery
And Finally, our bonus feature is Brompton Cemetery. Not sure I would call this a park, but it is listed on the Royal Parks website. Located in Knightsbridge, the cemetery was established by an act of parliament in 1839 and it has over 35,000 gravestones and monuments. It is the sacred final resting place of many people including some famous names like Emmeline Pankhurst, and John Snow. It’s a quiet and serene place to escape the hustle and bustle of London and sit amongst history.
So I hope this article has given you a great taste of one of the best things about living in London – the ease and access to beautiful parkland. They are magical and great ways to connect with nature and just recharge your batteries. While I mentioned just the Royal Parks in today’s article, I have another blog that highlights some of the best neighborhoods with great parks, which you can read here.