Ever since I first visited London, I was impressed by the beautiful and expansive parks found all over this city. And now that I live here, these green spaces hold an essential place in my everyday life. Whether I am commuting across town and get to take a shortcut through an impromptu public garden or choose a park as my destination for a Sunday afternoon, these respites make this busy metropolis feel tranquil.
If you’ve ever been to London, there’s no doubt that you’ve taken a rest in the very famous Hyde Park and snapped photos of The Buckingham Palace from the edge of Green Park. And it is possible you’ve crossed St. James Park on your way to the National Gallery. These beautiful gardens are conveniently located parks next to some of the most visited tourist attraction in town—offering a wonderful break in a day of sight seeing. But some of London’s green spaces offer a lot more than a moment of rest.
If you are deciding on what to do with a free day in the capital, why not use it to journey to the stars, take a dip in a pond, walk among the treetops, or take in an art collection that includes the most famous image of Elizabeth I.
The most central park on the list, Regent’s Park reflects the dynamic nature of its urban setting with its diversity of attractions. During the day visitors can stare up at leggy giraffes at the London Zoo on the north side of the park. You can also pedal around the lake on small boats, or go on a bird walk. And like many of the city’s parks there are many species of birds found here from geese and pelicans, to ducks and swans roaming wild. At night, drink a glass of bubbly on the patio of the Regent’s Bar and Kitchen and follow up with a bit of Shakespeare at the majestic Open Air Theater.
If you really want to escape the concrete (and brick) jungle, head to Hampstead Health. Wild and hilly, the park has 25 ponds on its territory, three of which are open for swimming. If it is warm enough relive the summer of your childhood dreams, napping among wildflowers and jumping into cool, natural pools. If you want to be brought back to reality, head to Parliament Hill, for a surreal, panoramic view of London’s city center.
The oldest of the Royal Parks, dating back to 1427,the park is admittedly beautiful, with a fruit orchard and an herb garden. But it is the park’s cultural legacy that makes it so special and earned it a place on the World Heritage List. The Prime Meridian, the line that divides the Earth into east and west runs through this park and is marked by a brass line just outside The Royal Observatory. Right nearby the planetarium offers nightly trips to outer space.
The 17th Century Queen’s House, which stands on the grounds of the Greenwich Palace has an art collection, including the recently acquired iconic portrait of Elizabeth I after the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Incidentally, Elizabeth I was born right here, at the Greenwich Palace.
To get to Greenwich, you can take the tube from central London. But I prefer arriving by boat. You can catch a boat from the docks of the Thames right in front of Big Ben or the London Eye, watch stunning views of the city steam by and arrive on the banks of Greenwich for a stroll through town and park.
Viewfinder Tip: When visiting London, always carry an umbrella, even on the sunny days, the weather on this island can change quickly.
One of the most unique parks in the world, Kew Gardens have a botanical collection of more that 14,000 trees, representing more that 200 varieties, a 100-year-old aquatic garden and perfectly preserved Victorian glass structures displaying showy water lilies and neat bonsai trees. And the orchids growing here are out of this world featuring orchids of all colors and sizes. You can also take a stroll along the Treetop Walkway almost 60 feet up for a new perspective or visit the Gallery of Botanical Art to admire the beauty of nature up close.
Known as the people’s park when it was first opened in 1845, Vicky Park is the most popular park in London today—that is, among the locals! Unlike the museum-like Royal Parks of London, Vicky is a public park that is high on local flavor and activity. There is boating and a skating park, you can rent a bike or book a tennis court. If you’re more inclined to people watch, catch a cricket match or one of the many outdoor summer concerts. It is also quite agreeable to grab an outdoor table at the Pavilion Café where all the food is locally sourced, seasonal and organic when possible. There you can enjoy the view of the lake and the people watching is second to none—in my eyes.
What do you look for in a city park experience?