A trip to London is usually full of visits to monuments, galleries and museums, but take some time out to enjoy the city’s green spaces. No matter the season, a walk through London’s famous parks and gardens is a gentler way to soak up the city’s atmosphere.
This is my guide to London’s parks and gardens with practical information and highlights for visitors – I hope you find it useful for your next trip to London.
Famous parks in London
Many of London’s green spaces developed as a result of significant events in history. Henry VIII’s succession from the Catholic church meant lands were repurposed for hunting, the Great Fire and bombing in the Second World War.
Today, London’s parks and gardens are an important part of the city’s fabric and you should make time to see them when you next visit.
London’s Royal Parks
When monasteries were dissolved during the 16th century, the land was repurposed and developed into the 8 Royal parks and gardens found in Greater London today. Once they formed an extensive joined parkland but have since made way for the development of roads and highways.
Originally, used as hunting grounds for the Royal Family, the almost 2,000 hectares of parklands were opened to the public with the Crown Lands Act of 1851.
Hyde Park London
One of King Henry VIII’s favourite hunting grounds, Hyde Park is now a green haven and perhaps the most famous park in central London.
The park is bounded by Park Lane, Knightsbridge and Bayswater Road and is a popular place for running, walking and horse riding around its many paths. Hyde Park hosts several large public events throughout the year including Winter Wonderland, a favourite winter activity in London.
Highlights of a visit to Hyde Park include hiring rowing boats on the Serpentine man made lake in the park’s west, splashing in the Diana Memorial Fountain and taking part in a centuries’ old tradition by listening to the orators at Speaker’s corner.
Did you know? Speaker’s Corner was a favourite rallying spot for historical figures Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and George Orwell
Practical information – the park is open from 05:00am to midnight every day. Nearest tube stops: Lancaster Gate (Central Line), Marble Arch (Central Line), Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly Line), Knightsbridge (Piccadilly Line)
Home to Kensington Palace and the birthplace of Queen Victoria, Kensington Gardens is one of my favourite parks in London for a leisurely stroll.
Don’t miss the Albert Memorial, the ornate Italian Gardens featuring Carrara marble fountains, and the Peter Pan statue made in homage to the book of the same name by J.M. Barrie, part of which was set in the gardens.
Kensington Palace itself is well worth a visit and if you are hungry I recommend stopping for lunch or even afternoon tea at the Orangery in the palace grounds.
If you are visiting the park with children don’t miss the Diana Memorial Playground, one of the best children’s playgrounds in London.
Practical information – the park is open from 06:00am to dusk every day. Nearest tube stops: Lancaster Gate & Queensway (Central Line), Bayswater (District Line), High Street Kensington (Circle and District Lines)
The Green Park
Known to Londoners simply as Green Park, it is the smallest of the Royal Parks and where King Charles II is said to have walked his dogs on Constitution Hill.
Most of the year, Green Park is a series of small grassy hills with groves of plane and lime trees but in Springtime it bursts into colour with the sight of around 250,000 daffodils in full bloom for several weeks. The park is also a wonderful place to lounge on a deckchair when the sun is shining.
Green Park is the perfect place to picnic in central London and there are lots of easy ways to do this for visitors. You could enjoy a Wind in the Willows themed picnic from nearby St James’s Hotel or pick up a picnic hamper from Fortnum and Mason.
Tip – you can hire deckchairs by the hour for a small fee – more information
Practical information – the park is open all day, every day. Nearest tube stops: Green Park (Jubilee, Victoria and Piccadilly Lines), Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly Line)
The Regent’s Park
Regent’s Park is named for the Prince Regent, later King George IV, who commissioned architect John Nash to reimagine Marylebone Park into a playground lined with grand houses for his friends. Though Nash’s vision was never fully realised, the park is an idyllic green space covering 197 hectares enjoyed by Londoners all year round.
Home to London Zoo and its large collection of animals from all over the world, the park itself is home to native wildlife including foxes, squirrels and some of the few remaining hedgehogs found in London.
Don’t miss Queen Mary’s Gardens, home to an extensive collection of roses and begonias that are in full bloom throughout June. To reach them you enter through the magnificent iron and gilded Jubilee gates.
Fact – there are over 12,000 roses in Queen Mary’s Gardens – the largest collection of roses in London
If you enjoy the serenity of Japanese style gardens there is a beautiful example planted by the Royal Botanical Society in the 1850s just inside the Jubilee Gates.
Other favourite Regent’s Park activities including strolling or taking a boat cruise along the Regent’s canal and hiring boats and pedalos to enjoy on the large boating lake.
Practical information – the park is open from 05:00am to dusk. Nearest tube stops: Regent’s Park (Bakerloo line), Great Portland Street (Hammersmith & City, Circle & Metropolitan lines), Baker Street (Hammersmith & City, Circle, Jubilee, Metropolitan & Bakerloo lines), St John’s Wood (Jubilee line), Camden Town (Northern line)
St James’s Park
No park in central London quite reflects royal pomp and pageantry like St James’s Park. The park is in the beating heart of London surrounded by Buckingham Palace, Westminster, Horse Guards Parade and St James’s Palace.
Enter via the main entrance of Admiralty Arch from Trafalgar Square and make your way down The Mall which falls within the grounds of St James’s Park. This processional route is famous the world over for the Changing of the Guard parades and the annual Trooping the Colour – or the Queen’s birthday parade.
Horse Guards Parade is one of the highlights of the park where you can watch the beginning of the daily Changing of the Guard ceremony as members of The Queen’s Life Guard ride from the Hyde Park Barracks to take over guard duties. The ceremony takes place daily at 11:00am and 10:00am on Sundays – more information.
Practical information – the park is open from 05:00am to midnight. Nearest tube stops: St. James’s Park (District and Circle Line),
Charing Cross Station (Northern, Bakerloo and British Rail lines), Westminster (Jubilee, District and Circle Lines), Green Park (Piccadilly, Victoria and Jubilee Lines), Victoria (Victoria, Circle and District, British Rail lines)
I always recommend visitors to London take a trip out east to Greenwich, where you find one of the city’s most beautiful parks within the UNESCO Greenwich Maritime World Heritage Site.
Greenwich was the site of a former royal palace, the birthplace of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. Sadly the palace was destroyed but in its place are the beautiful Queen’s House – designed by Inigo Jones for Queen Anne – and the stunning Christopher Wren designed Royal Observatory.
The gardens themselves cover over 74 hectares and include a deer sanctuary, impressive Edwardian flower garden and even the remains of an Ancient Roman site.
Practical information – the park is open from 06:00am to dusk. The best way to reach Greenwich is via the Docklands Light Rail (DLR) – Cutty Sark and Greenwich stations
For the feeling of being in the countryside, while being in the middle of one of the world’s biggest metropolises, head to Richmond Park in the city’s southwest.
The largest and oldest of the Royal Parks, Richmond Park’s history can be traced back to the 13th century and the reign of King Edward I. During Charles I reign, the royal court fled to Richmond to avoid the plague and it was then that the kind established a park for red and fallow deer. Their 650 descendants roam the park to this day.
Richmond Park has played an important part in the history of England. From King Henry’s mound you can see all the way to St Paul’s Cathedral on a clear day. According to legend, it was on this very spot that Henry VIII learnt of Anne Boleyn’s death in 1536 – notified by a rocket shot from the Tower of London.
Today the park is used for a variety of activities, although deer spotting is perhaps the favourite.
Practical information – the park is open from 07:00am in the summer and 07:30am in the winter to 20:00pm. The best way to reach Richmond Park is via Richmond Station – National Rail or District Line you then need to catch the 371 or 65 buses to the pedestrian gate at Petersham
Lying to the north of Hampton Court Palace, Bushy Park is home to grassy plains and the ingenious Longford River, a manmade waterway designed to bring water to the palace.
The approach to the palace via Bushy Park is a mile long avenue of horse chestnut and lime trees designed by Sir Christopher Wren during the reign of William III and Mary II.
Red and fallow deer roam the park as they have done for centuries under the watchful eye of the magnificent Diana Fountain that stands in the middle of the park.
Practical information – the park is open to pedestrians 24 hours a day. The best way to reach Bushy Park is via mainline trains from Waterloo to Teddington/Hampton Wick/Hampton Court. It is then a 5 to 10 minute walk to the park through the Sandy Lane Gates.
More favourite parks and gardens in London
Though the Royal Parks are extensive, they are not the only green spaces in London. From council parks to private gardens, there is a patch of greenery around every corner.
Technically part of Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill is one of the best places to go for panoramic views of the London skyline and is therefore worth a mention in its own right.
Lying to the north of the Regent’s canal, on a clear day you can see for miles in each direction. Trees in the area are kept at low heights to avoid blocking the view and the open space is used for a huge community gathering on Bonfire Night.
I have conversed with the spiritual Sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill
The neighbourhood of Primrose Hill is well worth a wander too. Home to London’s wealthy bohemian set and artistic celebrities, it is a haven for those who crave a village atmosphere in the big city. Primrose Hill has a history of being the location of duels and settling scores but if you want to find out all about the modern day intrigues of the area be sure to take a walking tour of Primrose Hill and nearby Camden.
Practical information – Primrose Hill is open from 05:00am and has irregular closing times. Nearest tube stops: Regent’s Park (Bakerloo line) and Camden Town (Northern line)
Another favourite spot for views of London is Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath. Found 6 kilometres away from Westminster and the Houses of Parliament, the Heath (as it is known to locals) covers 320 hectares of some of the highest ground in London.
Hampstead Heath is a perfect place escape the crush of the city. Its woodlands and grassy fields are where Londoners come to walk, run and even swim in one of the three open air swimming pools found in these gardens.
In fact there are over 25 ponds found on the Heath that are used for swimming, model boats and wildlife reserves for the 180 bird species known to inhabit the area.
Practical information – Hampstead Heath is always open. Nearest tube stops: Golders Green, Hampstead, and Kentish Town (Northern line). More information
Officially the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, this South London treasure is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site that manages a collection of over 40,000 species of plants.
With a 250 year old history, Kew Gardens is world famous for supporting botanical research and employs over 250 scientists and 100 horticulturists.
So, as you can imagine, there are many diverse gardens to explore within the 132 hectare site – from tropical plants in the iconic Palm House, to the collection of 14,000 trees in the Arboretum and mountainous plant species in the Alpine House.
Kew Gardens warrants many visits but if you are short on time do not miss the 18 metre high Treetop Walkway offering stunning views of the city, strolling along the Great Broad Walk Borders towards the Palm House and a visit to King George III’s summer home – Kew Palace – with its more formal gardens.
The gardens are a great place to visit as a family with fantastic indoor and outdoor playgrounds and a fantastic art installation called The Hive designed to bring the world of bees to life.
Practical information – Kew Gardens is open from 10:00am and closes at 18:30pm Monday to Thursday and 20:30pm Friday to Sunday. Reach the gardens by tube at Kew Gardens station (500m to Victoria Gate) or by train Kew Bridge station (800m to Elizabeth Gate). Adult ticket prices start from £14
Beloved by Londoners for over 170 years, Victoria Park in Bow welcomes over 9 million visitors a year. Opened in 1845, the park was the first public park in London and was built to provide recreation facilities for people living in the East End.
Today visitors to Victoria Park enjoy wide open spaces, grassy lawns, and several ponds that are home to local birdlife. The park also has several playgrounds and plenty of facilities for families.
Practical information – Victoria Park is open from 07:00am and closes at dusk daily. The nearest tube station is Mile End. More information
One of the largest public parks in west London, Holland Park covers 22 hectares and is partially covered by woodland. A popular recreation area, Holland Park is also home to more formal gardens and the Kyoto Japanese Garden where the park’s resident peacocks roam freely.
There is a fantastic children’s playground and an open air theatre where performances are staged over summer in the park.
Practical information – Holland Park is open from 07:30am and closes 30 minutes before dusk daily. The nearest tube stations are Notting Hill Gate and Holland Park (Central line) and High Street Kensington (District and Circle lines). More information
Once a popular place for duelling, Battersea Park is a 83 hectare park south of the river from Chelsea. Running from Chelsea Bridge to Albert Bridge the park’s many trails and paths are used by walkers and runners.
Battersea Park is home to London’s Peace Pagoda, a large fountain lake, a contemporary art gallery and a boating lake. It’s a great outdoor area for families too with a small zoo and a recently refurbished playground next to a cafe where you can get a decent coffee.
Practical information – Battersea Park is open from 06:30am and closes at 10:30pm daily. The nearest mainline station is Battersea Park. More information
London’s Garden Squares
Many of London’s beautiful garden squares are private and open to residents only. A handful are open to the general public and offer a unique perspective on London life. The first squares were built in the early 17th century and quickly spread as an urban design feature over the next two centuries.
In the heart of Mayfair, Berkeley Square is a sheltered oasis of large, 200 year old plane trees and open lawns. Designed by architect William Kent in the mid 18th century, the square was once home to Winston Churchill and has featured in many fictional works.
There was magic abroad in the air
There were angels dining at the Ritz
And a nightingale sang in Berkeley square
In the heart of Soho, just behind Oxford Street, Soho Square is a haven for local workers who can be seen relaxing on the grass here on sunny days. Dating from 1681, the square was once the hub of fashionable London and home to naturalist Joseph Banks.
A short walk from the British Museum, Russell Square is a large green space in the heart of Bloomsbury. There is a large gushing fountain at the centre of the square which is a series of grassy lawns and large mature trees.
Perhaps the most famous square in London, Leicester Square has recently undergone refurbishment and was restored to reveal a classic pocket of grass and large trees shading the famous statue of William Shakespeare. Once a residential area, the square is now home to world famous theatres and restaurants.
Originally a private garden, Grosvenor Square was opened to the public in 1946. Home to the US Embassy, the square has many references to the relationship between the American and British people including a memorial statue to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Oscar Wilde lived on the square for a short time and it appears in several of his works.
Explore London’s parks and gardens further
If you love gardening and exploring garden design and botany then London has a wealth of experiences for you to discover. At the recently refurbished Garden Museum at St Mary’s church the burial place of John Tradescant (c1570 – 1638), the first great British gardener and plant-hunter.
The gardens of nearby Lambeth Palace, are the oldest continuously cultivated gardens in London. Within the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, are open to the public on select days over the summer months.
The Chelsea Flower Show
Lastly, a highlight of each year in London, the Chelsea Flower Show is the place to go for new ideas in garden design and to marvel at the show gardens and thousands of flower varieties on display.
Held each May by the Royal Horticultural Society at the Royal Chelsea Hospital, the show has been running for over 100 years.
Learn more and find tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show
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