London might be home to over nine million people, but in the midst of all the bustle lies an array of verdant and serene green spaces. From Buckingham Palace Gardens to Hyde Park, pack up your picnic and paints, and head to some of the most beautiful parks and gardens in London for an afternoon in the sunshine.
With close to 50% of Greater London ‘green’, you won’t want for places to while away a sunny day in the city. The grassy spaces are spread throughout the capital allowing easy access to relaxation spots to soak up some sun rays and escape from the busy pace of life in the city. And like some of the best things in life, a visit to most parks in London is completely free – at least till you fancy an ice-cream.
While London is famous for its grand royal parks and gardens, there are plenty of other hidden gems to explore too, from hip parks where you can play ping pong, petal-filled patch gardens for picnics to charming botanical gardens hidden from view. So best slap the suncream on and get yourself to one of these lovely gardens and parks in London.
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Hyde Park — Stretching from Hyde Park Corner to Kensington Gardens and covering over a 350-acre green area, Hyde Park is the largest Royal Park in Central London. Expropriated from the Church in 1536, The park was once used as a hunting ground by Henry VIII and later a venue for executions, horse racing, and duels. Today Hyde Park is filled with spectacular gardens; diverse wildlife and a plethora of other attractions and activities to keep its millions of annual visitors entertained. Since opening to the public in 1637, the park has played host to a huge variety of events from national celebrations and concerts to annual Christmas festivities such as Winter Wonderland which is held in the Southeast area of the park between November and early January of each year.
The Serpentine River is a great spot any time of the year with pedalos and a SolarShuttle boat offering a relaxing cruise down the Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. Alternatively, visitors can choose to take a stroll through the Rose Gardens, explore the park’s various monuments and memorials including the 7th of July and the Holocaust Memorials, or take a refreshing dip in one of swimming – friendly ponds. Hyde Park has also hosted lively speakers events and political debates over the years in the historic Speaker’s Corner, reflecting the role of the park as an important aspect of community life in London. Former speakers include Karl Marx, George Orwell, Vladimir Lenin, and Winston Churchill.
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Kensington Gardens — Home to Kensington Palace and the stunning Albert Memorial, Kensington Gardens were once part of Hyde Park but today are a separate attraction altogether. Indeed, fans of the British period drama Downton Abbey will also recognise the park as one of the locations used in the programme. Covering 275 acres of green area, Kensington Gardens is planted with formal avenues of magnificent trees and ornamental flower beds.
The added beauty of centuries-old mature trees, grasslands, and varieties of wildlife makes the park a perfect place to unwind with friends and family. In commemoration of Princess Diana and her commitment to children’s charities, there is a beautiful memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens located next to Kensington Palace. The gardens also house the Serpentine Galleries, a contemporary art gallery showcasing unique architecture, art, and photography.
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Regent’s Park — Named after King George IV who was originally known as the Prince Regents, Regent’s Park in North-west London covers 395 acres of picturesque gardens, sports facilities including Central London’s largest outdoor sports area, and even a Zoo. Known as the ‘jewel in the crown’, Regent’s Park’s fascinating history dates back to the early 16th century when it was part of the historic Tyburn Manor until its seizure by Henry VIII. Marylebone Park, as it was known then, remained a royal chase until 1646.
The park was also badly bombed during World War II but has long since been restored to its natural beauty and is now a is a popular leisure hub with both locals and visitors to London. Visitors to Regent’s Park can look forward to a variety of attractions year-round. From browsing more than 12,000 roses in the beautiful Queen Mary’s Gardens, rowing a boat across the lake, to watching one of several outdoor productions at the 1200 seat Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Animal lovers will welcome the rich noises of the ZSL London Zoo while the ice cream stands, and eateries dotted across the park ensures you never go hungry during a visit.
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Richmond Park — Often overlooked in favor of the many parks, San Francisco has incredible beaches. In particular, China Beach is charming and has an interesting history. The beach was named in honor of the Chinese fisherman who camped there during the Gold Rush. The beach has an incredible view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
On both sides, China Beach is protected by rock walls which create an ideal sheltered cove. It produces a pocket of warmth even on windy days. On the beach, there are several picnic tables and two BBQ grills makingChina Beach the perfect location for a picnic during a vacation to San Francisco. At low tide, visitors can explore the area between China Beach and Baker Beach. In this area, tons of marine life can be found clinging to the rocks including, mussels, sea anemones, and sea stars.
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St James’s Park — James’s Park is the oldest Royal Park in London. This charming 57-acre park is conveniently located in the heart of London near iconic landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, and the Houses of Parliament, some of which are in plain view when walking around the park. Purchased in 1532 by Henry VIII and used as one of his hunting grounds, St James’s was redesigned based on the French royal parks in the latter half of the seventeenth century at the behest of King Charles II giving the park its present-day look including the famous flower beds at the front of Buckingham Palace – a familiar backdrop to ceremonial parades and state visits.
Despite not being one of London’s more famous royal parks, St James’s close proximity to some of London’s most photogenic sites makes it a must-visit for first-time visitors to London. If you are planning to visit with small children, St James’s does have a small but delightful playground with an enormous sandpit, swings, climbing frames, and other fun activities to keep your small ones entertained.
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Green Park — Situated across from Buckingham Palace and between Hyde Park and St James’s Park, Green Park is an elegant triangle of mature trees and grasslands in the heart of London’s upmarket center. In previous centuries the park was the site of numerous illegal duels and also became a refuge for thieves, lepers, and bandits. Nowadays, Green Park is an excellent spot for peaceful promenades, ceremonies, salutes, and firework displays.
Lucky visitors may even be able to witness one of the occasional Royal Gun Salutes (used to mark special royal occasions) that still take place in the center of the park to this very day. Green Park is relatively compact with only 40 acres of green space, but it is home to several significant memorials including Canada Gate which was erected in 1911 as part of the Queen Victoria memory scheme, and Canada Memorial which remembers the one million Canadians who served with Britain during the two World Wars.
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Holland Park — Holland Park is a pleasant and easily accessible green space in the inner London neighborhood of Kensington. The park surrounds a large Jacobean mansion, Holland House, named after the Earl of Holland whose wife Lady Rich is believed to be the first person in England to successfully grow dahlias. The plants are still grown within the 55-acre park. Holland Park was heavily damaged during World War II with most buildings in the park destroyed – one wing of Holland House was salvaged and is today used as a youth hostel. A section of the front terraces was also saved. This is used as a backdrop for the park’s summertime open-air theatre productions and classical concerts.
One of Holland Park’s more popular attractions is the beautiful and perfectly formed Kyoto Garden, opened by Prince Charles in 1991 as part of the Japan Festival. The gardens feature koi carp, bonsai trees, a waterfall, and Japanese lanterns and plantings. Adjacent to the Kyoto Garden is the Fukushima Garden. Opened in 2012, the garden is an expression of gratitude from the people of Japan for the support provided by the UK following the Fukushima natural disaster in 2011. The park has a playground for children to roam, several sports facilities including a tennis court, football pitches, and open grassy space for other activities.
The Sky Garden — Set above a 45,000 square foot greenhouse in the cloud, across the 35th – 37th floors of London’s iconic Walkie Talkie Tower, The Sky Garden is a unique public garden space that provides 360° panoramic views of London’s skyline. managed by renowned event caterer and restaurateur rhubarb, the garden was designed by multi-award-winning architects Gillespies and is the highest public garden space in London.
With floor-to-ceiling glass windows, the leafy garden with its bright south African bird of paradise and fragrant French lavender cluster hosts two of London’s most exclusive rooftop bars, a Sky Pod Bar, and restaurants offering the ultimate drinking and dining experience for green-minded visitors. Sky Garden is open daily between 10 am to 6 pm on weekdays and 11 am to 9 pm on weekends. You can reserve a table for the bars and restaurants on the Sky Garden website. There is also free access to the viewing gallery on the 43rd floor, visitors must book their free ticket online before going.
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Kew Gardens — Arguably the world’s most famous botanical garden, Kew Gardens is London’s largest UNESCO world heritage site and home to the world’s most diverse collection of native and exotic plants, trees, and flowers. Since their creation in 1759, the gardens have made significant and uninterrupted contributions to the study of plant-based conservation and cultivation with a library of some 130,000 volumes in addition to archived materials, periodicals, prints, and drawings. Kew Gardens is an excellent spot for visitors looking to get closer to nature and expand their knowledge of plant diversity and economic botany. Scientists at the gardens research centre discover new species of plants each year many of which are threatened by extinction.
Enjoy a stroll along the Great Broad Walk Borders, home to more than 60, 000 plants, and explore the beautiful glasshouses including the iconic Palm House and its exotic rain-forest; the Waterlily House with its amazing, giant lily pads and the Princess of Wales Conservatory which houses plants in 10 different climatic zones – everything from a desert to a mangrove swamp. Visitors can even leave a lasting presence by adopting a seed or sponsoring a species from the Millennium Seed Bank. Don’t miss a chance to walk in the treetops on the splendid canopy walkway – it offers a spectacular view of the entire site.
Buckingham Palace Gardens — A 200-acre flowering oasis with a lake, The Buckingham Palace garden is a private space used by the British royal family to host parties and state events. The garden boasts 350 different types of wildflowers and a bird sanctuary island in the middle of its three-acre lake that also supports the beehives that help pollinate the garden.
Fun fact: Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria once fell into the garden’s pond during an ice-skating session. Queen Victoria herself had to pull him out. The Buckingham Palace gardens are usually open for visitors to enjoy both during the Garden Highlights Tour, where visitors can walk in the footsteps of the Queen, and the Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace. Time your trip to witness the changing of the Palace Guard at 11 am, a quintessential example of British pomp and ceremony.
If you are looking for even more gardens and parks in London then also try the beautiful Wimbledon Common, Clapham Common, or Putney Common. Brockwell Park is a 50-hectare park located south of Brixton, and the medieval gardens of the Art Deco Eltham Palace and Gardens is very much a slice of heaven in the greater London area. All you need now is a sunny day (or at least a day where it isn’t raining)!