Park life in any city is a glorious thing, but in London, where the skies are grey and gloomy for a large part of the year, city parks are the happy places where people bask in sunshine, feed flocks of waterfowl and embrace their inner wilderness after being cooped in coats and concrete for so long. With more than 3000 parks and open spaces in London, there is plenty of choice for a stroll, a picnic or some fauna appreciation, but Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and St James’s Park are my three favourite spaces for embracing park life in Central London.
As you walk from the rigid city streets into Hyde Park, with its sprawling wilderness, swan-dotted lake and wise old trees, it is hard to imagine two neighbouring spaces in more steadfast contradiction. Following the rambling paths through the 350 acre park, it almost seems as though the city has disappeared and you’ve stepped back to the 1500s, when royals hunted wild deer and boar in the Hyde Park woodlands.
It is no wonder that Hyde Park remains an integral part of the city’s sanity, offering a central retreat from the city traffic, a reliable source of green, a place where one may have a picnic, recline in a deckchair, or just watch squirrels dart around at dizzying speed. Scattered across the park you’ll find more than 4000 trees, a winter ice skating rink and the Diana Memorial Fountain in its elegant granite beauty. On Serpentine Lake you’ll see the UK’s first Solarshuttle, peddle boats and row boats that make people seem even more English.
This park is open 5am-midnight all year and can be accessed by Lancaster Gate or Marble Arch tube stations on the Central Line, or Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge tube stations on the Piccadilly Line.
Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill
Refined English landscaping with an Alice-In-Wonderland feel has earned Regent’s Park a reputation for being one of London’s prettiest parks. Complete with circular stone fountains, impressively even hedges and a carefully tended rose garden with over 30, 000 blossoms, Regent’s Park is an impressive 410 acres of recreational heaven. The park even hosts the London Zoo, the largest grass sporting space in Central London, an open air theatre and in-park restaurants.
The wild space leading to Primrose Hill is a picnicking favourite where you’ll often see strings of balloons, hand-entwined couples and ice-cream licking families lounging in the sun. Primrose Hill summit is famous for its panorama over the unique London skyline and is a fun place to watch people pose for their London travel pictures. Along the park edge you’ll find beautiful houses of the rich and famous, making you feel like you’ve snuck into a super-sized version of one of the private parks for which London is so well known.
Nearby tube stations are Regent’s Park, Great Portland Street, Baker Street, St John’s Wood and Camden Town. Park hours vary with the season, opening from 5am to anywhere between 4.30pm and 9.30pm.
St James’s Park
Both elegant and casual with its mature trees, historic statues and sunbathing locals, St James’s Park has the unique honour of neighbouring three royal palaces – Westminster (now the Houses of Parliament), St James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace. There is something about this park that makes you want to sit for a very long time; perhaps its knowing how much history is around you, or realising how many royal and public ceremonies have taken place there, or maybe it’s just because of how peaceful it is, despite being in tourist-heart of London.
St James’s Park has plenty to occupy you too. There is lake full of Pelicans that are fed daily at 2.30pm. The Guard Mounting (more commonly known as the changing of the guard) at the park-side Buckingham Palace happens at 11.30am daily in summer and spring and on alternate days in the colder months. Also, there will be Olympic and Para-Olympic volleyball matches in the park during the 2012 games.
The park is open 5am-midnight all year and can be accessed via St James’s Park, Westminster, Green Park or Victoria tube stations, as well as by foot and the many buses heading into the heart of the city.