London’s best parks
For those who are lucky enough to live in – or be visiting – the English capital, the number of fantastic green spaces in the city are a joy to behold and often come as something of a surprise to those who thought London was all high rises and residential homes. From manicured lawns and flowerbeds, and picturesque avenues of trees, to the kinds of wildness you might expect to find out in the country, rather than in the centre of a city, there’s a whole range of different options for enjoying yourself al fresco here, whether it’s playing football in the summer sunshine or taking a walk on a crisp, sunny winter’s day.
Hampstead Heath is probably one of the most natural – and the largest – of London’s wonderful parks, as there are great swathes of it where you almost feel like you’re out in the middle of the countryside. The Heath runs all the way from Hampstead to Highgate and encompasses wondering rambling pathways, the famous bathing ponds and the beautiful Kenwood House, where a series of concerts is staged in the grounds during the summer months. In the southeast corner of the Heath is Parliament Hill, where the views are protected by law (stand on top of Parliament Hill on a sunny day and you’ll see why), as well as a sports track, playground and a paddling pool where kids can splash around in the summer.
Regent’s Park has the largest grass area for sports in London and of a weekend there are more games of football taking place here than you can shake a stick at. Regent’s Park is one of the best equipped parks in terms of facilities, as there are public toilets, several food outlets, ice cream stalls, a tennis centre, a boating lake, plenty of deckchairs and even an open air theatre that has productions throughout the summer months. The park also has some of the most attractive and well looked after gardens in the city and Queen Mary Gardens and the Rose Gardens are particularly worth a visit.
Hyde Park is one of the biggest parks in central London and as a result often the venue for urban music festivals and events, such as Hyde Park Calling and Live 8. The Serpentine runs through the middle of Hyde Park, where much of the day can be whiled away boating on its gleaming waters, and Lansbury’s Lido is a great place to cool off in the heat of the summer. If you want to cross the Serpentine and you can’t be bothered to walk all the way around then jump on the Serpentine Solar Shuttle, which cruises soundlessly at 5mph from one side to the other. Hyde Park is also the home of the famous Speaker’s Corner in the northeast of the park, where you can hear a whole range of weird and wonderful speeches being delivered by some of the most opinionated people in the land!
Victoria Park in east London was opened to the public in 1845 and designed by the same brain behind Regent’s Park. It became an essential resource for the working class of the East End towards the end of the 19th century and for some local kids was the only bit of grass they ever saw. Now, this huge stretch of space provides a great spot for family picnics, or hipster drinking sessions, as well as playing host to events like the music festival Field Day. It also has the oldest model steamboat club in the world and has been voted London’s favourite park several times over.
You’re really spoiled for choice if you’re looking for parks in London, whether you want somewhere that you can plan a big picnic with friends, or simply somewhere peaceful to walk the dog. Green spaces do get crowded in the summer months but with all the different options in the city, there’s more than enough grass to go around.