Amy Hughes takes refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city to enjoy the tranquillity of London’s Royal Parks
London is home to some beautiful green spaces, but its eight Royal Parks are some of the best. Covering more than 5,000 acres of historic parkland, they provide a place to relax, unwind and clear your mind. So, what makes a Royal Park? Well, they are lands that were originally used by the Royal Family for recreation and outdoor pursuits, such as hunting. Make the most of the warmer temperatures and enjoy a peaceful break from the buzzing city.
The oldest enclosed Royal Park is Greenwich Park, which dates back to 1427. It’s at the heart of the Greenwich Maritime World Heritage Site and overlooks the River Thames. Within its grounds, you’ll find 17th-century landscapes, stunning gardens, the Royal Observatory and the picturesque and recently refurbished 20th-century Pavilion Café, with its cute dove-cote on the roof. At the Observatory at the top of the hill, stand on the Prime Meridian, the reference point for Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Explore the wildlife and plants in the Flower, Herb and Rose Gardens, and refuel at the Pavilion Café.
From the oldest to the largest; Richmond Park covers a vast 2,500 acres and has protected status as an important habitat for wildlife including bats and bees. While away a few hours wandering the grasslands, woodlands, ponds and streams – the Isabella Plantation’s azaleas are at their most beautiful in early May. You’ll also stumble across the population of approximately 630 red and fallow deer, which roam freely – May until July is deer birthing season, so try not to approach them as they are very protective of their young. A few miles away you’ll find Bushy Park, the second largest of the Royal Parks, which lies just north of Hampton Court Palace. The park is famed for its mix of waterways, gardens and roaming herds of deer.
To the Palaces
In central London, you’re spoilt for choice with more Royal Parks waiting to be explored. Hyde Park has plenty of peaceful places in which to relax, but it also hosts world-class events and concerts. Those seeking activities can turn their hand to tennis, horse riding, jogging and cycling in the open air, or even brave an open-water swim in the Serpentine lake – if you dare face the cold! Elsewhere, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain is a serene space for reflection, while the playground along South Carriage Drive is perfect for little ones to blow off some steam. Just next door, on the other side of the Serpentine lake, lies Kensington Gardens. The ornate Albert Memorial sits proudly at the southern edge, overlooking the Royal Albert Hall. To the west of the Long Water, look out for the statue of Peter Pan – the character’s creator and local resident JM Barrie was inspired by the Gardens and commissioned the statue, which has stood here since 1912.
Towards the east and surrounding Buckingham Palace are Green Park, the smallest of the Royal Parks at only 40 acres, and St James’s Park, which also includes The Mall and Horse Guards Parade. Green Park is an unusual park because it contains no buildings, playgrounds, lakes or ponds. However, it is a peaceful triangle of mature trees and grasslands just a stone’s throw away from the Palace and Mayfair on the northern side. Legend has it, King Charles II’s wife demanded all the flowers be removed after she caught him picking some for another woman – there are still no formal flowerbeds to this day! St James’s Park also offers some unusual finds thanks to King Charles II. In 1664, the Russian ambassador sent the king a gift: pelicans. See their beloved descendants – Isla, Tiffany, Gargi, Sun, Moon and Star – in their temporary enclosure on Duck Island.
Last but by no means least, Regent’s Park lies to the north of central London and combines large open spaces with tree-lined pathways, formal gardens and four children’s playgrounds. It’s a wonderful place to spend a day with friends and family. In Queen Mary’s Rose Garden, you can admire more than 12,000 roses with 85 varieties on show, or head to the boating lake to hire a rowing boat and join the ducks. There is also an open-air theatre and ZSL London Zoo– the world’s oldest scientific zoo. If it’s skyline views you’re after, take a stroll up Primrose Hill and watch the sunset from one of the city’s most glorious vantage points.
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