The City of London owns and manages over 10,000 acres of open spaces in and around London for the public to enjoy. These green oases attract a multitude of wildlife and offer a welcome break from the bustle of the city.
Some of the best-known parks are St James's Park, Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. They form a chain of open green space and you can travel via these parks – from Whitehall to Kensington High Street – with minimal need to cross a road. There are plenty of cycle routes, which is great for kids, and you'll find places to hire bikes (or hop on a Boris bike). And there are plenty of cafes and refreshment stands en route.
My favourite parks include Battersea Park, the Diana Memorial playground (design inspired by the stories of Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie) and the pheonix Gardens. You might also want to consider a cycle tour. And do take a look at this guide to cycling safely in London.
First opened as “The People’s Palace” in 1873, Alexandra Palace is surrounded by 196 acres of parkland and has a rich diversity of greenery, conservation areas and lakes, all with great views across London. Attractions at Ally Pally include ice-skating (see Sport section), a playground, Skate Park, animal area, a boating lake and a pitch-and-put course.
The Palace itself was once home to the BBC. It was badly damaged by fire back in the 1980s and has only been partially restored. It now houses an ice rink and is also used for events, conferences and concerts. There are plenty of places to eat both on site, nearby in Muswell Hill Broadway or down the hill in Crouch End.
Open: Daily 24hrs
Tube: Wood Green+bus:W3; BR: Alexandra Palace (zone 3)
Address: Alexandra Palace Way, N22 7AY
Phone: 020 8365 2121
Within its 200-acres you’ll find a boating lake with rowing boats and pedaloes, a deer enclosure, a pagoda, bike/recumbant trike hire, Athletics track, football pitches, tennis courts, playgrounds, cafes, a children’s zoo and the remains of the festival gardens. Plus it’s right on the banks of the Thames and in the shadow of the old power station. This has got to be one of our favourite parks in the capital.
Admission: Free, but pay for attractions.
Open: Daily 8am-dusk
BR/Tube: Queenstown Road/Battersea Park or Sloane Sq+bus: 19/137 (zone 1)
Address: London, SW11 4NJ
Phone: 020 8871 7530
The park has a playground with ‘spider’s web climbing frame’ and sculpted gardens. You can hire bikes, trailers and trikes. Amongst the birds you may see herons, cormorants and kingfishers. Sports include football, tennis and cricket pitches. There is a café on site.
Open: Daily 8-dusk
BR: North or West Dulwich(zone 2&3)
Address: College Rd, London, SE21 7BQ
At around 800 acres the park at Hampstead Heath dissects the North London boroughs of Barnet & Camden and includes Parliament Hill and Kenwood House. There are 25 ponds and the playground nearby Gospel Oak station is excellent, as is the adventure playground behind the athletics track. You can feed ducks, play tennis or bowls. There are woodland and hedgerows and it is home to a rich diversity of wildlife. People often go to the Heath to fly kites and there are plenty of cycling and running routes.
Open: Daily dusk-dawn
Tube: Kentish Town, Hampstead, Golders Green (zone 2&3)
Address: London, NW5 1QR
Phone: 020 8348 9908
Website: City of London
One of London's finest landscapes, Hyde Park covers 350 acres and is adjacent to Kensington Gardens. It provides facilities for many different leisure activities and sports as well as being the focal point for public events of all sizes. Enjoy roller blading, boating (March - October), wildlife (plenty of ducks and swans near the lake), horse riding, cycling, eating at the restaurant by the Serpentine and playgrounds. Speaker’s Corner is nearby at the northeast end of Hyde Park.
Tube/BR: Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge, and Lancaster Gate
Address: London, W2 2UH
Phone: 020 7298 2100
Nearby Attractions: Buckingham Palace, Wellington Arch, Kensington Museums and Oxford Street.
Greenwich Park covers 183 acres and is the oldest enclosed Royal Park dating back to 1433. It is situated on a hilltop with impressive views across the River Thames to Docklands and the City. Within the park there is an area enclosed for deer and a number of historic buildings, including the Old Royal Observatory, the Royal Naval College, the National Maritime Museum and the Queen's House. The playground is near the boating lake at the bottom of the hill.
DLR: Cutty Sark (zone 2)
Address: Blackheath Gate, Charlton Way, London, SE10 8QY
Phone: 020 8293 0703
Nearby: Attractions: Cutty Sark, Greenwich Market
Kensington Gardens and the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Playground
Kensington Gardens covers 260 acres. It has magnificent tree-lined avenues and is the setting for Kensington Palace, the Serpentine Gallery and the Albert memorial. There is also a great bandstand and duck pond.
My favourite bit has to be the Diana memorial playground in the northwest corner behind the palace (Near Bayswater tube). It has a pirate ship in a sea of white sand, lots of sculptures and things to climb on. The playground is enclosed, with a single entrance and there are toilets and a cafe. During the summer months the mermaids’ fountain is great for water play and there’s a programme of free entertainment.
Open: daily 6am-midnight (Playground 10am –4pm).
Tube: Bayswater, Lancaster Gate, High Street Kensington (zone 1)
Address: London, W8 2UH
Nearby attractions: Royal Albert Hall, Natural History Museum, Bayswater and High Street
Epping Forest is great for families, walkers, horse riding, cyclists, joggers, kite-flyers and wildlife fans! It’s 22 miles (15km) long and 12 miles (8km) across. Commoners still have grazing rights, the forest contains Iron Age earthworks and there are two listed buildings – the Temple in Wanstead and Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, the latter is on the Chingford side of the forest. The lodge has a quiz trail, food from 4th century recipes and opportunity to dress as a Tudor.
Location: East London/Essex
Tube: Loughton/Theidon Bois (zone 6) BR: Chingford (zone 5)
Website: City of London
Covering 47 acres, Green Park was first recorded in 1554 as the scene of a rebellion. Nowadays it is more famous for its mature trees and open peaceful grassland. It links St. James Park & Hyde Park.
Opening: times: 5am-midnight
Tube/BR: Green Park, Hyde Park Corner
Address: London, W1
Phone: (020) 7930 1793
Nearby: Attractions: Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly.
Off Charing Cross Road and sandwiched between Denmark Street and Shaftesbury Avenue, this is a real hidden gem in the heart of the West End and one of my favourite places for a picnic. Originally a Leper hospital (1539) and World War II bomb site, it is now a sustainable community garden and registered charity, managed by volunteers, created to provide a green retreat from the stresses of London’s West End and a vital habitat for urban wildlife.
Open: daily from 8.30am until dusk
Tube: Tottenham Court Road
Address: 21 Stacey Street, LONDON WC2H 8DG
With great expanses of rolling grassland and ancient trees, Richmond is the largest Royal Park in London covering almost 2,500 acres and 8 miles across at its widest point. There is a huge array of wildlife, with roaming herds of fallow and red deer.
Near Roehampton Gate there are rugby pitches with flat ground ideal for kite flying and there’s a large car park by the golf course, with a little café and a bike hire hut. The Pen ponds are in the centre and at the top end (Richmond Gate) there is Pembroke lodge where you can grab a bite to eat and look out west with some fantastic views toward Windsor.
Henry’s Mound is worth a visit and the telescope at the top allows you to look along a protected view toward St. Paul’s Cathedral and the city. In the summer the Isabella plantation is stunning. Nearby you’ll find Kew Gardens and Barnes Wetlands.
Open: 7.30am until 30 mins before dusk
Tube/BR: Richmond (zone 4)
Address: Richmond, Surrey, TW10 5HS
Phone: 020 8948 3209
The park itself covers 487 acres, including Primrose Hill. It has open parkland and spectacular formal gardens. Herons nest on the lake and many other birds and waterfowl can be seen. The Park is also home to London Zoo.
There are plenty of places to eat both in the park and nearby. Facilities include summer open-air theatre, sports facilities, 4 playgrounds and a boating lake. There is a Wildlife Watch Group, that runs free activities on the 3rd Sunday of every month from 2 to 4pm (phone: 020 7935 7430).
Open: Varies (5am-30mins before dusk)
Tube/BR: Regent’s Park, Camden Town, Gt. Portland St
Address: Camden, London, NW1 4NR
Phone: 020 7486 7905
Nearby Attractions: London Planetarium, Madame Tussaud's, London Zoo, and Camden Market.
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
It is impossible to take in all of Kew's 300 acres at once. You can ride the Kew Explorer people mover, which covers a circular route (Adult £3, under 17s £1). Look at iconic buildings and learn more about the plants they contain; study landscapes and vistas; explore conservation areas, 3 glasshouses (including the palm house), decorative structures and & formal gardens. ‘Climbers & Creepers’ play zone (open 11am-3.30pm) is a must for 3-9 year olds, where they can climb inside a giant flower and much more in the indoor and outdoor play areas. There are restaurants, cafes and snack areas and lots of picnicking areas.
Open: daily 9.30am-5.30pm, last admission 5pm
Admission: Adults £16, children (4-16) £4, under 4 go free
Tube/BR: Kew (zone 3)
Address: Kew Broadway, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3AB
Phone: 020 8332 5655
Laid out by London planner and architect Sir James Pennethorne, Victoria Park or `the peoples park' opened in 1845 and is reminiscent of Regent's Park (the latter being designed by Pennethorne's teacher John Nash). It is possibly the finest park in the East End. Canals form boundaries on two sides. Famous sculptures, bits of the old London Bridge, an athletics club, a herd of deer, goats, a pond and a Lido can all be found within its 265 acres.
The park also boasts a club for under-fives, a children’s zoo and an excellent children's play park with paddling pool. The Victoria Model Steam Boat Club also holds up to 17 Sunday regattas a year here (traditionally first regatta held on Easter Sunday and the Steam Regatta on the first Sunday in July).
Open: 06:00am until dusk
Tube: Bethnal Green
Address: Grove Rd, London E9 7DE
Website: Tower Hamlets
St. James's Park
Used as a backdrop to many famous films, St James's is a beautiful park in the centre of London, in front of Buckingham Palace and next to Trafalgar Square. Bands give concerts twice a day at weekends during the summer. It has 1000 trees, beautiful waterfowl and interesting wildlife, including pelicans that roam around the lake. Facilities include a playground, restaurant/bar and refreshment points. Changing of the guard is at 11.30am in front of Buckingham Palace on alternate days. Other ceremonies take place daily at 11am (Sundays 10am) at Horse Guards Arch by Whitehall (east of St James's Park) and last about 30 minutes.
Open: daily 5am-midnight
Tube: St. James's Park, Green Park (zone 1)
Address: St. James’s Park, London, SW1A 2BJ
Phone: 020 7930 1793
Victoria Tower Gardens
The gardens are right next to the Houses of Parliament and the River Thames on Millbank, where you'll find an expanse of grass, ideal for a picnic. If it is too hot, there are seats looking out to the river, under the shade of London Plane trees, with nice views of Lambeth Bridge, Lambeth Palace and the London Eye.
Look out for the Rodin sculpture and the gothic water fountain commemerating the emancipation of slavery. The garden now has toilets and a cafe.
Open: Dawn until dusk daily
Tube: St. James's Park, Westminster (zone 1)
Address: Millbank SW1P 3JA
Phone: 0300 061 2350