Despite the traffic and the crowds, London is surprisingly green – it actually has more parks and open areas than any other city of a similar size. You won’t have to go far in London to be surrounded by beautiful green spaces. Although most people usually head for the central Hyde Park, there are many other places to get your fresh air fix. Hyde Park aside, here are 10 of London’s most beautiful parks, gardens and open spaces…
1. Richmond Park (Royal Park)
Richmond Park can be found in the attractive South-West London town of Richmond. This is the largest of the Royal Parks in London encompassing various landscapes including woodlands, grasslands, ponds and even hills. The park also has an area of 700 year old Oak trees and Isabella Plantation which is an organically designed woodland garden.
For sport lovers they have a golf park, bike hire, places to fish and several points where you can enjoy kite flying. You’ll find nearly 600 deer wandering through the wooded areas as Richmond Park used to be an ancient deer-hunting park. There are five locations within the park where you can enjoy a snack or meal including Pembroke Lodge – a Georgian mansion surrounded by an elegantly landscaped garden.
2. Hampstead Heath
This is a very popular and much loved area of London which can be found in the well-heeled area of Hampstead. The ‘Heath’ is a natural looking park with a variety of landscapes including hills, ponds, woodlands and open grassy places. For the more active visitors the area is home to eight playgrounds running tracks, three swimming pools, grassland, woodlands, ponds and sports areas. In some areas, the Heath has been left in its natural state with long untouched wild grass and clusters of ancient hedgerows and old trees.
In the grounds you can visit the English Heritage property Kenwood House or take in the spectacular views over London from Parliament Hill.
3. Regent’s Park (Royal Park)
Regent’s Park (and the adjoining Primrose Hill) is an elegant central park beloved by locals and overseas visitors alike. It’s known for its incredible rose gardens as well being home to the largest outdoor sports area in London. The Hub is the park’s community sports center and on the lake you can hire a rowing or pedal boat. For kids there is a separate children’s lake with pedal boats to suit them. Sporty types will also enjoy the park’s tennis courts.
One of the park’s main attractions is the ZSL London Zoo, which houses over 650 species of animals. You also won’t go hungry with no less than nine eateries in the park mostly serving lunches, snacks and coffees. Don’t leave without taking a stroll up the favourite celebrity hangout Primrose Hill where you can catch great views of London.
4. Lee Valley Park (Regional Park)
This is an enormous stretch of park land that follows the River Lee from Ware to the Thames East India Dock Basin. The park lends itself to plenty of sporting activities in the river (white water rafting, fishing, kayaking) and on land (camping, bird watching, cycling, golf, horse riding, ice skating). There are many examples of fine architecture within the park including Myddelton House and the remains of the Augustinian Waltham Abbey. There are also three mills in the park including the oldest tidal mill in Britain.
The park holds its own heritage sites and a nature reserve which is home to wildlife such as otters. Another reason it has made the list is because the 23 mile park has been chosen as part of the site for the 2012 Olympic Games (they own 20 per cent of the Olympic Park).
5. Ham House Gardens (National Trust)
Ham House is located in an idyllic spot on the River Thames in Ham (in South West London). The house was built in 1610 and is owned by the National Trust. The gardens have recently been restored to their former plan from the 1600s. A beautiful open space in London – especially on sunny days – you can enjoy the Cherry Garden with its blossoming cherry trees and the South Terrace which has lush sweeping lawns.
Stop at for a bite to eat at the Orangery Cafe (which has fresh ingredients supplied by the kitchen garden) and wander the picturesque medieval maze. The park borders the River Thames and is an ideal spot for picnics or a trip to the nearby famous Eel pie island. Admission to the gardens alone costs £3 and to both Ham House and the gardens £9.
6. Kensington Palace Gardens (Royal Park)
The elegant Kensington Gardens surround the Kensington Palace, a royal residence located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Built in 1689 the palace was home to Princess Diana and was also the birthplace of Queen Victoria.
The formal landscaped gardens was once the private gardens of Kensington Palace but now they are part of the Royal Parks of London Kensington Gardens. You can view water birds on the pond opposite the palace or follow the Long Water and Serpentine Rivers through the park. At the end of the Long River is the pretty Italian Water Garden, with fountains, ponds and statues. Kids will love the bronze statue of Peter Pan, and the Diana Memorial Playground which has a Peter Pan theme.
7. Kew Gardens (Royal Botanical Gardens)
Kew Gardens are 121 hectares of beautiful gardens and botanical glasshouses located between Richmond and Kew (in southwest London). The gardens are on a mission not only to be beautiful (which they are) but to contribute to research and nurturing of the plant kingdom. The gardens are used as a source for scientific advances in horticulture and the park is also a UNESCO site.
Within the gardens you can visit the glasshouse, rainforests, tree themed playground, landscaped gardens and even take a guided tour of the park. The Riverside zone runs beside the Thames where you can see the 17th century Dutch House, the Herbarium and the formal Queen’s gardens. You can also visit several museums within the gardens and other highlights include the aquatic gardens, Sackler Crossing, Waterlily Pond, a pagoda, Bamboo Garden, Japanese Gateway and several temples. There is an admission fee of £13.90 for adults while kids go free.
8. St. James’s Park (Royal Park)
Close to London’s center, this is a relatively small Royal Park bordering the Mall – the red road which leads to Buckingham Palace. The Mall is also the Queen’s ceremonial route. On the other side of the park is the Horseguard Parade, where you can see the annual Trooping of the Color as well as the palace guards practicing their moves.
The park is dominated by the lake in the center which can be crossed on the Blue Bridge. The central lake is also the perfect place to see water birds, especially the resident pelicans which get feed every day at 2:30. Among the five refreshment points is the ‘Inn the Park’ which was built using Green technology.
9. Hampton Court Gardens (Historic Royal Palaces)
This is Henry VIII’s favourite Royal hangout located in London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, Greater London. The Court is definitely worth a visit and the gardens are outstanding. In fact they are internationally renowned for being amongst the most beautiful gardens in the world. You can view the original Victorian garden walls and canals outlining the landscaped flower beds. In the kitchen garden, see fruit and vegetables grown organically; take the challenging maze to reach the Gothic tower in the center and then explore the underground tunnel which lead to a waterfall and sunken garden.
The garden has repeatedly been updated and restored, the latest part being the Lower Orangery Garden. If it’s a sunny day you should get a boat from Westminster (central London) which takes you along the Thames to the gardens. Admission is £14 for entrance to the gardens and the castle or £4.60 for entrance just to the gardens.
10. The Kyoto Japanese Garden in Holland Park (Royal Borough Park)
Holland Park is both a popular district and a public park in West central London. These pretty Japanese Kyoto Gardens are based within Holland Park. The Kyoto Garden was designed to celebrate the Japanese garden culture and garden specialists flew from Kyoto, Japan to plan the layout the park. The Kyoto Gardens are small and intimate and create a real haven from the bustle of London. There is a Maple tree next to a mini-waterfall which runs into a pond with Japanese carp fish as well as rock gardens and manicured flower beds. Visit for some Zen meditation!
The rest of the park surrounds Holland House and is free to the public. The park consists of a large pond with a waterfall garden, playgrounds, a sports areas and has many places to buy refreshments.
If you are looking for even more London green spaces then also try Battersea Park, Greenwich Park, Clapham Common or the medieval gardens of the Art Deco Eltham Palace. All you need now is a sunny day!