RONAN O’CONNELL finds the English capital’s park spaces a continual lure.
London makes my legs sore but in the best possible way. There are few cities in the world which are as simple and fun to explore on foot as the English capital. Although London is renowned for its comprehensive and efficient public transport system, often I bypass its buses and trains in favour of walking when I’m in its downtown area.
This allows me to admire its architecture, get a proper feel for its different neighbourhoods and come across little-known or quirky sites.
One particular attribute of the city helps me do just this — its abundance of parks.
London is blessed by a great number and variety of green spaces, which are terrific spots to rest and relax while doing long walking tours of the city. Some offer lovely views of landmarks, while others are drenched in history, or showcase impressive landscape design.
Here are four of my favourite green spaces in London.
This park was not even on my itinerary, I just found myself feeling drained after completing a few jobs in inner London and this was the nearest green space. Soon I felt lucky to have ended up here.
Occupying 22ha of what used to be the grounds of Cope Castle, just west of Kensington Palace, Holland Park charmed me with its small but colourful flower garden.
This meticulously landscaped area was embellished by dozens of different species of brightly coloured flowers, including tulips, daisies, carnations and peonies.
What came as a surprise was its even more pristine Kyoto Garden. Designed in the style of a classical Japanese garden, this peaceful space boasts a waterfall, koi pond, stone arch bridge and a small pebble garden.
St James’s Park
I still remember the first time I saw Buckingham Palace. This London landmark came into view unexpectedly as I crossed the Blue Bridge in St James’s Park.
All these years later this remains my favourite vantage from which to admire the palace, not to mention the fact that this same bridge also offers unique views of icons such as Big Ben and the London Eye.
It’s more than just a viewpoint, however, as this big park is a glorious place year round. In the summer it’s a fantastic spot to picnic on a sunny day, in autumn and spring it is decorated by colourful foliage, and even in the depths of winter it is majestic. Sitting on a bench by its central lake, beneath the shade of its tree canopy, is one of the simplest joys of being in London.
Victoria Tower Gardens
Stop and stare. This is a fine spot from which to absorb the magnificence of three of London’s most famous sites — the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Bridge and the River Thames.
Located along the riverbank in Westminster, this small green space is in the heart of London’s tourist hub. Aside from the three aforementioned sites, it is within a few minutes walk of Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Churchill War Rooms.
The park is fairly plain but its location makes it an invaluable place to recuperate in between ticking off some of the city’s top attractions.
For a park in a central part of a big city, this place is just massive. About 1.5km in length and 1km in width, it would take at least half a day to fully explore Regent’s Park.
Not only does it have a huge amount of open space, where locals hang out, picnic or play sport it also boasts one of the world’s great zoos and a sequence of simply stunning gardens.
These include the serene Japanese Garden Island, the colourful Queen Mary’s Rose Gardens, the lush St John’s Lodge Garden, the stately English Gardens, and welcoming Marylebone Green.
My favourite reason to visit Regent’s Park though is to explore London Zoo, the world’s oldest scientific zoo.
What sets this zoo apart is the array of immersive experiences it offers. Among them are wildlife photography workshops, “zookeeper for a day” programs, and the chance to get up close and personal with certain animals.
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