Though once owned exclusively by the monarchs of the United Kingdom for recreational purposes, today, the Royal Parks of London represent common ground — truly communal spaces where anyone can escape the bustle of the city for a breath of fresh air, a quick stroll, or a picnic. Covering a combined 5,000 acres, these eight parks are full of history and offer ample space to relax and unwind.
During World War II, part of Bushy Park served as a U.S. airbase, and it was from there that General Eisenhower planned his D-Day invasion. You wouldn’t know it, though — today the park is as peaceful as can be, covering 1,099 acres of waterways, gardens, and grassy fields. Highlights include the bronze Diana fountain at the end of Chestnut Avenue and the graceful herds of red and Fallow deer, which roam the grounds freely, just as they did when Henry VIII hunted there in YEAR?.
Directly next to Buckingham Palace sits Green Park, an aptly named tranquil triangle of leafy trees and grassy fields. The story goes that in the 1600s, the wife of King Charles II caught him picking flowers for another woman and demanded that all of the flower beds be removed from the park. To this day, no formal flower beds remain, though a million yellow daffodils still bloom proudly each spring. With plenty of statues, fountains, memorials, and even Royal Gun Salutes on ceremonial occasions, Green Park offers a truly regal experience.
Greenwich Park presents itself as an overlook, not just of the U.K.’s beautiful capital city, but of the world in its entirety. Climb the park’s hill, where you’ll be rewarded with sweeping panoramic views of London and the River Thames, then make your way to the Royal Observatory and stand on the Prime Meridian — the Earth’s reference line for Greenwich Mean Time. Or, if you’d like to keep your focus inward, go for a stroll in the orchard gardens and enjoy the fresh air.
There’s an electricity in the air of Hyde Park, the massive green space at the heart of the city. Perhaps it’s the wind blowing off the lake, which offers boating, open-water swimming, and even a waterside café. Or, maybe it’s emanating from the Speaker’s Corner, a traditional site for public debate and speech that has served as a protest hub since the mid-1800s. Wherever it’s coming from, you’re sure to enjoy the communal buzz of this wide-open park.
The past comes alive at Kensington Gardens, a spectacular green space that was once part of Hyde Park. The eponymous palace features historical exhibits; the Diana Playground offers a Peter Pan-inspired wooden pirate ship for the little ones, while the Albert Memorial towers over the vicinity, offering true Victorian magnificence. For something a little more modern, check out the Serpentine Galleries, which house contemporary art and architecture.
Comprising 395 acres of blossoming excitement in northwest London, Regent’s Park is as lively as parks come. The formal gardens virtually overflow with plant life (Queen Mary’s Gardens contain over 12,000 roses), and the park is home to over 100 species of wildlife, including a growing population of hedgehogs. For a breath of fresh air, hike up Primrose Hill, which will reward you with jaw-dropping views of the London skyline. If that’s too strenuous, opt for a leisurely stroll along one of the many quaint, tree-lined footpaths instead.
While many of the royal parks offer small getaways from the bustle of the city, Richmond represents a true foray into the wilderness. Though just a stone’s throw from Central London, the park covers over 2,500 acres and serves as an inner-city window to the great outdoors. Its green, wide-open spaces are home to all sorts of wildlife, from birds and bats to wildflowers, fungi, and herds of elegant deer. You can choose to explore these grassy spaces by foot, on a bike, or even on horseback.
St. James’ Park
You may not consider pelicans to be particularly sophisticated birds, but they actually provide St. James’ Park with a peculiar sense of royalty as they graze the beautiful grounds with a stately air of elegance. Four hundred years ago, the Russian ambassador presented King Charles II with the pelicans as a gift, and they (and their offspring) have lived in the park ever since. They’re only one of the many brilliant aspects of St. James’ Park, which spans an impressive 57 acres in central London. Make sure to snap photos of the Buckingham Palace flower beds and the peaceful fountain in the park’s center.