You may have noticed from our Instagram account that we are spending a lot of time at parks in London. There are a few reasons for that:
- Kiley’s school is located directly on one—Regent’s Park—which means it’s convenient for a quick walk and it attracts a lot of school events.
- Due to my work hours (having to juggle meetings in several time zones), I am generally taking long breaks during the day. We’ve made it a point to get out and explore London as much as possible while we’re here, and there’s no better way to do that than a nice jog/walk/picnic in one of the nearby parks.
- We’ve lived in several places in London, so our “neighborhood parks” have always been changing.
Aside from our personal circumstances, it’s always nice to take a walk in the park! And London has a ton of them—in all shapes and sizes—spread throughout the city and the surrounding areas. So here’s an overview of the parks we’ve visited so far:
When you talk about London parks, Regent’s Park is one of the big ones that immediately comes to mind. The park houses the London Zoo, Queen Mary’s Rose Gardens, countless cricket and football (soccer) pitches, the nicest part of Regent’s Canal, and—of course—plenty of beautiful scenery. In several visits so far, Kiley and I have been able to see most of the park, except the zoo. We’ve seen some of the enclosures from the outside, but nothing from the inside yet.
Park Highlight: This one is an even tie. The first was a party of a few dozen French Bulldogs. We happened upon the group on one of our walks that they were EVERYWHERE, free to roam and play (no dogs are on leashes in London). Even as we left, there were many more streaming in to join the party. The other was the Queen Mary’s Rose Gardens; it’s just gorgeous. There are dozens of varieties of roses and other flowers, all immaculately maintained. It even smells nice!
Another one of the main London parks, Hyde Park is very popular due to its central location and it hosts a lot of events. It’s got a great mix of maintained grass, open fields, wooded areas, and water—all with their own wildlife. It sits adjacent to Kensington Gardens, and many people conflate the two. Technically, only Schaefer and I have been to Hyde Park; Kiley and I may have mentioned a walk through Hyde Park in one of our posts, but we were actually in Kensington Gardens.
Park Highlight: Horses. When Schaefer and I walked through the park, there were plenty of people riding horses. In fact, there are even a few horse trails and training facilities within the park. Continuing the theme, at least three pairs of police officers on horseback passed by when I stopped on a bench to read a bit.
Neighbor to Hyde Park, the two are separated by the Italian Water Gardens and The Long Water/The Serpentine lake. Home to Kensington Palace and its current inhabitants, Prince Harry, Prince William, and Princess Kate, the park also has the Italian Water Gardens, the Albert Memorial, a statue of Peter Pan, two memorials to the late Princess Diana (a playground and a fountain), and a trapeze training school. Kiley, Schaefer, and I walked through Kensington Gardens on one of our first days in town and it proved to be a nice relaxing escape from the stress and excitement of those first couple of weeks.
Park Highlight: Rolls-Royce ice cream trucks. Parked directly adjacent to the Italian Water Gardens and the nice café nearby, this vehicle famously dashed our hopes of being able to afford a flat in the area during one of our first few days in town.
If Regent’s Park is a clock, Primrose Hill is located just north of 12 o’clock, right over Regent’s Canal (LBS is located at about 7:30). The park itself has plenty of open manicured areas, with unkempt grass and trees scattered around. The park’s main attraction is—no surprise—the hill, which offers amazing views of the London skyline, as well as many surrounding areas. I first visited Primrose Hill as the furthest point of a down-and-back jog from our flat in West Hampstead. It turned out to be one of those runs that’s a lot more fun on the way out, because—aside from the short trip down the hill itself—it is uphill ALL the way back to West Hampstead.
Park Highlight: Canine Picnic. One day following my uphill jog from hell, I decided to return to Primrose Hill. Wisely, I chose this time to take public transportation and invited Schaefer to come along. I packed some food and my Kindle, and two of us enjoyed a nice picnic overlooking the city. It was delightful.
Located about 1.5 miles north of Primrose Hill and 1.5 miles east of West Hampstead, Hampstead Heath is a giant hilly park consisting of unkempt grassy space and dense woods. Another jogging discovery, Kiley and I first visited the Heath as we ventured out to explore Hampstead, which is next door to West Hampstead—as the name implies. In addition to the beautiful scenery, Hampstead Heath is known for its amazing city views from Parliament Hill.
Park Highlight: It’s sheer heath-ness. The contrast of Hampstead Heath is amazing; due to its perched position, you can literally see beautiful rolling grassland and woods all around with downtown London just beyond. The park’s also known as a dog hangout, so there’s always plenty of labs, shepherds, and other big dogs getting in their workouts.
Mile End Park
Kiley and I visited Mile End Park as part of our boat-hunting adventures. With the eastern portion of Regent’s Canal running along the park’s western edge, it has plenty of mooring spots, making it very popular in London’s continuous cruising community. Some of the boats moored on the canal there even have their own businesses, including a coffee shop, book store, and pub!
Park Highlight: Touring the wide-beam. Having made the long trip out to view one boat, we decided to walk the canal a bit to see if any other narrowboats were for sale in the area. And there were plenty, so I took pictures of the ‘for sale’ signs for inquiry later. As I was snapping a shot of a nice wide-beam, the owner saw me and insisted that Kiley and I take a tour. “You might as well see it now while you’re here” I think he said. This boat was GORGEOUS; two-bed, two-bath, wide open space, modern and new all around, we quickly realized that it was well above out budget (they were asking almost 10 times what we ended up paying for ours). But the gentleman was very friendly and it was nice to see how the other half lived on the water.
We saved the best for last. Richmond Park is a dreamy park located right next to a dreamy town—Richmond—itself located about eight miles from central London. Visually, it’s a lot like Hampstead Heath: rolling terrain with lots of unkempt grassy and wooded areas. But it’s a lot bigger than the Heath and it’s got something else the other London parks don’t: deer. It makes sense considering that the park was originally created for deer hunting. Nowadays, Richmond Park is home to several hundred wild deer that are oddly comfortable with visitors, allowing people to get so close that park officials have to warn visitors not to get too close.
Park Highlight: Stag picnic. Our visit to Richmond Park ended up being one of those experiences that Kiley and I will remember for the rest of our lives. As we searched the park for the famed deer, we found a group of a dozen bucks lounging in the sun with a few visitors gathered around. A short time earlier, we had picked up some sandwiches and a pint, so we unwrapped Schaefer’s blanket and had a nice picnic about 50 feet from the deer. And a few of these were big dudes; 10- 12- and 14-pointers, much bigger than we were likely to see in the wild in Michigan. It was a truly wonderful afternoon.
The parks listed above have been our favorite parks so far. However, we’ve actually visited several others as well:
This one is located in the boonies compared to most of these other parks. I discovered Gladstone Park as the destination for another one of my down-and-back jogs. Although the park is very nice, with some neat history and views of Wembley Stadium, it was WAY further than I thought it would be, resulting in a tiresome run back to West Hampstead.
St James’ Park
This park is located northeast of Buckingham Palace and is most widely known as “the park that you walk through between Westminster and Buckingham Palace” (I assume). It’s got a nice little lake and is known for its wide variety of birds, some of which like to chase kids, which is hilarious.
Located due north of Buckingham Palace, Green Park is best known as “the park you walk through to get to the tube after seeing Westminster and Buckingham Palace” (I assume). It’s nice, but nothing spectacular.
Golders Hill Park
Located adjacent to Hampstead Heath, Schaefer and I went on a long walk to Golders Hill Park during our stay in West Hampstead. It’s a nice community park with a cool little zoo. There’s something oddly relaxing about reading a book next to lemurs…