A Guide to the Best Parks and Gardens London Has to Offer
Planning a walk, run, or snooze in the sun? We've tried and tested the best parks and gardens in London for you
There’s nothing like visiting a London park at 2pm on a hot Tuesday afternoon to make you ponder the city’s rate of unemployment. No, it’s not an economic crisis, it’s the phenomenon of a ‘beautiful day’. Any Londoner knows, to let such a rare occurrence idly pass by is a cardinal sin. Instead, it’s imperative that all plans are relocated to the city’s parks and gardens, providing a
crowded peaceful escape in the bustling capital.
Dog walkers and nature lovers rejoice, as surprisingly, despite London being one of the world’s most densely populated cities, there’s over 400 open green spaces to enjoy. So, if you find yourself unexpectedly witness to the ‘beautiful day’ phenomenon, we suggest you save any planned visits to the London Dungeons for a rainier one – here are the best parks and gardens London has to offer according to us here at Plum Guide.
It’s hard to believe that tucked away amongst the built up surroundings of Hampstead, just 6 kilometres from Trafalgar Square, lies 800 acres of fields and woods. Hampstead Heath transports you to the countryside, with its mosaic of habitats providing a resource for the copious amounts of wildlife. Featuring a number of priority species identified in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, the Heath is known as one of London’s best places for wildlife. Its grounds are also ideal for lazy picnics, rambling dog walks, or even a refreshing dip in your choice of three swimming ponds and a lido. The athletics track is perfect for organised sport, and with an education centre, a zoo, and extensive children’s facilities, there really is something for everyone to enjoy. There’s also an abundance of traditional pubs nearby for a well-deserved roast dinner and pint(s). Fancy staying nearby? Choose from our collection of hand-picked homes in the area like Sweet Lizzy.
While staying in your Plum Guide home however, make sure you appreciate the important role played by the Hampstead Heath Ponds Project in maintaining the area’s allure. The Hampstead Heath Ponds Project was a plan to improve dam safety in every pond in the Park, with construction lasting 18 months between April 2015 and October 2016. When people realised that a large storm could cause serious damage to the existing dams, and consequently pose a threat to surrounding areas and residents, the project was put in place. As a result, Hampstead Heath now boasts improved water quality (perfect for those of you brave enough to go for a dip), more wildlife for visitors to admire, and the guarantee that a future storm won’t force you to change your plans.
St Dunstan in the East Church Garden
If you’re looking for a place steeped in history, then look no further than St Dunstan in the East Church Garden. Having been built around the year 1100, St Dunstan’s Church had a new south aisle added in 1391 which was later repaired in 1631. However, just 35 years down the line in 1666, the entire church was severely damaged by the Great Fire of London. Instead of being completely rebuilt, St Dunstan’s was merely patched up, before a steeple and tower were added by Sir Christopher Wren between 1695 and 1701. The church then stayed out of trouble until the Second World War.
However, in news that will not surprise you, St Dunstan’s was all but destroyed during the Blitz of 1941. It was consequently decided during the reorganisation of the Anglican Church that it would not be rebuilt (again), despite Wren’s tower and steeple surviving the bombing. In 1967, the City of London then decided that the church remains would become a public garden, eventually opening in 1970.
With planting works having been done as recently as spring 2015 to enhance the space, the popular ruins are now accompanied by greenery. You will find an unusual plant roaming the lower garden in the form of winter’s bark, Drymis winteri, whose leaves are so high in Vitamin C that they were once eaten to prevent scurvy (we know it’s tempting… please don’t).
The nearest tube is Monument or Tower Hill, but you will feel so secluded in this gem of a City Garden that you'll barely remember you’re in London. When deciding on your scenic destination for the day, make sure St Dunstan in the East Church Garden is high on your list.
If you’re feeling particularly sprightly (and have managed to tear yourself away from the Serpentine Bar), you can continue your walk onto Kensington Gardens. Originally part of Hyde Park, the royal gardens boast beautiful surroundings and monuments that can be enjoyed whatever the weather. Perfect for children, Kensington Gardens helped to inspire J M Barrie's stories of Peter Pan – your little ones will love the
ornate statue magical garden and giant pirate ship playground (found in the Diana, Princess of Wales' Memorial Playground and opened in memory of the late Princess).
St James’ Park
Located in Westminster by Buckingham Palace, St James’ Park is 57 glorious acres of royal history, landmarks and gorgeous city lookouts. Enjoy the the vast lake and the seventeen resident species of birds from the comfort of an old fashioned stripy deckchair (boater hat optional). The Queen lives just up the road but you’re more likely to catch a glimpse of the squadron of pelicans (yes, really) that reside within the park. Want to stay in this regal part of town? One of our Westminster homes like Timely Transformation should be just what you're looking for.
It’s advisable to take a map when visiting Richmond Park. Firstly, to get there (Richmond is in zone four, at the end of the District line), and secondly, to ensure you don’t get lost in the sprawling 800 acres of green. The famous wildlife – especially the herds of deer – will make your pilgrimage, and the possibility of being declared missing, worth it. Pembroke Lodge sits at the top of Richmond Park (and even has free parking), where you
will can enjoy a traditional English tea in elegant Georgian dining rooms.
If you have absolutely no knowledge of London and are unable to find England on a map, you’ve probably still heard of Hyde Park. Being the most famous of London’s parks, it’s arguably the most touristy, but
you won't see anyone it's huge. Hyde Park stretches across 350 acres of royal expanse, where visitors can enjoy a spot of boating, tennis and even horse riding.
Feeling guilty about foregoing the gym for sunshine? No problem, get your cardio session in at the ‘senior playground’, for the young at heart.
Take a dip in the Serpentine Lido (if you happen to have your swimming kit with you), or enjoy a glass of wine looking out over the open water at the Serpentine Bar and Kitchen.
Despite Clapham Common’s lovely surroundings (Georgian mansions, three ponds and a bandstand), this south London hotspot is probably best avoided if you’re over 25 and/or don't own a pair of roller blades. Here lies London’s Generation Z: crowds competing for optimal speaker volume and personal trainers
humiliating encouraging their sweaty clients.
Affectionately known as ‘Ally Pally’ by locals, this 1873 grade II listed events venue is situated between Wood Green and Muswell Hill. This is one of the best parks and gardens London has to offer for kids; from skateboarding in the skate park to zip wiring through an urban tree top jungle at Go Ape. The more demure visitors can call on Alexandra Palace's garden centre or treat themselves to homemade pies at the (overpriced) farmer’s market.
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