With eight Royal Parks (former hunting grounds owned by the monarchy), commons, open parkland, heaths, woodlands, sports fields and private gardens, London is a very green city.
In fact, it was declared the world's first National Park City in 2019, and it is estimated that 47% of the city is dedicated to natural habitats and green space. From centrally-located big-hitters like Hyde Park and Regent's Park to the open spaces beyond the immediate city, here are London's very best parks. All are free to visit and open to everyone throughout the year, giving people a chance to connect with nature, socialize and improve their physical and mental health.
See the roses in Regent's Park and climb Primrose Hill for city views
The largest and most elaborate of central London’s many Royal Parks, Regent's Park is one of the capital's loveliest green spaces. Among its many attractions are London Zoo, Regent’s Canal, a boating lake, and sports pitches. Queen Mary’s Gardens, towards the south of the park, are particularly pretty, especially in June when the roses are in bloom. Performances take place here in an open-air theater from May to September. To the north of Regent's Park is Primrose Hill, a lovely spot for a stroll or picnic, offering extraordinary views over the city skyline.
Hampstead Heath is a favorite with wild swimmers
Sprawling Hampstead Heath, with its rolling woodlands, meadows and abundant wildlife, feels far away from the city, despite being only a few miles from Trafalgar Square. Swimmers (newcomers are welcome) head to the three bathing ponds, two of which are open year-round. The heath is home to a variety of butterflies, bats and bird species, so you'll be taking a dip alongside the creatures that live in the tree-lined banks. This is a wonderful place for a ramble, especially to the top of Parliament Hill, which offers expansive views across London. Round out your wildlife-watching stroll with a pint at one of the pubs around the heath.
St James's Park is surrounded by London landmarks
At 23 hectares (57 acres), St James's is the second-smallest of the eight royal parks after Green Park. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in grooming, with brightly-colored flower beds, a lovely lake and a fountain. As well as offering brilliant views of the London Eye, Horse Guards Parade and Buckingham Palace, it is famous for its pelicans, which were introduced to the park in 1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador to King Charles II. The pelicans are fed between 2:30pm and 3pm near Duck Island cottage.
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is packed with activities
The glittering centerpiece of London's 2012 Olympic Games is Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Sustainability was central to the construction and running of the Games, which were a driver for the regeneration of this part of east London. As well as the main Olympic venues, this vast expanse includes playgrounds, walking and cycling trails, gardens and a diverse mix of wetland, woodland, meadow and other wildlife habitats. There are public artworks throughout the park, the largest of which is the ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture, which has a viewing platform and offers the chance to slide or abseil down it. The main focal point is London Stadium, now a concert venue and the home football ground for West Ham United FC.
Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are wonderful in all seasons
From hunting to dueling, from potato field to ice-skating, central London's largest green space really has seen it all. Today Hyde Park is a hub of activity throughout the year. Enjoy the manicured lawns and tree-shaded avenues of Kensington Gardens, part of Kensington Palace, and if you're with kids, visit the nearby Princess Diana Playground, where unaccompanied adults are turned away at the gate. You can hire deck chairs and take peddle-boats out on the Serpentine from March to October. The summer season means festivals, with a large section of the park dedicated to open-air concerts. Enjoy the fall colors through autumn, and from November to January Winter Wonderland brings festive cheer, with ice rinks, rides, Christmas markets, and food stalls.
Holland Park is home to peacocks and the beautiful Kyoto Garden
Holland Park in west London has dense woodland, spacious lawns, sports fields, and some lovely gardens. These include the restful Kyoto Garden, a gift from the city of Kyoto to mark the friendship between England and Japan, and the more bare Fukushima Garden, built as a mark of gratitude for the support the British offered after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Fukushima in 2011. The park’s splendid peacocks are a gorgeous sight and there's an adventure playground to keep kids occupied.
Greenwich Park is great for a family day out
Together with the museums, pubs and market in the neighborhood of Greenwich, this area makes a fabulous day out for families. Greenwich Park is one of London’s loveliest expanses of green, with a rose garden, picturesque walks, a sixth-century Anglo-Saxon burial ground and astonishing views of Canary Wharf from the crown of the hill. The large playground includes a sandpit and water play, and there's a trail leading to a viewpoint where you could spot red or fallow deer. The Royal Observatory, at the top of the hill, is the home of Greenwich Mean Time. If you don't want to pay to enter the Meridian Courtyard, look out for the continuation of the prime meridian line, marked in metal, just outside the fence, where you can be in two hemispheres at once for free.
Crystal Palace Park has Victorian dinosaur sculptures
Named after the prodigious glass-and-iron palace erected for the Great Exhibition in 1851 and moved here from Hyde Park in 1854, this huge park makes for intriguing exploration. The palace burned down in 1936 with spectacular ferocity, and nothing remains today except the Victorian terrace and its crumbling Sphinx statues. However, the park has plenty to offer including a skatepark, woodland, a maze, a small boating lake and Grade I-listed dinosaur sculptures. These date from the mid-19th-century and are based on the limited scientific knowledge of their day. If you have time, other south London greats – with large playgrounds, ancient woodland, and plenty of open space – include Beckenham Place Park, Dulwich Park and Brockwell Park.
Richmond Park is the best place to see London's deer
Richmond Park is the largest urban parkland in Europe offering everything from formal gardens and ancient oaks to unsurpassed views of central London 12 miles (19km) away. There are many roads through the park, so be sure to step away into the wilderness for a quiet walk or a picnic. Herds of more than 600 red and fallow deer basking under the trees are part of its magic, but they can be less than docile in rutting season (September and October) and when the does bear young (May to July), so keep your distance (over 50m/164ft) during these times. The astonishing pastoral vista from Richmond Hill has inspired painters and poets for centuries. It’s the only view (which includes St Paul’s Cathedral ten miles away) in the country to be protected by an Act of Parliament.
Battersea Park has sculptures and artworks
These 50 hectares of gorgeous greenery stretch along the riverside between Albert and Chelsea bridges, and trails leading to surprising hidden finds criss-cross the park. Near the river is the Peace Pagoda, showing Buddha in the four stages of his life, and sculptures by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth are sprinkled throughout. The park has sporting facilities, bicycle hire and lakes with paddle boats, plus the Pump House Gallery and a small children's zoo. Get a panoramic view (and raise your heart rate) with a Treetop Challenge on the high ropes at Battersea's GoApe outdoor adventure park.