Golden Days: Autumnal Parklife In London

27 October 2015

Despite its urban grit and glitz, the British capital is Europe's leafiest, with the continent's finest collection of city parks. They're particularly lovely at this time of year, with their greenery enriched by a striking palette of autumnal colours.

Here are some of the best places for a wander - and perhaps a picnic if the weather's still mild enough.

Hampstead Heath

A wild, countryside aura fuels this rambling getaway, which spans 320 hectares of rolling meadows and woodlands in London's undulating north (four kilometres from Trafalgar Square).

Book-readers, arm-in-arm couples and dog walkers are in their element on the heath, with crowds congregating atop Parliament Hill, a vantage point that affords glorious views of the capital's ever-changing skyline.

With winter coming, you might not see too many people doing lengths in the heath's open-air swimming ponds, but you will see kids - and a few parents - playing conkers (a traditional autumnal game using the seeds from horse chestnut trees).

 A view from the Heath (Image: Steve McKenna)

Kew Gardens

Nudging the River Thames in south-west London, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (to use its official name) is arguably at its most enchanting during autumn. The summer crowds have thinned and you'll have much of this 132-hectare UNESCO World Heritage Site to yourself.

Although it's dotted with handsome historic buildings, art galleries and quirky features (such as a Chinese-style pagoda and Greco-Roman follies), Kew's over-riding allure is the natural.

You'll find the planet's largest and most diverse batch of living plants, including deliciously photogenic trees, from ancient English oaks and chestnuts to Atlas cedars and Chilean monkey puzzles.

 Enchanting Kew Gardens (Image: Steve McKenna)

Regent's Park

Masterminded by celebrated Georgian architect John Nash on what was part of King Henry VIII's old hunting ground, Regent's Park is probably the most diverse and vibrant of central London's royal parks.

As well as fountains, football pitches, tennis courts and a boating lake, you'll find ZSL London Zoo and the Regent's Canal - a tree-lined, barge-peppered waterway that flows between east and west London.

Rising at the park's northern end is Primrose Hill, from which you can savour panoramic views of London (and also eat, shop and drink in the eponymous well-heeled neighbourhood). The park's Queen Mary's Gardens are at their best in June - when the city's largest cluster of roses are in bloom - but flowers still flourish here throughout autumn.

 A warm Sunday in Regent's Park (Image: Kamira/Shutterstock.com)

Try a pint in a London tavern. 10 Best London Pubs For A Pint

Want more on London's green spaces? 10 Best Parks And Gardens In London


Richmond Park

As October progresses, the ancient woods of Richmond Park, three kilometres south of Kew Gardens, turn a splendid shade of scarlet, copper and orange. Roaming herds of red and fallow deer, meanwhile, play out their annual rut in a melee of roaring, barking and stag-clashing.

So big is Richmond Park - it stretches over 1000 hectares - you'd need a few days to cover it on foot.

Probably best, then, to explore it using pedal power. You can hire trail and road bicycles by the park's Roehampton Gate and weave your way around the rugged, undulating grounds, pit stopping beside tranquil duck ponds and at enticing refreshment points like The Butler's Pantry, a tea room set in Pembroke Lodge, a Grade-II listed Georgian mansion.

 Richmond Park is one of the city's biggest (Image: Steve McKenna)

Also worth considering.....

A favourite of the pop singer Adele, Brockwell Park is a serene green space within strolling distance of Brixton, one of south London's most buzzing, multicultural districts.

Another gem south of the river is Greenwich Park, which boasts a delightful hilltop setting and heaps of intriguing attractions (including the Royal Observatory and the world's prime meridian line).

 Greenwich Park ... a gem south of the river (Image: Visit Britain)

At the southernmost point of the Tube's Northern Line, set around a National Trust-owned country estate, Morden Hall Park is one of the capital's most under-rated parks.

Fancy sticking to trendy east London? Don't miss Victoria Park. Known as Vicky Park, this leafy idyll borders the Regent's Canal and the districts of Hackney, Bow and Bethnal Green.


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Steve McKenna

A regular contributor to some of Australia's leading newspapers and travel magazines, Steve McKenna has visited, written about and photographed more than 80 countries on six different continents. He fears he has an incurable case of wanderlust and is particularly fond of Europe, Asia and South America.