London might be the inner-sanctum for cosy pubs, and hanging out in grand old buildings housing galleries and museums, but when the sun comes out the people of London flock to the park in droves. There isn’t a square metre of green space that isn't being laid on, barbecued on, or being made festival stomping grounds. Thankfully, there is plenty of green space in and around the city to share. For anyone in or travelling to London this summer, here’s our guide to the best parks to play in:
Do yourself a favour and take the plunge at the Hampstead Ponds. The Kenwood Ladies’ Bathing Pond and Highgate Men’s Bathing Pond – designed for same-sex only swimming is decidedly and wonderfully old-fashioned. A private place to swim in freshwater, the Hampstead ponds are a London oasis. The enclosed area of the ladies’ pond and gardens means you can sunbake ‘sans bikini’ if you wish to dry off after your dip, so while the idea of swimming in a ladies only pond may seem very Edwardian, the option to de-robe afterwards is most avant-garde. Very popular, however less secluded is the Mixed Bathing Pond for splish-splash fun with your Heath pals.
Follow the smell of cheap off-licence charcoal BBQs grilling Tesco sausages, mixed with a certain blend of herbal smoke in the air and you’ll find London Fields on any given day when the sun is shining. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Monday and you’ve got to work tomorrow; the sun is out until 10pm and the weather is so damn good you might even continue to moon-tan. One of Hackney’s most loved parks, London Fields is buzzing with hipsters and with Broadway Market just a stone’s throw away, you can pick up coffee and treats then lie in the grass with a good book, or people-watch and count how many French Bulldogs stroll past as you check out the London Fields fashionistas.
The majestic Kew Gardens offers a seriously impressive day of frolicking. Wander through the magnificent World Heritage site and get an idea of life in an English Country Garden... and then life in an Alpine or Japanese garden, a tropical rainforest or cacti collection. Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens’ collection of plant life is considered to be the world’s largest. One could literally spend weeks at Kew Palace gardens, between admiring the flora and fauna; eating scones and drinking tea at the Orangery restaurant; visiting the museum; thumbing through archives filled with thousands of botanically themed tomes in the library; and wandering the various conservatories, greenhouses, walkways and themed gardens. But what Kew is enjoyed most for is curling up on a patch of lush green grass in the sun or under a grand tree and simply enjoying being in one of the world’s most stunning green spaces, most likely with a bottle of prosecco you picked up from Marks & Spencer on the way.
One of London’s eight Royal Parks, Hyde Park is huge! Walk or cycle through the Park; take a swim in the Serpentine Lido (lido is English for pool); play tennis, go boating or even horse riding! How very English. Sit on a park bench and feed the squirrels crumbs from your Harrod’s Food Hall sandwich, or look at contemporary art inside Serpentine Gallery. Hyde Park comes alive in summer, with a great line-up of outdoor concerts and plenty of space to roll out your sunbathing towel, you can make this West London green space your personal backyard.
For any trip to London, a visit to Buckingham Palace is mandatory. On route, you’ll want to wander through Green Park (perhaps after you’ve had breakfast at The Wolseley – just a suggestion). The quintessential London green, the Park is a peaceful refuge in the heart of the city, sitting pretty between Piccadilly and Constitution Hill. Bonus: there’s a Marks & Spencer conveniently located at Green Park station for all your picnic needs.
The behemoth Regent’s Park houses London Zoo, an open-air theatre, and various cafes and gardens. Over its 166 hectares, the park has more than 30,000 roses of 400 varieties – so what better place in London to stop and smell them! Hire row boats between April and September, play tennis, catch live jazz music in the bandstand on Sunday afternoons, or simply hire a deck chair and bask in the London sun.
How now brown cow, Primrose Hill might be a bit of a snooty hang-out for Gwyneth Paltrow types; but that doesn't mean it’s not an excellent place to fly a kite, with a fantastic view of London. Grab some cakes from the nearby Primrose Bakery and a bottle of something special from the local off-licence on Regent’s Park Road and climb up the top of the hill to watch the sunset over London’s skyline. Note: Primrose Hill is technically part of Regent’s Park.