On sunny days, one of the cheapest and most pleasant things to do in London is to relax in one of London’s many parks and open spaces.
There are loads in central London – and they are all free to access.
Here’s a little history about London’s parks.
Map of London Parks
Unlike many of the other royal parks in central London, Green Park has no lakes – rather, it is a number of meadows.
It was established as an enclosed park by Henry VIII in the sixteenth century, possibly on the site of an old burial ground for lepers from the nearby St James’ Hospital. Charles II used to stroll the park.
These days it is a pleasant place to relax, as well as being a convenient cut through from Buckingham Palace to St James and Piccadilly.
Nearest underground station: Green Park
Located in front of Buckingham Palace, St James’s Park was originally part of the grounds for St James’s Palace nearby.
It is the oldest of the royal parks and was named after a leper hospital that used to exist nearby.
The park was redesigned in 1828 for public use and its layout comprising curving walks and lakes became the model for the design of later parks.
With its waterfowl and other wildlife, and numerous park benches, it is a great place for resting.
Nearest underground station: Westminster
The park was designed by John Nash in 1818 as part of a wider plan for the area, and was opened to the general public in 1845.
It is not only used for general relaxation but is also the venue for many organised amateur sports such as tennis, cricket and hockey, and there is boating on the lake. It is also the home of London Zoo.
Nearest underground stations: Regents Park, Baker Street, Great Portland Street
Hyde Park is one of the largest parks in London and is famous for its Speakers’ Corner, in the north eastern corner of the park on the former site of the Tyburn gallows.
It was opened to the general public in 1637 and was the site of the Great Exhibition in 1851
Nearest underground stations: Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge, Queensway, Marble Arch
Greenwich Park is the oldest enclosed royal park and a former hunting park for royalty.It is also home of the Royal Observatory, from where time is measured.
The annual London marathon commences from the common at the top of the park each April.
Nearest stations: Greenwich (BR), Cutty Sark (DLR)
Once the private gardens of Kensington Palace, they are now considered part of Hyde Park.
The park is the setting of J M Barrie’s book, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, and more recently is known for being the home of Diana, Princess of Wales prior to her death.
Nearest underground station: South Kensington
Corams Fields is on the site of the old Foundling Hospital, founded in 1742, which was a place where unwanted children such as street children and orphans could be left.
Though the hospital no longer exists, there is a playground in the fields to which unaccompanied adults may be refused permission to enter. Dickens writes about Corams Fields in Little Dorritt.
Nearest underground station: Russell Square
The name, Temple, derives from the Order of the Knights Templar, a chivalrous order established in 1118 for the purpose of protecting pilgrims. (You may know of them as the knights who wore white tunics with red crosses on them.) In 1162, the group built their first church and houses nearby, on the banks of the Thames.
Today, barristers have their offices (known as chambers) here, in addition to training and practising in the area. Its also a public space during week days and a lovely, peaceful place to sit and have lunch.
Nearest underground station: Temple, Embankment
London’s first public park opened in the East End in 1845.
It originally had its own Speaker’s Corner – with the idea of the park being the East End’s version of Regents Park.
Today it remains a wonderful place for EastEnders and other visitors to wander around the lakes, visit the Old English Garden and simply relax.
Nearest railway stations: Hackney Wick, Homerton
Though the park opened in 1880, it was the seventeenth century burial ground for Christ Church, Newgate Street.
Since 1900 it has been a national memorial to heroic ordinary Londoners who died in acts of bravery.
Many Londoners continue to visit it, especially during their lunch breaks on sunny days.
Nearest underground station: Barbican
South London’s park was opened in 1869.
Like most Victorian parks, it has a bandstand, a boating lake and a lovely English garden.
It is a popular park for festivals, especially for south London communities, and also for various sports.
Recently a new cafe and art gallery has opened.
Nearest underground stations: Bermondsey, Canada Water
This popular south London park opened in 1858, and hosted the first game of football played under FA rules (in 1864).
In 1951, the park was re-designed to be the Festival Gardens which were part of the Festival of Britain.
The centrepiece these days is the London Peace Pagoda in 1985.
Nearest railway stations: Battersea Park, Queenstown Road
Kenwood House, considered part of Hampstead Heath, was built in the seventeenth century.
It has wonderful gardens, outdoor sculptures and an ancient woodland.
From the 1950’s until 2006, it was a popular place for outdoor classical concerts.
Nearest railway station: Hampstead Heath
This park in central north London was created in 1869 though people had been using it for a century before.
In the 1700’s, tea rooms existed on the parkland and Londoners would visit them to escape London’s pace and admire the views.
Today it is used as a popular outdoor music venue, as well as being a place to relax.
Nearest underground stations: Finsbury Park, Manor House
Holland Park was first opened in 1952. The wooded park opens at 7.30 am and is one of London’s smallest public parks.
The park is one of the most romantic park in London – due to the wooded walks and beautiful views.
Nearest underground station: Holland Park
Brockwell Park is one of the few parks in London with a lido – an open air swimming pool.
The park was established in 1891 and at one stage had 13 cricket pitches, making it a very popular park on weekends.
Nearest railway station: Herne Hill
Hampstead Heath in north London is London’s largest ancient park land, first mentioned historically in 974.
It is very popular with locals, who love it for its wilderness areas and ponds, including two that are used for swimming.
It also offers amazing views over London, from St Pauls to the London Eye.
Nearest underground stations: Hampstead, Belsize Park
This botanic garden in the heart of Chelsea was founded in 1673 to investigate the medicinal role of plants.
These days it continues to grow a range of herbal and medicinal plants.
Nearest underground station: Sloane Square
Alexandra Park, in Wood Green, is most famous for Alexandra Palace, which was built in 1873 as the Peoples Palace.
It is famously known as the place where the first ever BBC broadcast occurred.
These days it is mainly used as an exhibition centre.
Nearest underground station: Wood Green
Hackney marshes was originally Thames marshland. During medieval times it was drained for commercial use and more recently much of the land was reclaimed for residential use. The rubble from the blitz was used as landfill.
Today it is a popular local sporting venue: it holds the world record for the most football pitches in one place. It was used for the 2012 Olympics.
Transport: several buses, from Hackney Wick railway station