The central London parks walk guides you through 6 of the main parks of our glorious capital city. Enjoy the green open spaces and hidden alcoves as you cross central London from west to east.
The parks tell the story of London’s development and history as much as the great buildings. Find out about the pelicans of St James’ Park and the slave owner who fought for abolition amongst many other stories in this tour.
Join the the first park on this tour from Holland Park tube station. Exit the station and turn right along Holland Park Avenue until you reach Abbotsbury Road where you turn left. Some beautiful houses line the road.
Soon you’ll arrive at the entrance to Holland Park where you’ll be greeted by two tortoises that make up part of a sun dial.
Sun dials are the oldest astronomical instruments, but can be up to 16 minutes out during February and October due to the tilt of the earth. This particular dial was erected in 2000.
Perhaps the most interesting and certainly the least visited of the parks on our journey, Holland Park has no wide open spaces. The park, therefore, offers great opportunities to explore the spaces within, such as the kids adventure playground or the Kyoto Garden. Erected in 1991 the Kyoto Garden is a monument to Japanese garden design.
The Story of Holland Park
Originally part of a 500 acre estate purchased by Sir Richard Cope, Chancellor of the Exchequer to James I. He built a mansion in 1605. In the 18th Century the house became the property of the first Baron Holland who renamed the mansion Holland House.
The current 54 acre park was the original gardens to the house. Holland House and the gardens suffered extensive bombing damage during the war. The then current owner, the Earl of Leicester sold the property to the London County Council in 1952
Take the widest of the paths up the hill heading east.
After a while you’ll discover a statue of the third Baron Lord Holland. While Henry Richard Vassal Fox, the 3rd Baron campaigned for the Abolition of Slavery he was a slave owner.
Despite being part of the campaign he willing accepted the payment all slave owners received on abolition.
Continue to follow the Map out of the park and through some of the attractive back streets of Kensington.
Cross Kensington Palace Gardens and Palace Avenue, two of the most exclusive addresses in London. As you enter Kensington Gardens you’ll find Kensington Palace on your left.
At this point I continued straight ahead along Mount Walk with the Round Pond on my left. As you proceed along this path look to the right and you’ll see the rather extravagant Victorian monument dedicated to Prince Albert with the albert Hall in the background.
Unveiled in 1872 to commemorate his achievements, the memorial is an extravaganza of gothic design. Find out more about the monument here.
If you haven’t been persuaded to take a closer look at the statue continue on the path to arrive at the Serpentine Gallery and Pavilion.
The Pavilion was erected in 2000 and operates as a cafe most of the year, where its modern design makes it standout within Kensington Gardens.
Cross West Carriage Drive to enter Hyde Park and head downhill towards the Serpentine.
Henry VIII acquired Hyde Park from the monks of Westminster Abbey with the dissolution of the monasteries. He turned it into a hunting ground. James I allowed limited public access and then Charles I opened the park to full public right of way. In 1730 Queen Caroline created the Serpentine, which was fed from the rivers Westbourne and Tyburn. Nowadays the lake is fed by boreholes from within the park.
Princess Diana Memorial Playground
The Diana Memorial playground is a complete contrast to the Albert Memorial.
On this less than perfect summer day it lacked the normal number of children playing. It is an ideal place for children to enjoy the water. Since its opening in 2000 over 1 million people have experienced the fun of the playground.
Continue along the edge of the Serpentine and whenever is convenient move over to the left to walk beside Rotten Row. Apparently the name for this bridleway that runs along the southern side of Hyde Park is a corruption of Route du Roi (route of the king). William III at the end of the 17th century had moved his court to Kensington Palace and Rotten Row was the direct route to the Houses of Parliament.
In the 18th & 19th Centuries Rotten Row became the fashionable place for the aristocracy to show off their finery on horseback and in their carriages.
At the end of Rotten Row lies a small pretty rose garden which is worth a visit.
At the end of Rotten Row as you prepare to leave Hyde Park stands Number 1 London the home of the Duke of Wellington.
The Duke as victor at Waterloo (1815) held in such esteem by his contemporaries that Aspley House obtained the nickname Number 1 London. The house contains the Wellington Collection of old masters, but also provides a home to the 9th Duke of Wellington. You can visit the house everyday except Mondays and Tuesdays.
Continue on the route and descend the underpass that takes you to the centre of Hyde Park Corner. Here you’ll find another reminder of the Iron Duke.
Wellington had an exemplary military career and came to prominence during the Peninsular War with France in 1812-13. After the success of Waterloo he became a Tory Politician and served as Prime Minister twice.
Continue to follow the route from the map and cross over to Green Park with the gardens of Buckingham Palace running parallel on your right.
Green Park wins the title of my least favourite park. The park consists of trees and grassland. The only time it comes into bloom is when the 1 million daffodils raise their yellow heads.
The story goes that Charles II’s wife demanded all the flowers be removed from the park after Charles was discovered picking them for his new mistress.
However there are nice quiet places to sit and get away from the traffic in the park.
At the end of Green Park you arrive at the front of Buckingham Palace.
The flag indicates the Queen is in residence. If you want to find out more about the Palace follow this link.
St Jame’s Park
St Jame’s Park is the centre of Britain’s constitution with Buckingham Palace at one end, Whitehall and Downing Street at the other, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey nearby.
The lake dominates the park and this walk follows the lake on the north side.
Pelicans have lived in St James’s Park for nearly 400 years. They were originally presented as a gift from the Russian Ambassador to King Charles II.
For many people this could be the end of the central London parks walk. You are in the heart of London and there are many places to visit from here.
From the end of St Jame’s Park there are some great views.
Beyond Admiralty Arch lies Trafalgar Square overlooked by Nelson and the National Gallery.
The road to Regent’s Park
However, if you have the energy it is well worth continuing the central London parks walk.
Climb the steps to the column featuring the Duke of York, he of 10,000 men fame. Continue straight on up Lower Regents Street. to Piccadilly Circus
They say that if you stand at the statue of Eros for long enough you’ll meet everyone you have ever known.
Continue the progress up Regent Street. You’ll notice the architecture of the whole street is almost identical. The Crown Estate owns most of the road and has been able to maintain a uniform look. The route from from Regent’s Park to Pall Mall was originally designed by Nash and fully opened in the 1820s. The route divided the posh Mayfair district from the slums of Soho.
The street underwent redevelopment at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century as the 99 year leases expired. What you see today reflects this redesign.
Regent Street finishes on the other side of Oxford Circus where it becomes Langham and Portland Place. Here you’ll find the BBC.
Just like most of Regent Street the buildings of Portland Place are not freehold but on long leases. This arrangement has meant that Portland Place and much of Marylebone is still under the control of the descendants of the Duke of Newcastle who purchased the area in 1711 for £17,000.
Regent’s Park origins date back to the dissolution of the monasteries when Henry VIII acquired the land from the church and created into a hunting ground. The area, known as Marylebone Park, remained in royal hands until 1760. 50 years later the Crown re-acquired the Park.
The Prince Regent with the help of John Nash decided to re-developed the area as part of the creation of Regent Street. Follow this link to find out more about the park’s history.
At the end of Portland Place keep to the east side and continue around Park Crescent. Cross over Marylebone Road and continue alongside Park Square Gardens. Enter the park and follow the map. To me this section, the English Gardens, stands out as the prettiest part of Regents Park.
Join the Broad Walk until you arrive at the fountain. Here veer to the left and shortly you’ll find yourself proceeding along with London Zoo on your right. On your left are the wide open park land where teams gather on the weekend to play cricket, football etc.
Exit the park at the end of the path and across Regent’s Canal on to the Outer Circle. From here head towards St John’s Wood Station by following the map.
The route takes you through the fashionable shopping centre of St John’s Wood and on to the 1930s design station, that now looks as if it needs a thorough makeover. Here you come to the end of your central London parks walk.
If you enjoyed the London Central Parks walk then you can find many more interesting hikes at Find a Walk – Britain.
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