Although it has its fair share of urban sprawl, London is a surprisingly green city with a large number of parks and gardens that break up the buildings and give respite from the crush and traffic. From the skies, what appear to be unbroken urban developments is more of a patchwork with plenty of parks and gardens in between the buildings.
The Royal Parks, such as Hyde Park and Regent’s Park, are well-known to visitors as part of the London landscape but there are many smaller and less well-known parks and gardens that provide little escapes from the hubbub to locals and visitors alike.
On your next trip to London, seek out some of these secret green spaces and find your new favourite park in the city far from the madding crowd.
Across London, there are countless garden squares that were built for the private use of residents in some of the most fashionable areas of London. While most of these remain as residents-only parks, several have been opened up to the public and provide a small sanctuary from the bustle of London’s busy streets.
Russell Square is one such garden square that is now open for public visiting. One of the larger gardens, Russell Square has park benches, flower beds and just enough trees to shield the space from some of the noise of the traffic. The square is also home to one of only 13 remaining operational cabmen’s shelters, where licenced London Black Cab drivers can get a hot meal when on duty in the city, subsidised by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund.
Known locally as the People’s Park, Victoria Park has consistently been voted as the favourite park of Londoners looking for an escape from the city. Covering just short of 90 hectares of open space in East London, the park has become well-known for the popular music festivals that have taken place in the park since the 1980s.
For locals, there are plenty of sporting activities to keep people moving including two league football clubs, an athletics club and cricket played every evening through the summer on the Park’s three wickets. However, there’s plenty for the out-of-town visitor too, and you can see some of the remnants of the now-rebuilt London Bridge in the form of two pedestrian alcoves that now act as sheltered benches for those looking for shade from the sun or a refuge from the rain. Although the bathing pond hasn’t seen action from bathers since the 1930s, the pond is now popular with anglers who use it to practice their coarse fishing skills in the city.
The largest and probably best known of the central London green spaces without Royal charter is Hampstead Heath. Known simply as the Heath to locals, this open space in North London covers a huge 320 hectare area and has plenty of activities and attractions to bring in urban escapists.
One of the most widely known activities on the Heath is outdoor swimming. There are two separate swimming ponds for gentlemen and ladies that are open all year round in all weathers, and a mixed sex pond that’s open only during the summer months. Swimmers can be seen in the ponds on every day of the year, including when there’s ice on the surface of the water.
It’s a little-known fact that the Heath has its own police force with all the powers of a regular constabulary that can be enforced within the boundaries of the park. The Hampstead Heath Constabulary numbers 12 constables and four trained police dogs that patrol the park 24 hours a day to ensure the by-laws of the heathland are adhered to.
While most visitors to London come for the many urban sights, you’ll find plenty of green space if you want a break from the crush of the crowds. Although the Royal parks are popular, you’ll probably find that there’s a bit of green space much closer than you think.