How much do I love London? Let me count the ways…
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to visit (and, no, my obsession with Harry Potter wasn’t the sole reason). To the surprise of no one, I spent the better part of college saving up for a summer study abroad trip to London. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite trips I’ve ever taken, and I think it’s because of the sheer amount of activities we managed to pack into each day. Though we each had a hefty workload with research projects basing out of the world famous British Library each day (another major dream, I might add), our instructors encouraged us to explore the city at our pace, too, which resulted in us managing to feel like semi-locals by the end of it all as we successfully navigated the tube and discovered restaurants and coffee shops during the week.
For me, finding “my London” came through a daily morning runs and long walks weaving in and out of the parks. Those hidden green spaces my classmates and I found in the middle of bustling neighborhoods felt like hidden gems set aside especially for us to find, making our time in London that much sweeter. Of course, larger parks, like Hyde Park and Primrose Hill, are popular with locals and tourists alike as well.
Altogether, there are eight Royal Parks in London. Five of those parks: Regents, Kensington, Hyde, Green and St. James lie within Zones 1 and 2, two of the most popular areas in London. The remaining three, Greenwich, Bushy and Richmond, are farther from the city center and its popular tourist attractions.
This DIY walking tour of London will take you to five of the Royal Parks within Zones 1 and 2, two of the most tourist-heavy destinations in the city, and is based off an introductory guided tour from my study abroad in London. It will take a full day to do it, especially as you’ll find plenty of garden paths worth checking out along the way, so you’ll want to pack some water and eat a hearty English breakfast before you set out. I did this walk during an abnormally hot July, but I think it would work perfectly for visitors in the spring or fall, too (as long as you pack a raincoat!).
Put on your walking shoes, block off a few hours and get ready to see the real gems of London town:
1) See the Sights at Primrose Hill
I’m a firm believer in a good warm up, and the steep climb to the top of Primrose Hill along Regent’s Park does just that. Coming from the Kings Cross tube station, take the Northern Line toward Edgeware to the Chalk Farm tube station, then head toward one of London’s most iconic hills in one the city’s poshest locations. The amazing views of the London skyline are more than worth the steep hike to the top and from there, it’s all downhill to the rest of the parks — in a good way, of course.
2) Smell the Roses
Near the Regent’s Park and Great Portland Street tube stations
The goal to not getting lost in The Regent’s Park is simple: stay on the Outer Circle as long as you need until you find your destination. Technically, Primrose Hill is on the north end, but crossing Prince Albert Road and Regent’s Canal to fully enter The Regent’s Park is where the true beauty unfolds. If you have kids, you’ll want to head toward the London Zoo, but the real treasures are the thousands of English roses and tulips within Queen Mary’s Gardens in the Inner Circle. Exit along the Avenue Gardens before heading toward Kensington Gardens.
3) Make Believe in Kensington
Near Queen’s Gate tube station
For centuries, London’s parks have inspired hoards of poets, writers and artists, but it’s Kensington Gardens where you’ll find the famous statue of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (as seen in the movie Hook) and Kensington Palace, home of the Wills and Kate. For the ultimate Kensington Gardens experience, plot a course by the Peter Pan statue, the Italian Gardens, and the Albert Memorial toward Kensington Palace. After you’ve toured the Palace and the Gardens, be sure to stop by the Orangery and make a reservation for High Tea as a special treat for later in the week.
4) Splish Splash in Hyde Park
Near Lancaster Gate, Marble Arch and Hyde Park Corner tube stations
From Kensington Gardens, it’s a quick walk toward Hyde Park. Because you’re getting closer to the Mall and Westminster, though, things in this part of London will get a little busier. If the sun’s out and the weather is just warm enough, Hyde Park is every Londoner’s favorite spot for a day out on the water with the Serpentine offering swimming and boating and the Diana Memorial serving as the perfect spot to soak your feet. Head toward the Hyde Park Corner tube station (just past the Wellington Arch) so you can easily get to the last two parks of our tour.
5) Visit the Queen in Green Park
Near Green Park tube station
While the name may lack imagination, it is an accurate one. London’s smallest royal park is home to Buckingham Palace and, of course, the queen and other members of the royal family. Because you’ll be coming from the backside of the park, try to make a path connecting the Bomber Command Memorial to the Memorial Gates. From there, you can follow Green Park along Constitution Hill toward the Canada Memorial and Canada Gate, the grand and incredibly exquisite entrance to Green Park. If all goes according to plan, you will end up right at the Queen’s doorstep at the end of the Mall. Be sure to wave hello!
6) Stroll through St. James
Near Charing Cross tube station
You can never have too many pictures of Buckingham Palace, so when you’re ready, make your way toward our final stop, St. James’s Park. As the oldest of London’s Royal Parks, it should come as no surprise that the park has such prime real estate along the Mall. And because of its strategic position along the Mall — and because you’ll probably be tired toward the end of this all — you’ll be happy to know it’s the easiest park to find. Simply weave in and out of St. James as you wish, crossing under the Admiralty Arch. Because it’s situated near Trafalgar Square, you’ll find plenty of restaurants, pubs and tube stations conveniently nearby so you can celebrate your journey through London!
Have you walked through all of London’s Royal Parks before? Let’s compare steps! Drop me a line below and tell me your favorite park!