London Parks, England

map of Hyde Park west, London, England

A map of the west half of Hyde Park, known as Kensington Gardens though there are no fences or other indications that it’s any different than the east half, apart from containing more tourist attractions, namely Kensington Palace, the Serpentine Galleries, the Albert Memorial and Lady Diana’s Memorial Playground.

Some London Parks – Hyde Park, St James Park, Green Park

What is Hyde Park?

Hyde Park is a massive 350 acres of greenery, lakes, horse trails, walking and cycling paths, dotted with occasional statues. Family activities range from swimming and boating on lakes, three playgrounds, tennis and paddling in fountains as well as visits to Kensington Palace (below, pay to enter) and the Serpentine Gallery (below, free to enter).

Sunken Garden, Kensington Palace, Kensington Gardens, west Hyde Park.

Visiting Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace was originally a mansion built in 1605 but purchased in 1689 by King William III as a pastoral retreat from the damp and dirt of Whitehall and the nearby Thames River. The redesign was given to Sir Christopher Wren (responsible for St Paul’s Cathedral) but he was told to hurry it along so generally added elements such as pavilions and regal entrances rather than doing a full rebuild.

Other members of the royal family to live in and further improve Kensington Palace were Queen Anne, George I and George II though the latter monarch let the palace fall into disrepair as he mourned the death of his Queen. Victoria was born in the palace but moved to Buckingham Palace when she became Queen. Lady Diana Princess of Wales also called this home.

Highlights of a Kensington Palace visit include Queen Victoria’s bedroom; the King’s gallery decorated as it was in 1727, displaying royal paintings and military objects; ‘spectacular light and fashion installations’, an ‘Enchanted Palace’ quest looking for clues about rebellious princesses, the startling King’s staircase murals of George I’s court; the Sunken Garden (photo above); and more. . .

Palace Opening: 10am-6pm daily, last admission 5pm.

Official Website: Kensington Palace

Diana Memorial Playground

Diana memorial playground, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, London, England

Diana Memorial Playground, northwest Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park.

This excellent and varied free playground, with areas of interest to all age groups up to a maximum of 12 years is partially based on the stories of Peter Pan. Note the Pirate Ship centrepiece.

Other attractions are teepees, a sensory trail, play sculptures, swings, slides, climbing frames and music zone. parents will be glad to hear there is also a fairly sophisticated café and toilets of course. No smoking or alcohol.

Entry is free and only to under 12s and parents; the playground is locked, staff are in attendance at all times and no single adults are permitted to enter.

Playground Opening: 10am-7. 45pm (May-August), 10am-6. 45pm (April and September), 10am-5. 45pm (March), 10am-4. 45pm (October and February), 10am-3. 45pm (November-January). Closed Christmas Day.

Transport: the nearest tube is Queensway; buses along Bayswater Road adjacent to the playground are #94, #148, #390.

Official Website: Diana Memorial Playground

Looking towards the Albert Memorial.

Getting to Hyde Park

Ironically for such a green space this is one of the few places in London that does benefit from using a car as there are a handful of sizeable car parks inside the park and tube stations are some distance from useful park attractions.

Tube stations: on the south side – which is best for the Albert Memorial, Serpentine Gallery and Serpentine Lake attractions – the nearest tube station is High Street Kensington about 10 minutes from Kensington Palace but more to reach the Serpentine or South Kensington (our choice) which is 15 minutes brisk walk (past the Natural History, V&A and Science Museums) to reach the edge of the park.
On the north side of the park Lancaster Gate is close to the park but not to anything very interesting, Queensway brings kids near to Diana Memorial Playground while Marble Arch is at the junction of Park Lane, Oxford Street Bayswater and Edgeware Road but not near anything useful in the park apart from walks or skate routes.

Buses are a better option as many run up and down both long sides of the park. For the south side we’d suggest taking one of these buses to Alexandra Gate – #9, #10, #52, #452 via Knightsbridge or Kensington. On the north Bayswater Road side buses are #94, #148, #390.

Bicycles: There are currently two Barclays bike docking points conveniently placed one on each side of the Serpentine at Serpentine Car Park and Triangle Car Park but more around the edges, for example at Queens’s gate, Kensington Gardens.

The Serpentine Gallery

Serpentine Gallery temporary pavilion, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, London, England

A new summer-only pavilion for the little Serpentine Gallery, central south Hyde Park.

The Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens runs exhibitions of modern, contemporary and frequently off-the-wall art. Every year an outstanding architect is chosen to design a new (and startling! ) temporary summer pavilion. It opens daily from 10am-6pm but only when there is an exhibition on display. The Serpentine Gallery is five minutes walk from a new sibling, the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, to which it is linked by a bridge over the Serpentine Lake. Both galleries show extreme contemporary art and admission is free.

St James’s Park

St James' Park lake and Whitehall, London, England

St James’ Park looking east towards Whitehall, Westminster and the Thames River. Looking the other way may offer a view of Buckingham Palace depending on exact location, the time of year and leafy barricades.

st james park cottage, london, england

Duck Island Cottage, 1841, home for the bird-keeper of St James Park.

The most royal and central park in London, St James’s Park encompasses a calm lake favoured by waterfowl, shiny helmet Horse-Guards Parade and the main approach to Buckingham Palace, The Mall, as well as plenty of grass for summer slumping. Recently and quite bizarrely the island nearest to Buckingham Palace (only accessible by wading) was secret home to a royal-obsessive who died there several years ago and just has been found.

St James Park is also a convenient tourist route from Buckingham Palace to Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, 10 Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.