Green Park, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park and St James's Park form an unbroken line of greenery that stretches over three miles, from the Houses of Parliament to Kensington. Attractions close to Green Park include such well heeled establishments as The Ritz and Buckingham Palace, from where it's easy to watch the ceremonial Royal processions on the Mall or the finish of the annual London Marathon. Within the park there are statues, monuments and grassy areas fit for an impromptu football match. There are even deck chairs laid on in summer.
As a World Heritage Site marking the site of the Greenwich Meridian (the base point for World Time and the location of Longitude 0) Greenwich is most famous for being associated with time and with space. The top of the hill, near the Observatory, affords amazing vistas across the River Thames to St Paul's Cathedral and beyond. The many historic buildings that surround the park tell a story that dates back over hundreds of years. While its history stretches back to Roman times (look out for the remains hidden among the grass), the park was first enclosed in 1433. It went on to entertain a host of royal residents, for whom the park became their back garden. Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I were all born here, while Queen Anne's royal house (Queen's House) still remains to this day. The park's various trees also tell a tale of time - some date back to the 1600s, while the truncated shape of others reveals a period during World War II when the tips were cut off to broaden the field of fire for guns positioned in the park. An ancient oak tree, known as 'Queen's Oak' because of its associations with Queen Elizabeth I, still stands firm and proud in the park. Having evolved over time the park now contains a number of more modern attractions - a boating lake, cricket pitch, tennis courts and a bandstand sit comfortably alongside a herb garden, duck pond, rose garden, and secret garden behind the Observatory. Make a day out of it by taking in Greenwich's other attractions the Cutty Sark, Royal Observatory, Queen's House, the Old Royal Naval College and Greenwich Market.
Hampstead Heath has fields to run in, long grass to roll in, woods to hide in and, most famously, ponds to swim in. Parliament Hill is a beacon in the midst of this sprawling expanse of natural beauty. Its summit provides a view of the city almost in its entirety. Spot the famous dome of St Paul's juxtaposed by the ultra-modern Canary Wharf Tower in the distance. This is the perfect kite-flying spot. Hampstead Heath is renowned as a rich conservation area and parts of it are designated as areas of scientific interest by English Nature. Hoards flock to the refreshing waters of the Heath's celebrated ponds in the summer months whilst in the colder months it's more rewarding to while away an afternoon feeding the ducks or exploring the lush woodland, bogs, hedgerows and grassland. Along the edges of the heath a number of attractions will attempt to lure you away. There's the lido at the south, Kenwood House at the north, South End Green and Hampstead Village at the west, and Highgate to the east.
Pretty, petit Holland Park is the ideal location for those wanting to escape the clamour of the city but who don't want to travel too far out of the centre. Tucked away in one of London's most elegant districts, the park offers small, cosy grassy knolls, cooling woodland glades, wild ponds, pavilions, an open expanse for games and general frolicking, playgrounds for older and younger children and a caf. Small, but perfectly formed, this lovely park is perfect for an intimate picnic or romantic stroll. There are beautiful woodland trails, manicured lawns and formal gardens, the Kyoto Japanese Garden with its resident Coi, and a fantastic ice cream stand in the middle. Holland Park used to be a private estate belonging to the Earl of Holland and during the 19th century the house attracted high profile visitors from various walks of life from the politician Lord Palmerston to the poet Lord Byron. The former ballroom of Holland House is now the stylish Belvedere restaurant, while the Orangery and Ice House host temporary exhibitions.
Technically two different parks, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are in practical terms one huge, merging expanse. The 'split' dates back to 1728 when Queen Caroline, wife of George II, took almost 300 acres from Hyde Park to form Kensington Gardens. The 350 acres that remained has become one of London's best-loved parks. Almost every kind of outdoor pursuit takes place within its lush green landscape. Horse riding, rollerblading, bowls, putting and tennis are all catered for while informal games of cricket, rounders and frizbee spring up on the area to the south of the park known as The Sports Field. A number of famous London attractions are also housed within this central space. Hyde Park boasts Speakers' Corner, the Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain and the Serpentine Boating Lake - another feature owed to Queen Caroline who started a new landscaping trend by designing this natural-looking lake. Today the water is a hive of activity in the summer months, doubling up as a lido and boating lake with its very own solar powered boat plus two cafes - The Lido Cafe and Serpentine Bar & Kitchen - on the water's edge. Hyde Park's central location means it attracts a diverse crowd, making it one of the most buzzing, fun green spaces in London. A full diary of events including free guided walks, concerts and children's entertainment complete the picture.
Another of London's spectacular John Nash creations, Regent's Park is a huge, thriving green expanse in the heart of the capital. Consisting of two circular areas (an Inner and Outer Circle) the park is bordered by stunning, stark white stucco terraced houses - also designed by royal architect, Nash. At one-time a hunting ground for the ever-ebullient Henry VIII, the Prince Regent (later King George IV) commissioned Nash to transform the land in the early 19th century. Now most famously associated with London Zoo - positioned over on the north-east corner of the park - an open-air theatre, ornate bandstand, large boating lake, huge mosque and 100-acre sports field add to its many attractions. The rest of its 410 acres consist of vast open parkland interspersed with formal, landscaped gardens. Dating back to the 1930s, Queen Mary's Gardens are still regularly and fastidiously tended, while the Rose Garden now bursts at the seams with over 30,000 flowers. Primrose Hill lies at the north of Regent's Park, merging and rising to a peak to offer fantastic views over Westminster and the City. A number of pretty eateries populate Regent's Park, while Primrose Hill is heaving with trendy cafes and bars. This is a great place for almost every kind of outdoor pursuit. If you're visiting the zoo or theatre, make sure you schedule in a couple of hours to explore this elegant, rural recreation area.
One of London's best kept secrets, Victoria Park is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon. Inside the park's boundaries countless varieties of trees stripe the skyline: oaks, horse chestnuts, cherries, hawthorns and even Kentucky coffee trees. The park is split in two by Grove Road. The smaller, western section contains the most picturesque of its lakes with a fully functioning fountain and the imposing Dogs of Alcibiades, two snarling sculptures. Retreat to the quiet of the Old English Garden, a floral haven brimming with flowers and shrubs. Have a peek into the deer enclosure and let the kids run off some energy in the children's playground. The city's first public park, Victoria Park was opened in the East End in 1845 after a local MP presented Queen Victoria with a petition of 30,000 signatures. It was envisaged as a Regent's Park of the east and originally had its own Speaker's Corner.
St James's Park, along with Kensington Palace. The park borders St James's Palace and Buckingham Palace, which means that as well as offering lush peacefulness you're also treated to stunning close-ups of some of the capital's most iconic attractions. One of the park's best views can be had from the middle of the Blue Bridge which spans the park's lake. Stand in the middle and take in the graceful arc of the London Eye, which looms over Duck Island. A true retreat, it's hard to believe that St James's was once a swampy watermeadow in centuries past. Now, rolling lawns stretch out around the lake, which is home to ducks, geese and pelicans.
This is English countryside as you might imagine it depicted in a glossily illustrated Robin Hood story: mighty oaks, a thousand years old, dense forests, dinky copses, rolling hills, majestic fallow deer and burrowing rabbits. Covering almost 2500 acres, Richmond Park is the largest Royal Park in London. With such a large space it's hard to know where to start when visiting.
For those who really want to shake off every last vestige of the city and head for an endearing village location, Wimbledon Common is ideal. This huge area of open heath and woodland spreads out over two miles (1140 acres) and is riddled with rambling paths and bridleways. Near the middle of the common a windmill, dating from 1817, marks the spot where Baden-Powell wrote part of 'Scouting for Boys'. It's now a small museum.