Nguyen Bui Le Huy
Royal parks are part of London’s identity. Londoners take pride in the marvelous green spaces that have existed for centuries all over their city.
Few people realize that 47% of London’s total area is devoted to greenery. This statistic counters many people’s vision of this European financial hub as a barren and bleak city packed with buildings and high rises. Londoners take pride in the marvelous green spaces that have existed for centuries all over their city. In particular, royal parks are enduring witnesses of the lost golden age of the world’s largest-ever empire.
There are eight royal parks in Greater London, of which Hyde Park, St. James’ Park, Regent’s Park, Green Park, and Kensington Gardens lie in central London. Other parks, including Greenwich, Richmond, and Bushy, are on the outskirts. Most royal parkland was derived from land procured from the Church of England following the dissolution of abbeys in the 1540s. Initially, these lands were seized by the Crown as monarchs’ personal hunting lodges. They were gradually opened to the public. Hyde Park was the first park to be widely opened to the public.
Let’s start with Hyde Park, indisputably the most famous green space in London. King Henry VIII galloped over its fields on horseback while hunting for deer and boars. At the king’s behest, the land was confiscated from Westminster Abbey in 1536 and turned into a private playground where he could hunt. However, things changed when King Charles I decided to open the park to the public in 1637. Afterwards, between 1642 and 1649, following political chaos that led to civil war, the national army erected forts and moats in the park. Their vestiges remain visible to this day.
After being revived in 1660, under the reign of King Charles II, the park was made into a green oasis. The park continues to host solemn memorial events and festivals. In particular, don’t miss out on the magnificent Winter Wonderland festival that takes place in Hyde Park every Christmas.
St. James’ Park
In the 15th century, royal parks were largely used for royal leisure purposes. King Henry VIII turned St. James’ Park, the oldest of the 8 royal parks, from a wetland into a deer park, and ordered the construction of St. James Palace. His daughter, Elizabeth I, hosted extravagant feasts in this park. Her successors James I and Charles II were recorded to have added elegance and sophistication to this green space. Nowadays, St. James’ Park is the gateway to two of London’s other major palaces, namely Buckingham and Westminster.
Designed in 1811, Regent’s Park is the largest outdoor sporting venue in London, lavishly equipped with infrastructure for football, softball, rugby, and cricket. Regent’s Park is also known as a romantic spot for couples, with over 400 species of roses. Inside Regent’s Park lies the London Zoo – the oldest scientific zoo in the world and home to over 750 animal species; an outdoor theater; and the London Central Mosque. As a result, Regent’s Park is a one-size-fits-all destination for visitors.
Richmond Park is one of the best loved places in London. Its total area spans up to 1,000ha, or five times the size of the Principality of Monaco. Owing to its vast size and wild environment, one may easily feel lost in the woods, far apart from the urban hustle and bustle. There are many trails for jogging and cycling. The grassy hills around Pen Ponds are ideal for family picnics. This park is also home to over 600 freely roaming deer.
The most enchanting feature of this park is the panoramic views of downtown London from King Henry’s Mound. The United Kingdom introduced a law forbidding the construction of any structures that block this view.
Dating back to the reign of King Henry V, Greenwich Park spans 73ha and is the oldest royal park. This park is a huge tourist attraction thanks to its museum and historical sites, including the Royal Observatory, the Old Royal Naval College, National Maritime Museum, and Queen’s House, previously inhabited by Queen Anne.
Generations of English royals shaped the park, including King Henry VII, who ordered the erection of Greenwich Palace (nowadays the Old Royal Naval College). King Henry VIII was born in Greenwich in 1491. King Charles II, known for his passion for science, ordered the construction of the Royal Observatory, now part of the National Maritime Museum.
Green Park, Kensington Gardens, and Bushy Park are smaller and less popular than the other five parks. Together, these royal parks are not just historical legacies of the British monarchy, but also valuable green lungs that fuel and energize London, a dynamic and fabulous city.