London parks and icons

Don’t leave London without spending time in one it’s many green spaces and seeing its architectural icons in real life.

Parks

Want to make the most of the sunny weather? Or are you dying to get some fresh air in your lungs? London has no shortage of big green parks and here are just a few to tickle your fancy...

Hyde Park: this Royal Park is perhaps the most famous of all the parks in London. It shares its borders with Kensington Gardens, though you’d be forgiven for not really knowing where one ends and the other begins. Hyde Park is a great open space to enjoy, with the Serpentine Lake, a fountain in memory of Princess Diana, and Speakers’ Corner, plus it offers activities like horse riding, boating and swimming. It’s open from 5am until midnight, every day, and the nearest Tube stations are Lancaster Gate, Marble Arch and Hyde Park Corner. 

Regent’s Park: another Royal Park, perfect for monkeying around, being the home of London Zoo. But it’s not the only thing it’s got going for it: an open-air theatre, the famous Primrose Hill (with a view stretching over central London) and over 100 species of bird. Open daily, with varying opening times throughout the year. Get off at either Regent’s Park, Great Portland Street, Baker Street, St John’s Wood or Camden Town and you’ll find yourself nearby.

Richmond Park: like to have your space? You can’t find bigger than Richmond Park, being London’s biggest park, with playgrounds, fishing, horse riding – you can even hire a bike and peddle for it. The park is largely open 24/7 and Richmond Station is the closest stop, both on the Underground and Overground.

Battersea Park: situated on the south side of the River Thames, facing Chelsea, Battersea Park has a great one-kilometre promenade for you to take in some air and stretch your legs. There’s also a Peace Pagoda (the park is home to a Japanese Buddhist sect), where you can see a monk beating a drum at sunrise, or visit the Children’s Zoo, head to the gallery, or play a round of tennis courts, plus all sorts of other things. Open 8am until dusk every day, jump off at Battersea Park or Queenstown Road stations on the Overground, or get off at Sloane Square and jump on a bus, heading south, towards Battersea.

Clapham Common: a popular meeting place for fitness fanatics, you’ll see lots of people having a kick about, running laps around and doing military-style fitness in this park. Asides from all the sports facilities that go hand-in-hand with these activities, there’s also a paddling pool for little ones, several ponds and a café. The Common is open 24/7 every day, located near to Clapham South and Clapham Common Tube stations. 

Hampstead Heath: you can easily lose track of time on the Heath, with old stone walkways up high, picturesque ponds and lots of friendly (and inquisitive) squirrels. It makes for a great picnic spot, or you can grab something from one of the three cafés. There are several stations located around Hampstead Heath, including Golders Green, Hampstead and Kentish Town on the Underground, and Hampstead Heath and Gospel Oak on the Overground. There are certain areas within the Heath open from 7.30am or 8.30am until dusk, but generally the Heath is open 24/7.

Victoria Park: ‘Vicky’ Park, as it’s known locally, is open daily from 7am until dusk, and offers trails (they even have one especially designed for kids), a couple of play areas (with water jets, sand pits and other cool stuff), fine picnic spots and sporting facilities. The nearest Tube is Mile End (on the Central line), but Cambridge Heath and Hackney Wick on the Overground are also nearby.

Iconic London buildings

Do you like to reach for the skies? Or do you prefer to stay a little more grounded? From the tallest building in Europe to the royal residences, we’ve got all the hot, not-to-be-missed destinations covered…

Shard: instantly recognisable, The Shard is currently the tallest building in Europe and is set back from the River Thames in Southwark , near London Bridge Station. The View From The Shard is the observation platform that offers you 360-degree views across as much as 40 miles of London. Tickets start at £23.95 (but they’re less if you buy them in advance online) and although you must make your specific time slot, you can spend as much time as you want once you’re up there. 

Houses of Parliament: commonly known as the Houses of Parliament, the Palace of Westminster sits along the north side of the River Thames and is where the House of Commons and House of Lords meet to discuss policies and laws. You can book an hour-and-a-half guided tour of the Houses, taking in the beautiful interiors of this building, with tickets starting from £10 for kids (under 5s go free). The tours are available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian and Mandarin. Dates and times vary throughout the year, so best to check the website. Westminster is the closest Tube station.

Big Ben: Big Ben is one of the UK’s most famous landmarks and is the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world. ‘Big Ben’ is actually the name of the bell, although officially it’s called the Great Bell, and the tower is called Elizabeth Tower. Currently, tours are available to UK residents only. Even if you can’t take a tour, Big Ben is a spectacular sight to behold from the outside.

Tower of London: sat on the north bank of the River Thames, the Tower of London has over 1000 years of history as a royal residence, prison, torture chamber and home to the Crown Jewels. Tickets start from £11 for kids (under 5s go free) and £22 for adults, but you can save some money if you book online. Your ticket gives you access to loads of things, like the Tower, the Crown Jewels, the Yeoman Warder guided tour and more. If you want to go palace crazy during your visit, you could buy an annual ticket for £46 that’ll give you access to the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace, Banqueting House and Kew Palace. Opening times vary slightly between summer and winter, so check the website, and the closest Tube station is Tower Hill.

St Paul’s Cathedral: once the tallest building in London (until 1962) and currently the second largest church building in the country (after Liverpool Cathedral), St Paul’s has been an iconic London landmark for many years. Admission to St Paul’s costs from £7.50 for a child (under 6s go free) and £16.50 for an adult (but you can save a bit if you book online) and includes audio and guided tours, plus access to areas like the crypt. Another option is to attend for free during a service. Open Monday to Saturday from 8.30am-4.30pm for sightseeing, St Paul’s Station is the nearest Tube.

Buckingham Palace: the London home of the Queen, with 775 rooms, Buckingham Palace sits next to Green Park and is a definite must-see on your trip. Once a year, for a couple of months during the summer, the Palace opens its doors for visitors to come and see the State Rooms and Picture Gallery. There are several different types of tours, but for the basic, ticket prices start at £11.80 for kids (under 5s go free) and £20.50 for adults. The nearest Tube stations are Hyde Park Corner, Victoria and Green Park.

Kensington Palace: set in Kensington Gardens (one of the Royal Parks, next to Hyde Park), Kensington Palace is home to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Kate). The Palace is made up of a series of grand State Rooms and meticulously landscaped grounds, with a schedule of exhibitions, one of which giving an insight into the intimate life of Queen Victoria. Tickets cost from £16.50 for adults, but children under 16 go free, and you can make a small saving by booking online. The Palace is open 10am-6pm in the summer (March-October) and 10am-5pm in the winter (November-Feb). The nearest station is Queensway.

Westminster Abbey: one of the most historic church buildings in the country, Westminster Abbey is where monarchs have their coronations, where important people of State are buried or commemorated, and where many a royal wedding has taken place (including Prince William and Kate). Entry costs £8 for children (under 11s go free) and £18 for adults. Or, you can enter for free if you attend a service.