It would be easy to write about Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens together because one blends into the other. But they deserve their own space, and for good reason. Hyde Park is the play park of Londoners, where you see them row skulls and paddle boats in the Serpentine Lake, swim in its brisk waters, or sunbathe beside its molded shores. It’s a park to play tennis, jog, circumnavigate on bicycles along Rotten Row and Broad Walk, or participate in “pitch-based” (field) sports. You can also bowl on the (what else?) bowling green, or rent a putter & balls to practice your golf green stroke. And apart from all this sport activity, Hyde Park is a great relaxation and recreation park, where cafés seated by the Serpentine, tennis club, and Hyde Park Corner offer some of the best people-watching spots in London.
That’s a lot, so let me write separately about some of these possibilities—and the beauty of this gallant park. The majestic entrance to Hyde Park is through the Queen Elizabeth Gate on the southeast corner. This perspective gives you a hugely broad view of a park that just as well has many hidden groves. If you walk along the right side from the QE Gate, you walk up Broad Walk. Tree lined and bench drenched, it’s best to walk here during … well, any sunny day, but especially when Autumn colors spread across the pallet blue sky.You know, I can’t help saying again and again: if you’re going to walk through a city from one site to another (or certainly if you live in a city like London), the best route is through a park, not on a street. By best, of course, I mean the route which yields beauty. Anywhere along Hyde Park’s walking avenues whispers beauty. Hyde Park is a 350-acre wilderness inside one of the largest cities in the western hemisphere.
Okay, so it’s not wild wild, but Hyde Park used to be King Henry VIII’s royal hunting grounds. In 1536 he pursued deer and wild boar through its forests (and subjects of the realm where executed for poaching). Today the park retains that largeness, with few enough crisscrossed walkways for you to wonder or frolic through a 10+ acre meadow without scuffing your Oxfords on asphalt.
Please don’t miss Speaker’s Corner on your trip into the park. It’s just south of Marble Arch at the park’s northeast corner. Here you’ll find people speaking to anyone who will listen (and many do!) about politics, religion, and the world. Speaker’s Corner grew out of the people’s right to freedom of speech. Many took this newfound freedom to criticize government in a very public way (by contrast, in Queen Elizabeth I’s rule, you could have your tongue cut out for such utterances). And so people stood on soapboxes (thus the later coining of that term) to speak their piece. Hundreds of years later, you’ll hear noble soothsayers and kooks alike at this venerable spot.
South of Victoria Gate is the Bird Sanctuary. As you might imagine, from the perspective of a bird flying south for the winter, as it soars over London and suddenly sees a great green patch amid the gray concrete, it probably figures this is a good time for a pit stop. You’ll see some of these bird varieties at the sanctuary, including rare visitors such as the golden eye, grey wagtail, and wild breeds of ducks.
Perhaps The Serpentine is the focal point of Hyde Park. This manmade lake was created in 1746. Today you can rent a paddle boat or canoe to row about its nearly one-mile length. I was last in London in early April 2005 and saw a hearty senior swimming in the cold water—steaming under a warm Spring sun! Deck chairs are for hire at The Dell on the east side, and two cafés with outdoor seating give spectacular view of The Serpentine.
Finally, Hyde Park is a place to relax, chill-out after shopping or site-seeing, with many good spots for high-quality people watching and eavesdropping (hey, hey, I’m a writer; some of my best stories have come from overhearing people in heated “discussion”). A bench is hardly far from sight, and many seem to have been placed by those who know what people want to look at: the water, a meadow, leafy trees. Oh, yeah: there’s a bunch of cool statues and monuments inside the park, too. On the few occasions I’ve arrived in London before my hotel room has been ready, I’ve found Hyde Park a great place to while away the time in the first hours of my trip.
Family Activities in Hyde Park
The Serpentine Lido and its nearby Paddling Pool entertain children and adults. The Lido has waterside tables where visitors can enjoy a snack, meal or a glass of wine. Visitors are welcome to swim here, and children get reduced rates. Both are open seven days a week from late June to September 8th.
So you won’t be competing at Wimbledon anytime soon, but Hyde Park has six lawn courts that visitors can book at The Sports Centre. Think about booking well in advance of your London visit. Call +44 (0)20 7262 3474. You’ll also find a challenging putting course at the Centre, where your family can rent putters and balls for a little fun off London streets.
A children’s playground is near the Centre. And further in, at The Lookout, you’ll find an education center where the kids can learn about nature and wildlife. Hyde Park sponsors guided wildlife walks throughout the year (including winter).
(read more about Hyde Park’s highlights here)