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St James’s Park highlights

October 29th, 2007

london st james park_12I like St James’s Park for its photogenic qualities. The lake is generally still and makes a great mirror to capture the far-bank trees, the bridge, and sunset shots. Some unusual and exotic birds on the sanctuary islands can yield some postcard photos, too. And there’s always the traditional English Gentleman walking along or seated at a bench who is just too perfect not to capture for the scrapbook.

Family Activities in St James’s Park
A children’s playground is near the east side of St James’s Park. The recreation possibilities are numerous. The kids will certainly enjoy all the wildlife to see around the lake. Park environmentalists conduct guided tours of Duck Island. Also, a daily mini-event is the feeding of the Pelicans at 3 pm.

Summer residents and visitors can enjoy musical entertainment at the bandstand (north side of lake) at lunchtime and early evening from late May to the end of August. And deck chairs can be rented in the meadow east of the bandstand from April through September.

Food and Drinks in St James’s Park
Inn the Park is located west of Horse Guards Parade. A wide-ranging menu is offered in this odd building with a turf roof. The Inn also offers picnic baskets, which I think is a great treat for a park café. Open Mondays – Fridays, 8am-11pm; Saturday & Sundays 9am-10pm.

Four other snack & drinks carts can be found at Marlborough Gate, Horse Shoe Bend, Artillery Memorial, and the children’s playground. They serve fresh sandwiches, snacks, ice cream, coffee and cold drinks.

london st james park_7Outside St James’s Park
Well…of course there’s Buckingham Palace on the west. Catch the changing of the guards daily Spring & Summer at 11:30 am; alternate days in Autumn and Winter. The Queen Victoria monument stands at the center of the traffic divide outside the palace gates, with fountains shooting water sprays around it. This is a place you’ll find all assortment of tourists, so look out, and be part of the crowd, too.

Whitehall and the Horse Guards barracks lie across the road east of the park. You can tour Whitehall, where there is a military museum open daily. You have to go around the block, but Downing Street is just up the street from Westminster. I’m not sure how tight security is on the block, but I imagine you can no longer have your picture taken with No. 10’s black door looming in the background. I could be wrong.

Westminster Palace, today known as Houses of Parliament, lie just up St George’s St (at southeast corner of park). This is also where the Bell Tower is that chimes Big Ben. For the best photos of the tower and parliament, walk along Westminster Bridge, and then cut down to your right and onto the Thames path. This is pretty much the angle from which Monet painted his Houses of Parliament series (not sure if that’s the title, or if there is a title, but what the hay). Quick sidenote: did you know that Monet had more than a dozen parliament paintings going at once? He kept switching out the canvases as the light changed so he cold capture that particular moment on the canvas—thus we are left with a series that catches England’s Houses of Parliament in many different lights. Take that metaphor and run with it.

The London Eye, England’s grand version of a ferris wheel, is just north of Westminster Bridge, on the east side of the Thames. Beware the crowds for tickets; and note that the full rotation of your ride takes close to an hour.

london st james park_3A treat for art museum prowlers (that is, visitors), is the Saatchie Gallery, in the County Hall building just south of the London Eye. For modern art lovers, Saatchie does it up just right. And speaking of close-by galleries, if you walk east along The Mall you’ll come to Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column. This is neat, but more importantly, the National Portrait Gallery is on the norther side of the square. Even neater: the National Gallery is free, and is one spectacular art museum. For a completely idiosyncratic list of London sites, neighborhoods to hit, and restaurants, jump to the London city page.

Directions to St James’s Park
The park is open year round from 5am to midnight. Tube stations nearby are St James’s Park (District and Circle Lines), Westminster (District and Circle Lines), Green Park (Piccadilly, Victoria & Jubilee Lines), and Victoria (Jubilee, Circle & District Lines). If you’re thinking of driving around London, good luck, but don’t forget I didn’t warn you: London is for walking and tube-riding, not sitting in a car.

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