St James’s Park
This easternmost park in the long chain of four “Royal” parks running from North Kensington to Whitehall, St James’s Park is also, in my opinion, the busiest. I say this because the park is a real “tourist feeder” between Buckingham Palace on the west and Westminster/Parliament on the east. Nevertheless, St James’s Park is a great chill-out park if you hang along the north banks of the lake, and fabulous people-watching park when you find a bench along the southern walkway on the south banks of the lake.
You know I like to write about sight-lines in parks, and St James’s Park deserves its due. From one end of the lake (originally a canal) you see Buckingham Palace; from the other side you see Whitehall; and in between is the pond, a veritable oasis for rare wild bird breeds. Gulls, geese and pelicans are the wildfowl mainstay, and you’ll see flocks of them on “Duck Island.” Otherwise, the rare golden eye, carrion crows, grey wagtail and shovelers bumble about the canal ramparts.
With field glasses, you can spot a great many more bird species on Duck Island and West Island, two protected nesting sites (in the center of a city boasting a human population in the double-digit millions!). These include Long-tailed tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Robin, Blackbird, Wren, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Tawny Owl, all of which breed in St James’s Park.
Along the route from Buckingham Palace to Westminster—this is also a section of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Walk—you’ll see garden displays, flower patches, a bridge spanning the lake, and romantic vistas. St James’s Park is a great sunset park, where bats buzz along the lake just after dusk, sucking up mosquitoes like an Englishman his pints of bitters.
St James’s Park is the oldest of London’s seven “Royal Parks.” It was firstly a farm, where pigs grazed. King Henry VIII bought the land in 1536 for a deer park close to his palace in Westminster. King James I drained the swampy land and landscaped the area into a duck-shooting area. Over the succeeding years the park took different designs and changed from a hunting park into a more formal garden, then into a public space and wildlife refuge.
Three palaces skirt the park—Westminster (now the Houses of Parliament), the Tudor-style St James’s Palace, and Buckingham Palace—and so the park sees many official processions along The Mall, its northern street. The Horse Guards parade from their housing and stables near Whitehall; Buckingham Palace’s Changing of the Guard (officially called Guard Mounting); and once each year to celebrate the Queen’s birthday, the “Trooping of the Colour” takes place on Horse Guards Parade in St James’s Park.
(read more about St James’s Park highlights here)