If you enjoy walking then try Richmond Park. This place is vast. It’s literally big enough to get lost in – it’s 2,500 acres of wild woodland, rolling hills and overgrown fields of ferns. You can stand on top of a hill and see for miles.
There’s a little lake in the middle and some posh houses as well, two of which have got a cafe and an ornamental garden attached.
See if you can find the herds of wild deer that roam around (the place is so huge that it could take you hours to find them). The herds can be up to a hundred strong and led by powerful stags with antlers.
If you walk to the northern edge of the park then you’ll be treated to a distant view of London’s skyline.
Craig has written a review of Richmond Park and included some photos of the deer.
Hours: 5 AM to midnight (Mon-Sun)
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There are seven large parks in the centre of London (Battersea Park, Green Park, Hyde Park, Holland Park, Kensington Gardens, Regent’s Park and St. James’s), but St. James’s Park is our favourite. For starters, it’s a lot closer to all of the attractions. It’s bordered by Horse Guards and The Mall, and is within easy walking distance of Big Ben and Trafalgar Square.
It also has some wonderfully colourful flowerbeds and a very pretty lake with plenty of ducks and geese.
If you stand in the centre of the bridge then you’ll get a celebrated shot of Buckingham Palace behind the trees. If you spin round 180 degrees then you’ll get another great one of Horse Guards. Check out Craig’s review of St. James’s Park to see what the views look like.
Hours: East Cemetery: 10 AM to 5 PM (Mon-Fri, Mar-Oct), 11 AM to 5 PM (Sat-Sun, Mar-Oct), 10 AM to 4 PM (Mon-Fri, Nov-Feb), 11 AM to 4 PM (Sat-Sun, Nov-Feb); Last entry 30 mins before closing – West Cemetery: Guided tour at 1.45 PM (Mon-Fri, Jan-Dec), and every 30 mins from 11 AM to 4 PM (Sat-Sun, Mar-Oct) or 11 AM to 3 PM (Sat-Sun, Nov-Feb) – Cost: Adults £12.00; Children £6.00 (8-17)
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Spending the afternoon in a cemetery might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but this is no ordinary cemetery. If you like your cemeteries to be wild and overgrown, with monumental tombs and carved statues poking out from between the trees then Highgate Cemetery is a magical experience.
You can walk around the East Cemetery all be yourself (which is where you’ll find the grave of Karl Marx), but a guided tour of the West Cemetery is what we really recommend. That’s the one with the Egyptian Avenue and Circle of Lebanon.
Read Craig’s review of the tour to get a feeling for the atmosphere.
Hours: Timed tickets from 10 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Fri); 11 AM to 9 PM (Sat-Sun); Last entry 1 hour before closing – Cost: FreeTalk about the Sky Garden
The skyscraper building rises 500-feet over the City of London, and has two huge sloping flowerbeds at the top with tropical trees and jungle ferns. Try and imagine the Palm House at Kew on top of a skyscraper – that’s exactly what it’s like. And they’ve got a cafe and restaurant up there as well, so you can sit down and have something to eat. (Note: you can’t just turn up whenever you like – you have to book a free ticket on their website first.)
Craig has been up there a couple of times and rates it as one of the best free attractions in London. He’s written a big review on his blog, and posted some pictures of what you can see out the window.
Hours: Gardens: 10 AM to 5.45 PM (Mon-Sun, mid Feb-Mar); 10 AM to 6.30 PM (Mon-Fri, Apr-Aug); 10 AM to 7.30 PM (Sat-Sun, Apr-Aug); 10 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Sun, Sep-Oct); 10 AM to 4.15 PM (Mon-Sun, Oct-mid Feb) – Kew Palace: 10.30 AM to 5.30 PM (Mon-Fri, Apr-Aug); 10.30 AM to 6.30 PM (Sat-Sun, Apr-Aug); 10.30 AM to 5 PM (Mon-Sun, Sep); Closed (Oct-Mar); Last e – Cost: Adults £19.00; Children £5.00 (4-16); Infants free
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If you’re into gardening then the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew makes for a great day out. They have one of the largest plant collections in the world which will take all day to walk around. They’ve even got one of those land trains to ferry people about – that’s how vast the grounds are.
If your partner’s not as interested in plants as you then don’t worry, Craig doesn’t like gardening either but he still recommends a visit. They’ve got a steamy tropical Palm House, another glass houses with a cactus and desert landscape, an art gallery, a skyscraper-like Chinese pagoda, and a few surviving buildings from George III’s Kew Palace. If you’re extremely brave (or mad) then you can climb up the terrifying Treetop Walkway.
Hours: 10 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Sun, Apr-Oct); 10 AM to 4.30 PM (Mon-Sun, Nov-Mar); Last entry 1 hour before closing, but 45 mins for the maze – Cost: Adults £20.00; Children £10.00 (5-15); Infants free (under-5); Family ticket £51.50
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The Tudor palace at Hampton Court dates all the way back to Cardinal Wolsey and the reign of Henry VIII. You can explore the Great Hall and Chapel Royal (surely one of the most beautiful rooms in London), as well as Henry’s original State Apartments. You can also visit the royal apartments of William III and George I and II.
There are several parks and gardens worth seeing at the palace. To the side of the palace are some kitchen gardens and informal beds. This is where you’ll find the famous hedge maze.
To the north are the ornamental gardens that back on to the river. Beyond that is Home Park – 750 acres parkland where descendants of Henry VIII’s original deer herd roam free.
Craig has visited Hampton Court Palace several times and posted lots of photographs on his blog.
RHS Wisley is similar to the botanical gardens at Kew. It has an arboretum and 240 acres of formal and informal gardens. There are also lots of model gardens to give you some ideas for your own home, plus a couple of glasshouses filled with tropical plants.
If you only have time to visit one or the other then Craig definitely recommends Kew. 1) Because it’s a lot larger, and 2) because Kew also has a number of other attractions inside to keep your kids and non-gardening partner happy. Wisley is much more for the true gardeners. Read his review of Wisley to see what it’s like inside.
This isn’t really a park, or even a garden, and there are no flower beds inside, but we’ve decided to include it anyway because it’s still all about nature. It’s probably best described as a nature reserve.
If you’re into birdwatching then you’ll probably love it. The 100 acres are filled with marshes and grasses and huge lakes where birds roam free. You can spot everything from bitterns, pintails and lapwings, to sparrowhawks, sand martins and kingfishers. They have even built some professional birdwatching hides where you can sit for hours with your notepad and binoculars.
You’ll find some pictures of the grounds in Craig’s review of the London Wetland Centre.
Hours: 5 AM to 5 PM (Jan); 5 AM to 6 PM (Feb); 5 AM to 7 PM (1st half of Mar, 1st half of Oct); 5 AM to 8 PM (2nd half of Mar, Sep); 5 AM to 9 PM (Apr, Aug); 5 AM to 9.30 PM (May-Jul); 5 AM to 5.30 PM (2nd half of Oct); 5 AM to 4.30 PM (Nov-Dec) – Cost: Free
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The northern half of the park is just flat grassland, but the middle has some beautiful rose beds and a huge boating lake with ducks and geese. There are a couple of nice cafes dotted around where you can stop for hot sausages and coffee, and during the summer months you can enjoy performances on the open-air bandstand.
If you walk along the norther perimeter of the park then you can peer into the cages at London Zoo.
Craig has written a review of Regent’s Park.
The final spot on our Top 10 list goes to three different places which we’ve lumped together, because they’re all high hills with views of the London skyline.
Our second pick is Greenwich Hill. The view from the summit swings all the way round from the London Eye to the O2 Arena, taking in the City and Canary Wharf. For best view of London you need to catch a tube to Hampstead and climb up Parliament Hill. Craig has written a review and included a few photos of what you can see from the top.