Things To Do In Hyde Park And Kensington Gardens
London has eight Royal Parks — two of them, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, are conveniently next to one another in the centre of town.
Hyde Park is one of London's best-known green spaces, and before it opened to ice cream-munching tourists and Londoners taking shortcuts to work, was King Henry VIII's hunting grounds.
Neighbouring Kensington Gardens was also a hunting ground until William III and Mary II established their palace here in 1689, and the gardens were separated off.
Together, these two parks — covering over 600 acres between them — are stuffed with things to do on balmy (and not so balmy) days.
What time is Hyde Park open?
5am-12am year round. It's free to enter (unless you're attending a special event like Winter Wonderland or BST Hyde Park).
How to get to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
Tube stations encircle the parks:
Queensway (Central line) and Bayswater (District, Circle line): Good for accessing Kensington Palace and Kensington Gardens. It doesn't make sense to change at Bayswater for Queensway, as they're less than three-minutes' walk apart.
Lancaster Gate (Central line): Midway across the north side of the park, and good if you want to walk alongside the Serpentine or West Carriage Drive, or visit the Peter Pan statue. It's also close to the pet cemetery, although you'll need to go on a special tour to see that.
Marble Arch (Central line): Alight here, of course, for the Marble Arch and Speakers' Corner. Not the infamous Marble Arch Mound anymore though — that's long bitten the dust.
Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly line): Step off to find yourself in the south east corner — this works if you want to see the Apsley House/Wellington Arch first. It's also the best entrance for Hyde Park Rose Garden.
Knightsbridge (Piccadilly line): The best station for indulging in a little pre-park retail therapy at Harrods/Harvey Nics.
South Kensington (Piccadilly, Circle, District line): It's 15 mins walks to reach the edge of the parks, but this is where you'll want to come if you're hitting up the big museums (Natural History, Science, V&A) beforehand.
There are also countless bus stops you can hop off at, depending whereabouts you want to go in the parks.
Walking tours of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
While you can happily wander aimlessly around the parks, there are also a number of tours to sign up to.
Royal Parks walks: Excellent guided walks around Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are offered by Royal Parks. These include everything from a Bat Walk, where you explore the parks at dusk in search of pipistrelles, to the Hidden Stories of Hyde Park walk, where you hear about criminals hanged on the notorious Tyburn Tree, and get to visit the pet cemetery. Visit Royal Parks' events page to see what's coming up.
Self-guided walks: If you'd rather do things at your own pace, you can download various walks around the park too. There's this beginner's guide to Hyde Park taking in sights and trivia, or this seven-mile-long (!) Princess Diana (!) walk. Plenty of non-Royal Parks tours are available to download too — including this OS Hyde Park's Robbery & Riot Walking Tour.
Wildlife in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
Wildlife is abundant in Hyde Park, particularly birds: look out for robins, tits and dunnocks in the trees and shrubbery. Swans and Canada geese are rampant on Kensington Gardens' Round Pound, while the Serpentine attracts all kinds of feathered creatures: mute swans, Mandarin ducks, Egyptian geese, buzzards, grey herons, Eurasian kestrels. Around dusk during the warmer months, bugs around the Serpentine make it a feeding frenzy for bats, best seen on Dell Bridge and Serpentine Bridge.
Londoners and tourists alike go wild for the parakeets, who will happily land on your hand if you've got an apple to share — check out our guide here.
Gardens in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
In Hyde Park
Some well-manicured gardens to consider:
- Italian Gardens: These elegant gardens contain four huge basins of flowers, and are festooned by various sculptures, urns — and the Tazza Fountain. The gardens are said to have been a flashy gift from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria. Located at the northern end of Hyde Park, overlooking the Serpentine.
- Rose Garden: It might not be immediately obvious but these fragrant gardens of roses and herbaceous borders are themed around the sounding of a horn; the yew hedge is the mouth of a trumpet, and the flower beds are the notes coming out of it.
- Enclosed Garden: A smaller, lesser-known garden attached to the ParkSports facility (go in through the cafe). It has a view of the Albert Memorial on one side, and a distant view of The Shard and the London Eye on the other. Plenty of seating and flowery bushes.
Statues and memorials in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
In Hyde Park
Some of our faves:
- Diana Memorial Fountain: a tribute to the late Princess of Wales, the oval design — made of 545 pieces of Cornish granite — reflects Diana's life, symbolising her openness (with moments of turbulence along the way). Visitors can cross the fountain at three points, into its centre. Or just dip your toes in the water.
- Holocaust Memorial: Britain's first memorial honouring the Holocaust was built in 1983. It sits surrounded by birch trees and flowers, a few steps away from the Rose Garden, in the south east corner of the park.
- July 7 Memorial: 52 stainless steel pillars represent the victims of the bombings of 2005; unveiled on the fourth anniversary of the event by Prince William and Camilla.
- Norwegian War Memorial: This large granite boulder was gifted from the Norwegian Navy and Merchant Fleet to Britain in 1978, for support during the second world war.
- The Hudson Memorial Bird Sanctuary: A carving representing the child goddess of nature, Rima, commemorating 19th-century writer and naturalist William Hudson, who established the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. This memorial caused controversy among the public after its installation in 1924 because Rima is seen in the nude. Arthur Conan Doyle called it "artistic anarchy". It still exists today in this sanctuary for birds, also featuring a long pond.
- Cavalry Memorial: A bronze St George is depicted on horseback, stepping on a slain dragon to commemorate the Calvary Regiments killed during first world war. Army vet Adrian Jones built the bronze material with guns used in the war.
- Animals in War Memorial: Located just outside Hyde Park, this much-loved memorial honours the animals who died in war and conflict. It was inspired by Jilly Cooper's book, Animals in War, and was designed by David Backhouse.
- Serenity: This eye-catching bronze bird statue (now verdigris) was inspired by the Egyptian Goddess of nature and overlooks the south side of the Serpentine.
- Boy and Dolphin Fountain: Located in the Rose Garden, this marble fountain was made in 1862 by Alexander Munro, a friend of Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll. It has a peripatetic history; it was initially at Park Lane (where the Joy of Life fountain is now), then moved to Regent's Park, and finally to Hyde Park in 1955.
- Huntress Fountain: Another fountain, also located in the Rose Garden, this displays the goddess of hunting, Diana, and was installed in 1906, made by Countess Feodora Gleichen, the first female member of the Royal Society of British Sculptors.
- Statue of Achilles: located in Hyde Park Corner, this 18-foot statue of the Greek hero of the Trojan War, Achilles, was the first statue installed in Hyde Park in 1822 to commemorate the 1st Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley. It once stood naked, and a fig leaf was added not long after installation, because: Brits.
- Joy of Life Fountain: Perched on the Western edge of Hyde Park, this striking fountain depicts two figures in the centre, holding hands, and floating above the water, surrounded by dancing children. It was also almost renamed The Four Winds, but that didn't catch on.
In Kensington Gardens
- The Albert Memorial: A high-Victorian gothic extravaganza unveiled in 1872; this steeple-esque form commemorates Prince Albert (seen in the middle centre holding the Great Exhibition catalogue). Recognisable from a way off, it is the North Star of this part of Kensington Gardens.
- Speke Monument: This red granite structure was designed by Philip Hardwick (designer of the beautiful Euston station that was bulldozed) and dedicated to John Hanning Speke, the first European to discover Lake Victoria.
- Jenner Statue: Located in the Italian Gardens near Lancaster Gate, this was erected in 1858 to commemorate Edward Jenner, creator of the smallpox vaccine.
- Peter Pan Statue: You can hear Peter Pan come to life as a part of Talking Statues at this bronze statue's location, facing the Long Water. In August 1928, the statue was tarred and feathered.
- Physical Energy Statue: British artist George Frederic Watts worked on this equestrian statue for 20 years, from 1833 to 1904 (when he died). He said it is "a symbol of that restless physical impulse to seek the still unachieved in the domain of material things." — so memorise that and say it out loud to impress someone next time you pass it. Find it in the centre of Kensington Gardens.
- Queen Victoria Statue: Designed by her daughter, Princess Louise, in 1893, this statue depicts Queen Victoria in her coronation robes at the age of 18. It's right outside Kensington Palace, where she was born and raised.
- Queen Caroline's Temple: Neatly tucked away in the greenery of Kensington Gardens, overlooking the Long Water, this looks like a miniature stately home. William Kent built the 'temple' (actually a summer house) for Queen Caroline around 1734. Check out the graffiti inside dating back to the 1820s.
Other Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens attractions
In Hyde Park
- Pet Cemetery: The first animal to be buried here was Cherry, a Maltese terrier, in 1881, upon special request. Then came many more tombstones, making it one of Hyde Park's most eerily cute attractions.
- Apsley Gate: What looks like a grand entrance to Hyde Park was designed by a 25-year-old Decimus Burton (he also came up with the Palm House at Kew), replacing a previous tollgate. Its name comes from the nearby home of the Duke of Wellington.
- Marble Arch: With a similar look but a different story, Marble Arch — perched on the north-east side of Hyde Park — was originally the grand entrance to Buckingham Palace, built to celebrate Britain's victory in the Napoleonic War. When renovations were done to the palace, it was moved here.
- The LookOut: A unique, sustainable building, offering people of all ages the chance to learn about nature and participate in wellbeing activities.
- Reformers' Tree: This mosaic marks the spot of what was once a large oak tree. When Reform League protesters met here in 1866, they set it slight, turning it into a charred stump. It became a symbolic assembly spot, and encouraged Parliament to create Speaker's Corner.
- The bandstand in Hyde Park: One of the oldest bandstands in Britain, where regular concerts have taken place since the 1890s. These days it's also the focal point of the Winter Wonderland ice rink.
In Kensington Garden
- Kensington Gardens bandstand: Located south of Round Pond, this bandstand was installed in 1931. Its Regency style is said to have better acoustics — ironic since permission to have concerts in the garden was rescinded by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1855, although today, music is played here once more.
- The Arch by Henry Moore: It's hard to miss this glowing white, six-metre-tall Roman travertine construction which looks out over the Long Water. Installed in 1980 after being shown at the Serpentine Gallery, it was found to be an unstable structure in 1966, put in storage, and restored in 2012.
- Elfin Oak: Located next to the Diana Memorial Playground, this is the only tree stump given Grade II listed status. The wood, taken from an ancient oak in Richmond Park, was carved by Ivor Innes in 1930 with fairies and elves. Comedian Spike Milligan famously had a hand in restoring it.
Museums & art galleries in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
Love the statues but want more culture? There's a handful of wonderful museums and galleries in the park:
- Serpentine North Gallery: Designed by Zaha Hadid and opened in 2013, the North Gallery also sits on an 1805 gun munition depot. It features regularly rotating contemporary art exhibitions, which are free to visit. Attached is the Magazine restaurant, a futurist curved extension of the gallery (looks like the Sydney Opera House at first glance).
- Serpentine South Gallery: take a walk down the West Carriage Drive bridge, to find a second contemporary art gallery — and Grade II listed former tea pavilion. Again, there's modern and contemporary work on show, and again it's free. From June to October, the Serpentine Pavilion pitches up outside.
- Kensington Palace: Discover the birthplace and home of Queen Victoria, and imagine how royals once lived. Resplendent rooms remain still decorated like they once were (including William Kent's show-stopping staircase), and there are always new exhibitions, included in the ticket price. You'll want to save a couple of hours at least for this one.
Events in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
- Speakers' Corner: Located in the north east corner of Hyde Park, this is the site where speeches and debates have occurred since the mid-1800s. As long as the speech is legitimate and without foul language, anyone can speak. Many individuals and groups gather from noon till sundown on Sundays, with everyone welcome to join in the discussion.
- BST Hyde Park: Every summer, a series of big concerts take place on weekends in Hyde Park. Names are as big as you get — think Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones. There's also a free-entry weekday programme of live music, arts, film, and workshops.
- Royal Parks Half Marathon: Starting and finishing in Hyde Park — and also taking in Kensington Gardens, Green Park and St James's Park — this has to be one of the prettiest runs anywhere. It takes place each October.
- Winter Wonderland: An increasingly-popular annual Christmas carnival that takes place in Hyde Park from November to January (except Christmas Day), featuring amusement park rides like a giant ferris wheel, ice rink, ice kingdom, and festive food and drinks. Be prepared to spend some dough.
The Royal Parks website lists a slew of other events: tennis, dance, tai chi classes, charity walks and runs, and history and nature walks.
Playgrounds in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
If you've got kids in tow, and they're getting bored of walking, you can pick from these three play parks:
- Hyde Park Playground (AKA South Carriage Drive Playground): located on the south side of Hyde Park, a few steps away from the Serpentine and Rotten Row. It features a metal flume.
- Buckhill Playground: Walk over a small hill by the Italian Gardens, and this park is slightly hidden away. It features a big swing and various other bits and pieces.
- Diana Memorial Playground: Located in Kensington Gardens, this park was opened in 2000, built to remember Diana's love of children. Inside the gated area is a wooden pirate ship, teepees, a beach, and play sculptures — surrounded by big trees and plants. Broadwick Cafe and the Elfin Oak are right next door. It's the best playground of the three.
Recreation & sport in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
Many Londoners take up rollerblading and skateboarding along the open flat pavements in the parks, one located in front of Royal Albert Hall on South Carriage Drive, the other along the Serpentine River on Serpentine Road.
Rollerblading & Skateboarding: Blade and board solo or with these group classes:
- London Skate Life & London Skate Crew offer both group and private lessons.
- Zebra Rollerblading and Skateboarding hold classes for kids.
Football: If you fancy a game with friends, you can book a pitch field for one-off games:
- AstroTurf Floodlit is bookable up to four weeks in advance.
- Grass Sports Pitches is bookable up to seven days in advance.
- Otherwise, just have a kick-about on Hyde Park's expanse of grass.
Swimming: In the warmer months, you can enjoy the Serpentine open swim area during its morning, afternoon, or evening sessions. At time of writing, Serpentine Swimming Club, which swims in the Lido daily, isn't accepting new members. You can watch them, though — even on Christmas Day.
- Hyde Park Stables offers everything from pony riding for kids to adult horse riding lessons all year round. You'll ride along Hyde Park's designated sand track horse riding path, Rotten Row, located on South Carriage Drive.
- Ross Nye Stables on North Carriage Drive, offers lessons for all ages and takes learners for rides around the trails of Hyde Park's perimeter and its two outdoor arenas.
Park Sports Hyde Park: Feeling competitive? Play, tennis, football, lawn bowls, table tennis and other sports at Park Sports Hyde Park, open daily, 7am-9pm. There's a cafe next door, offering indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the competitive green area.
Boating: Pedal or row your way along the Serpentine; boat hire is open throughout the year for 30-60 minute sessions.
Gardening: Pick up new gardening tricks or check on your own (or others') plants in Kensington Gardens' volunteer-run, public garden. It's open every day, free, and all are welcome to learn about sustainability and growing vegetables organically.
Food and drink in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
- Serpentine Bar and Kitchen: Stop for a bite and a stunning view of the Serpentine on this restaurant's terrace. Owned by Benugo, they have wood-fired pizza, fish and chips, burgers, salads, sandwiches and ice cream.
- The Serpentine Lido Cafe: This smaller cafe offers waterfront, as well as indoor, seating — and is great for enjoying more views of the Serpentine with a coffee/sandwich in hand.
- The Magazine: Also operated by Benugo, you can dine under futuristic ceilings after exploring the Serpentine North Gallery (see above). Their menu focuses on sustainability and seasonality for "maximum taste and minimum waste."
- The Lodge Cafe: A quaint cafe snugged in Apsley Gate (and easy to miss); this cafe's outdoor seating has a perfect view of Hyde Park Corner. It offers sandwiches, pizza, pastries and, importantly, caffeine.
- The Orangery Restaurant: Located next to the palace in a building made for Queen Anne, this restaurant offers a wide selection of teas, wines and — if you're feeling posh — champagne, with an outside terrace where you can soak up elegant views.
- Kensington Palace Pavilion: A gorgeous tea room with pristine white seating and tablecloth settings where you can enjoy traditional afternoon tea, just like the royals.
- Kensington Palace Cafe: A decent place to enjoy a reviving cuppa, while surrounded by royal history.
- Luba's Green Hut Café: A green cabman's shelter, known for serving up a cup of tea and a sausage bap with a smile — located between the Queensgate & Kensington Gardens entrance.
Colicci Cafes: There are many of these pop-up kiosk-type cafes in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, and they're all owned by the artisan family brand Coliccci, which was established in 1982 as an ice cream truck business. Each little hut serves varying selections, from lattes and lemonade, to pizza and waffles. Here's where you'll find them. They also run The Serpentine Lido Cafe (see above).