The UK capital’s over-spilling with fantastic parks – big, small, hilly, flat, occupied with animals and not – yet some are more suited to family days out with a picnic than others. Here are Central London’s five best for the kids…
Located in Bloomsbury, poignantly on the site of the city’s original home for abandoned children, this park’s a lovely location for modern day kids and their parents, especially those wanting to catch a few minutes’ peace away from the hustle-bustle of the capital. Featuring child-friendly animals, including the always popular rabbits and chickens, it also offers excellent play-spaces. Just the spot then after you’ve walked yourself to a standstill around the British Museum.
Open: daily 9am-dusk
Unlike all the residents’ appealing but private gardens dotted here and there throughout this neighbourhood, its public park is rightfully open to all. And what a pearler it is too. Facilitating football, cricket, netball and golf, it’s also blessed with an adventure playground that features climbing structures, a giant see-saw and a zip wire.
Open: daily 7.30am-dusk
St James’s Park
Probably the greatest of all the best London family parks (not least because it’s so near the best hotels in West End London), whatever the time of year this is a destination full of irresistible charm, colour and animals, but it’s tranquil too and ideal for a moment of peaceful contemplation – or a picnic with the little ones. It also features a playground to occupy the toddlers and young ones, boasting climbing areas, swings and sandpits. And it’s especially celebrated for its vast array of wildfowl – everything from pelicans to swans and mallards to geese – while the friendly squirrels are always tops, not least if you bring along nuts.
Open: daily 5am-12 midnight
Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground
Situated right next to Kensington Palace, the home of the late royal icon herself, this is a purpose-built playground rather than a park, of course (and it’s worth noting Kensington Gardens in which it’s located is a marvellous, rather magical place for families), but this playground’s outstanding for kids, many of whose features are inspired by J. M. Barrie’s world of Peter Pan – the author having set parts of the stories in the park – accounting for the glorious giant pirate ship, the tepees, the huge musical instruments and sundry spots perfect for playing hide and seek.
Open: daily 10am–7.45pm in summer (closes earlier other seasons)
Hyde Park’s a huge expanse of grassland and trees; as a whole, it can be too much for children, so is probably best experienced in chunks. In which case, in the late spring and high and late summer, the Serpentine Lido often proves a terrific part of it for kids. Around it you’ll find not only a lawn, a sandpit and a climbing frame, but also a paddling pool – which goes down a storm on hot days.