London is famous for many things:
rich history, lively pubs, popular landmarks, thriving theater scene, unfriendly people dressed in black that commute for hours every day to enjoy a long day of overwork, bland food, and miserable weather, to name a few. But stereotypes and news headlines often overshadow one of London’s greatest features: its green spaces.
During my first week living here, a tour guide mentioned that London is one of the world’s greenest cities, meaning it contains more parks, gardens, and areas of natural beauty than many other cities. I was surprised to hear this at first, but after many months of exploring these organic areas I have concluded that some of my favorite parts of this massive city are consumed with green.
Without its many parks and gardens, London would be nothing but a crowded and chaotic mess of urban development. But every open field, every grassy square, and every flowering garden acts as an oasis in the middle of the hectic city.
Hyde Park and Regents Park are the most popular green spaces in central London. As lovely as these are, my favorite natural areas lie more towards the outskirts of the city. The only exception to this is Holland Park, which is located in Kensington and therefore relatively central. But after marveling at the serenity of the Japanese Garden and watching peacocks walk casually across your path, the bustling city might seem farther away than it actually is.
A short train ride west of the city center leads to Hampton Court Palace, the infamous royal masterpiece that housed numerous English monarchs. While the palace itself is extraordinary, the surrounding gardens add natural beauty to the area. On one side of the palace lies a riverside path, which allows one to walk along the Thames and absorb the sunshine. On the other side lies a massive stretch of garden overflowing with a colorful variety of flowers. Though wooden benches line the perimeters of the garden, I highly recommend lying on the ground in the shade of a tree, feeling the soft grass beneath you and inhaling the sweet aromas of the surrounding flowers.
Not far from Hampton Court is Richmond Park, another amazing green space easily reachable by the tube. This massive expanse of land contains a wide variety of landscapes including dense forest with gnarled plants, spacious plains with tall grasses, woodland trails lined with berry bushes, and vibrant green fields dotted with full-bodied trees. Graceful wild deer also roam the territory, adding a true sense of wilderness to the wonderfully diverse land.
Southeast London is home to another spot filled with green grass and fresh air: Greenwich Park. Because this park houses the Royal Observatory, the marking of the Prime Meridian, and the clock that represents GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), tourists often flood the area and overwhelm the space with their selfie sticks and screaming children. But while these monumental attractions are worth a visit, the park holds more potential for peace in its more isolated areas.
Luckily, Greenwich Park is huge, so escaping the tourists isn’t very hard. Numerous walkways slice through the green grass, while towering hills and sloping valleys add layers to the landscape. The higher altitudes provide sweeping views of the city, where the iconic skyscrapers dominate the skyline and tower over the humble greenery of the park.
These parks all make for relaxing day trips, but in reality a green space lies around every corner in London. I honestly can’t walk a mile without coming across two or three gardens that complement the surrounding modern industry with the spirit of nature.
If you really want to experience the wilderness and escape from the city entirely, the UK is full of natural beauty that can be accessed by bus or train. A few days ago, I took the bus to the Cliffs of Dover on the southeastern tip of England and enjoyed a day full of warm sun, salty air and ocean breeze. After hiking the rugged hills and passing herds of wild horses, I was able to admire the rippling layers of chalky white cliff that stood majestically over the soft waves of the turquoise sea.
So although London is notorious for its stormy weather and urban life, the occasional sunny day provides the perfect opportunity to enjoy one of the many gorgeous parks and gardens. Every green space adds a little bit of magic to the practical modernity of the city, and they are an essential asset to the undeniable charm of London.