Category Archives: parks and nature

52: Check out the latest trends in architecture at the Serpentine Pavilion

As I was writing my latest post on London as a site of architectural experimentation, I thought of a place where you can check out cutting-edge structures in the making.

The Serpentine Galleries, with an unbeatable location in the heart of Kensington Gardens, commission every year a temporary summer pavilion by an internationally renowned architect. This project started in 2000 with Zaha Hadid (who also designed the newly opened Sackler Gallery on the opposite side of the Serpentine lake).

Serpentine Gallery

This year the Serpentine Pavilion is one of the weirdest ever. Designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radić and open until the 19th of October, it is a donut-shaped structure resembling a shell – or maybe a prehistoric egg – or maybe a UFO – with a café inside.

Serpentine Pavilion

The Serpentine Galleries are free and definitely worth a look if you find yourself in the area.

And while in Kensington Gardens, go and look for Peter Pan’s statue – less cutting-edge of course, but with the advantage of longevity: erected more than a century ago, it will outlive many more Serpentine Pavilions.

Nearest Tube: Knightsbridge


47: Take a Sunday stroll around Richmond

A recent survey has showed that the residents of wealthy Richmond upon Thames were among the happiest – if not the happiest – of England. This is hardly surprising: only a few miles away from London’s bustle, Richmond is a haven of peace.

Located on a meander of the River Thames, Richmond boasts a large number of parks and open spaces including one of England’s most famous greens (Richmond green).

Richmond Hill rises a few hundred meters south of the city centre. Though only 165 ft (50m) high, the view from its top has inspired such artists as J.M.W. Turner and Sir Joshua Reynolds and is one of the best-known on the Thames. You may find that the landscape has changed little since its depiction by these masters two hundred years ago.

Image of the view from the top of Richmond Hill

To the south of Richmond Hill lies Richmond Park. Three times the size of Central Park in New York, it was originally a hunting reserve of king Charles I and is famous for the hundreds of deers it still hosts.

On Sundays, a stroll along the river Thames is a popular activity for families and lovers alike. Even if as a broke londoner, you may not afford to live in Richmond (after all, the council prides itself on being “a favourite retreat of Royalty, the rich and the famous”…), you might still wish to check out why Richmond’s inhabitants are so happy with their lot.

Tube station: Richmond

46 – Go to Bristol

Being a londoner can be exhausting at times – and that is why, from time to time, you may feel the need to have a break from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

What about a trip to Bristol? It’s easy to spend a day there: a return ticket may cost you only £10 with the company Megabus! From Victoria coach station, the journey takes some 2h30. And Bristol’s main interests can easily fit in a day.

Photo of Cabot tower

Cabot tower

In the city centre, don’t miss the harbour, Bristol’s historic district with its gothic cathedral and medieval street, and Cabot tower, set on Brandon Hill, which offers panoramic views of the city.

Photo of Bristol's harbour

Bristol’s harbour

And Bristol is world renowned street artist Banksy’s hometown: look out for his earlier works, hidden in the city streets…

42: Smell the roses at Queen Mary’s rose garden

Queen Mary's Garden - rose 1

Located in the heart of Regent’s Park, Queen Mary’s garden holds one of the finest collections of roses in the country and its access is free of charge.

Queen Mary's Garden - rose 2

Going to a rose garden in the middle of September may not have been my brightest idea, but the blooms of Queen Mary’s garden were still perfuming the air.

Nearest Tube Station: Baker Street

40: Find Mount Street Gardens

benches in Mount Street Gardens

Walking in Mayfair, I was amazed to find these peaceful public gardens, which contrast with the bustle of the urban surroundings. Mount Street Gardens are quite small, but immaculately maintained and the numerous benches invite for a nice break under the plane trees’ shade. With Phoenix Garden, this small shaded green space is one of London’s nicest secret public gardens in central London.

Mount Street GardenNearest tube stations: Green Park, Bond Street

37: Escape to Hampstead Heath

Hampstead Heath, locally known as the Heath, is an age-old institution in London. According to the legend, the Celtic queen Boudica is buried there; it was also Karl Marx’s favorite family outing. Still today, this hilly park, which covers 320 hectares and comprises woodland, playing fields, swimming ponds, a training track, and which adjoins Kenwood House, remains a genuinely popular public place.

Kenwood House

Kenwood House

There, you may see swimmers taking a refreshing dip in the ponds in the summer time, or even earlier for the bravest ones – the water remains chilly all year long. Hampstead Heath is also used by walkers and runners of all sorts and is believed to be the home of cross-country running in Britain – you can meditate on that while you try and jog up and down the hills without running out of steam.

Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath

Parliament Hill's protected view: one of "the Heath's" trademarks

Indeed Hampstead Heath is also famous for being one of the highest points in London, and, in the Southern end of the park, Parliament Hill’s splendid view over the city is even protected by law. It is a magic place, where lovers on romantic walks meet kite-fliers taking advantage of the wind on the hill.

Kite-fliers in Hampstead Heath

Kite-flying on Parliament Hill

Nearest Tube stations: Hampstead Heath, Gospel Oak Hampstead, Belsize Park,Golders Green, Highgate and Archway

36: Get Zen in Kyoto Gardens

Kyoto Gardens

With July’s warm days, I find myself looking for shade and fresh air in gardens, parks and green spaces of all kinds. An enchanting and often forgotten one of them is Kyoto Gardens. It is set in the heart of Holland Park, a calm and fine park welcoming pigeons and peacocks alike and located in one of London’s poshest neighbourhoods (see the post on Holland’s Park here).

Peacock in Holland Park

The Park is named after Holland House, a mansion visited by Lord Byron and Disraeli in its finest hours at the end of the 19th century. Though no ghost can be found in the sterilised ruins, the new Japanese garden, inaugurated in 1991, is a haven of peace. With its pond and waterfall, stone lantern and small bridge, is a pleasant place to pause.

Waterfall in Kyoto Gardens

Nearest Tube Station: Holland Park