London's impressive parks

By Emily Gibson

One of the biggest misconceptions about London is that it's a swarming mass of dirty grey concrete, with the nearest glimpses of nature a whole Ryan Air flight away. Not so...

Hyde Park, London. Photo / Thinkstock
Hyde Park, London. Photo / Thinkstock

London might be an urban mecca - and yes, your tissue may turn black when you blow your nose after a trip on the tube - but London's 8.3 million residents enjoy park life just as good, if not better, than ours. It's a veritable haven of greenery, in fact.

Here are five of the best - be sure to plan a day in and around at least one of them on your next trip to the capital; it's the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of everyday London life:

Hampstead Heath

One of London's most celebrated parklands, covering 790 acres of lush green grass, woodland, and 25 ponds - some of which are swimmable in summer. It also boasts some of the highest points in London including Parliament Hill, which provides one of the best views of the city's skyline.

If you're after some culture to combine with your park visit, pop into Kenwood House (Hampstead Lane, London, NW3 7JR), a huge heritage property that home to an impressive world-famous painting collection known as the Iveagh Bequest.

You'll find the likes of Vermeer, Rembrant, Turner, Reynolds and Gainsborough, plus portraits of Elizabethan and Stuart "celebrities". Events at Kenwood house include live summer music concerts, too.

Hyde Park

Large and centrally located, no discussion of London's park life would be complete sans mention of Hyde Park, one of the most celebrated on earth. Spanning 351 acres and with over 4,000 trees, a large lake, a meadow, and gorgeous rose gardens, you'll feel miles away from London's high-energy urban landscapes. The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain is also located here, and if you're after some enlightenment, you may or may not find it at Speaker's Corner, where every Sunday people stand on a soap box and trumpet their views on a variety of political and religious topics - occasionally rebutted by passersby.

Highgate Wood

Here you'll have the chance to amble around 70 acres' worth of ancient woodland in suburban north London. Trails offer you a helping hand, and a variety of wildlife habitats provide plenty of interest along the way. There's also a sporting green, and highly regarded cafe run by a Brazilian chef.

Regent's Park

Designed in 1811 by renowned architect John Nash, Regent's Park is the city's biggest outdoor sports area catering for football, softball and rugby, as well as a cricket pitch. You'll also find wild bird species and waterfowl, London Zoo, the Open Air Theatre, a tranquil boating lake, and Primrose Hill - another great spot to survey London's impressive skyline. After a cup of tea and scone? The park's cafés include The Garden Café, The Honest Sausage, The Boathouse Café and the Tennis Centre Café.

Lee Valley Regional Park

London's largest park, Lee Valley Regional Park is a long, linear, award-winning open space that covers 10,000 acres. It was created by the government as a "green lung" for London, Essex and Hertfordshire, and offers a truly unique blend of activities, sights and experiences, such as angling, bird watching, boating, camping, horse riding, heritage buildings, ice skating and even golf. Cyclists will love its miles of traffic free cyclist routes, and you'll find the world's biggest tidal mill on the park's Three Mill Island, which is Grade 1 listed and offers Sunday tours.

- nzherald.co.nz

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