Luxury travel writer Brian Berkman recommends saving your pounds for spoils and enjoying London’s free parks and museums instead.
Despite the perilous Sterling exchange rate, London need not be a costly destination. In fact, if you are happy to buy your food at a supermarket rather than a restaurant, and take full advantage of London’s many free-to-enter museums and galleries, you can save your pence for luxuries.
If you are traveling during the “London summer” and are lucky enough to be there during balmy days in June or July, join Londoners in exploring the city’s many and varied public parks.
While most parks have been gifted to the city by the Crown as public spaces, all central London parks are beautifully maintained and offer something for every kind of wanderer.
In North London is historic Hampstead. As you approach the park via Willow Street, stop to see the house by the famous modernist architect Ernö Goldfinger.
If the name seems familiar, it’s because Bond creator, Ian Fleming, hated the concrete–and–glass structure so much he named a villain after the architect who designed it.
The Heath, as Hampstead Heath is commonly known, is most notable for its 25 ponds, including famous single-gender swimming areas.
Near the Heath is Highgate Cemetery with its spooky tombstones which will bring Dracula and the many Hammer Horror films that were filmed there to life.
Dracula’s author, Bram Stoker, was a regular here, along with artists and thinkers of the day. Karl Marx is also buried in Highgate.
The Heath’s rolling topography is especially interesting and it’s worth exploring as a conservation area of very ancient meadows and trees, some believed to be planted before the first millennium.
Records suggest people have been using the Heath as parklands since the year 986.
On your way to Central London, and around the corner from Madam Tussauds wax museum, is The Regent’s Park.
There is a programme of free music concerts in a Victorian bandstand in The Regent’s Park on Sundays and bank holidays from late June through to September. Hire a green-striped deck chair and enjoy a picnic lunch there.
Avoid sitting directly on the grass though, as it is a favourite latrine for the many geese and other birds. Consider a paddleboat on the pond or simply explore on foot.
The Regent’s Park, covering about 395 acres, is also home to London Zoo and various sporting facilities like tennis courts.
There are also several children’s play areas. If you love roses – and who doesn’t –Queen Mary’s rose garden is a most spectacular sight and scent during summer. Sniff more than 12 000 roses – but look out for the bees.
After, stroll up Primrose Hill for an excellent view of London’s skyline. This is the spot about which Paul McCartney wrote “Fool on the Hill”.
Even nearer to central London, or about 30 minutes from The Regent’s Park on foot, is perhaps London’s most famous park, Hyde Park.
Here, you’ll find Speaker’s Corner – home to the opinionated and those in protest –and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. In summer there are many big-name performers in the park, albeit at a pretty price.
St James’s Park nearby includes The Mall and Horse Guards Parade, and is surrounded by landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Whitehall.
Much photographed during the annual Trooping the Colour, images of the bright blossoms outside the palace are instantly recognisable.
There have been pelicans in St James’s Park for about 400 years, and were a gift to King Charles II from the then Russian ambassador.
Although the King loved his pelicans, gossip has it he preferred the ladies. Incensed at the news he was picking flowers for a mistress, the Queen ordered all flowers be removed from The Green Park, which may explain the paucity of organised flower beds even today.
That said, don’t miss the more than a million daffodils that blossom there during spring.
Kensington Palace, where Kate and Wills live, is in Kensington Gardens, initially part of Hyde Park. Walk that way to see the Serpentine art galleries, and just behind the galleries are allotments where volunteers grow fruit and vegetables.
The Green Park
The Green Park is near Buckingham Palace and can be reached via the London Underground of the same name.
In July is London Pride, the UK’s biggest, most diverse Pride celebration. Although the festivities spill out in colourful waves from Trafalgar Square and into all the parks along the route, the Pride parade snakes from Portland Place down to Whitehall, via Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square.
2019 was the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York that are considered as the crucible out of which the gay liberation movement bubbled.
More than 30 000 people were reportedly involved in the Pride floats that covered every conceivable interest group, from an inclusive London Civil Service to The Royal College of General Practitioners and London Roller Girls, to The London Otters Rowing Club.
There isn’t much that beats a beautiful London summer’s day. Perhaps it is because they are so rare that the whole world seems to celebrate with Londoners when the sky is blue, the grass is green, and parks are a riot of colour.
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