Hyde Park is one of the most visited of the Royal Parks. London’s 142-hectare central park is one of the most abundant when it comes to tourist attractions. With its history dating back hundreds of years and its neighbouring Kensington Gardens, this beautiful area of open green has a long winding story to tell.
It’s all well and good staying at the Shaftesbury Hyde Park International and having a wander around the gorgeous park, but true London cityphiles will no doubt want to learn a little more about the area. This definitive guide of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens will provide you with background and the history of many of its attractions, ensuring that you have enough information that, when you visit with friends and family, you could be the tour guide yourself.
History of Hyde Park
Hyde Park dates back to 1536 when it was built by King Henry VIII as a royal hunting ground. Reclaimed from Westminster Abbey after the dissolution of the Monasteries, Hyde Park was used for hunting deer and foxes throughout the 16th century before it was opened to the public a hundred years later. With its popularity growing, the park became the site of May Day Parades and in the Victorian era, the Great Exhibition of 1851 when it originally housed Crystal Palace before it was transferred to Southwest London. Since then, the park has become the home of many major music festivals including the BBC Proms in the Park and the British Summertime pop music festival.
History of Kensington Gardens
Originally part of Hyde Park, the western 270 acres of the land was cut off by the Serpentine Lake in 1728. The reason for this was that George II gifted the then public parkland to his wife Queen Caroline of Brunswick to be used as her private gardens. The land was designed differently to that of its neighbouring royal park and saw the incorporation of Dutch sunken gardens and idyllic ponds. Serpentine Lake was created in the development of the land, thus cutting off Kensington Gardens from the park from which it was birthed. Overlooking Kensington Manor, the land is also home to beautiful sculptures, ancient trees and flower gardens, making for an idyllic walking spot for nearby Shaftesbury Suites London Marble Arch guests.
Created at the same time as Kensington Gardens, the Serpentine River is technically a lake. This a beautiful stretch of water separates the gardens from Hyde Park and is kitted out with a majestic bridge. Bejewelled with pedalos and water birds, the lake is the focal point of both parks and stretches across 40 acres.
Cut off from the lake, the open air, freshwater lido to its side is one of the most popular swimming spots in London. With 100 metres of swimming area and an attached cafe, this is a must for freshwater swimming lovers looking for some real fresh air.
The Serpentine Gallery is made up of two exhibition spaces – the Serpentine Gallery and the Sackler Gallery. Having presented the works of famous contemporary artists such as Grayson Perry and Marina Abramovich, the twinned galleries are bastions of cutting edge art, all housed within a striking and fluid building.
Speakers Corner is located just in front of Marble Arch and represents an area where speakers on many subjects can lawfully convene, debate and talk about ideas. In the past, notable speakers have included Karl Marx and George Orwell, amassing audiences at the same spot, now marked out by a blue plaque and concrete staired platform.
Diana Memorial Playground
Based in Kensington Gardens, the Diana Memorial Playground was built in memory of the late princess who died in 1997. The playground was built to reflect Diana’s love for children and consists of a wooden pirate ship and sandbox area that was inspired by JM Barrie’s Peter Pan.
Diana Memorial Fountain
The Diana Memorial Fountain is based in Hyde Park and is the official memorial for the Princess. Made up of a walled-in stream in an oval shape, the open waterway permits and invites guests to walk through and paddle, reflecting the Princess’s openness and beauty. The fountain was unveiled in 2004 and was made of granite, whilst further developments were made throughout the noughties to lessen the chance of slipping.
Prince Albert Memorial
Located close to the Albert Hall, this is one of the most striking memorials in Hyde Park. With its beautiful gothic spire and statue of the famed Victorian prince, this monument is hard to miss and worth seeing up close and personal for Central London hotel deal guests staying in the area.
Dutch Sunken Gardens
The first of its kind in London, the Dutch Suken Gardens were built for Queen Caroline and consist of ponds, water features and beautiful, dense greenery surrounding it. The round pond is located next to the gardens, adding even more elegance to the beautiful area.
Peter Pan Memorial
The Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens is located to the West of Serpentine River and just before the Sunken Gardens. Built in memory of JM Barrie and his Kensington Garden inspired creation, the bronze statue is a magical glimmer in the green of the royal park, a testament to the natural beauty and inspiration emanating from the area.
Queen Caroline’s Temple
Built by William Kent, Queen Caroline’s Temple is a beautiful summer house built in the classical style by architect William Kent. Built to provide respite from the sun for when the gardens were the private property of Queen Caroline, it was refurbished as a park keepers house but made public in 1976.
Statue of Queen Victoria
Built in 1893 in memory of her mother, Princess Louise’s statue design is one of the seminal sculptures in Kensington Gardens. It’s fitting too, guests at Heathrow airport hotels and beyond will find lots of Queen Victoria exhibitions in the nearby Kensington Palace, where the queen was born and raised.