St James's to Kensington


The Royal Parks


4.25 miles (6.8kms)

66ft (20m)
2hrs 30mins

About the walk

'The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God's Heart in a garden,
Than anywhere else on earth'

This short, 19th-century verse, written by Dorothy Gurney, summarises why this walk is special. Unlike some of the other, less worn routes, the Royal Parks are popular areas but surprisingly few people have visited them all – and even fewer have walked them in succession. This walk will be like reading books by different authors. You might like them all but by comparing and contrasting you will undoubtedly come out with a favourite.

Nash to the rescue

St James's Park, the oldest of the Royal Parks, started life rather unceremoniously as a swamp, but Henry VIII soon acquired it. By the time the Stuarts came to the throne, improvements had been made, and at one time it was even home to an exotic menagerie. It was the wish of Charles II to make it look as much like Versailles as possible. After planting trees, laying lawns and setting up an aviary, he opened it to the public. Around 150 years later the architect, John Nash, replaced the French layout with the quintessentially English one that you see today.

The contrast of Green Park may be just what's needed if you prefer a less manicured environment. It certainly lives up to its name, as there are no flowerbeds to add any other colour to this small park, which has had its fair share of duels, despite the calming surroundings. Charles II built an ice house here to cool his wines and drinks during the summer months. The adjacent Constitution Hill was named after his habit of walking 'for health'. Sensible man!

In Hyde Park there are lime trees, rose gardens and the Serpentine, a lake on which you can usually take a boat out. Kensington Gardens is on the other side of the Serpentine Bridge and here you'll pass the gates of Kensington Palace (where the grass was transformed into a sea of flowers after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997).

Walk directions

From Charing Cross tube turn left into the Strand and left again into Northumberland Street. Bear left along Northumberland Avenue and, after a few paces, cross and turn right into Great Scotland Yard by Nigeria House.

At the end turn left into Whitehall, cross to the other side and head for the arch of Horse Guards Parade, where the guards are on duty for an hour at a time. Continue through the arch to a gravel square used for the Beating the Retreat ceremony in June.

Enter St James's Park to the left of the Guards Monument and follow the path that bears left around the lake, taking the first right-hand fork. Continue along this path, past weeping willow trees, to a blue bridge.

Cross the bridge, stopping halfway across to enjoy the views: westwards is Buckingham Palace and eastwards is Horse Guards Parade, where the skyline looks almost fairytale-like. Turn left, past the Nash Shrubberies, and leave the park on the right. Cross The Mall and enter Green Park from Constitution Hill.

Take the second path on the left and continue over another set of paths. At the next junction take the second path on the left. Where the next paths cross, take the left-hand path that inclines slightly to Hyde Park Corner.

Use the pedestrian crossing to first reach the central island and Wellington Arch, and then Hyde Park itself. Cross the road, Rotten Row, and follow the left-hand path through a rose garden with a cherub fountain. Dogs are not allowed in the Rose Garden; follow the dotted route on the map if necessary. After 350yds (320m) follow a path to the right of the Dell Restaurant and continue beside the Serpentine.

Walk under the Serpentine Bridge and up some steps on the right. Cross the bridge and enter Kensington Gardens. Take the middle path and continue ahead, ignoring other paths to eventually pass a bandstand, then turn right at the next opportunity.

At a junction bear left along the path that runs to the left of the gates to the Kensington Palace state apartments. At the end turn left to reach Kensington Road. Pass the Royal Garden Hotel, Kensington Church Street and cross Kensington High Street to the tube station on the left.

Additional information

Mainly tarmac paths through the parks

Parkland with occasional busy road and hum of traffic

On lead through gardens. Not allowed in the Rose Garden, Hyde Park in AA Street by Street London

AA Street by Street London

In each park

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About the area

Discover Greater London

Greater London is one of the world’s largest urban areas; 33 boroughs stretching north to Enfield, south to Croydon, east to Havering, west to Hillingdon and with central London at the heart of it all.

Greater London was officially created in 1965, but the boroughs themselves all have their own histories going back much further. Greenwich is home to the Prime Meridian, which all clocks on earth take their time from, while Hounslow contains Heathrow Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world. Greater London contains a multitude of parks and green spaces, from the six Royal Parks (including Richmond Park, Green Park, Hyde Park and Regent’s Park) and other huge open spaces like Hampstead Heath and Clapham Common; to smaller community spaces like Clissold Park in Stoke Newington and Burgess Park in Southwark.

The centre of London has its quiet spaces too, like Coram’s Field by Great Ormond Street, and Camley Street Natural Park, a stone’s throw from King’s Cross and St Pancras. One of the city’s most impressive features is the London Underground. Beginning in 1863 as the Metropolitan Railway, it took commuters into The City from the suburbs of Middlesex. It was the first underground railway in the world, and now consists of 11 lines, 270 stations, and 250 miles (402km) of track. It’s estimated that nearly five million journeys are taken every day, and there are nearly one and a half billion riders each year.  At peak times, there are more than 543 trains whizzing around the Capital.