Whether you're a photographer or an animal lover, or even if you're just looking for a peaceful walk in London surrounded by nature, St. James's Park offers a little something for everyone.
And although it may not have Hyde Park's Kensington Palace or the St. Regent’s Zoo, St. James's Park remains to be one of the most popular parks in London – not to mention that it’s the oldest of the Royal Parks in London too.
The area where St. James's Park lies today was actually once the site of a lepers hospital for women, which was dedicated to James The Less (hence the name). Henry VIII bought the land from Eton College in 1532, and later built St. James's Palace before transforming the land into his own personal deer-hunting and duck-shooting ground. King James I even introduced various exotic animals to the park in 1603, such as crocodiles and even an elephant and a camel, and ordered the park to be landscaped.
But it is thanks to Charles II that the park’s original marsh was transformed into a long narrow canal which can still be seen today. In the 17th century Charles II redesigned the park (with the help of the famous French landscaper Andre Mollet) to make it appear more like the gardens of Versailles in France. Charles II was also the first monarch to allow St. James’s Park to be open to the public, and he used the land to entertain both his guests and mistresses during his reign.
The biggest transformation of St. James’s Park occurred in 1828, when architect John Nash redesigned the land with trees, lawns and gardens under the orders of George IV. Nash was responsible for transforming the original canal into a “naturally-shaped” lake, and he also designed the park’s picturesque avenues and winding pathways as well.
St. James's Park Highlights
St. James’ Park boasts 23 hectares (or 57 acres), and is conveniently located near Buckingham Palace, The Mall, St. James’s Palace, Horse Guards and the Birdcage Walk (some of which are in plain view when walking around the park).
Not only does St. James's Park have stunning flowerbeds and wide open green spaces, it's also home to 15 different species of birds, with the most famous being the resident colony of pelicans (which were initially given as a gift from a Russian ambassador in 1664 to Charles II). Some of the many other animals you can find in the park include squirrels, water birds, ducks, geese, swans, woodpeckers, owls and much more.
The Blue Bridge (which is located above the lake) is famous in its own right, as has been featured in many movies throughout its history. While standing on the bridge you can enjoy stunning views of Buckingham Palace, and if you look east you will see the Swire fountain, the Horse Guards Parade (with the Horse Guards building) and Whitehall Court.
There are also two islands (West Island and Duck Island) within St. James's Park, and on the south side of Duck Island you will see a Tiffany fountain perched on a Pelican Rock, with picturesque views of the London Eye and Big Ben in the distance.
There are two famous monuments in St. James’s Park as well, one of which commemorates the soldiers of the Guards regiments who perished during the World Wars. To the north you will see the Royal Artillery South Africa Memorial which was built to commemorate the Royal artillery who died during the Boen Wars.
If you plan on visiting St. James’s Park with your family, there is a children’s playground with an enormous sand pit and another smaller, separate sand area. There are also swings, a slide, a climbing frame, a see-saw, a refreshment stand, and a children’s toilet.
- Make sure you check out the park's official website before you visit as there may be scheduled events; (especially during the summer months or holidays).
- For the best views, head to the Blue Bridge on a sunny day to take some great photos of the London Eye, the Horse Guards Parade and Big Ben (to the east) or Buckingham Palace (to the west).
- If you feel like taking a longer walk, you can follow the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk which leads through St. James's Park as well as Hyde Park, Green Park and the Kensington Gardens. The walk is seven miles long and will lead you past several famous buildings and attractions in London. You can download the route map online, or simply follow the plaques that are set in the ground throughout St. James's Park.