Along with the smaller St. James's and Green parks to the east, the 350-acre Hyde Park started as Henry VIII's hunting grounds. Along its south side runs Rotten Row, once Henry's royal path to the hunt—the name is a corruption of Route du Roi (route of the king). It's still used by the Household Cavalry, who live at the Hyde Park Barracks—a high-rise and a low, ugly, red block, now up for sale—to the left. You can see the Guardsmen in full regalia leaving
on horseback for guard duty at Buckingham Palace at about 10:30, or come at noon when they return. Hyde Park is wonderful for strolling, cycling, or just relaxing by the Serpentine, the long body of water near its southern border. On the south side, by the 1930s Serpentine Lido, is the site of the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, which opened in 2003 and is a good spot to refuel at a café. On Sundays close to Marble Arch you'll find the uniquely British tribute to free speech, Speakers' Corner. Though not what it was before people could vent their spleen on the Internet, it still offers a unique assortment of passionate, if occasionally irrational, advocates literally getting up on soapboxes.
Hyde Park Riding Stables. Horses are available here for hacks on the park's bridle paths. Group lessons (usually just a few people) are £69 per person per hour. Semi-private lessons are £75, privates £105. 63 Bathurst Mews, Bayswater, W2 2SB. 020/7723–2813. www.hydeparkstables.com. Tube: Lancaster Gate.
The Serpentine Boat House. You can rent paddleboats and rowboats here to explore Hyde Park's twisty lake. Boat House, Hyde Park, Bayswater, W2 2UH. 020/7262–1330. www.solarshuttle.co.uk. £12 per adult per hr. Apr.–Oct. daily 10–dusk.
Friday Night Skate. Something of a London institution, this inline-skating excursion is for skaters able to stop, turn, and control their speed. The group meets (weather permitting) at 8 pm at the Wellington Arch, Hyde Park Corner, for an enthusiastic two-hour mass skating session, complete with music, whistles, and a party atmosphere. If you're a bit unsure on your wheels, arrive at 6:30 pm for the free lesson on how to stop. You need to bring your own skates and protective gear—try Slick Willies (12 Gloucester Rd. SW7 4RB, Kensington 020/7225–0004 www.slickwillies.co.uk) for rentals—and the organizers suggest you bring bottled water and money for transportation in case you have to drop out. The Sunday Rollerstroll, a more laid-back version of the same thing, runs on Sunday afternoon from 2 pm on the east side of Serpentine Road. Wellington Arch, Apsley Way, Hyde Park Corner, Mayfair, W1J 7JZ. www.lfns.co.uk. Free. Tube: Hyde Park Corner.
Serpentine Lido. Offering open-water swimming within a sinuous small lake, this is an idyllic spot to spend one of London's rare hot summer afternoons, with changing facilities, a café, and a private sunbathing area with loungers for hire. There's also a gated family area with a chlorinated paddling pool, sandpit, and swings. Early mornings and winters are reserved for the Serpentine Swimming Club, but in the summer after 10 am all are welcome. Hyde Park, Bayswater, W2 2UH. 020/7706–3422. www.royalparks.org.uk. £4.50; £4 after 4 pm. May, weekends 10–6; June–Sept., daily 10–6. Tube: Knightsbridge.
Apr 2, 2008
Of the four parks in the vicinity of central London, this is probably the best, with a wide open and relaxed feel, nice statuary, pleasant little lake. Blends right into Kensington Gardens, which is just as enjoyable.