The formal, cultivated Regent's Park, more country house grounds than municipal amenity, began life in 1812, when John Nash was commissioned by the Prince Regent (later George IV) to create a master plan for the former royal hunting ground. Nash's original plan included a summer palace for the prince and 56 villas for friends, none of which were realized except for eight villas (only two survive). However, the grand neoclassical terraced houses on the south, east, and west edges of the park were built by Nash and reflect the scope of his ambitions. Queen Mary's Gardens, which has some 30,000 roses and is a favorite spot for weddings, was created in the 1930s. Today the 395-acre park, with the largest outdoor sports area in central London, draws the athletically inclined from around the city.
At the center of the park is the Queen Mary's Gardens, a fragrant 17-acre circle containing more than 400 varieties of roses. Just to the east of the Gardens is the
Regent's Park Open-Air Theatre and the Boating Lake, which you can explore by renting a pedalo (paddleboat) or rowboat. Heading east from the rose gardens along Chester Road past the Broad Walk will bring you to Nash's iconic white-stucco Cumberland Terrace, with its central Ionic columns surmounted by a triangular Wedgwood-blue pediment. At the north end of the Broad Walk you'll find the London Zoo, while to the northwest of the central circle is The Hub (0300/061–2323), a state-of-the-art community sports center that has changing rooms, exercise classes, and a café with 360-degree views of the surrounding sports fields, used for soccer, rugby, cricket, field hockey, and softball contests. There are also tennis courts toward the park's southeast (Baker Street) entrance, and the park is a favorite north–south route for cyclists.
If watching all this activity works up an appetite, in addition to the Hub's own café there's the Garden Cafe outside the rose garden that serves breakfast, lunch, and supper on a patio, the Smokehouse near the zoo that specializes in BBQ and burgers, the Boatyard Cafe by the boating lake, the Tennis Centre Cafe by the courts, an espresso bar with wraps and cakes, and a kiosk by the children's playground that serves sandwiches and snacks.
Regent's Park also hosts two annual events: the prestigious Frieze Art Fair, and the Taste of London, a foodie-oriented extravaganza.