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 masterplan 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, with some 30,000 roses a favorite spot for weddings, was created in the 1930s. Today the 395-acre park, boasting 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 over 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 rental pedalo 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 cafe with 360-degree views of the surrounding sports fields that offer soccer, rugby, cricket, field hockey, and softball contests. There are also tennis courts towards 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 cafe there's the Garden Cafe (020/7935–5729) outside the rose garden that serves breakfast, lunch, and supper on a patio, the Boatyard Cafe by the boating lake, and the Cow and Coffee Bean, (020/7224-3872) which serves coffee and organic Cornish ice cream, and the Honest Sausage, both near the Broad Walk.
Regent's Park also hosts two annual events: the Frieze Art Fair, one of the art world's most prestigious, and the Taste of London, a foodie-oriented extravaganza.
Regent's Park Boating Lake. You can enjoy a pleasant aquatic interlude touring the boating lake in Regent's Park by rowboat or pedalo. Adult rentals cost £7.50 (£5.50 before noon) per hour per person, or £5.50/£4 per half-hour. On weekends and school holidays, children under 12 can take to the waters on a smaller lake, where pedalo rentals are £3 per 20 minutes per child going up to £4.50 for an hour (discounted prices before noon). The lake is open April through September, 10–6. 020/7724–4069.