London might be a huge sprawling metropolis, but it's also famous for the sheer number and quality of its parks and open spaces. Whether you are making a day of it with family or friends or just escaping the office for a spot of lunch, these are the best parks in London for a bit of tranquillity.
So important are the unparalleled views from the oldest enclosed Royal Park across the River Thames that it's actually a Grade 1 listed landscape. As the only hill overlooking the eastern river approach to the city, the area's historic importance dates back to Roman times; it was the birthplace of Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Greenwich Park is in fact part of a World Heritage Site and is home to the Old Royal Observatory, the Royal Naval College, the National Maritime Museum as well as the Greenwich Mean Time line. You can bring your dog here, go jogging, have a picnic or do a bit of boating. But the main draw is the view.
The most ancient of London's numerous deer parks, Greenwich has been home to Red and Fallow Deer since it was enclosed in the C15th.
A firm favourite with film and TV directors thanks to its panoramic views. Part heath, park, wildlife sanctuary and heritage hotspot; it's hard to believe you're only a few miles out of central London. There are also 30 lakes and ponds (3 of which you can swim in), as well as multiple wildlife and flora and fauna habitats. At the north end, you'll find the neoclassical Kenwood House built in 1764, while to the east and south west are the ponds.
One of London's most famous Royal Parks, Hyde Park was "acquired" by Henry VIII back in 1536 and used as a hunting ground. The Serpentine lake (which stretches across 11.34 hectares) was built by Queen Caroline, wife of George II, in the 1730s and has become an attraction in its own right. It's now one of the capital's most popular outside music venues too, with huge gigs a massive feature of the summer season.
The park is home to the Serpentine Swimming Club, which is the oldest in Britain.
The area we know as the Common first got a mention in the Doomsday Book back in 1086 as land for the parishes of nearby Battersea and of course Clapham. The Friends of Clapham Common are actively seeking to improve it, and there's a great community feel to the place as a result (although residents are less likely to graze their sheep on it now). Jam packed on long summer days and nights with picnickers who then head to the nearby pubs and restaurants when the sun sets, or teeming with music festival goers, this is one of South West London's best open spaces.
This Royal park was once a favourite hunting ground of Henry VIII. Originally called Marylebone Park, it was more home to the organisations like the Zoological Society and the Royal Botanic Society until it was transformed in the 19th century by Regency architect John Nash. While it still has a huge link to science, animals and nature (it's home to London Zoo after all), nowadays its also good for outdoor sports like running (they even had special routes). Regent's Park is also home to "The Hub": the largest outdoor sports facility in the capital, along with a giant boating lake. Flowers feature heavily here as well, with more than 12,000 roses of several hundred varieties in Queen Mary's Gardens.
Henry VIII might cast a long shadow over the majority of London's oldest parks, but its our reigning monarch who gives her name to the newest. One million people have visited the site of the 2012 games since it officially re-opened in July 2013.
At 560 acres, it's the same size as Hyde Park (or equal to Green Park, St. James’s Park, Victoria Park and Alexandra Park put together.
It might be quicker to list the sports that are not available at the site, but with a huge area to explore, including wetlands and canals, this is the perfect purpose-built park in East London.
Famous for its herds of red and fallow dear (630 at last count), Richmond Park is actually a National Nature Reserve and the largest enclosed space and biggest park in London. The deer have roamed freely since 1529 and continue to delight thousands of visitors each year.
"The deer are wild animals - please keep at least 50 metres away from the deer and be aware of your surroundings so that you do not come between two rutting stags (Sept - Oct) or a mother and her calf (May-July)."
The park's commitment to conservation was cemented by the creation of The Attenborough Pond, officially opened in July 2014 by Sir David Attenborough.
"I am thrilled to have the pond named after me but, more importantly, to be part of the continuing conservation project to improve and upgrade ponds and streams, the lifeblood of Richmond Park." - Sir David Attenborough
The 30 ponds in the park support everything from the azure damselfly to the common toad and smooth newt as well as natural holes for the deer and over 100 species of birds. Thanks to its woods and hills, this is the ideal place to "get your outdoors on", with biking, orienteering and cross-country running popular.
"DID YOU KNOW? St Paul's Cathedral is connected to Richmond Park through the protected 10 mile view of the cathedral from King Henry's Mound- which is why tall buildings can't be built in that sight line and tend to be in the city or on the Southbank."
Now a popular lunch and central London sunbathing spot thanks to its close proximity to Buckingham Palace and Piccadilly, this small park was once the site of a rebellion in 1554. You're more likely to see people enjoying the peace and quiet than duelling these days, so it's definitely worth a chilled stroll though.
If you go down to the woods today, you'll be in for a big surprise. This ancient woodland is very much thriving thanks to concerted conservation programmes and a lot of enthusiasm. Given a Green Flag Award (10 years +) and the Green Heritage Award, you'll find scenic walks and tours as you potter through the woods, which are predominantly made up of hornbeam coppice and oak standard trees.
The woods were once the site of Roman kilns with pottery made there for about 150 years from cAD43. These were then sold into the City as "Highgate Ware" and pots were discovered under the Guildhall Yard in 1988.
There is plenty of wildlife to take in with 900 insects, more than 300 different types of moth and fungi species, around 70 types of bird and seven recorded bat species; great for taking the kids on a nature stroll. Also make sure you have a chat with the friendly wood keepers who are a font of all knowledge.
Few places have such a rich history. There's evidence of trees at this site from at least 3,000 years ago, although with tribes and wild animals roaming around, the "nature walks" might have been a bit hairy. The forest was also rumoured to be a hideout for highwayman Dick Turpin in the 18t century.
DID YOU KNOW? Following WWII lakes and ponds were created out of bomb craters
Now Epping Forest is London's largest open space, covering around 6,000 acres (more than 3000 football pitches). The forest, which is run as a charity by the City of London, is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC); and there are no bears, tribes, wolves of highwaymen anywhere to be seen now.
A community park in the heart of Stoke Newington which was formerly a country estate; visit the stunning Grade II* listed building in the middle, Clissold House. With a Green Flag and after a lot of tender and loving care from Hackney Council and The Clissold Park User Group, including restoring the house, the fountain and the skate park, the area is now rightly proud of their park. Kiddies can't get bored with animals, playgrounds and open spaces to explore.
If you are keen to learn more about the history and development of London parks; then these websites are a pretty good resource.
Barbecues in parks have become a "hot" topic in recent years, with disposable ones now readily available. Make sure you check out the park rules to avoid any fines and for barbecue etiquette; this barbecue feature by the BBC might help with the latter!
We would love to hear your favourite green spots for a little sport and leisure, especially if they are not listed here. Have you got a favourite picnic place or is there somewhere you love to get in a spot of sunbathing? Either leave a comment below or get in touch on our Twitter or Facebook pages.