Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are the London parks that get all the attention, but Regent’s Park is much more than the green surrounding area of the London Zoo. Dating back to 1835 as a public park, its history as an open space actually goes back much further – it once belonged to the monks of Barking Abbey until King Henry VIII took it as crown property and turned it into a hunting park. Its current name comes from King George IV, who commissioned the project to turn it into a public park before he was king – his title at the time was Prince Regent. Here are a few more fun facts about one of London’s most beautiful parks!
- Regent’s Park is composed of one large inner circle, 1.3km long, surrounded by another, wider circle which is 4.3km long. In total, it is 166 hectares in size. You’d be hard pressed to see all of it in one day, and there’s always something new to discover in a place that big – like Queen Mary’s Gardens, a gardener’s paradise containing 400 varieties of roses and over 30,000 rosebushes.
- The London Zoo opened in the grounds of Regent’s Park in 1828, but it was only open to select Zoological Fellows – including Charles Darwin. It was supposed to be a scientific place where the animals could be studied. The zoologists did indeed learn crucial lessons about keeping animals, such as the fact that wild animals will pine and die if you never let them outside for some exercise and fresh air! In 1848, the zoo was finally opened to the public after a Royal Charter from King George, and a London institution was born.
- Some of London’s older buildings and local attractions near London Heathrow airport are heritage-listed in different grades according to their historical importance. Regent’s Park, along with all the other Royal Parks, is protected with a Grade I listing meaning it can never be built over. So no matter how much of the city falls to modern developers, you know the parks will always be there for your children and grandchildren to enjoy with great Heathrow hotel offers.
- Regent’s Park was designed and developed into its current state by John Nash. Since he was commissioned by King George, he wanted to include a palace for the King as well as some beautiful terraces and villas for the king’s friends to live in. Other Royal Parks have palaces too, such as Kensington Palace in Kensington Gardens. The palace in Regent’s Park never eventuated, but twelve terraces were built and they now represent some of the most exclusive housing in the whole of London. You can find them on Park Square and Park Crescent.
- The lake in Regent’s Park is now off limits unless you’re a duck or piloting a paddle-boat, but once upon a time it became a skating rink every winter. But in 1867, the ice cracked and 200 people fell into the deep, icy water. 40 people drowned, so the city decided to drain the lake to a depth of just four feet so it would never happen again.
- At the western end of the park is a surprising building: a large mosque. It was built during World War II to honour the Muslim population of Britain, who were invaluable during the war. The mosque can hold 1,400 worshippers and it is part of a complex that includes a library holding over 20,000 books. London has a healthy Muslim population and up to 50,000 people flock to the Regent’s Park mosque during Eid for prayer and celebrations.
- One of the best places in London to watch fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night or New Year’s Eve is Primrose Hill, to the north of Regent’s Park, rising 256 feet into the air. It’s a steep climb but the summit offers unparalleled views over London – not to mention the toney surrounding neighbourhood.
- Along the northern side of the park, through the outer circle runs Regent’s Canal. It connects the London Docks to the Grand Union Canal and it was built in 1816.
- If sports are your forte, you’ll find plenty here: 100 acres of the park are set aside for sports, including Australian Rules Football, soccer, cricket and Ultimate Frisbee. In fact, Regent’s Park was supposed to be the venue for the baseball and softball games during the 2012 London Olympics – but they were dropped from the schedule.
You can even go to university in Regent’s Park. The campus of Regent’s University London is located to the south-east of the park near Queen Mary’s Gardens; it used to belong to the University of London. It’s a private, non-profit college where students of over 140 different nationalities currently study.