London's Best-Kept Secret: Richmond Park
To folks in London and the rest of England, Richmond Park is well-known as one of London's Royal Parks--in fact, it's the largest. Situated on the west side of London in the gorgeous neighborhood of Richmond upon Thames, the walls of the park were built in 1634 by Charles I, but the area had royal ties years prior. To tourists and visitors to England, however, the park is virtually unknown and an amazing gem to go discover.
The hustle and bustle of one of the biggest and most diverse cities in Europe circulates around London's iconic monuments, unique neighborhoods and villages, and long-standing royalty. Everyone flocks to London to see Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Abbey Road, the incredible museums, and the history that covers every inch of the city. With so much to see, it's no wonder that Richmond Park is an oversight for the majority of visitors.
But you should go! I love London and especially walking around the city at night after the streets quiet down, but Richmond Park just takes me home. Kansas boasts some massive white-tailed deer, but the closest I've been is almost hitting them (accidentally!) while driving. Richmond Park is home to over 600 fallow deer and stag deer, and they are treated like royalty, monitored carefully, and protected. Herds roam freely over the expansive area where people and dogs alike are free to enjoy the park.
What To Do/See: In addition to the wide-open fields and walking paths, you'll find sports fields, snack shacks, a golf course, and horse riding. There are several properties on location too that have tons of history. Pembroke Lodge sits behind one of the main parking lots/information areas, and hosts weddings and events. You'll find a cafe and King Henry's Mound here also, which is a beautiful viewpoint. You can also check out Isabella Plantation, which is fenced off from deer and offers pretty gardens, ponds, and foliage. Heck, you can even get married there!
It still shocks me that people walk around Richmond Park acting like there aren't hundreds of deer 100 yards away from them (I'm assuming their the locals, haha) while they fly their kites, play fetch with their dog, ride their bikes, jog, or play with their families. But with so much room to move, who wouldn't soak up all of it?
How to get there: I recommend driving, although the North Circular has some tricky roundabouts and is hellacious during the commuter rush. However, you'll be happy you'll have your car to drive around the huge park, and you'll be able to bring picnics, bikes, kites, footballs, dogs, and strollers. Bonus! It's entry and parking are both free! If you don't want to deal with the traffic, you can take the train or the underground to the Richmond stop, and then you can walk the three miles if you're feeling froggy, or you grab an Uber. Most of the time I choose to drive so I have the freedom to get around, but I have taken a train and uber to the park for a wedding I photographed.
If you're worried about safety around the deer, you don't have anything to worry about but you should use common sense! And although there have been centuries of co-habitation within the park, this isn't a petting zoo so keep dogs nearby and away from deer and keep an eye on the kiddos. In recent years people have been getting too close, so please respect these beautiful giants, respect their power and stay out of their bubble, especially during their autumn rut and the springtime when there are new fawns and protective mommas. The park is absolutely massive though, so you have to actually try to get too close to them. It's possible to accidentally get too close though; On our last visit, I had sat down to take photos when a few walked within feet of us--we were aware of each others' presence, but they kept moving and I sat calmly and let them get on their way.
Richmond Park is hands-down one of the most beautiful experiences in London, and it is a perfect location for a fun, free family day. It gets you closer to nature without the long, multi-day trips to Scotland or hikes through Wales. You'll leave feeling amazed by the presence of such majestic animals in such an unexpected place, and for a few hours you'll forget you're minutes from millions of people.
Post Code to the park: TW10 5HS