London: Hyde Park
For many travelers, maneuvering around the busy city of London can be a trying experience. Even locals who are part of the daily hustle and bustle look forward to a welcome respite from it all. Enter Hyde Park, one of the city's most spacious and busy royal parks.
Photo by Karen Bryan from Flickr
Combined with the adjacent Kensington Gardens, a total of approximately 625 acres of park land make up the area, playing host to thousands of picnickers, walkers, and tourists on any given day.
Hyde Park was originally a manor and private hunting ground acquired by King Henry VIII in 1536. Nearly a century later, King Charles I opened the grounds to the public. From then on additional landscaping work and planting occurred, with the most ambitious change occurring in the early 1730s in the form of an artificial lake - the Serpentine. One of the most recent introductions to Hyde Park is the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, added in 2004. While Diana fans may find it of interest, it may not be all that, at least according to travel writer Sean McLachlan. He reported in late 2007 that it was often clogged or drained.
Of much greater interest - and greater history - is the Speakers' Corner located in the northeast part of the park near Marble Arch. (I find it very strange that as of this writing the Royal Parks' official website conspicuously omits Speakers' Corner and Marble Arch from the official map. Here's a map that includes it.) Worker protests that assembled in Hyde Park are said to have occurred at this corner of the park in the mid- to late-1800s. Political and social figures like Karl Marx and George Orwell also used the corner as a platform for their messages. Today that strong tradition continues with a wide variety of both secular and non-secular platforms being represented by speakers.
Aside from this, there are plenty of areas for people to have picnics, read books, and get away from the often loud traffic of the busy shopping district. Additionally there are several restaurants along the Serpentine for hungry folks to enjoy. If you're still craving greenery and relaxation after touring Hyde Park, cross over the Serpentine Bridge and enter the Kensington Gardens. There you'll find walking paths, a playground, and Circle Pond.
For those who are looking for accommodations near Hyde Park for Prince William and Kate Middleton's royal wedding on April 29, one luxurious option is the Lancaster London. Overlooking Hyde Park, this hotel is rated highly by guests for its service, décor, and proximity to the underground. But book early - hotel rooms are sure to fill up fast!
• AOL Editors' best things to do in London
• The Royal Parks of London
• A brief history of free speech in Hyde Park