St James’s Park is located right in the heart of ceremonial London with Buckingham Palace on the west, while The Mall lines its northside.
For more than 400 years, it has been at the centre of the UK’s royal and ceremonial life and is the setting for some spectacular pageants like Trooping the Colour. Some of the city’s most famous landmarks, such as Clarence House and the Houses of Parliament, are a short walk away too.
St James’s Park is the oldest of the London’s eight royal parks and was named after a leper hospital dedicated to St James the Less.
But how can visitors to St James’s Park spend their time?
More than 5.5 million people visit St James’s Park every year and while some of London’s parks promise plenty of thrills (Hyde Park with its Winter Wonderland and summer concerts, and Regent’s Park with its zoo), you shouldn’t head to St James’s Park expecting the same type of excitement, because the 57-acre park keeps things very quaint and traditional.
There is a small lake – aptly named St James’s Park Lake – which is home to a wide range of bird life including 15 different species of waterfowl. The lake contains two islands: West Island and Duck Island, which gained its name due to the abundance of waterfowl. Both islands feature nesting sites.
The park is famous for being home to a resident colony of pelicans. These have been a novel and permanent feature of St James’s Park since they were donated by a Russian ambassador in 1664.
If you drop by Duck Island Cottage between 2.30pm and 3.00pm, you’ll be able to watch the pelicans being fed fresh fish. As the pelicans are well-known for their social and mischievous habits, this is a surefire bit of entertainment. It isn’t uncommon for the pelicans to climb out of the lake and sit on the benches alongside tourists.
A walking tour, centred around the pelicans, is usually held in the third week of each month. This gives visitors the chance to discover the history of iconic locations such as The Mall and Horse Guards Parade, while an expert guide divulges interesting facts about how the park is managed before ending the walk with the pelicans’ daily feed.
Birdwatchers will be enthralled by the range of waterfowl at the lake. The mallard is the most common wild duck on the lake, but in the winter, you have a better chance of spotting the tufted duck. Other British species of duck seen on the lake include shelduck, wigeon, gadwall, teal, pintail, shoveler, common pochard and goldeneye. More exotic water birds can be spotted too, such as black swans, red-crested pochard and others.
As with Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, Kensington Gardens and Green Park, visitors to St James’s Park are able to hire deck chairs on an hourly basis between March and October, weather permitting.
Every October usually sees the park form part of a royal parks half marathon. Scheduled to take place on October 11th in 2017, the 13.1-mile event starts and ends in the stunning Hyde Park, taking in Kensington Gardens, Green Park and naturally, St James’s Park along the way.
The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Walk
While Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens contain a memorial fountain and playground for the late princess respectively, St James’s Park forms part of the Diana, Princess of Wales memorial walk. This seven-mile walk is charted by 90 plaques that takes you past famous buildings and locations linked with the Princess’ life.
Within St James’s Park, the walk takes you through the centre of the park and around the lake before tracing back round the Queen Victoria Memorial and through Green Park.
Nearby St James’s Park
After you’ve finished up at St James’s Park, you’ll be well placed to check out some of London’s other notable landmarks.
As mentioned, you’re not far from Buckingham Palace, but looking east towards the River Thames is 10 Downing Street – home of the current UK Prime Minister – as well as Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster.
Getting to St James’s Park
As with any central London location, the easiest way to get here is by using the Underground rail system. The nearest Tube station is Westminster Station, which is on the Circle, District and Jubilee Lines.
If you prefer to travel above ground, you could take the 9 or N9 bus to Pall Mall/St James’s Palace or get the bus to Westminster Abbey using any of the following services: 748, 758, 761, 762, 763, 764, 765, 769, 770, 771 and 772.