(Above: Dog walkers in Morden Hall Park in London. Photo by National Trust)
It may be among the most densely populated cities in the world, but London remains dotted with plenty of green spaces and woodland trails where dogs are welcome to run free, play ball and sniff their way around. Off lead exercise is so important for the wellbeing of dogs - not just for enrichment reasons, but because our walking speed is not their natural pace.
From historical parks surrounding grand palaces from a bygone era to those with hilly perches where owners can admire the views of the capital over a game of fetch with their four-legged friend, here are Blue Cross’s top 15 dog-friendly parks and walks in London.
Alexandra Palace and Park
Surrounding the magnificent Victorian palace affectionately known as ‘Ally Pally’, this 80 hectare (196 acre) parkland provides dog walkers with a mixture of woodland and open grassland, with ornamental gardens and a boating lake to admire on their way around. It’s also got a fascinating history – including spells as a refugee camp during both world wars – and the panoramic views over the London skyline from the top of the hill are hard to beat.
Nearest station: Alexandra Palace (National Rail).
(Below: A view of Alexandra Palace and Park from the sky.)
This Thames-side gem spans 90 hectares (200 acres) with lakes, woodland areas, designated nature spots and open space. The park, which opened in 1858 on reclaimed Thames marshland, has a colourful history - including that of The Brown Dog affair. A statue of the same name was placed in the park in memory of dogs used in research experiments at the turn of the last century and was the subject of huge political controversy. The terrier figurine sits on a plinth in the park's woodland, beside the Old English Garden.
For those that like a walk on the wild side, then this is as close to Jurassic Park as you’ll get. The main draw of Crystal Palace Park comes in prehistoric form, with dinosaur statues lurking in the trees around the lake. Sculpture and fossil expert Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and founder of the Natural History Museum, Richard Owen, erected the model creatures when the park first opened in 1854 – there’s even an audio guide downloadable on a smartphone to guide you through their story. The park was originally created to house the Crystal Palace relocated from Hyde Park and, although this was destroyed by fire in 1936, there’s plenty to do at this park – including a maze, for some problem-solving fun with your dog.
Nearest station? Crystal Palace Station or Penge West Station (London Overground)
This compact park in Stoke Newington, Hackney, offers a glimpse into the rural past of what is now one of London’s most densely populated boroughs. Clissold Park started life as a country estate known as Stoke Newington Park, with historic Clissold House – then called Paradise House – at its heart. It opened to the public as a community park in 1889 and only remained so thanks to a hard fought campaign, as development sprawled out of the City and swallowed up Hackney, signalling the start of its urbanisation. Since 2010, £9million has been pumped into Clissold Park to restore the land, lakes and the mansion back to its former glory. There are a few dog-free zones here, such as the children’s play area and the animal enclosures, but our four-legged friends are otherwise free to enjoy this cherished park.
These beautifully restored 18th century gardens were the inspiration for some of the world’s greatest outdoor spaces, including New York’s Central Park. Sweeping green spaces, fragrant gardens, waterfalls, lakes and woodland areas make up this 26 hectare (65 acre) park, with a grand neo-Palladian mansion at its heart. There are some no-go areas for dogs, such as the walled gardens, but there’s plenty of spaces for them to explore both on and off the lead, including a dedicated stretch of lake for pooches to paddle and swim in.
Nearest train station? Chiswick or Turnham Green District Line).
This is London’s largest open space, with 2,400 hectares (5,930 acres) of ancient woodland stretching from Manor Park to just north of Epping. It’s home to 50,000 ancient pollard trees and 100 lakes and ponds, and has four visitor centres offering suggested walking routes. There’s plenty of history to explore here, too. Originally hunting land, the Hunting Lodge commissioned by King Henry VIII in 1542 still stands on the site. Legend has it that Queen Elizabeth I once rode her white horse up the staircase to celebrate the victory over the Spanish Armada.
Nearest train station? Theydon Bois (Central Line) or Chingford (National Rail).
With a mix of open space, formal gardens, a lake and leafy tree avenues, Finsbury Park was one of the first great London parks laid out in the Victorian era and remains popular today. One of its many draws is the Parkland Walk – a leafy disused 4.5 mile railway line which has been transformed into a footpath and nature reserve linking Finsbury Park to Highgate Woods, taking in Crouch Hill Park along the way. There’s also a spur off to Alexandra Palace, where the original railway line once ended.
Nearest train station? Manor House (Piccadilly Line).
Home to the Royal Observatory and the famous Meridian Line, which divides the earth’s eastern and western hemispheres, this sprawling park is packed full of history dating back to Roman times. On a slope leading down to the River Thames, the 73 hectare (180 acre) World Heritage Site, which also comprises the nearby National Maritime Museum and Old Naval College, is made up of iconic sites as well as vast green spaces and floral gardens. It also boasts dramatic views across the river to St Paul’s Cathedral and the skyline beyond. There is a small herd of fallow and red deer but, unlike some of the other Royal Parks, the animals are kept in a separated enclosed area which limits any potential dangers to both the deers and dogs. Dogs should, however, still be kept away from the fencing, particularly during the breeding and birthing seasons when the wildlife can become protective.
(Below: View from the top of Greenwich Park, looking out over the National Maritime Museum and London's skyline beyond.)
As far as views of London go, they don’t get much better than when perched atop Parliament Hill, the summit of hilly Hampstead Heath. Sometimes known as ‘kite hill’ due to its popularity among kite flyers, the mound is nearly 100 metres high. Spanning a huge 320 hectares (790 acres), this wildlife-rich parkland is among the biggest in London and features woodlands, vast heaths and swimming ponds, including one dedicated to dogs that enjoy a dip in the water. As you’d expect from an ancient heathland, there’s plenty of history, too – there are at least 55 historical features, monuments and archaeological sites to explore.
Nearest train station? Golders Green, Hampstead or Kentish Town (Northern Line) and Hampstead Heath or Gospel Oak (London Overground).
A short walk from Hampstead Heath will bring you to this 28 hectare (70 acre) ancient woodland. It’s a haven for wildlife and accessible scenic walks and, come spring, you'll find a beautiful carpet of bluebells there. Evidence of its history dates back to prehistoric times. There’s good facilities here, including a cafe, on the edges of the woodland’s central field.
It’s London’s most famous – and perhaps busiest – park, but dogs are welcomed here with open paws. Hyde Park is one of the Royal Parks and forms a huge rectangular green lung in the middle of central London. It’s home to numerous famous landmarks which draw in millions of tourists each year, including the Serpentine Lake, Speakers’ Corner and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. It’s got a colourful history – Henry VIII acquired the park from the monks of Westminster Abbey in 1536, and he could often be seen hunting deer there. It wasn’t until Charles I took to the throne that the park was opened to the public, in 1637. It has remained at the heart of London life since and has been home to many national celebrations.
Nearest train station? Queensway, Lancaster Gate, Marble Arch (Central Line) and Knightsbridge, Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly Line)
Is there a car park? Yes, but very limited spaces.
This enormous 4,000 hectare (10,000 acre), 46 mile long linear park along the leafy banks of the River Lee runs from the East India Dock Basin on the River Thames in east London and up through Essex and Hertfordshire to Ware. The park’s towpath through London takes in Walthamstow Marsh Nature Reserve, one of the few remaining pieces of the capital’s once widespread river valley grasslands. There’s also Coppermill Fields, Leyton Marsh and Tottenham Marshes, as well as plenty of reservoirs, as the park makes its way out of London. Once the park hits Waltham Cross, it opens up to the vast expanse of open spaces and lakes of the River Lee Country Park, which even has a free 500 metre dog agility course located just north of Cheshunt Railway station.
Nearest train station? There are many, depending on which part of the park you're heading for.
This National Trust site in south London boasts 50 hectares (120 acres) of parkland for you and your dog to explore. Once a country estate, there are many interesting sites to spot on your way around, including a restored waterwheel and Morden Hall itself, which sits in its own private garden. There’s also a rose garden to wander around and trails to explore beside the River Wandle which meanders through the park.
As the biggest enclosed space in London, there’s no shortage of spots for your dog to explore here in this National Nature Reserve. As well as extensive green spaces, woodlands and ponds, Richmond Park is also home to the Isabella Plantation – a 16 hectare (40 acre) woodland garden set within a Victorian plantation dating back to the 1830s, best known for its evergreen azaleas. Dogs will need to be on a lead in this stunning spot, so it’s best visited after they’ve had a good run about. This is London’s largest Site of Special Scientific Interest, so dog owners will need to be aware of the precious wildlife here. There are some restrictions in certain areas, and owners are advised to avoid the park during the deer rutting (September to October) and birthing (May to July) seasons to help prevent any potential problems.
Nearest station? Richmond (National Rail and District Line)
At the end of the Piccadilly Line on the outskirts of London you’ll find this beautiful park, with meadows, brooks, lakes and ancient woodland – including the remnants of Enfield Chase, a former royal hunting ground for monarchs such as Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and James I. In 1977 George III gave the site to his favourite doctor for saving his younger brother’s life in the Italian Alps at Trento, which is how the park got its name. It opened to the public in 1773.
Nearest station? Cockfosters or Oakwood (Piccadilly Line).