St James’ Park is one of London’s smaller public parks but it’s surrounded by Buckingham Palace and Whitehall and its flower beds are a prominent feature during the Trooping of the Colour.
- Look for the cheeky pelicans who live in the park and can be seen either basking on rocks or diving for fish in the lake
- Cross the Blue Bridge and take in the stunning views across the park’s lake, taking in Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the London Eye
- Head to Horse Guards Parade and check out the monuments to Earl Roberts, Lord Kitchener and Lord Mountbatten
What to see and do
Visit Duck Island on the lake
Duck Island is the nature reserve that’s home to the park’s bird collection. The island is at the east end of St James’ Park Lake and acts as both breeding ground and sanctuary for various species of wildfowl and other birds, including sandpipers, lapwings, black swans and tufted ducks.
Take the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk
This seven-mile walk will take you through St James’ Park and three more of London’s eight royal parks – Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. You’ll also see some buildings that were important in the life of the princess – Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, St James’s Palace and Spencer House which was the London house of the Spencer family.
Watch out for the aluminium rose plaques, which will guide you along the way.
See as many memorials, statues and fountains as you can
St James’ Park features many statues, memorials and fountains, including the Queen Mother Memorial, the Tiffany Fountain (in the middle of the lake), the Captain Cook statue and the National Police Memorial. See how many you can find and take photos of during your visit.
Watch out for the wildlife
In a good way, of course! St James’ Park isn’t just home to pelicans and swans, it boasts lots of grey squirrels, as well as foxes and wood mice. If you hang around the park as dusk falls, you’ll see the park’s population of common pipistrelle bats come out to play for the night, during which they can eat up to 3,000 small insects each.
Quench your thirst at the St James’ Café
This café, right in the heart of the park, offers amazing views of the lake from its roof terrace or through its floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows. You can find British classics like scrambled eggs on toast, great coffee, a refreshing salad or a glass of wine.
Did you know? (4 Interesting Facts)
- In 1999, one of the park’s pelicans appalled a group of American tourists by eating a moorhen in front of them. It was quite a struggle for the larger bird to swallow the moorhen, but, undaunted by the protests of horrified onlookers, it managed to ingest its poor prey.
- On the morning of his execution (for treason) on January 30 1649, King Charles I took a stroll around the park. His penultimate walk ended at the Banqueting Hall on Whitehall, before he returned there several hours later to meet his fate.
- King Henry VIII was a huge hunting fan, regularly chasing down deer in Regent’s Park. He didn’t think St James’ Park was large enough for a hunt, so he used the space to breed and raise deer, before moving them to his larger parks for his sport.
- The park isn’t named after a king, but after a 13th-century leper hospital which was once on the grounds where St James’ Palace is now. The hospital was named after James the Less, a minor biblical character, and the female lepers living there used to raise pigs and other animals on what are now the grounds.
- Pre-1300s: The land St James’ Park now lies on was a deserted wasteland that was turned into a swamp when the River Tyburn flooded its banks. The woods around the swamp were used to graze pigs, a practice that the inmates of the leper hospital carried on once it was founded.
- 1532: King Henry VIII bought the land as he was looking for more space for his deer hunts. He built a hunting lodge there, which became St James’ Palace. His daughter Elizabeth I was fond of the park and held lots of events and pageants there.
- 1603: King James I ascended to the throne and improved the water drainage in the park and then brought in a collection of exotic animals, including camels, elephants and crocodiles. He also opened the park to the public.
- 1660: King Charles II brought in the French landscaper Andre Mollet to redesign the park. Mollet added avenues of trees, a straight canal and a lawn.
- 1664: The first pelicans arrived, courtesy of the Russian ambassador. This gift started off a tradition that continues today, with various foreign embassies giving pelicans to the park.
- 1820s: George IV, then the Prince Regent, made some more sweeping changes to the park by creating a more naturalistic and romantic look. Landscaper John Nash realised George’s vision within a single year to bring in more fashionable shrubberies, replace the canal with a lake and add winding footpaths.
- 1857: A suspension bridge was installed across the lake, which was replaced in 1957 with a concrete bridge.
Facilities and accessibility
St James’ Park is open from 5.00 am to midnight all year round, although the park office is open weekdays from 8.00 am to 4.00 pm.
There are toilets at Marlborough Gate & Horse Guards Road and St James’s Park Playground and Victoria Gardens Playground. The opening times vary, but are roughly in line with daylight hours throughout the year.
You can hire deckchairs on sunny days between March and October.
The park is easily accessible for wheelchair users, with its clearly-defined paths and level tarmac surfaces. Do be aware that there are no parking spaces at St James’ Park.