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Regent's Park Review
Cultivated and formal, compared with the relative wildness of Hampstead Heath, Regent's Park was laid out in 1812 by John Nash in honor of the Prince Regent, who was later crowned George IV. The idea was to re-create the feel of a grand country residence close to the center of town. Most of Nash's plans were carried out successfully, although the focus of it all—a palace for the prince—was never built. Now the park is a favorite destination for sporty types and dog owners. Not for nothing did Dodie Smith set her novel A Hundred and One Dalmatians in an Outer Circle house. (Nearby, along East Heath Road, is the Gothic manse that inspired Cruella DeVil's Hell Hall.)
The most famous and impressive of Nash's white-stuco terraces facing the park, Cumberland Terrace has a central block of Ionic columns surmounted by a triangular Wedgwood-blue pediment that looks like a giant cameo. The noted architectural historian Sir John Summerson described it as "easily the most breathtaking architectural panorama in London."
The Broad Walk is a good vantage point from which to glimpse the minaret and the golden dome of the London Central Mosque on the far west side of the park. As in all London parks, planting here is planned with the aim of having something in bloom in all seasons, but if you hit the park in summer, head first to the Inner Circle. Your nostrils should lead you to Queen Mary's Gardens, a fragrant 17-acre circle that riots with 400 different varieties of roses in summer.
Soccer, rugby, tennis, field hockey, and softball are played on the park's many sports grounds. Head up to the area around the Hub (0300/061-2323)—a state-of-the-art sports pavilion—to watch some action. You'll have to book in advance if you want to join in, but you're just as likely to find an informal soccer match in progress anywhere in the park, especially on a warm Sunday afternoon. At the Garden Café (Inner Circle, Regent's Park; 020/7935-5729), enjoy breakfast, lunch, or supper on a patio next to the rose gardens, or take away some smoked-salmon bagels and champagne (or cappuccinos) for an elegant picnic. Stop by the idyllic-looking Cow and Coffee Bean (The Boardwalk; 020/7224-3872) for a coffee or some delicious, organic Cornish ice cream. Check the Regent's Park Open-Air Theatre schedule—they have been mounting summer Shakespeare productions here since 1932 (0844/826-4242; www.openairtheatre.org). Don't leave without exploring London Zoo—it's at the very edge of the park on the northeastern side.
Regent's Park Boating Lake. You can spend a vigorous afternoon rowing about Regent's Park Boating Lake, where rowboats hold up to five adults and cost £7.50 per hour per person. On weekends and school holidays, children under 12 can take take to the waters on a smaller lake, where paddleboat rentals are £3 per 20 minutes per child. Times vary with seasons and weather. 020/7724-4069.
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