1. The West Park
The Park, designed by James Pennethorne in 1841, occupies a 78 hectare (218 acre) dog-legged area of land and is divided into two by Grove Road: the West and East Parks.
Victoria Park Lake
The smaller western area is dominated by Victoria Park lake (pictured), a shallow lake loved by ducks, geese and swans, with an impressive fountain and three islands.
The lake is now home to two Erno Bartha sculptures, works entitled 'Bird' and 'Skyscraper'. They were commissioned by the Romanian Cultural Institute with the support of the Tower Hamlets Council.
Flanked by the excellent Pavilion Cafe, pedalos are available for hire in the summer months (£12 per half hour).
The Chinese Pagoda
Built on one of the lake’s islands, the Chinese Pagoda is accessed by the intricately decorated iron Pennethorne Bridge. Its recent renovation was funded by a £200,000 National Lottery grant.
The park's first Pagoda was erected in 1847, having been moved here from the Chinese Exhibition at Hyde Park Corner. The structure was initially cut off from the main park—prompting rumours amongst local children that it was home to a Chinese family who would sneak out at night to feed the ducks and swans.
The Pavilion Cafe
The Pavilion Cafe is found next to the boating lake. Offering great coffees, pastries, freshly baked bread, ice-creams, breakfasts and brunches, this place is very popular. We particularly like the Sri Lankan breakfast, the wild mushroom and poached egg breakfast, and the saffron buns.
This place is not cheap (the mushroom breakfast is £8.50), but the food is as impressive as the location. Note: the Pavilion Cafe has gone cashless.
Gardens, playgrounds and more ...
Other attractions of the western area include the tranquil Rose and Floral Sunken Gardens, statues of the Dogs of Alcibiades, and the Victoria and Alexandra Playground (offering a variety of swings, playhouses and sand pit, suitable for children up to 12).
The West Park has a 1.4 mile, 40-50 minute walk called Trees of the World. The trail, created by the charity Trees for Cities, takes in 14 grand specimens, including the London Plane, Black Walnut, Indian Bean, Sweet Chestnut and Common Lime. Information is displayed on a board close to the Pavilion Cafe. MAP
Finally, there is a popular yoga group that meets each Sunday next to the Pavilion Cafe. Led by Angelika Grohmann, who has over 30 years of yoga teaching experience, these classes look inclusive, fun and relaxing.
2. The East Park
The larger eastern area is home to a number of sports facilities, a fantastic playground, an angling lake and much more ...
Adventure playground and Splash Pool
At the centre of the east park is large adventure playground for children. It has everything: three long slides to keep older children amused; large climbing frames joined by a rope bridge; a number of swings and smaller slides; and a large sandpit filled with mechanical diggers and other contraptions.
Adjacent to the playground is found the Victoria Park Splash Pool (open from late May to early September) and the Hub Cafe.
The Old English Garden was originally laid out in Victoria Park in 1916, but had become unloved. In 2012, a National Lottery grant allowed it to be re-planted.
It contains an interior parterre (with water features, benches and self-sustaining and sun-loving plants), an outer border planting (using the original 1930s arts and crafts design) and a specimen tree and hedge planting.
Specimens include Lady's mantle, Columbine, Deer Fern, Yellow Day Lily and Woodland Sage.
A small lake used by anglers is located behind the adventure playground, complete with fishing platforms and stocked with bream, common carp, eels, perch, pike and roaches.
A bandstand, home to a series of Sunday afternoon performances by local bands each year, is found near to the Grove Road entrance.
Performances in 2019 run from 6 June to 1 September, starting at 2pm. Don't miss the City of London Brass Band, who are performing on 11 August.
The elaborate Victoria Drinking Fountain, designed by Henry Astley Darbishire for philanthropist Angela Burdett Coutts, is found towards the centre of the east park. This fountain cost £6,000 to build in 1862 (about £500,000 in today's money).
Interesting fact ...
Constructed of pink marble and granite, the Burdett Coutts Fountain served a very practical purpose: to dispense clean drinking water to London's poor (who often drank from the nearby lakes). Today it is surrounded by benches and is a popular spot for wedding photographs!
There's lots to do in Victoria Park: running, playing other sports, eating and drinking, watching wildlife, and learning about the East End's history.
Running and other sports
The circumference of Victoria Park is about 4 kilometres, which can be run on grass or tarmac. For those looking to extend their run, the Well Street Common (to the north of the west park) adds about another kilometre.
For those who take their running seriously, why not attend a meeting of the Victoria Park Harriers & Tower Hamlets Athletics Club, held every Tuesday and Thursday at 7pm. This club dates back to 1926 and has had five Olympians amongst its members.
The park's other sporting attractions include cricket nets, tennis courts, a bowling club, and grass football and cricket pitches.
Other attractions include the various playgrounds for children and hiring a rowing boat or pedalo in summer to make your way around the western park’s boating lake.
Eating and drinking
There are a number of decent food options.
The East Park has The Hub Cafe towards its centre, which serves great baked goods, coffees and light meals. It has recently re-opened, under the management of two local mums, with an emphasis on making a friendly and welcoming communict space. Open 9 am to 5pm, seven days a week.
The Pavillion Café offers fantastic organic food, and is particularly known for its breakfasts. There are eggs cooked anyway you like—including eggs Benedict and Florentine. As well as the more usual fare, they offer a superb Sri Lankan breakfast. It isn't cheap. But you are paying for the excellent location, beside Victoria Park's boating lake.
For something a little stronger, try one of the many pubs that border the Park, such as The Crown, the Hemingway (a few minutes away from the park, named after the "scholar, philanderer and seasoned drinker" Ernest Hemingway), the Royal Inn on the Park (which does great Sunday lunches) and the People's Park Tavern (which has its own microbrewery on-site).
Victoria Park's wildlife includes mute swans, grey herons, cormorants, mallards, gadwalls, shovelers, Canada, Greylag and Egyptian geese, mandarin ducks, little grebes, kingfishers, coots, moorhens, black-headed gulls, red-crested pochards and tufted ducks.
Sadly, Victoria Park's deer enclosure was closed in 2013.
Visitors are encouraged to try the Park’s Memoryscape Trail, a podcast which can be downloaded from the Tower Hamlets website. It includes interesting information about the park from local residents, for instance how it was used as a Second World War prisoner of war camp.
4. Festivals and Events
Victoria Park hosts a number of festivals and events each year.
2018 saw a number of changes to Victoria Park's festival line-up: Lovebox and the Citadel festival relocated to north London's Gunnersbury Park, being replaced by the All Points East Festival.
The first two years saw headliners including LCD Soundsystem, The XX, Bjork, The Chemical Brothers, The Strokes and James Blake. Sadly, Covid-19 saw the event cancelled in 2020.
The reviews have been good too. The Independent, for instance, said as follows of the inaugural festival:
The inaugural All Points East then has proven to be a welcomed triumph, putting other “bigger” festivals to shame with the integrity of its lineup, while giving London a festival which mirrors the diversity of the city itself.
This year's All Points East Festival will be held between Friday 27 and Monday 30 August 2021. Headline acts are London Grammar & Jorja Smith (Friday 27th), Jamie XX & Kano (Saturday 28th), Field Day (Sunday 29th) and Foals & Bombay Bicycle Club (Monday 30th).
Each year Victoria Park holds a number of other events, including a 10 kilometre run each August for the British Heart Foundation and the Victoria Park Race (held each November, comprising 5 kilometre, 10 kilometre and half-marathon categories).
Victoria Park hosts an extremely professional fireworks display each year. The show lasts for about 25 minutes, and is accompanied by the latest tunes. The tab is picked up by Tower Hamlets' Arts, Parks and Events Team (which means that the mayor usually gives a short speech before the start). 2018 saw a Frankenstein theme. Dates for 2021 TBA.
Victoria Park now hosts a Farmer's market each Sunday between 10am and 3pm. With up to 50 stalls offering fare such as seasonal fruit and vegetables, locally baked bread and freshly caught fish, the market has proved popular since it opened in June 2017. Good coffee and ice cream are also in plentiful supply. And live jazz music creates a relaxed vibe.
The Farmer's market takes place on a pedestrianised street in the east park, running from Bonner Gate to Gore Gate.
5. Victoria Park Village
Just to the North of Victoria Park, either side of Lauriston Road, is found what has become known as Victoria Park Village.
One of East London’s most prosperous areas, the leafy Victoria Park Village is built of gorgeous and well-maintained Georgian and Victorian terraces.
It is also home to the impressive St John of Jerusalem Church (and its 40 metre spire) and the tranquil Well Street Common.
It offers independent cafes and restaurants such as:
- The Empress (which serves award winning food and has a number of interesting options like £10 supper on Monday evenings and BYO on Tuesdays),
- Fish House (a great high-end takeaway serving fish and chips and a casual fish restaurant) and
- Amandine Café (a relaxed place serving great homemade cakes with a lovely little garden).
Village Cream, an ice-cream, waffle, crepes and coffee shop just by the park.
Up-market shops in Victoria Park Village include
- Chase & Sorenson (Scandinavian furniture),
- London City Runner, a running shoe and equipment specialist--they will sort you out with everything you need for jogging in Victoria Park.
- the Deli Downstairs (great coffee, cheeses, wine and baked goods, amongst other things—such as their Minted Lamb Pasty with Rose and Harissa Jelly),
- Gail's Bakery, offering top-notch baked goods and a quiet garden to its rear,
- the Jonathan Norris Fishmonger (specialising in West Country fish and shellfish),
- the Ginger Pig (high-class organic meat),
- the delightful Toybox toy shop, independently run and full of unusual and sustainably sourced products to keep little ones amused,
- Haus (cooking equipment) and
- Bottle Apostle (a wine merchant, which offers regular tastings and the ability to sample wines from as little as 85p from their enomatic (wine dispensing) machines). MAP
- Wonderland Ceramics, where members of the public can go to decorate ready-made pottery.
6. Visitor Information & History
Victoria Park, maintained by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, is open from dawn until dusk.
Entry is free.
The address is: Victoria Park, Grove Road, Tower Hamlets, East London E3 5SN.
There are a large number of entrances to the Park, found on Gore Road, Victoria Park Road, Cadogan Terrace, Jodrell Road, Gunmakers Lane, Old Ford Road and the Canal Towpath.
No cars or BBQs are permitted. Dogs are not allowed in children's play areas.
A limited amount of car parking (80 places) is available in a small car park between the two halves of the park just off Grove Road.
The Park has an impressive pedigree, consistently being awarded Green Flag (the benchmark national standard) and Green Heritage status (an award for historic sites administered by English Heritage).
Victoria Park won the TimeOut Love London Award in 2014, and was the runner-up in 2015.
In 2018 it did one better, and was crowned the nation's favourite park in the People's Choice Awards (which it also won in 2012).
Named after Queen Victoria, Victoria Park opened in 1845.
The Park was built to provide recreation space for the working classes who lived in the overcrowded and unsanitary East End during Victorian times.
It was designed by James Pennethorne (1801-1871) in 1841. Pennethorne was a well-known Victorian architect and planner, whose other works include Kennington Park, Battersea Park, the Public Records Office on Chancery Lane and the ballroom at Buckingham Palace.
The impetus for its creation was a petition signed by 30,000 people, delivered to Queen Victoria in 1840.
The park soon became popular, with the public particularly drawn to a Chinese Pagoda that was moved here from Hyde Park in 1847 (having been bought for the princely sum of £110).
Later, the Park became a focal point for political debate, with socialist speakers such as William Morris and concerts organised by the Rock Against Racism group drawing huge crowds.
The largest event held by Victoria Park was the 1978 Rock Against Racism concert, featuring The Clash and Buzzcocks. 100,000 people attended the event, which followed a 6-mile march from Trafalgar Square (demonstrating against racial inequality and the rise of the National Front).
Victoria Park has now fully re-opened after the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, it did not cover itself in glory during the first lockdown. Tower Hamlets Council closed the park for two weeks in March 2020, on grounds of overcrowding, pushing east Londoners to other parks and narrow canal towpaths for their hour of daily exercise.
Not to learn from their initial mistake, Victoria Park was staffed with scores of megaphone-wielding social-distancing wardens when it re-opened. East Londoners were rebuked for sitting on benches and standing still (activities which were "not exercising"), and allowing their toddlers to play football.
Thankfully these power-crazed jobsworths have returned to other duties, presumably as parking wardens, tax inspectors and nosy neighbours.