East London › Victoria Park

Victoria Park, also known as the People’s Park, is a 218-acre public park in Bow, East London.

The park is the largest and most popular green space in East London, attracting around 12 million visitors a year. It is famous for hosting Lovebox and other popular festivals and events. 

Other popular attractions include the park's boating lake, children's playgrounds, sports facilities for football, cricket, tennis and lawn bowls, and cafes.  The park is bordered by the up-market Victoria Park Village, offering high-quality pubs and restaurants and boutique shopping.

The Park is adjacent to London Fields and the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park, and is bordered by the Regent's and Hertford Union Canals.  It is found a 10-15 minute walk from Mile End and Bethnal Green tube stations.

1. Victoria Park's history

Victoria Park was conceived following a petition presented to Queen Victoria A picture of Janes Pennethorne, the architect of Victoria Park The 1978 Rock Against Racism March from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Park (© Sarah Wyld, CC-BY-ASA-3.0).

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.

Design

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).

Victoria Park and politics

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, which demonstrated against racial inequality and the rise of the National Front.

2. The West Park

Victoria Park from the air (© EG Focus, CC-BY-ASA-2.0). The new Japanese Pagoda in Victoria Park The Victoria and Alexandra Playground

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.

The Chinese Pagoda

Built on one of the lake’s islands, the Chinese Pagoda is accessed by the intricately decorated iron Pennethorne Bridge, and was funded by a £200,000 National Lottery grant.

The park's first Pagoda was erected at the park 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.

Gardens, playgrounds and walks

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

Finally, 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.

 

2. The East Park

The larger, eastern area is home to a number of sports pitches, tennis courts, cricket nets, and a lawn bowling club. 

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 to keep the little ones amused.

Adjacent to the playground is found the Victoria Park Splash Pool (open from late May to early September). 

Angling Lake

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.

Bandstand

A bandstand, home to a series of Sunday afternoon performances by local bands each year, is found near to the Grove Road entrance

Drinking Fountain

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).

Constructed of pink marble and granite, the 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!

4. Activities

Sunday football in Victoria Park Pedalos on the Boating Lake The Pavillion Cafe serves great organic breakfasts and lunches. The Park Cafe Victoria Park's boating lake. Water birds of Victoria Park

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 almost 5 kilometres, which can be run on grass or tarmac).  For those who take the sport seriously, why not attend a meeting of the Victoria Park Harriers & Tower Hamlets Athletics Club, who meet every Tuesday and Thursday at 7pm. 

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 Park Cafe towards its centre (part of The Hub administration complex), which serves light meals.  We particularly recommend its Mango Lassis, Seven Spice Masala Tea, and Indian Breakfasts. The Park Cafe is open from 9am to 3.30pm, Tuesdays to Sundays.

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.  Prices are on the high side. But you are probably 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 and the People's Park Tavern (which has its own microbrewery on-site).   

Wildlife

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. But there are lost of grey squirrels and the occasional fox to keep you entertained. Victoria Park is also a popular place for dog walking.

Memoryscape

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. 

5. Lovebox and other festivals and events

Jamiroquai at Lovebox 2006 (© Fabio Venni, distributed under a Creative Commons ASA 2.0 licence).

The annual Lovebox Music Festival is held in Victoria Park each July.

This two-day music festival takes over 40 acres of the park and has a maximum capacity of 50,000 people.  As well as the music, played on seven different stages, there are fairground rides, bars, face-fainting and other festival fun.  

In past years, headline acts have included Groove Armada, Jamiroquai, Blondie, the Super Furry Animals, the Human League, Duran Duran, Snoop Dog, Scissor Sister, Jessie J, Grace Jones and Plan B.  The 2016 lineup included Major Lazer and LCD Soundsystem.

Lovebox 2017 will be held on 14-15 July. It is being headlined by Frank Ocean, Jamie XX and Chase and Status.

Other festivals

The new Citadel festival arrived in Victoria Park in 2016, headlined by Icelandic post-rock outfit Sigur Rós, and including quirky events like a school sports day. In 2017, it will be held on 16 July, with performances by Foals and Bonobo.

Victoria Park hosts a number of other festivals and other events each year.  The Field Day festival is probably the most famous, headlined by James Blake and PJ Harvey in 2016. In 2017, Field Day was held on 3-4 June. Its line-up includes Run the Jewels, Slowdive and Flying Lotus.

The Winterville Christmas festival, complete with fairground rides, ice-skating, roller-disco and pantomime, is expected to return in December 2017. 

Events

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).

Sunday Market

Victoria Park now hosts a Farmer's market each Sunday between 10am and 3pm.  With 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.  Live jazz music creates a relaxed vibe.  

6. Visitor Information

Victoria Park's Boating Lake

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. The closest underground stations to the Park are Bethnal Green and Mile End (both on the Central line).

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. 

Awards

The Park has a horticultural pedigree, winning the People’s Choice Park award in 2012 and consistently being awarded 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.

7. 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. 

Restaurants

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),
  • Buon Appetito (an authentic Italian/Sardinian joint on Lauristan Road with Italian staff, warm service and delicious food served in big portions),
  • 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).

Other shops

Up-market shops in Victoria Park Village include

  • Chase & Sorenson (Scandinavian furniture),
  • the Deli Downstairs (great coffee, cheeses, wine and baked goods, amongst other things—such as their Minted Lamb Pasty with Rose and Harissa Jelly),
  • the recently opened 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).