Whether you are looking for alternative things to do in London with families or just seeking some solo time in the city, here are top tips for enjoying a greener side to London.
Rail Europe's UK office is in London, and so our team has plenty of tips on how to explore the capital’s green areas. All accessible by mainline trains without having to go underground at all, explore the natural side of the city in between its gleaming cultural gems.
Best parks in London
Take a train to Richmond followed by a 20 mins walk into one of London’s most exquisite Royal Parks, and there eight in total to discover. Make sure you stop at Richmond Hill en route, the only view in England to be protected by law, and famously captured in Turner’s painting, View of the Thames from Richmond Hill. The park itself is as pretty as a painting, especially if you arrive early in the morning, when the deer and a few runners are your only company. Cycle on set trails in the park or swim at its lido. Pack a picnic from Richmond’s Duck Pond Market, open at weekends.
Hampstead Heath and swimming ponds
If you know London but haven’t explored the Heath, then pack some good walking shoes and take a train straight to Gospel Oak right on the edge of this urban idyll, Kentish Town (1.4km) or West Hampstead (2.8km). One of the highest points of London, take on its 11km circular walk with a perfect rest stop at Kenwood House. There is a concert weekend mid-June every year but, free for all, are the Heath’s three swimming ponds: mixed, men-only and women-only. These are old London institutions for locals, many of whom swim here all year round. If you don’t want to go so wild, there’s also a lido at Parliament Hill.
Explore the best cycle routes in London
One of our favourite leisure routes for cycling in London also starts at Richmond, and you can hire bikes at the Park’s Roehampton Gate. Head to the Thames Cycle Path, a London cycle route that, on this section, takes you from Richmond to Hampton Court Palace (14km), once the home of Henry VIII. Along this traffic-free route you pass Richmond Palace, Ham House, Eel Pie Island and Teddington Lock. You can also keep cycling on to Weybridge station, extending the trail to 24km. Another good place to join this section of the Thames Cycle Path is at Kingston-upon-Thames station.
Find the best street food markets in London
When it comes to finding a food market London always comes up with the goodies. As well as famous Borough Market, right beside London Bridge station, nearby Maltby Street Market is less well known and less crowded. Real Food Market at Kings Cross Square, right beside Kings Cross station and just 750m from Euston station, is hungry heaven. You could lose a whole day in Brixton Market, one of London’s coolest foodie spots and if you are coming into Liverpool Street station, you can tuck in at Old Spitalfields Market or Brick Lane Market.
Explore London walking trails
London’s streets are paved with plenty of green as well as gold. First the Thames Path, as mentioned above, which you can start at Kemble station in Gloucestershire and finish at Greenwich. Another long-distance walking trail is the Capital Ring Walk, which covers 126km of Greater London’s lesser known open spaces, nature reserves and historic sites. Clearly mapped, it is divided into 15 sections. You can access the following highlights by train, clicking on each to see their nearest station: Eltham Palace, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Beckenham Place Park.
Less well known is the Lee Valley Walk from Waltham Abbey to the River Thames at Limehouse Basin, covering 27km including Lee Valley Park, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and then on into central London. Book in for some rafting or kayaking at the Olympic White Water Centre before you head off, and stay at Lee Valley hostel if you want to get an early start.
Kew Gardens and cute gardens
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, boasting the world’s largest curated living plant collection within its elegant glass houses, as well as an arboretum, rock garden and Britain’s largest seasonal flower gardens. Dating back to 1759, it is an exquisite urban escape, accessible by train to Kew. Or, if you are feeling more adventurous, take the train to Barnes Bridge and walk or cycle along the river to the Gardens’ Elizabeth Gate.
There are a few more cute parks in London that are very near main stations and lovely hideaways if you arrive early for a train, or just want to sit and get your bearings after you arrive. Camley Street Natural Park, just 200m from Kings Cross St Pancras, is the perfect place to swap ducking and diving for ducks, reed beds and birdsong. Or Kings Cross Skip Garden, just behind the station in Lewis Cubitt Park, is a community garden that reuses skips for growing fruit and veg, with a small cafe using their own produce.
Chelsea Physic Garden is just 20 mins walk from London’s Victoria station, on the Thames. Dating back to 1673, it was created by apothecaries for medicinal plants and is still a total tonic to visit. Get another therapeutic fix at Rembrandt Gardens in Little Venice, a 900m stroll from Paddington station to this little known park on the side of the Grand Union canal.
Photo credits to to bottom: View of the Thames from Richmond, iStock ©eric laudonien, deer in Richmond Park ©GP232, Kew Gardens in early morning light ©naumoid, resting on London deckchairs iStock ©Pesky Monkey, palms Kew Gardens iStock ©oversnap
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