Spring is finally starting to arrive in London and lockdown restrictions are starting to ease! This means that Londoners can now venture perhaps a little further from home. I’ve put together a list of my favourite green spaces, all being places of comfort over this past year. Such green spaces have been a beacon of hope in such dark times. There truly is nothing better than being out in nature, especially on a bright, sunny day. Below I’ve organised them by distance. They’re ordered from closest to London (i.e. in London) to the furthest away from London, maximum being less than two hours away. I’ve put in how long it takes to get to each place via public transport, but you can of course rent a car (I’m a big fan of Zipcar) and explore to your heart’s content.
There are eight Royal Parks across London and Greenwich is the oldest of them all. Royal Parks are lands owned by the Crown, originally used for recreation (such as hunting). Today, the park is enjoyed by both locals and Londoners from across the Thames. It is a lovely park and is also one of the largest in southeast London. As it’s a large green space, there’s plenty to explore.
However, Greenwich is most famous for its maritime history as well as the Royal Observatory, the site of the Greenwich meridian line. A day trip to Greenwich is a great weekend activity. Check out my guide to Greenwich here.
Time: 9 mins by train from London Bridge Station to Greenwich
To the north of London is a 2,400-hectare area of ancient woodland. I love Epping Forest as it feels like a world away, but is actually partially in London! This is a great forest to explore and there are several different paths you can take each time you visit. Hiking and walking are of course great summer activities in England as the weather is fairly mild, making Epping Forest an ideal spot. However, the forest is most beautiful in Autumn when you can see the changing leaves.
Epping Forest is also an ecological wonder. According to the City of London (which maintains the forest), there are more than 55,000 ancient trees. This is more than any other single site in the United Kingdom.
Epping Forest is also the site of Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge. Henry VIII commissioned a building to have a place to view deer hunts. It was completed in 1543 but then was renovated for Queen Elizabeth I in 1589. The Lodge is now a museum dedicated to the Tudor era.
Time: 26 mins by Overground from Liverpool Street Station to Chingford
Wanstead Flats and Park
Wanstead Flats is the southernmost part of Epping Forest. As the name suggests, the Wanstead Flats are rather featureless and flat as there are not many trees. However, it’s a vast open grassland that is really fun to explore and frolic in. It makes for a great picnic spot too.
North of Wanstead Flats is Wanstead Park. The park has several lakes and ponds and is a magical place to venture into. The trails around the lakes are lovely and you’re sure to see several types of birds along the way.
Time: 11 mins by TfL Rail from Liverpool Street Station to Forest Gate
I’m very lucky to live not too far from the Walthamstow Wetlands, a nature reserve. It is one of the largest urban wetland nature reserves in Europe. I absolutely love this place as it’s such a unique landscape and of course there are so many birds! The reservoirs make for fantastic views. If you’re lucky and go early enough, you can even find a spot to have a picnic on one of the fishing docks dotted around the reservoirs.
Time: 18 mins by tube from Victoria Station to Walthamstow Station
Southwest of London is the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), a vast beautiful, national park. One great stop in the area is Box Hill, a summit popular with hikers and visitors alike. Box Hill is served by a rest area with all the amenities you could need. In addition, there are several hiking paths to choose from.
We chose the Stepping Stones walk, a 2-mile (3.2km) loop lasting about 2 hours. The walk takes you steeply down to Box Hill to the River Mole and then back up. The main feature of the walk is obviously the stepping stones, which are stones crossing the river. It’s an iconic landmark in this part of Surrey and is a lot of fun to cross!
Time: 54 mins by train (southern) from Victoria Station to Box Hill and Westhumble
Another AONB near London is Kent Downs. We visited during a heatwave, so it was an extremely sunny, beautiful day.
There are several stops here, but we chose a handful to fill up our day. Our first stop was the Devil’s Kneading Trough, a dramatic valley with beautiful views of the area. It’s also the most famous valley in the Kent Downs, so it’s not a stop to miss.
For our first hike, we went on the Down Walk. It’s a 4 mile (6 km) loop that takes about 2 hours. The walk starts in the charming village of Chilham. It’s one of the prettiest villages in Kent Downs. We then walked through a very gree, luscious area, crossing the river and then making our way to a forest.
Past the forest is fields of wheat. It was an incredible landscape, something reminiscent of Van Gogh’s paintings. Though as I mentioned, it was the middle of a heatwave, so we quickly when on our way and then ended victoriously at, well, the pub.
Time: 55 mins by train (southeastern) from St Pancras International to Wye via Ashford International
Viking Coastal Trail
Heading to the east of London this time, England’s southeast coast is a beautiful scene dotted with Victorian and Georgian resort towns. Connecting these towns is the Viking Coast Trail. The trail follows along the coast and is an area full of history. St Augustine, who was charged by the Pope to bring Christianity from Rome to England, landed here in 597 AD. Hengist and Horsa led the Anglo-Saxon invasion and landed here as well. The trail’s name is inspired by this event, in that the ship they used was a Viking Ship.
The trail starts in Margate and connects to Broadstairs and then Ramsgate. Margate is a lovely town and is also home to some of the best fish and chips. You can explore the trial via a walk along the cliff tops or a walk along the boardwalks and beaches. We alternated between the two to get a sampling of all the beauty.
Time: 1 hour 40 mins by train from London Bridge Station to Margate
This lovely national park covers an area of 566 square kilometres and is made up of woodland, heathland, grassland and river valleys. It has a long history, dating back to the Bronze Age when humans were living in and off the forest. It was once a royal hunting ground for William the Conqueror back in 1079. Needless to say, it’s an area worth exploring. I recommend hiring a bike so you can explore as much of the forest as possible, as well as pack a picnic.
Beyond the flora, there is of course the fauna! The forest is home to tons of wildlife including the New Forest pony, an indigenous horse breed of the British Isles. It’s a lot of fun to try and find the ponies and the other horses roaming around.
Time: 1 hour 41 minutes by train from Waterloo Station to Brockenhurst Station
My last recommendation (for now!) is to head to the South Downs, a range of chalk hills on the south-eastern coast of England. My favourite part of the South Downs is Seven Sisters, being one part of the South Downs. I recommend taking the train to Seaford and walking eastward towards Beachy Head (the endpoint of the South Downs). The views are spectacular and these chalk cliffs are one of my favourite places in the whole world. Anecdotally, probably one of the most famous photo-ops in England is the cottage below in front of the Seven Sisters cliffs. I mean, does it get more picturesque than this?
Time: 1 hour 44 mins by train from Victoria Station to Seaford via Brighton
I can’t wait to revisit some of these wonderful nature escapes again soon. Which destination are you heading to first?