Adventure is all around us and here’s the proof: three unexpectedly tantalising walks through the nation’s capital
Cityscapes offer some of the most stunning scenery in the UK, and exploring these concrete jungles on foot offers a unique insight to a world that’s often only seen from a busy road or speeding train.
You often think you know an area, but walking through it is very different. Walking gives you the opportunity to connect places that you’ve already been with the multitude of streets and scenic stops in between.
Of course, the countryside and coast both boast beauty, with bountiful options when it comes to saunters and strolls, but swap natural paths for corridors of concrete and you’ll uncover intricate levels of insight to history and aesthetics of a very different kind, full of incredible depth and hidden secrets.
Spitalfields City Farm | Diana Jarvis/Visit England
If you’re new to a city, you’ll find yourself staring, open mouthed, at extraordinary examples of architectural excellence, jutting from the skyline. If you’re familiar with the big-hitting highlights then it’s the differences in people and cultures that will draw your attention.
London is the best example of a vibrant and eclectic mix of everything eminently explorable. Whether it’s day or night there’s always somewhere you can wander, with countless connections to close-by pleasures that pull you from one to the next.
If you get tired, or the weather takes a turn for the worse, just head to the nearest tube. Between the Underground, busses and cabs, the chance of getting stuck anywhere is slim to none.
No preparation needed
The fast pace of life in London means that there’s always something exciting around almost every corner. My advice is to walk for the sake of walking. Pick a direction to start off in and then take every turn as it comes. As long as you keep in mind the rough direction that you’re travelling in, or need to travel in to turn full circle or get back on the tube, you can’t go wrong.
Golders Hill Park Bandstand | Adrian Clark
Decide whether you’re going from A to B or plodding around in a circular route; have a few location options for places to travel through and then join the dots.
One thing to be wary of: if you’re not sure about an area’s safety, don’t travel through it. Everywhere in central London can be connected via safe, well-lit and well-populated pathways at almost any time of the day or night. This is true of many of the ‘secret’ passageways unknown to the tourist majority, too. Just be aware of your surroundings and stay safe in any city.
For those who prefer a more regimented route in advance, or if you just want a few ideas, here are three options of varying difficulty and length.
Walk One: London Eye to Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge, London | Diana Jarvis/Visit England
Time: One hour
Distance: Two and a half miles
This one’s easy. Despite curving with the meandering Thames, the route feels like a straight line. However, the amount to see perched upon a single bank of the capital’s renowned river is astounding. This means exploration that’s simple on paper suddenly becomes all the more intricate as you wind your way in and out of attractions every few metres.
Directions are trouble-free: simply keep the wet stuff on your left. With the wonders of London Bridge on your way, it’d make perfect sense to duck ‘inland’ for a while if the temptation takes you, too, so go ahead!
Starting at the London Eye, easily accessed from Waterloo station, you’ll be hard pressed not to spot some of the most stunning sights in the city on the other side of the water – Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Jubilee Gardens, here, are great for a picnic, too.
As you look at the water, start walking to the right and pass under Hungerford Bridge, towards the Southbank Centre. From street performers to comedy festivals, there’s always something exciting going on here, not to mention that there’s excitement on wheels in the vibrant skate park underneath the building to your right.
Keep going until you get to the next overpass – Waterloo Bridge. Open daily until around 7pm, this is a brilliant book market ready for you to bag a bargain. Continue past the National Theatre, towards the OXO Tower and avoid the runners until you get to Blackfriars Bridge, where you’re likely to find talented busking musicians delighting gathering crowds.
Out the other side, you’ll be treated to the Tate Modern, Millennium Bridge, the view of St Paul’s Cathedral across the water and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, all within close quarters. The path then snakes away from the water, under railway bridges and a faux starlit ceiling on Clink Street until you approach the Golden Hinde II, a replica of the first English vessel to circumnavigate the globe. Be sure to grab something to eat from nearby Borough Market here, too. They have cookies bigger than your face and you need the energy, right?
In the shadow of the Shard, make your way back to the waterfront past London Bridge City Pier. An alternative route is to approach the next stop from Tooley Street. Be sure to get there though, because Hay’s Galleria is beautiful, and that’s before you see the view of HMS Belfast in the Thames.
From there it’s a straight stroll to soak up the striking City Hall’s bulbous building before you reach the full magnificence of Tower Bridge.
Walk Two: Wembley to Alexandra Palace
Parliament Hill at dawn | Laura Nolte
Time: Three and a half hours
Distance: Nine miles
Fancy a more topographically challenging trail? Take on a few of the many hills that make up London’s suburbs.
Wembley’s iconic arch can be seen for miles, but you’ll be leaving it in your dust as your head east to Gladstone Park. Check out the Grade II listed Prisoner of War sculpture by Fred Kormis, near the Dollis Hill Lane entrance, then head east past Cricklewood tube station before crossing Hendon Way/Finchley Road.
Don’t walk into Golders Hill Park without having a wander down West Heath Road, admiring the incredible and eclectic architecture. When you’re done window shopping and pondering over pipe dreams of living the high life, head into the park to enjoy the scenery, free zoo (one of only two in London), butterfly house and more before heading into Hampstead Heath.
The Heath is home to Kenwood House, a delightful detour where you can admire incredible art and landscaped grounds. To the south of the Heath, Parliament Hill offers some sensational sights to take in before you leave the common to the north east, walking along Southwood Lane past Highgate tube station.
Greenery surrounds you as you walk through woodland either side of the road and venture into Muswell Hill. Bear right around here and you’ll be heading towards Alexandra Park. Navigate whichever route you prefer through the 196 acres of perfect parkland before approaching the final ascent. At the top of the hill you’ll find a hit of history and the finish line of ‘Ally Pally’ in all its glory, with some of the best views over the big city.
Walk Three: Central London Circular
Bustling Camden Town:
Ideal for people watching |LONDONVIEW.COM
Time: Five hours
Distance: 13 miles
The great thing about circular paths is how easy it is to dip in and out or start from different places in a suggested circuit. If there is a negative, it’s that there’s so much to see on the way that, what should take a set amount of time will inevitably increase with every corner you turn and with each new discovery.
Starting from Oxford Circus, cross the road and make your way up Great Portland Street until you reach the tube station. Turn left on to Marylebone Road to Venice Walk to see a different way of life in the city’s canals.
North of here, adjacent to St John’s Wood Underground station and Lord’s Cricket Ground is Abbey Road, of The Beatles fame. Cross the road (however many times you like) before entering Regent’s Park, walking north to the picturesque panoramas of Primrose Hill.
The relaxing natural setting here will be altogether contrasted as you enter the exciting urban excellence of Camden’s markets to the east. Remember I mentioned about the differences between people? Keep that in mind as you head south east from here, through King’s Cross to Angel and down to the financial district via Goswell Road. On the way, you can appreciate the change in architecture, as Barbican’s fascinating buildings build up before you stumble upon the skyscrapers of The City.
There’s so much to see along Fleet Street and Strand as you head towards Trafalgar Square and its plethora of pigeons, then amble up through Piccadilly Circus and you’ll be on the home straight back to the beginning of your route.
For a whole lot more outdoor inspiration visit walklondon.org.uk
Words: Ben Hackney-Williams