Now that lockdown measures have started to ease and we’re no longer limited to just one outdoor escapade per day, many are clamouring to discover London’s larger and lesser-known green spaces, ones where it’s possible to both immerse yourself in nature and observe social distancing guidelines safely. London is the greenest major city in Europe, with 47% of the capital made up of parks and woodlands, so there’s no shortage of lovely spots for a nature-filled stroll. Here we’ve rounded up the best walks in London for taking in spring’s dazzling flora and fauna.
While the heath may be one of the city’s most popular and well-known green spaces, situated just six kilometres from Trafalgar Square and home to some of the best walks in London, it’s also one of the largest, covering 320 hectares, making it the perfect place to escape any sun-seeking crowds and get lost in nature. Despite its close proximity to the centre of the city the heath is home to a staggering array of wildlife, with grass snakes, moles, foxes, hedgehogs, six species of bats, 25 varieties of butterfly and a quarter of Britain’s spiders making up its rich biodiversity.
Covering 6,000 acres in the east of the city, Epping Forest is the largest public open space in the London area and offers myriad walking routes for intrepid nature lovers. There are nine different forest trails to choose from, each offering something different. The one-hour Willow Trail takes in the pretty Connaught Water lake, where you can spot yellow iris flowers by the water’s edge and admire the great crested grebe’s distinctive orange plumage, while you’re likely to spy Speckled Wood butterflies on the two-hour Beech Trail. For something shorter, the Lime Trail offers a 30-minute loop along well-maintained paths lined with 300-year-old sweet chestnut trees.
Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Woods
Tucked away behind grand Dulwich College, these woods are some of the most ancient in London and boast over 200 species of trees and flowering plants, including wild garlic, bluebells and wood anemones. It’s also the London Wildlife Trust’s oldest nature reserve, home to rare birds, insects and fungi. Keep an eye out for the ruins of an old Victorian folly, once a garden ornament, hidden away among the trees and Cox’s Walk, an 18th Century oak-lined avenue that crosses the wood by an ornamental footbridge over the old railway track.
Following the course of the old railway line that ran between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace, which opened in 1873, this tranquil four and a half mile trail is home to the city’s longest Local Nature Reserve and some of the best walks in London. Keen nature lovers flock here to explore the 200 species of wild flowers, from orchids and dandelions to blackberry bushes and fig trees, as well as the impressive trees, which include enormous hawthorns, elders and mountain ash trees. The walk is also home to myriad wildlife, from hedgehogs, foxes and Red Admiral butterflies to the rare muntjac deer.
Hackney is well known for its picturesque marshes, made up of winding rivers and glorious nature reserves. Situated in the Lower Lea Valley, most people start off by wandering along the waterside footpaths by the River Lea and the Lea Canal, before heading off to take in Middlesex Filter Beds Nature Reserve at the north of the marshes. Then meander through the woodland trails at the southern end, where you’ll be able to spot views of the West End, the City and Canary Wharf along the way.
There’s a reason why some of the best walks in London are found here – this Royal Park, first created by Charles I in the 17th century, is the largest park in London and one of its most famous, beloved for its herds of roaming deer and vast swathes of untamed greenery. It’s best-known fan? Sir David Attenborough, who’s been a local for over 60 years and visits regularly to check in on the thousands of species of wildlife at this astonishing nature reserve, from stag beetles (the park remains one of the most important breeding sites for the insect) to 600 red and fallow deer and over 140 species of bird, including green woodpeckers and tawny owls.
Chiswick House and Gardens
Originally built by Lord Burlington in 1729, Chiswick House remains one of the finest examples of Neo-Palladian architecture in the city. And the magnificent ‘natural’ landscaped gardens are just as impressive as the house itself, featuring sweeping vistas, fragrant formal gardens and wild woodlands. Designed by William Kent, they include a rustic cascade waterfall, serpentine lake, a kitchen garden where you can buy fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and a conservatory that houses a renowned collection of rare camellias.
Alexandra Palace Park and Gardens
A true Victorian leisure park when it first opened over 150 years ago, Ally Palace’s gardens remain one of the most popular spots in the city for taking in the fresh air and enjoying one of the best panoramic views across London – on a clear day you can see as far as the Crystal Palace tower on the other side of the river. Home to hundreds of different types of animals, plants and fungi, including 38 rare or endangered species, locals and tourists alike come to see how many they can spot as they tour the grounds and peruse the perimeter of the boating lake.
Covering almost 500 acres, Regent’s Park has long provided a green haven in the heart of the city, ever since Henry VIII first appropriated it for use as a hunting ground in the 16th century. Designed by John Nash, the architect behind Buckingham Palace and Marble Arch, today it is most famous for its lake, canal and beautifully landscaped gardens, which include the Queen Mary’s Gardens, home to London’s largest collection of roses with approximately 12,000 flowers. The park also houses an impressive assortment of wildlife, including over 200 species of bird, 21 species of butterfly and a handful of hedgehogs, one of the few sites in central London where the elusive creatures can still be found.
This wide, open heathland stretches from Richmond Park to picturesque Wimbledon Village and covers an impressive 1,200 acres. Here you’ll find local dog walkers and nature enthusiasts strolling around the beautifully landscaped golf course, lolling by the numerous ponds or stopping to admire the pretty 1817 windmill, the common’s most famous landmark. Flower lovers should make a beeline from Cannizaro Park in the southeastern corner, made up of 34 acres of Grade II-listed ornamental landscaped gardens full of colourful rhododendrons and azaleas.
Blackheath to Greenwich
This short, one-mile trek is one of the best walks in London and takes in one of the loveliest and most instantly recognisable vistas in the city. Starting off at All Saints Church, cross the heath itself. Walk through the gates of Greenwich Park and head towards the statue of General James Wolfe looking out towards the River Thames. From there spend some time marvelling at the incredible views over London, taking in the Old Royal Naval College, Inigo Jones’s Queen’s House and the glass spires of Canary Wharf – a breath-taking mix of the traditional and the modern.
This north London oasis is made up of 70 acres of ancient woodland, with numerous scenic woodland trails snaking through it. The tranquil spot was once a Roman settlement and flints have been found here, as well as evidence that travelling artisans were producing pottery using the local clay and timber as far back as AD 50. Today the wood is home to hundreds of evergreen holly trees, hornbeams and solid oaks, as well as several fenced off conservation areas, designed to maintain the optimum conditions for its thriving wildlife. Over 950 species of invertebrates have been recorded here, some of which are extremely rare, as well as 362 moth, 353 fungi, 70 bird and seven bat species.