The capital of the UK is a melting pot of history, culture and entertainment, with something new to discover around every corner. Attracting millions of visitors from all over the world, London is vast and vibrant, and understandably one of the most popular tourist sites in the country.
Yet sometimes it’s good to get away from the crowds and seek out your own little pocket of peace and fresh air in this buzzing metropolis. You might think this is a difficult task, but if you know where to look it’s really quite easy. Here are a few of our favourite off the beaten track outdoor places to visit in London.
St Dunstan in the East Church
The ruins of this romantic little church on St Dunstan’s Hill, not far from London Bridge and the Tower of London, are a world away from the bustle of the city. Originally built around 1100 and mostly destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666, and again in World War II, the church today has been turned into a pretty public garden, and a wonderfully secluded and peaceful spot to spend a few moments to yourself. The Gothic style steeple was built in the late 1600s using a design from the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren himself! This Grade I listed building is a great spot for quiet contemplation, as well as taking instagram-worthy snaps!
Peckham Rye Park and Common
Pack a picnic and hop on one of the frequent trains travelling to Peckham Rye and spend a lazy afternoon amongst the ornamental gardens, streams and woods at this Victorian-era park in South London. There’s a peaceful community garden to stroll around, as well as an arboretum and adventure playground for the children to let off a bit of steam. There’s a more formal garden too, with fragrant rose pergolas, a nature garden for pond dipping, and even a Japanese garden full of exotic species to discover. For the more energetic the sports facilities offer football, a skate park and an outdoor gym too. You could easily spend a whole day here if you like!
A rather macabre sight to add the the list is Highgate Cemetery, a secret side of London with striking examples of funereal architecture such as this incredible piano below! The cemetery is split into two sections, East and West, and was once the place to be buried if you were a person of fame and respect. Wealthy ‘residents’ had lavish tombs constructed in their memory, and a wander around the quiet leafy trails of the cemetery is quite a remarkable and unusual way to spend an hour or two. See if you can recognise some of the names on the graves, like George Eliot, Henry Moore and Karl Marx. You can visit the East Cemetery by yourselves (there is an entrance fee), but if you want to see the West Cemetery you’ll need to join a tour.
Hampstead Hill Gardens and Pergola
Once a grand, opulent display of wealth, Hampstead Hill Gardens and Pergola is now a charming example of former glory, tucked away and waiting to be discovered. Commissioned in 1904 by the wealthy Lord Leverhulme, the gardens were intended to be an extravagant setting for parties and summer gatherings. Although his legacy remains to this day, the Pergola fell into decline after Lord Leverhulme’s death and now this secret garden is a wonderfully atmospheric example of faded Edwardian grandeur. It’s a great place for a quiet summer afternoon stroll, and you won’t be sharing it with the crowds!
This is probably somewhere you’ve heard of, but never actually visited, which makes it a great place to go if you’re in search of a little urban tranquillity. It’s quite desolate here, and devoid of tourists, even though there is a visitor centre charting the development of this essential and iconic part of London’s flood management system. Stroll along the riverside walkways and admire the impressive industrial landscape, or if you want to get even closer to the barrier, take a boat tour for a really unique view. There are also gardens, fountains, a playground and picnic area at the nearby Thames Barrier Park if you want to spend more time here.
No matter where you find yourself in London, there are always peaceful outdoor places waiting to be discovered if you look hard enough. London is a fabulously entertaining city, with plenty to keep you busy from dawn until dusk, but when you just want a bit of quiet time away from the hordes, then be assured there are secret spots like these just waiting to welcome you!
Have you visited London? Do you have any top tips for finding hidden leafy places for picnics and relaxation in the city?