Think of London and your first thought probably isn’t of the nature. Famed for its engineering and architectural feats, it’s a husting-bustling, “open all hours” kind of city. Nature lovers might despair that a trip to London means confinement to a concrete jungle. But, dig a little deeper and you’ll discover a wealth of beautiful green gems scattered all over the city.
North London - A must see for nature lovers
Hampstead Heath is an absolute must-see for nature lovers. Wild, sprawling and beautifully untamed, it’s easy to forget that the hustle and bustle of Central London is just a few miles away. Laze in the meadows, swim in the ponds, or go for a walk across 791 hectares of beautiful green space. While you’re there, the lesser known Hampstead Hill Garden and Pergola is also well-worth a visit. One of London’s best-kept secrets, this secluded garden was built at the turn of the 20th century and the spectacular pergola was used for hosting extravagant Edwardian parties.
A fan of the high life? Both Parliament and Primrose Hill are perfect for picnicking and offer breath-taking views of the city. While, Highgate also boasts some great green spaces. Highgate Wood is also a haven for wildlife, with many different species of bird and butterfly calling it home. What’s more, the beautiful Highgate Cemetery is just a twenty-minute walk away. Home to famous figures like Karl Marx and George Eliot, the cemetery is notable not only for the people buried there, but its status as a nature reserve. Home to many varieties of tree including hornbeam, exotic limes, oak, hazel, sweet chestnut, tulip and field maple, be sure to look out for the resident colony of foxes.
South London - For the adventurous traveller
The London Wetland Centre in Barnes is a simply unmissable destination for bird lovers. This 105-acre city wildlife area was created by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust back in 2000. Just 10 minutes from Hammersmith, this award winning nature reserve is an urban oasis home to 180 different species of bird. Stroll among the lakes, pools and gardens, spotting kingfishers, sand martins and yellow wagtails, to name just a few. But this isn’t just a place for wildlife enthusiasts, there are also plenty of scenic paths to walk through.
For the adventurous traveller, head down to Twickenham and the secluded Eel Pie Island. A leisurely ten-minute walk from Twickenham Station, cross the footbridge and enter the land that time forgot. There’s not a car or bike in sight on this quiet island, which is home to just 120 residents. The tiny island is rich with history; it’s rumoured that Henry VIII used the island as a courting ground for his many mistresses. While, musical greats such as The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and David Bowie have all graced its shores to play in the 19th century ballroom of the island’s only hotel. What’s more, the island boasts not one, but two nature reserves home to a remarkable variety of wildlife and plants.
Central London - A taste of Japan
Considering how built-up Central London is, there’s a surprising wealth of innovative green spaces. Atop the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) is a small, modern Japanese Roof Garden, which looks great all year round. Forgoing the flowers of usual gardens, this one is a geologist’s dream, fashioned with rocks like granite, sandstone, and Norwegian Larvikite. Another of Central’s unusual natural spots is the Barbican Conservatory. Open to the public on Sundays, the conservatory is home to exotic fish and over 2000 species of plants and trees. A lush tropical oasis, hidden away from the fast paced city, this is the perfect place to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. Don’t forget to bring a notebook; there’s plenty here to get you inspired.
West London - Nature and History
Kew Gardens is home to the largest plant collection in the world. Showcasing everything from exotic flowers to wild meadows, the 250 years old garden is a botanist’s Eden. Wander through tropical greenhouses reaching up to 27 degrees; be amazed by giant lily pads; or travel through ten climactic zones in the Princess of Wales Conservatory. Like heights? Stroll a soaring treetop walkway and get a view of some of the park’s centuries old trees. For more info on what’s growing in the garden, check out the website’s ‘what to see this week’ section, which gives you the low-down on the best blooms for your upcoming visit.
One for both the historians and the horticulturalists, Holland park is a delightful haven nestled to the West of the city. Surrounding Holland House, a Jacobean mansion named after its second owner, the Earl of Holland, whose wife was the first person in England to successfully grow dahlias, the park feels more like the landscaped stately home it once was than the public park it now is. The northern half of the park is semi-wild woodland; the centre is more formal with perfectly manicured gardens, while the southernmost section is designated for sporting activities. Don’t leave without seeing the beautiful Kyoto Garden, an idyllic Japanese garden complete with koi carp and a tranquil waterfall.
East London - A Hidden green oasis
St Dunstan in the East is all that’s left of a 12th Century church after a World War II bombing. Surprisingly, what’s remains is a scene of great charm and natural beauty all thanks to the imaginative planting of wall shrubs and climbers in amongst the ruins. Featuring a stunning garden and delightful water feature, St Dunstan is a hidden green oasis. And at sunrise, it’s as close to heaven as you can get.
For a more modern experience in nature, head to the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden. Situated on what used to be an old railway line, this hip community garden is a haven hidden behind Dalston’s hectic junction. Tended to by local volunteers of all ages, the garden showcases an array of trees, fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Hang out, chat, create, or get a lovely drink in the lovely garden café. A large wooden pavilion is the focal point for community events and it regularly houses music, dance, cooking and gardening activities. What’s more, there is also a small stage at the end of the garden for live music in the summer months.