The best walks in London

written by Joanne Owen
updated 7/7/2021
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As the second largest city in Western Europe, London might not immediately spring to mind when you think of places to enjoy rewarding walks. But in fact, over a third of this history-rich, culture-rich city comprises green spaces - from royal parks and ancient woodlands, to lush-in-nature reclaimed industrial hubs. For full details of the best walks in London, the Rough Guide to Walks in and Around London will have you covered every step of the way. In the meantime, read on for a taste of the capital’s most capital walks.

1. Royal Parks - Trafalgar Square to Lancaster Gate

Covering 4.5km, this history-rich route begins in Trafalgar Square. After a mere hop, skip and jump through Admiralty Arch you’ll enter St James’s Park, famed for the white pelicans that inhabitant its lake. Another famous local resident is none other than the monarch herself - Buckingham Palace sits at the end of the Mall that runs adjacent to the park. From here, head to Green Park’s plane tree-perfect Broad Walk. Though now an elegantly manicured triangle of grasslands, back in the Middle Ages, Green Park had the less-than-salubrious honour of being a boggy burial place for lepers.

A right royal scene - pelicans basking in St James's Park sun against a Buckingham Palace backdrop © chrisdorney/Shutterstock

Next up, highlights of nearby Hyde Park include Rotten Row (don’t be put off by the misleading name), a formal rose garden, and the secluded Dell, with its overhanging maple and plane trees. Then there’s Serpentine Lake, a scenic spot to enjoy a coffee or hire a pedalo. Beyond the café, look out for the Diana Memorial Fountain before heading to the Serpentine Gallery, which hosts pioneering contemporary art exhibitions. The final Royal Park along this route is Kensington Gardens. Though elegant and formal, a sense of playfulness comes courtesy of the Peter Pan statue. 

2. Regent’s Canal - Camden Lock to Little Venice

Though small on physical impact, this easy 5km walk is big on intriguing canal-side sights, with the route beginning in one-of-a-kind Camden, famed for its alternative vibe and Camden market. To reach the canal path, head north up the High Street towards Camden Lock, then take the left turn down to the waterside.

The stretch of towpath towards well-heeled Primrose Hill takes in slick apartment buildings and Victorian bridges, with the gardens of Georgian houses backing onto the canal. At St Mark’s Church, the canal veers west and runs along the northern edges of London Zoo. Beyond the zoo, it continues around the northern edge of Regent’s Park, passing several splendid Victorian mansions backed by the minaret of Regent’s Park Mosque.

Lovely Little Venice canal along one of the best walks in London'© A and J King/Shutterstock

To follow the route beyond the park, take the signposted crossing point and continue through Maida Hill Tunnel to Blomfield Road Moorings, where bright houseboats are festooned with blooming flowers. More boat beauties await at the Little Venice canal basin. Formerly known as Browning’s Pool (the poet Robert Browning once lived in a house overlooking it), this handsome spot is home to floating cafés and the charming Puppet Theatre Barge.

An alternate way to experience this route is to book a waterbus from Camden to Little Venice. Admittedly that’s not exactly a walking tour of London, but it’s nonetheless a fabulous way to experience one of the city's most interesting trails.

3. Hampstead Heath - the Heath to Kenwood

Traversing rolling grassland, sweeping urban panoramas, ancient woodland and eighteenth-century parkland, this 5km circular route is one of the prettiest walks in London. Setting off from Hampstead Heath station, the gabled red-brick houses of Parliament Hill give way to the heath. For epic views over London from a 97m elevation, you’ll want to take a detour up Parliament Hill - beloved by kite-flyers for obvious reasons, and so-named because Guy Fawkes’s co-conspirators convened here to watch parliament ablaze. 

Hampstead Heath looking handsome in London's summer sun © Chris Seddon/Shutterstock

After inhaling that magnificent vista, head back down the hill and pick up the path to the heath’s natural ponds, passing majestic mature beech and oak trees as you stroll the softly rolling landscape. The Model Boat Pond is a great place to bag a bench and take a break before heading up the hill through Highgate Gate into Ken Wood. Here, London feels a million miles away, not least when you emerge from the woodland into open parkland as Kenwood House reveals its Neoclassical splendour.

To complete this satisfying circular route head back through the wood and down the hill to Hampstead Gate, where you exit the wood and meander through parkland to East Heath Road. Look out for Keats Grove, with its beautiful Regency villas and Victorian mansions, one of which was home to (you’ve guessed it) the poet John Keats.

Rounding off a glorious few hours enjoying one of London’s best walks, why not treat yourself to a well-earned drink in The Garden Gate? And to explore more of Hampstead, you could book a fun self-guided walking discovery experience.

4. Parkland Walk - Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace

Following the track of the former Great Northern Railway, this rewarding railway walk begins in Finsbury Park - look out for the Capital Ring sign by the cycle park on Stroud Green Road. To join the former Great Northern railway line, follow the sign to Highgate. In no time at all, the urban racket is replaced by birdsong as you saunter the strip that leads to the wooded hilltops of Highgate and Hampstead.

Along the way, watch out for the eerie ruins of Crouch End station, and the sculpted Green Man - a local artist’s representation of the legendary pagan figure. On reaching Highgate, after a brief return to city life, re-join the Parkland Walk Circle Ring at the end of Priory Gardens. A steep ascent up Shepherd’s Hill rewards ramblers with the wonders of Queen’s Wood’s enchanting ancient woodland. More fairy-tale treats lie ahead too, in the form of Queen’s Wood Café - an impossibly quaint cabin that serves up zingy Jamaican curry and soul-warming homemade cakes in the most beautiful tree-swathed surroundings. 

Alexandra Palace in north London © I Wei Huang/Shutterstock

From here, head to Highgate Wood - like Queen’s Wood, it’s a remnant of the Forest of Middlesex that once covered the whole of north London. The final stretch of this route leads to its Alexandra Palace pinnacle. Better known as “Ally Pally”, it was built in 1873 as a People’s Palace of recreation. After enduring a chequered history (burning down a mere sixteen days after opening, for example), it’s back to its best and offers excellent activities for kids (a skateparkGo Ape climbing centre, Little Dinosaurs soft play area, and ice rink), and hosts concerts, farmers markets and vintage fairs that’ll keep grown-ups happy too.

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5. New River - Turnpike Lane to Sadler’s Wells

Neither new nor a river (it’s a canal that was completed in 1613), the New River walk is a fantastic way to experience the flow of London life from a new perspective. Meandering through Haringey, Stoke Newington, Canonbury and Islington, the river-that’s-not-a-river looks like a country stream in places, while along other stretches it vanishes completely. In fact, this walk could be viewed as a game of hide and seek with the canal.

The trail kicks off at the kissing gate on Turnpike Lane’s Hampden Road - look for the New River Path sign, follow the grassy path, and cross the little wooden bridge. The next stretch returns to roads rather than riverside (the water disappears just after the bridge). Near Harringay Green Lanes station, follow the wooden fence along the edge of Finsbury Park, where the elusive New River can be spied through the fence. From here, cross a little bridge near the park and follow the canal all the way onto Green Lanes. After entering another kissing gate, this raised area of the New River offers emerging views of Stoke Newington’s St Mary’s Church. 

Woodberry Wetlands Nature Reserve © I Wei Huang/Shutterstock

Once you’ve crossed Seven Sisters Road, the next stretch takes in Woodbury Wetlands Nature Reserve and the Castle Climbing Centre (you can’t miss its tessellated towers). Pause for a snack in its café, or hold out until you reach Clissold Park, where eighteenth-century Clissold House mansion serves homemade treats. Alternatively, wait a little longer to enjoy a pint in The Snooty Fox on the corner of Petherton Road and Grosvenor Avenue. At this point, the canal has sneaked beneath the grassy strip in the centre of the road. 

This walk’s final segment (Canonbury to Sadler’s Wells) takes in a peaceful stretch of canal-side landscaping (think fountains, willow trees, pine trees and ornamental boulders) before emerging onto busy Essex Road. After twisting through Camden Passage’s boutiques, you’ll wind up on Rosebery Avenue, home to Sadler’s Wells Theatre.

6. Marsh to Marsh - Hackney to Walthamstow

While Hackney and Walthamstow are both densely populated boroughs, this walk traverses a gloriously green slice of Hackney Central to reach the heart of Walthamstow. What’s more, with flat terrain and no stiles to navigate, it’s one of the best walks in London for families and cyclists.

Beginning at Hackney Central station, make your way to the cycle and walking route on Hackney Grove that leads to London Fields. Having crossed this open park, foodies will want to check out Broadway Market. Delicious artisan fodder scoffed, you’ll be ready to explore nearby Victoria Park before joining the canal path.

Chinese Pagoda and fountain in east London's vibrant Victoria Park © cktravels.com/Shutterstock

The first stretch of path along Hertford Union Canal is framed by pretty weeping willows and towering plane trees. Passing a lock-keeper’s cottage and the Growing Concerns Garden Centre (a great place for ice cream), it’s not long before the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park makes its presence known.

Bearing to the left, the Hertford Union Canal soon meets the River Lee Navigation. Next stop: Hackney Marsh, famed for its 82 football pitches. The walk then takes a more pastoral turn as you enter Walthamstow Marsh Nature Reserve, one of the last remaining sites of natural marshland in the London area - its meadows, horses and grazing cattle almost make you forget you’re in the Big Smoke.

The route to Walthamstow continues along a lovely leafy lane, bordered by wild roses and willows with the nature-rich Walthamstow Wetlands Nature Reserve to explore along the way. On the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, it’s a haven for wintering wildfowl, and an important breeding site for grey heron, tufted duck and little egret.

Full-on urban throng awaits at the end of the cycle-route signs to Walthamstow. Be sure to explore the market (Europe’s longest, no less) and enjoy a drink in The Nag’s Head to round off your day.

7. Limehouse Basin - Bethnal Green to Wapping

This pleasant, undemanding walk along the Regent’s Canal and the Thames is ideal for a satisfying Sunday stroll, not least because it includes a couple of great places for lunch.

Your gentle journey begins in Bethnal Green where you access the Regent’s Canal towpath over the bridge beyond Vyner Street. After passing the entrance to Victoria Park, the path becomes ever more picturesque, thanks to the lock keeper’s cottage and colourful canal boats. Soon enough, Canary Wharf rears ahead as Mile End Park opens up on the left. Formerly a heavily industrialised area, this now boasts an ecology park, children’s play pavilion and climbing wall. Talking of little ones, beyond Mile End Lock, the Ragged School Museum is an excellent stop-off. Housed in Dr Barnardo’s second ragged school, it offers fascinating insights into the social history of Tower Hamlets, with a reconstructed Victorian classroom on the first floor.

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In-depth, easy-to-use travel guides filled with expert advice.

Basin Marina in London © I Wei Huang/Shutterstock

Emerging from the bridge at Salmon Lane Lock, where the Regent’s Canal meets the Thames, Limehouse Waterside and Marina presents a prosperous sight. Named for the fourteenth-century lime kilns once located here, Limehouse has been a significant port since Tudor times. The next stage of this journey joins the Thames Path along the righthand side of the basin, where the Baroque Hawksmoor Church of St Anne is an unmissable sight. 

On reaching the river, you might want to stop for a spot of lunch in The Narrow, a Gordon Ramsay gastropub with a riverside setting. Alternatively, for a more traditional pub experience, continue to Prospect Path. After passing converted warehouse buildings, and King Edward Memorial Park - with great views back to Canary Wharf along the way - you’ll reach Prospect of Whitby at Wapping Wall. Built in 1520, this is London’s oldest riverside inn, and still oozes old-time atmosphere.

8. Greenwich Park - Blackheath to Canary Wharf

This 5km walk takes you through two of London’s most distinctive green spaces, while also taking in a host of historical sights you’ll almost certainly want to stop off at.

Beginning at Blackheath, where Wat Tyler rallied the Peasants’ Revolt in June 1381, head along the path in the direction of Canary Wharf’s pyramid-capped peak, crossing Shooters Hill Road to reach the Blackheath Gate entry to Greenwich Park. Art-lovers will want to visit red-brick Ranger’s House, an elegant Georgian villa housing a collection of Dutch Old Masters and Renaissance bronzes. Next up, head up to the Royal Greenwich Observatory to stand on the prime meridian line, and explore the museum, planetarium, and Sir Christopher Wren’s Flamsteed House, where the Astronomer Royals once live and worked. The views aren‘t half bad either. 

Greenwich hill in spring © Alexey Fedorenko/Shutterstock

En route to the Cutty Sark, it’s well worth detouring to Greenwich Market, and stopping off at the Old Royal Naval College (part of the Maritime Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage Site), with its spectacular painted hall, the National Maritime Museum and the stately seventeenth-century Queen’s House. As for the Cutty Sark itself, this enormous 1869 tea clipper - the fastest of its time - is a real child-pleaser, with on-board characters spinning historic yarns, and the Captain‘s Cabin to explore.

The Isle of Dogs (accessed via the foot tunnel near the Cutty Sark) feels a world away from the old-time maritime ambience around the ship. Enclosed by water on three sides, and home to one of London’s two financial centres, it presents an eclectic mix of gleaming towers and the remnants of naval history. Turning right at the river, a dramatic view of the Shard opens up en route to Burrells’ Wharf, where Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Eastern was built. A little further on you can see where it was launched. Before following the Thames Path to your Canary Wharf endpoint, take a break in The Space. Formally St Paul’s Presbyterian Church, and now an arts centre, the upstairs Hubbub restaurant dishes up delicious steaks, burgers and salads in adorably ramshackle surroundings.

To make the most of this walk, you could book a Royal Museums Greenwich Day Pass, which includes entry to the Royal Observatory and Cutty Sark, and gives access to The National Maritime Museum and The Queen's House.

9. Thames Path East - London Bridge to Rotherhithe

Crammed with leading London attractions you’ll most certainly want to spend time in, walking this short stretch of the River Thames takes you through London’s maritime and social history, starting out at London Bridge station. 

After descending the steps near the Southwark Needle sculpture, the Thames Path soon leads to HMS Belfast, which saw action at the Normandy landings and in the Korean War. Moments later, you’ll reach attractive Hay’s Galleria - a nineteenth-century docking point for tea clippers from India and China that’s now home to a gaggle of shops and stalls.

 As the path opens to wide piazza, City Hall - the glassy, domed home of the Mayor of London and the London Assembly - appears on your right, while the Tower of London (a thousand-year-old castle turned prison turned museum) stands proud across the river as iconic Tower Bridge looms ahead.

Tower Bridge on a sunny morning © Iakov Kalinin/Shutterstock

Beyond Tower Bridge, the path leads through a ceramic tiled arched bridge along the atmospheric backstreet of Shad Thames. Overhead, the warehouse buildings are connected by wrought-iron bridges that were once used as channels for barrows bearing imported goods.

After re-joining the Thames Path at the end of Shad Thames, you’ll see Eduardo Paolozzi’s geometric bronze Head of Invention sculpture, and a sweeping view of the river and Bermondsey wharves. A pedestrian bridge crosses the River Neckinger at New Concordia Wharf, before a walkway winds round the wharf buildings. From here, follow the Thames Path sign closest to the river. Steering towards Rotherhithe, the route passes converted warehouses and the Dr Salter’s Daydream bronze statues - homage to a Quaker couple whose social work made them local heroes in the early twentieth-century.

On reaching Rotherhithe Street, signs such as “East India Court” and “Bombay Court” testify the area’s rich trading history, while the wisteria festooned sixteenth-century Mayflower pub (it once overlooked the berth of the Mayflower ship) is the perfect place to wind up your walk. Having said that, history buffs might want to check out the Brunel Museum before getting settled (it’s just beyond the pub).

10. Richmond Park - Petersham and the park

This 10km walk is a wild wonder - a circular trail that explores London’s largest green space (2500-acres) with roaming herds of deer, sweeping grassland and ancient oak trees.

Beginning at Richmond Green (a jousting ground back in Tudor times) head down Old Palace Lane to reach the riverside towpath that passes under picturesque Richmond Bridge. Follow the meadow framed path, looking out for the signs for Petersham Nurseries, and turning right at the church to reach them - the award-winning glasshouse Petersham Nurseries restaurant and teahouse are utterly enchanting.

Suitably sated, look for the Capital Ring sign to the left of the church, then follow the narrow path along the graveyard to Petersham Road. Across the road, Petersham Park is the perfect place to watch out for the colony of ring-necked parakeets that breed in the area. Continuing through this expanse of oak-speckled grassland leads to Ham Gate, a thirteenth-century royal hunting ground.

Deers in Richmond Park, London © Marco Scocco/Shutterstock

Cross Queen’s Road and head uphill through bracken to reach Isabella Plantation via High Wood. You’ll be greeted by a handsome heather garden from which you can explore this fabulous 40-acre Victorian woodland garden. More picturesque delights lie ahead too, in the form of Pond Plantation (a dense cluster of rhododendrons and woodland), expansive Pen Pond, little Leg of Mutton Pond, and the birch and beech woodland of Queen Elizabeth’s Plantation.

From here the path joins a broader dirt track (marked with the Capital Ring sign) and curves round a fenced wildlife sanctuary, offering epic views of London’s skyline landmarks as it runs gently uphill and emerges at Richmond Gate.

For more inspiration - and practical information - take a look at Helena Smith’s Rough Guide to Walks in and Around London. Alongside detailing rewarding routes around London, it also covers Essex, the North Downs, the South Downs, and St Albans to Bedfordshire (and more). What’s more, purchase of the print guidebook comes with access to a free eBook - handy if you want to travel light while on the road, pavement or canal path.

At Rough Guides we’ve always taken pride in telling it like it is - whether we’re updating details in our guide books, or researching emerging destinations. With that in mind, we want you to know that when you click on links that lead to our affiliate partners’ sites, we can earn a small commission (at no cost to you). This is one of the ways we’re able to keep doing what we do best - provide you with travel advice and inspiration you can trust. Speaking of which, you can trust what we link to - our travel writer experts are exactly that (experts) and have highlighted them to share ideas that might make your trips all the more satisfying.

Header image: Little Venice canal in London © A and J King/Shutterstock

Travel advice for England

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written by Joanne Owen
updated 7/7/2021
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Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her @JoanneOwen on Twitter and @joanneowenwrites on Instagram.

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