Enjoy being outdoors in London (it doesn't always rain...)
There are plenty of ways to enjoy London, that barely cost anything at all.
Thames Barrier Park, is London’s newest riverside park in 50 years. Green Dock, sunken garden of scented flowers and bushes, wild flower bushes, great views over the Thames Barrier and river. Also in E16 is Lyle Park, donated to the local community by Tate & Lyle, the sugar company, who have been based in Newham’s Silvertown since 1880. The park runs down to the river’s edge.
Camley Street Natural Park,
a two acre wildlife haven on the Regent’s Canal behind
King’s Cross station, is one of London’s best hidden green spaces,
but ultimately well worth the bother of seeking out.
On a completely different scale, Europe’s largest urban wetlands area has been created at the London Wetland Centre in Barnes, south west London. Covering 40 hectares of a former waterworks, it has been designated a site of Special Scientific Interest and supports nationally important numbers of Gadwall and Shoveller duck. There is an admission charge for the Wetlands Centre
Urban farms are a feature of London with over 30 of them scattered across the capital. Just off the Liverpool Road in Islington is the Freightliners urban farm, especially popular with families. The farm has an animal village with the largest white rabbit imagineable, goats, sheep, guinea fowl, egg laying chicken coops and even a beehive.
Central London’s Royal Parks are rightly cherished by Londoners and visitors alike, but there is much more to London’s green spaces than these famous names. Postman’s Park, just north of St Paul’s, is only a small space among the sea of City buildings, but it's an unusual memorial. In one corner, there are plaques to men and women who sacrificed their lives to save others, not in wartime. Alice Ayres, daughter of a bricklayer’s labourer, who managed to save three children from a burning house in Union Street, at the cost of her life, Thomas Simpson, died of exhaustion after saving many lives from the breaking ice at Highgate Ponds, Jan 25 1885’, there are many more heroic deeds described.
As Spring turns into summer, Londoners with a penchant for the joys of outdoor bathing head for the ponds and lidos of the capital. Hampstead Heath boasts both with three all year round bathing ponds (free entry) and a lido (free before 0930). South London has London’s best two lidos at Tooting Bec and Brockwell Park and there is an outdoor pool in Richmond. For the really hardy, the Serpentine in Hyde Park has an annual Christmas Day plunge – the Peter Pan Swimming Cup Race.
London’s great markets, Portobello, Camden, Spitalfields and Bermondsey are known by all lovers of outdoor browsing in the capital, but there are lots of others to try out - Alperton Road between Ealing and Wembley is one of the best places to head for to buy Indian fabrics, spices, jewellery and exotic fruit and veg. There are also lots of cheap restaurants and cafes serving Indian cuisine. Southall Market, in Ealing is also a colourful place to head for if you are looking for an Indian market. Looking for an authentic London market? Chapel Street in Islington is the down market neighbour to the well-known Antiques Market in Camden Passage. Typically East London but now an attraction to people from all over London, Columbia Road is a Sunday morning only flower and plant market. Boxes of pretty much every plant imaginable sell for a ‘fiver’ here. There is also a seafood stall selling cockles and calamares, as well as a few upmarket cafes. Brixton Market is set on one of the first streets in London to have electric light, the appropriately named Electric Avenue. The market, like the area in general, has a distinctly Caribbean feel to it.
There are 30,000 statues and monuments in London so either enjoy them as you wander the streets or research what you want to find before you head out into the streets. Although Ken Livingstone is pretty famous now, a better known former Mayor not only has statue commemorating his three terms as Mayor, but Dick Whittington’s own cat has a monument to it on Highgate Hill in Archway, climbing out of what was then London, to hear the bells chiming his name.
Mahatma Gandhi is remembered with a statue and eternal flame in Tavistock Square, Nurse Cavell who was shot in WWI for helping allied soldiers escape and who said “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone ” is remembered outside the entrance to the National Portrait Gallery and those WWII veteran politicians, Churchill and Roosevelt, sit side by side on a bench in Bond Street. From the sky to the gutter, one of London’s highest and most spectacular sculpture is perched on a rood top on the corner of Coventry Street and Haymarket. Look up and you will see three elegant divers swopping down over you. Oscar Wilde is remembered in a statue opposite Charing Cross Station with his immortal line ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’.
Traffic Light Island in Docklands is a street sign that motorists never take any heed of, because there are 75 traffic lights in the sculpture by Pierre Vivant and they are all ever-changing!!
One of London’s most amazing new buildings is the Hindu Temple in Neasden, a stunning marble and limestone construction built using ancient hand working techniques. The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, to give it its full title is worth a visit just to look at from the outside, but is also open to the visitor outside worship hours.
The City of London is one of the key areas to visit for modern architecture and sculpture. The Guerkin is nearing completion, Tower 42 dominates all around and Roger’s Lloyd’s Building still looks ultra modern. Surrounding these temples to modern day capitalism is a huge collection of street art. International artists such as Botero have works of art in the street. You can download walking guides of the City here.
Whilst many church buildings have been lost or destroyed in the City of London, many churchyards survive, offering a haven from the frantic pace of life in the streets. All Saints in Poplar, E14, has a churchyard said to have been used for cholera victims, now makes an attractive public space. Amongst the preserved gravestones is that of John Wild Bennet, a brass worker who died in 1838. The epitaph reads: “Like a worn out type he’s returned to the Founder to be recast in a better more perfect mould”.
London’s waterways are a great way to see the city as they run through its very heart. Walk the tow path of Regent’s Canal and you will go from leafy Maida Vale to glamorous Regent’s Park before heading into gritty urban landscapes of Camden and the head east Hackney and the industrial East End. Once you reach Docklands, although the docks no longer house ships, they are still thriving. The Canal Museum at Ice Wharf behind King’s Cross traces the history of this great waterway.
Follow in the wake of the escapades of James Bond from Tomorrow Never Dies through the waterways of Docklands or try your hand at watersports in Millwall Docks or climb London’s cookiest bridge (even more so than Millennium Bridge) by Excel. London’s only light house is also here. Set on the north bank of the river, opposite the Dome building, Trinity Buoy Wharf is now an artist’s and gallery space. A replica of one of history’s most famous ships, the Golden Hinde, can be visited at St Mary Overie Dock on the Thames by London Bridge. The boat organises sleep overs for kids.
And if these aren't enough here are a few more ideas...
Visit one of London’s green boroughs and explore the countryside close to the city — try Enfield, Sutton, and Richmond
Explore over 300 acres and discover more than 30,000 different types of plant at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Spot red and fallow deer in Richmond Park, descended from the herds of Henry VIII's time and picnic under oaks that are over 400 years old.
Stroll across the 25 metre wide Green Bridge in Mile End Park, designed by award winning architect Piers Gough
Discover Darwinism at Down House, now protected and opened to the public by English Heritage or relax on the Kenwood Estate by Kenwood House, Hampstead
Spot the statues, obelisks and winding lake in the Italianate Gardens of Chiswick House
Dip into the murky world of pond creatures and learn about bugs and other wildlife at the Sutton Ecology Centre
Pretend you’re preparing for a life on the ocean waves, with a trip on the Thames with City Cruises, enjoying the view from Westminster to Greenwich
Lose yourself (or your children!) in the maze at Hampton Court Palace or
explore the six acres of interiors with one of the Palace’s costumed