Living in London, you most likely chose to live the urban life. You love the hustle and bustle, the concrete jungle, and the infinite shops to visit. But are there times you just want a little taste of nature? Some place you can hike in wooded areas or green fields and feel like you're out of the city? There are some excellent places where you'll want to grab your hiking gear and feel like you've stepped outside of the urban walls, but while still remaining inside London.
Living in the States, I've grown accustomed to having a place to hike within a short drive of anywhere I would live or travel to. Living in New York the last few years, I visited Bear Mountain every few months, where there were several hiking trails of varying levels of difficulty.
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Even if I visited states like Virginia or California, there was always a piece of nature that I could use as an oasis away from the city life within close proximity.
Moving to London, what I considered to be "nature" seemed very far outside of the city proper in Cotswold or Dorset. Without a car, I could resort to taking a train or bus outside of the city to picturesque hiking areas, but that would require a holiday from work which isn't what I was always looking for. I was looking for more of an afternoon hike. So what's the alternative?
There must be more in London that could me feel like I was in a proper area to hike, explore some wildlife, and take in deep breaths of fresh air. Where could that be?
Not every "park" in London is created equal. I learned that the hard way. Some parks are exactly just that - a park. A place to park your bum and relax or walk your dog. For someone looking for nature, that's not what would satisfy my desire for reprieve from the urban life.
So, I decided to visit a few parks I was unfamiliar with and found a variety of natural scenery and moderately challenging hikes. I had to share them with you so you know where to go for a proper exercise.
Russia Dock Woodland
Located in Rotherhithe, the Russia Dock Woodland wasn’t always a wooded area filled with greenery everywhere you turned. It has a pretty interesting history.
Russia Dock Woodland was originally one of the former Surrey Commercial Docks, used for importing softwood timber from Norway, Russia, and Sweden. But it was closed in the 1970s and then filled with land and trees in 1980 by the London Dockland Development Corporation (LDDC).
As you walk around, you may still find some of the original dock features such as mooring chains and tracks. A small stream still remains and runs through the woodlands.
Each area of the woodland you explore looks uniquely different from its adjacent parts. One of those unique areas is called the Stave Hill Ecology Park.
The Stave Hill Ecology Park is found within the Russia Dock Woodland. As you take the wooded, narrow dirt path through the 5.2-acre park, make your way to Stave Hill.
Stave Hill is a 30-foot (9.1 meter) tall artificial hill. Yes, you read that correctly! An artificial cone-shaped hill. Climb to the top of the steep hill, where you'll find a viewing platform on top overlooking Canary Wharf and the London skyline. It's a gorgeous view you won't find too often in the parks of London.
Opening times of the Russia Dock Woodland change based on sunset and sunrise throughout the seasons. You can find the link to their website above for more information.
How to Get There
Take the tube to the Canada Water station, or take buses 381 or C10.
The entrances are on Redriff Road and Downtown Road.
The Parkland Walk actually straddles two parks: Finsbury Park and Highgate Wood. Making the walk about 2.5 miles (4 km) in length. The Parkland Walk also has a unique history.
This area was originally developed as part of the railway line from Finsbury Park to Edgware in the 1870s. Later on in the 1930s, this line was planned to be a part of London's underground Northern Line. But due to World War II, plans were halted.
Eventually, the train track was removed in 1972 and was converted in the late 1980s to the Parkland Walk as opposed to a driving road.
As you walk along where the railroad used to exist, you'll see the platforms and the bridges under which the trains used to pass. The brick walls of the railway remnants are now covered in graffiti art and framed by woodlands and beautiful foliage.
You can walk, run, or even bike along this path as you admire what is now and imagine what used to be. I met several dogs on their walks along this route.
The Parkland Walk straddles Highgate and Finsbury Park. It's a relatively easy and flat walk, and there are plenty of places to take a break along the way including pubs and cafés.
Opening times of the the Parkland Walk Wildlife Trail is from 9:00am to 6:00pm.
How to Get There
To arrive via bus, take buses 210, 236, 253, 254, 259, W3, or W7 to Finsbury Park.
To arrive via tube, take the Victoria or Piccadilly lines to the Finsbury Park station.
If you want to make the walk starting from Finsbury Park, take the Oxford Road entrance into the park.
Hampstead Heath is located in north London and covers about 790 acres of beautiful land that's both wooded and open grassy lands. Of the parks I've mentioned, "the Heath" (as locals call it) has the most unique and long history.
.To spare you the long history that spans centuries, I'll give you the cliff notes on the history. Hampstead Heath can be found mentioned in historical paperwork as far back as the AD 900s, being passed on as property from one person to another and eventually Parliament Hill was purchased for the public in 1888 for £300,000. Now, the public can enjoy the benefits of this gorgeous and expansive historical land.
As one of the highest points in London, Hampstead Heath has walking routes that are perfect for beginners and intermediate hikers and span between 4.5 to 6.5 miles (7.2 to 10.5 km). The paths wind through woods, open fields, and even go past the Kenwood House, a former stately home. You can also book a tour of the Kenwood House between 8:00am and 7:00pm on weekdays.
The pools, ponds, playgrounds, butterfly field, and so forth make the Heath family-friendly and unique as a one-stop shop for all of your day's leisure activities. There is more than plenty of grassy areas for you to sunbathe or have a picnic with a beautiful view. Just bring your picnic blanket.
One of the many favourite areas I saw in the Heath was the dog pond. Many of the visiting pups would take turns jumping into the water to cool down from the heat of the day.
Hampstead Heath is open 24/7 365 days a year. But the Golders Hill Park, the Pergola, and The Hill Garden will have varying hours of operation.
How to Get There
To arrive via bus, take buses arriving at Parliament Hill Fields including buses 88, 214, and C11.
To arrive via tube, take the Northern Line to Belsize or Hampstead stations.
Upon arrival, take the entrance on Mansfield Street at the Mutt Hut.
Parks Not Recommended for Hiking
You may be asking wondering about hiking around popular parks such as Regents Park and Primrose Hill Park. Aren't they largely popular? Are they also good places for getting out of the urban areas?
These parks are great for a nice stroll or walking your dog briefly. They're even great for picnics and other stationary activities. But if you're focused on finding locations that make you feel you've exited the city life and took a break within the realm of mother nature, these are not your ideal places to visit.
They are plain, grassy lands and do not make for much of a view. That's why I didn't bother to list them above.