London, a quintessential urban metropolis with an abundance of concrete, gray slabs, paved roads and glass skyscrapers. The UK’s capital city is complete with buildings, streets, bridges and multi-story car parks and to the first-time visitor, it seems to be painted in 50+ shades of grey.
Well, there’s actually so much more to London. In fact, the UK capital surpasses many other cities when it comes to green spaces, with a staggering 47% of Greater London considered green. While a large portion of this statistic comes from private gardens, there is no shortage of parks, woodlands, nature reserves, botanical spaces and even farms.
It should come as no surprise that London has more green spaces than any other European capital, great news for locals and tourists from all walks of life. It is scientifically proven that nature is good for our wellbeing, and whether it’s trees, hills or tropical plants that make you smile, London has something for everyone.
1. The Royal Parks
The eight Royal Parks are London’s most well-known–and arguably most beautiful–nature havens: Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Richmond Park, Bushy Park, Green Park, St James’s Park, Regents Park and Greenwich Park. Dotted around Greater London, the Royal Parks provide accessible, relaxing gardens that are enjoyed by all. Within these rather grand open spaces you can spot wild deer; swim in a lido; go boating; enjoy outdoor concerts, theatre and film screenings; ride horses; view statues and fountains; or just have a good old-fashioned picnic. Even during winter, people are drawn to the Royal Parks, as they become filled with young and old using the green spaces for exercise in nature.
2. Kew Gardens
The Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, London’s nature mecca, are located towards the end of the District Line. This vibrant expanse has more wildlife than you can shake a stick at. One of the top highlights is the Palm House, a hot and humid greenhouse with plant life that feels more reminiscent of the Sumatran Jungle than London’s zone three. Another must-see Kew attraction is the treetop walkway – a wooden platform that runs through the canopy of trees so that you can admire the gardens from the birds’ perspective. The gardens are also home to a range of plants and trees among the different greenhouses and allotments, and you can even learn about the importance of bees in the seventeen-foot hive structure.
3. Epping Forest
This enormous expanse on the London/Essex border feels like miles away from London’s urban chaos, but the wild forest is actually a quick and easy journey on the Central Line. The area boasts history, culture and adventure complete with Iron Age hill forts, Royal Gunpowder Mills and white-water rafting activities. The peace and quiet amidst the 2,400 hectares of woodland makes Epping Forest such a treasure. It is perfect for a long hike, and while it certainly isn’t desolate, it’s not crowded either, save for a few dog walkers, the odd mountain biker exploring the trails and children climbing trees during a family walk.
Wimbledon boasts some of the best parks in South West London. The Common is one of the most popular open spaces in the area and provides an area of calm amidst the hustle and bustle. Covering an incredible 460 acres, one of the highlights of the Common is The Windmill. Built in 1817, The Windmill is now a museum showcasing its history to visitors all year round. Other popular green spaces in Wimbledon include: the 67-acre Wimbledon Park, Cannizaro Park, South Park Gardens and Holland Gardens.
5. All around town
Rooftop gardens, smaller parks, and city farms can be found all around town. Make a visit to Camley Street Natural Park, a conservation area in the heart of King’s Cross; Postman’s Park, a small public garden with memorials commemorating acts of heroism; or go bird-spotting at the London Wetland Centre.
So yes, London is a large city that seems to have a penchant for gray on the surface, but it only takes a bit of exploring to discover its green alter ego.