50 shades of gray? Think again. 50 shades of green is more like it. Here’s a look at where to find nature in London.
London. This quintessential urban metropolis is a cornucopia of concrete, grey slabs, paved roads, glass skyscrapers. This classic capital city complete with buildings, streets, bridges and multi-story car parks is painted in 50+ shades of gray, right?
Well, there’s actually 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 being 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, I find myself drawn to the Royal Parks, as they become filled with young and old athletes working towards their goals. Whether someone is practicing for their first 5km Parkrun, or seasoned triathletes are cycling, swimming and running towards their next Ironman–many often with their canine pals in tote–, there is a palpable camaraderie among those pursuing their physical endeavors.
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. When I’m feeling a bit down and need some self-care time, Kew Gardens is my year-round go-to. My top highlight 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.
One 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 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.
Around the Palm House Pond you’ll find several specimens of swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum) – one of the few deciduous conifers – whose delicate leaves are now turning beautiful shades of copper and gold. Get up close and you’ll see one of the defining features of this tree – its knobbly ‘knees’, which poke up through the waterlogged soil along the bank. #KewGardens
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.
For me, the peace and quiet amidst the 2,400 hectares of woodland that 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. This happy place is the only outdoor space in London I feel comfortable camping. (While not technically allowed, wild camping is generally accepted as long as you keep a low profile, clean up after yourself and move on if you are asked to).
4. All around town.
But London isn’t all about the biggest, most renowned nature spaces. Rooftop gardens, smaller parks, and city farms can be found all around town. I couldn’t finish without mentioning Camley Street Nature Reserve, a conservation area in the heart of King’s Cross; Postman’s Park, a small public garden with memorials commemorating acts of heroism; or 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.