London is a walkers’ treasure trove, whether you like to follow a pre-planned route or prefer to strike out on your own two feet. From a tour of the fascinating historical buildings of the City of London to idyllic strolling on Hampstead Heath, there is somewhere for every walker to stretch their legs. If you want to get involved in group walks, get in touch with the Metropolitan Walkers.
Despite its dull sounding title, the Legal London walk (or walks; there are variations) takes in an impressive number of London’s important legal and religious buildings – those that are not on the usual tourist trail. One walk begins at Blackfriars tube station and ends at Chancery Lane paying a visit to the site of the original Blackfriars monastery (now occupied by a wedge-shaped art nouveau pub), the Old Bridewell House of Correction, the Central Criminal Court (or “Old Bailey”) and Newgate Prison before leading into London’s famous journalism centre, Fleet Street. Next is the fascinating old area of Temple and the Templars’ Church and Inns of Court, former temples that were eventually given to the lawyers by James I in 1608. After stopping at the Royal Courts of Justice (or “Law Courts”) you pass the griffin which separates the City of London (Fleet Street) from the City of Westminster (The Strand). Bank of England designer, Sir John Soane, left his house to the public and it is now a museum full of historic artefacts. After the museum there is Lincoln’s Inn, the oldest of the four Inns of Court, before you arrive at Chancery Lane.
The Thames Path
The Thames Path is one of the easiest walks to pick up as it forms part of the well-signed National Trail which leads 40 miles from the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier. Depending on your stamina, you could start your Thames Path walk from either Albert Bridge or Westminster Bridge and finish at Tower Bridge (or further east if you are still game). Albert Bridge to Tower Bridge is around five miles whereas Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge is about two. In either case you will pass Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe and the Tower of London. Further east still brings you to Canary Wharf, Greenwich and the O2 Arena/Millennium Dome before you arrive at the Thames Barrier. If you’re still not done, pick up the Thames Barge signs and head out to Dickens’s marsh country towards Gravesend. The trail ends at the River Darent.
Charles Dickens’s London
On the subject of Dickens, there are numerous city walks that follow the life and literary landmarks of the famous writer and social critic, including one provided by Southwark Council which starts at London Bridge (where Dickens loved to observe people who would later become his characters) and ends at the infamous Marshalsea debtors’ prison, the wall of which still remains. Highlights to pick up are the White Hart Inn, where Mr Pickwick first meets Cockney comedy figure Sam Weller in Dickens’s first novel, the Pickwick Papers; Saffron Hill, site of the lair of Oliver Twist villain Fagin, and the site of Newgate prison (now occupied by the Old Bailey), the place where the aforementioned met his grisly end. Fans of Great Expectations can see Gray’s Inn, where Pip works as a clerk, and Barnard’s Inn, where he lodged with Herbert Pockett
Westminster & Whitehall
To take a trip through the political heart of London, start at Victoria and head north east towards Parliament Square where you will see the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament), Westminster Abbey and Elizabeth Tower – home of Big Ben. Next, travel north up Parliament Street, which becomes Whitehall, site of a former royal palace but now a collection of official buildings. You will pass the Cenotaph and the nearby gated entrance to Downing Street, home of the Prime Minister, follwed by Banqueting House and Horse Guard Parade before Whitehall opens up into pleasant Trafalger Square and Nelson’s Column. You could end your walk here or complete a circuit by following The Mall to Buckingham Palace on the way back to Victoria.
City of London
To explore the financial centre of the UK – the so-called ‘Square Mile’ – it is useful to split the walk into three separate parts: Tower Hill to Bank, Bank to St. Paul’s and St.Paul’s to Tower. The City is less busy than the tourist traps near Westminster yet is every bit as fascinating, although major landmarks such as the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral are on the tourist trail. Highlights of any City tour should include the Monument to the Great Fire of London, Lloyds of London, the Gherkin and the Victorian grandeur of Leadenhall Market. There are also over 40 churches in the city, many designed by Christopher Wren, and fascinating stories and legends abound. Self-guided walks can be downloaded directly from the City website.
Kensington & Knightsbridge
Mix culture and shopping with a leisurely walk around the gentile parks and calm streets of Kensington and Knightsbridge. Crossing Hyde Park into Kensington Gardens can seem like entering a parallel world with the Serpentine Lake twinkling and London couples enjoying a romantic walk or families relaxing with their children, perhaps with a picnic. The cafe at Kensington Palace is a must, as is a visit to the light and airy Serpentine Gallery which houses contemporary art in a 1930s tea-room style building. Finish your walk by spoiling yourself at Harrods in Knightsbridge.
Hampstead Heath & Village
For non-locals, Hampstead Heath can be hard to believe with 790 acres of green space, much of it wild, on the edge of London. Start off at the picturesque and historic village of Hampstead which has retained much of its original character yet still has plenty of clothes shops, bars and restaurants. Fuel yourself up before making your way to the Heath where you can enjoy wandering among large old trees and beautiful flowers while looking out for the occasional kite overhead (the birds, not the flying toys). In the summer, cool down with a dip in the popular Hampstead ponds and don’t forget to climb Parliament Hill for breathtaking views of the capital in all her glory. Kenwood House is a great place to pause for a bite to eat with reasonable prices (for London). Spaniards Inn is another popular eatery nearby.
Blackheath to Greenwich Park
One of London’s most pleasurable walks starts at the village-like common of Blackheath before heading through Blackheath gate to Greenwich Park. There is plenty to see and do at Greenwich Park, including the Greenwich Observatory (where you can straddle the Prime Meridian), the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Naval College and the restoration site of the Cutty Sark. You can also nip under the Thames to the airy and open Isle of Dogs where sheep graze as a mark of victory over developers at Mudchute Farm.