Practically every visitor to London becomes aware of – even if they don’t visit – the ‘green lung’ of Central London made up by its triumvirate of Royal Parks (Hyde, Green and St. James’s Parks). Yet, being one of the greenest cities on earth, the UK capital is also blessed with many lesser known parks and gardens just waiting to be unearthed…
Red Cross Garden
(50 Redcross Way SE1 1HA)
Just up the road from the paean to modern architecture that’s the cloud-scraping Shard building is this fantastic contrast; a public garden that’s recently been renovated so it looks just like it would have appeared more than a century ago when it gave impoverish local urchins somewhere safe and genuinely, well, nice to play instead of on the dirty, dreary Southwark streets. The brainchild of social reformer Octavia Hill (who went on to found the UK’s National Trust organisation), it was built in that grand Victorian park tradition – with a smart bandstand, a trim cottage, a charming pond and tidy formal borders. All of which have been restored just as they were originally laid out.
WWT London Wetlands Centre
(Queen Elizabeth’s Walk SW13 9WT)
The hustling-bustling, cosmopolitan cacophony that’s Central London may not seem like the perfect habitat for wildfowl and mammals like otters, but appearances can be deceptive. Because, should you journey a little way from the centre of the city (from say, from a Kensington London hotel such as the Park Grand London Kensington) and cross the Thames at Barnes Bridge, you’ll quickly happen upon this man-made oasis where visitors feel just as at home as all the herons, sparrowhawks, falcons and kingfishers that frequent it. Developed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust out of four disused Victorian reservoirs into a landscape of islets, lagoons and pastures, it’s a hidden away gem that you can lose yourself in for hours – and then awake and enjoy a picnic or a coffee at its café with an outdoor terrace.
(1 Tapper Walk N1C 4AQ)
Those for whom sustainability is something of a must – and even those for whom it’s not – will be cheered and charmed by this spot of natural wonder that’s tucked away in King’s Cross. It combines the spirit of old-fashioned British allotments with recycled waste materials from nearby (and only recently vacated) building sites to create a city garden where everything from beans to tomatoes and chillies to pumpkins are grown out of one-time skips and polytunnels to be used on-site for seasonal feasts and regular supper clubs. The garden’s café (which uses the produce too) is open every day – why not pop along and check it all out?
Kenwood House and Hampstead Heath
(Hampstead Lane NW3 7JR)
Finally, head up into north-east London and eventually you’ll probably bump into Hampstead Heath; a several-mile-wide expanse of wild nature that, yes, is entirely within the confines of the city – indeed, thanks to its hilly nature, it also offers fantastic panoramic views of the metropolis to the south (especially the City of London and its skyscrapers). However, perhaps the jewel in the Heath’s crown is Kenwood House with its beautiful grounds (featuring a blissful lake). A former 18th Century stately home with a stunning all-white-brick exterior built by neoclassical architect Robert Adam and comprising delightful interiors as well as a large collection of fine art masterpieces (such as a Rembrandt self-portrait), it’s also a venue that holds activities for all ages – thus making it a great for a day out for all the family.