They say that Paris is the city of the flaneur — the leisurely walker — walking being the perfect way to discover the city. Agreed, London is a little busier and larger, but that does not mean it is devoid of lovely walks. They allow you to discover either the sights along the way, or indeed escape the city for a while, while remaining right in it.
London has a selection of dedicated walks, which you can follow, allowing you to experience the city at its best, and I have chosen a few walks which I love. Whenever I find myself in the heart of London, I tend to “escape” the city for a while and follow a walk to get the feeling of stretching my legs and yet enjoying the cityscape.
My selection is broad, from a canal walk to a river walk, to inner-city sightseeing, to an art trail, and even a memorial walk, so, hopefully there is something in my collection that suits everybody.
1. The Thames Path
The Thames Path is just that: a path that follows alongside the River Thames over 184 miles long. Obviously, it is a wonderful undertaking to follow the entire path, but so far, I have only managed a few sections in and around London. It officially starts at the Thames’s source in the Cotswolds and ends past the Thames Flood Barrier, at the river’s estuary into the North Sea. Within London, my favorite stretch to walk is from the shimmering Flood Barrier, past the O2 arena — formerly known as the Millennium Dome and recognized by most from the James Bond movie The World is Not Enough. Walking along the south side, you follow the river into Greenwich, to the Old Naval College, and to Greenwich Park with the Royal Observatory and the Cutty Sark. This stretch is just over 4 miles long and gives you a good excuse to have lunch and a Pimm’s in Greenwich.
Pro Tip: From here, the nicest way to get back into the center, apart from walking, is by hopping on a water taxi back into the heart of the city.
2. Regent’s Canal
Imagine walking through central London, with the birds singing, strings of ducks swimming past you, canal boats bobbing in the water, and not a car horn or whiff of exhaust fumes near you. The 8.6-mile-long Regent’s Canal was finished in 1820, designed by John Nash as a way of transporting cargo through inner London. Today, it is a tranquil waterway with many cafes and sights alongside it, showing you a very different London. You can walk the length of it, starting in Little Venice towards the west and ending at Limehouse Basin, just ahead of Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs in London’s East End. Or you could pop to the lovely Coal Drops Yard just behind St. Pancras and King’s Cross Stations, where the old warehouses have come good and now house superb restaurants and individual shopping; you can start walking from there.
Pro Tip: The canal traverses Regent’s Park and London Zoo, so keep your eyes peeled for some exotic creatures along the way.
3. Tate Britain To Tate Modern
This is no official path but one of my making, as I tend to always pop into one of the Tate galleries when in London, either Tate Modern or the original Tate Britain, or even both. Starting at Tate Britain, with its photogenic staircase, cross Vauxhall Bridge toward the iconic MI6 building — another landmark easily recognized from James Bond movies — turn left past Lambeth Palace, toward the London Eye, and the Palace of Westminster across the Thames. Keep walking along South Bank with its many attractions, cafes, and sights, such as Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Tate Modern, and the Fabulous Millennium Bridge — recognizable from not only James Bond’s Spectre, but also from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The entire walk takes around 40 to 45 minutes.
Pro Tip: Not far from Tate Modern lies the iconic Borough Market, perfect for some sustenance.
4. The Line
London’s first dedicated art and sculpture trail, The Line, with 12 works of contemporary art along the 3-mile route, roughly follows the Greenwich Meridian as it meanders between the Greenwich Peninsula and the O2 Dome in the south, crossing the Thames, and ending near the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford towards the north. Depending on how long you linger over the individual installations, the walk takes around 3 hours of leisurely walking and not only shows you unique contemporary expressions but also a part of London which few visitors ever explore. From Anish Kapoor to Tracey Ermin, the art is at times mind-boggling, stunning, thought-provoking, and beautiful. And you can cross the Thames by cable car from which you can spot a couple of sculptures in and next to the river.
Pro Tip: The Line and its works are on an app that offers guided walks through many museums worldwide, including this London walk.
5. Jubilee Loop
This loop walk is perfect for first-time visitors to London, as the Jubilee Walkway takes in many of the major sights within a 2-mile-round walk. From Trafalgar Square, you’ll walk up The Mall, with its grand buildings and many old-fashioned private gentlemen’s clubs to Buckingham Palace, then around St. James’s Park. Or, as I prefer to do, walk through St. James’s Park to feed (unsalted) nuts to the many very friendly squirrels. Then head to Parliament Square with Westminster Palace and Big Ben and a peek across the bridge to the London Eye. Officially, you are supposed to head back along Horse Guards Road, but I would suggest heading up along Whitehall, past Downing Street and the Changing of the Guards to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. Within an easy walk, you have seen many of the most important sights.
Pro Tip: Steps away, on Northumberland Avenue, lies the atmospheric Sherlock Holmes pub, full of interesting memorabilia of the fictional, yet so iconic London detective.
6. Diana Princess Of Wales Memorial Walk
There is no doubt that Diana, former Princess of Wales, is still revered by many, and this Memorial Walk, following plaques commemorating landmarks relevant to her life, celebrates Diana’s life in London. The 7-mile round trip takes you from her former home at Kensington Palace through Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Green Park, and St. James’s Park via Buckingham Palace, Spencer House, a former seat of her family, and the Diana Memorial, among other stops. This is not only a lovely walk for those who loved the princess, but also for those you simply want a decent stroll through four (nearly) interconnected, lovely parks in the heart of London, with a few royal sights thrown in along the way.
Pro Tip: In St. James’s Park, stop at the St. James’s Café, which not only does a typical English sausage sandwich, but also decent Fish & Chips, with a lovely view.
7. The Wall Of London Walk
Did you know that London was once a walled city? The Romans, back in around 120 BC, built a defensive wall around Londinium, as it was called then, to protect the valuable port city. Even though, maintained up to the 18th century, today, admittedly, there is not much of it left, too little for most visitors to even know about the wall, but enough to make it a worthwhile walk, if quite short. Conveniently, starting at the Tower of London where most visitors find themselves at some point, the 1.7-mile-long route takes you north past Aldgate (the clues are always there, if you know what to look for), turning westward and skirting the City of London. Then, the route moves past Bishopsgate along the road called London Wall (see what I mean?) to the Barbican and the equally conveniently placed Museum of London, to allow you to double-check the history of what you have just experienced. The map details 21 markers along the way, each of historic significance.
Pro Tip: Do pop into Postman’s Park, by St Bartholomew’s Hospital, the world’s oldest hospital dating to 1123, and near the end of the walk. It is a lovely park, named after the workers of the nearby post office who lunch here.
8. Hampstead Heath Circular Walk
If you need a break from London, which is, not for nothing, called “The Big Smoke,” and are in need of some foliage and fresh air, head north to Hampstead Heath, one of London’s biggest green areas. More than 790 acres are filled with woodland, meadows bursting with wildflowers, some 30 odd ponds, and plenty of wildlife. Depending on how much time you have, there is a 4.5-mile option or a longer 6.5-mile walk. Both walks are circular, taking you back to the starting point. There are plenty of stopping points along the way, from grand houses to art, from cafes to museums, such as Keats House. And yes, there are toilets on the heath as well.
Pro Tip: To make a day of it, pop into Euphorium at Hampstead Heath tube station and get a couple of delicious sandwiches to take with you.