The loveliest winter walks in London (and where to refuel)
Looking to swap your local park for another neighbourhood’s revered green space? We round up some of the prettiest spots for winter walks in London
Here’s where to stretch your legs in London this winter…
Hollow Ponds on Leyton Flats (E11)
Hollow Ponds just about retains its status as one of London’s best-kept secrets, but perhaps not for long. Beautiful year-round (but particularly in late autumn when a thick carpet of fiery leaves smothers the slopes surrounding the water’s edge), the ponds can be admired by foot and even enjoyed by boat in the summer months. Craving a longer walk? You’re in luck: beyond the ponds, Leyton Flats bleeds into the ancient woodland of Epping Forest.
Refuel: From one London gem to another: Leyton coffee specialists Perky Blenders serves some of the best brews in the city (as confirmed by the number of top better-known coffee shops and baristas counted among its Instagram following). There’s a branch by Leyton Midland Road station (a 24-minute walk from Hollow Ponds) and another by the barriers of Leytonstone Underground station (a 22-minute walk). Their almond croissant rivals that of Pophams and Jacob the Angel (aka the best in London) and the Midland Road branch also serves the phenomenal wares of Unholy Bagels.
Clissold Park & Abney Park Cemetery (N16)
Abney Park Cemetery
Due to its positioning in a London Underground void, Stoke Newington is often written off by those who don’t live within walking distance. But the neighbourhood boasts two of the nicest green spaces in London: Clissold Park and Abney Park Cemetery. The former offers 55 acres of neat lawns, swan-populated lakes, an animal enclosure with deer and goats and a café. The latter is a patch of historic parkland dating back to the 18th century, the upkeep of which was abandoned in the 1970s. As such, Abney Park Cemetery is today a scenic tangle of pathways shrouded by overgrown woodland and flanked by ancient graves. Walking both at a gentle pace can be done in a couple of hours, and the stretch between them – Stoke Newington Church Street – is a parade of independent cafés and boutiques, perfect for a coffee stop or spot of shopping.
The Good Egg
Refuel: If you’re approaching Stoke Newington from the south, swinging by Dalston’s The Dusty Knuckle bakery for one of its giant gourmet sandwiches (the pork and veal meatball number being a current favourite) is a must, as is picking up a loaf to take home – this is some of the best bread you’ll find in London. Meanwhile, nestled between the aforementioned park and cemetery is the original branch of brilliant Middle Eastern/Israeli café The Good Egg. Pick up a top-notch coffee and bagel to supercharge your walk.
Brockwell Park & Dulwich Park (SE24 & SE21)
Sandwiched between the bustling neighbourhoods of Brixton, Herne Hill and Tulse Hill, Brockwell Park’s biggest wonder is perhaps the fact that you lose all sight and sense of the steady traffic clogging the roads beyond its hilly sphere. A brisk walk around the outskirts will take you 40 minutes, but why rush when there’s a rose garden, community greenhouse and trio of ponds to enjoy? A 20-minute walk away, through leafy, quiet streets, you’ll find Dulwich Park which, having been restored in the mid-noughties to its original Victorian layout – complete with dusty horse tracks and a boating lake – is one of the most prim parks in south London and great for families.
Refuel: Pick up a coffee and a pastry from the Herne Hill branch of south London mini-chain Blackbird Bakery, or, if walking later in the day, a takeaway Negroni from phenomenal Brixton restaurant Naughty Piglets (which is also offering recipe kits so you can enjoy its latest innovative array of small plates at home).
Hampstead Heath (NW3)
No London walk brings you quite as close to proper countryside as a roam across Hampstead Heath. These ancient grasslands are vast, covering 320 hectares. Culture Whisper’s Poppy Cory-Wright is a regular, and recommends a 4.5-mile circular walk: ‘Start on Hampstead High Street and walk down the Hill, turning left into Willoughby Road towards Burgh House, a 300-year-old Museum and Art Centre. You will stumble almost immediately upon the famous Hampstead Ponds, where for centuries intrepid bathers have trumpeted the benefits of year-round al fresco swimming. From here, start the climb up Parliament Hill, stopping at the crest to admire the view across London to St Paul’s Cathedral. Continue towards Kenwood House, renowned for its impressive collection of Reynolds and Gainsborough portraits and landscaped gardens designed by Sir Humphrey Repton. Head to the Stable Field east of Kenwood House for more impressive views then continue the walk back through Hampstead Heath via the Vale of Health to finish back at the High Street.’
Bread Ahead's award-winning mince pies
Refuel: Pick up a steaming mug of coffee, mulled wine or a hot chocolate and whisky out of the hatch-style window of The Coffee Cup, a Hampstead café that’s been a stalwart of the neighbourhood since the 50s. If peckish, pop into the neighbouring (and relatively new) branch of Bread Ahead for an award-winning mince pie to power your walk. Then take the time to admire the reams of twinkling fairy lights strung like blankets over the cobbled back streets between the station and the heath.
Victoria Park and Hertford Union Canal (E9)
Despite its east London postcode, there’s something distinctly New York City-esque about Victoria Park. Perhaps it’s the tunnels of trees lining the walkways, or maybe it’s the stylish crowds power-walking or jogging beneath them. Either way, one 40-minute lap around its circumference and you will have fallen in love with at least one passer-by’s designer coat and another’s designer dog. On bright days, a pitstop by the lake in the bottom segment of the park is a must. Cast your eyes out across the waters and admire Romanian Artist Erno Bartha’s Skyscraper and Bird sculptures, and the glittering fountain beyond.
Refuel: Fortunately, you don’t have to look far to find a decent cup of coffee and bite to eat in these parts. Victoria Park’s Pavilion Café – perched on the edge of the lake – serves some of the best croissants, buns and organic sourdough loaves in all of London, plus stellar coffee and a full Sri Lankan breakfast. For something a little stronger, exit the park to the north right-hand side and walk along the boat-lined Hertford Union Canal to Hackney Wick’s ‘floating kitchen’ Barge East, where you can enjoy mulled wine, hot cocktails and warming plates of street food while looking out over the river.
Battersea Park (SW11)
The Old English Garden in Battersea Park
With its gardens and sculptures offering the chance to escape through botanics and brief history lessons to far-flung destinations around the world, Battersea Park is one of the prettiest and most varied green spaces to walk in London. The Grade II-listed, 200-acre park boasts a children’s zoo, a boating lake, Peace Pagoda (gifted to the city in 1984 by the founder of the Japanese Buddhist movement) and a playground. Best of all, for a spot of inner-city tranquillity, is the Old English Garden: a walled hideaway in which a lily-covered pond and vibrant foliage is tended to by a Chelsea Flower Show gold medal-winner.
Refuel: Perched on the edge of The Boating Lake, The Pear Tree Café offers coffees, smoothies, brunch favourites and healthy lunches (including a vegan curry and soup of the day) to see you through your walk. It serves alcohol too, should you be celebrating or nursing a hangover. For patisserie that’s a pedestal above, look to Filipino coffee shop Kapihan. Sandwiched between Albert Bridge Road and Battersea Bridge Road, the café celebrates the nation’s signature brews along with freshly baked Filipino breads and merienda (snacks). The pan de coco (sweet coconut bread) and savoury pan de adobo (salty bread filled with pork belly and shoulder) are said to be heavenly.
Tower Bridge to Waterloo Bridge (SE1)
Yes, we know, recommending a walk along the South Bank is about as original as recommending a tourist to visit Buckingham Palace – and we’re painfully aware of how busy it is at all hours of the day. But bear with us, because it reigns supreme as the prime place to meet friends living t’other side of the city and is playing home this winter to a dazzling al fresco light show. The stretch from Tower Bridge to Waterloo Bridge should take you 30 minutes to walk – most of it by the water’s edge. Pop into Borough Market to refuel (see below) along the way, before making the Southbank Centre and its open-air Winter Light exhibition your final destination. Running from Friday 20 November until Sunday 28 February, the outdoor exhibition features 17 artworks from an international body of artists united by one theme: the ability to create ingenious things with light, colour and animation.
The Watch House
Refuel: If you begin your walk at Tower Bridge, saunter down picturesque side street Shad Thames for a Victorian-era throwback, stopping for an artisan coffee and a cake from The Watch House (those serious about their brews should also pay a visit to its nearby roastery on Maltby Street). Later, veer off the river and into Borough Market, which remains open for business selling mulled wine, street food (do check out Elizabeth Haigh’s Singaporean venture Mei Mei and Nicholas Fitzgerald’s new taqueria Tacos Padre – two hot newbies) and farmers’ goods to take home.
Crystal Palace Park (SE19)
Crystal Palace Park dinosaurs
For wide-eyed little ones obsessed with dinosaurs there’s no park quite as magical as that in Crystal Palace with its skulking statues of prehistoric beasts. Classified as ‘Grade I listed buildings’, the dinosaurs were sculpted by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins in the 1850s and today are sure to lure even the most reluctant tot out for a walk. Boasting a maze, lakes and other Victorian artefacts, the hilly park is just as pleasurable to explore with older, more worldly eyes.
Brown and Green Café
Refuel: Brown and Green Café inside the park itself serves decent coffee, innovative sweet treats (hello vegan apple and cinnamon doughnuts), and, in normal times, hearty brunch plates and healthy, colourful lunches. Or for homemade cakes that look almost too gorgeous to eat, head just outside the park to Crespidia, which triples up as a florist and vintage boutique.
Walthamstow Wetlands (N17)
Since opening to the public in 2017, Walthamstow Wetlands has proudly become Europe’s largest urban wetland nature reserve. A brilliant place for bird-spotting or simply soaking up some aquatic tranquility, the 150-year-old Wetlands can be enjoyed on foot or by bike (there’s a 2km cycle path through the site), are free to visit, and are open all year round. Lose yourself wandering along the winding walkways flanked on either side by vast expanses of water – which, incidentally, supply 3.5 million homes in and around London.
Refuel: Today Bread, an organic bakery (which in normal times is something of a community hub) sells sourdough loaves, Mozzo coffee, and the wares of other ethical independent producers it’s proud to partner with.