At first glance, London will always seem like a sprawling metropolis of densely packed boroughs and neighbourhoods, a maze of streets that can be imposing and daunting for visitors to navigate. London though is a city of hidden charms, and within the dense sprawl of the British capital there are a multitude of secret spots waiting to be uncovered by those who are willing to delve into the city to find them.
One of the best ways to uncover London’s secret spots, to find those local hangouts and to begin to unravel the layers of history found in the city, is to go on a self-guided walk.
Of course, London is huge. You can walk anywhere and you are bound to find something unique and something different, but we’ve collected together the best walks through the city to give your visit just a little bit more purpose, and to help you to find those wonderful sights that make London such a fascinating place to visit.
From gentle riverside strolls that will transport you from one iconic bridge to the next, to long walks along the Thames Path that can have you hiking out into the countryside and further afield, here are the seven best self-guided walks in London.
1. London Bridges Walk
With the mighty River Thames forming the heartland of London and the city built on the banks of this wide confluence of water, it’s no wonder the capital’s bridges form an integral part of the skyline. From the distinctive drawn gates of Tower Bridge to the quirky, wavy sight of the Millennium Bridge, there are plenty of engineering feats along the river to be marvelled at, and of course to be walked across.
One of London’s best self-guided walks is the London Bridges Walk, which takes you backwards and forwards across the River Thames as you explore these river-spanning icons.
Enjoy the atmosphere of the riverfront from both sides of the Thames, as you start your walk in Westminster taking in the impressive sight of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, before crossing Westminster Bridge, passing the London Eye, along the river and across Waterloo Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge, Millennium Bridge, Southwark Bridge, London Bridge and finally crossing for the last time at Tower Bridge. Here you can round off the day’s walk by exploring the history and tales of the Tower of London.
In all, the route is around seven miles in length. With a few sightseeing stops along the way, the London Bridges Walk will take approximately three hours to complete.
‘Crossing the Thames on the Millenium Bridge_edited-1’ by bvi4092 – https://flic.kr/p/RmUygJ
2. Royal London Walk
The Royal London Walk is a fantastic way to become acquainted with London’s royalty and London’s lovely parks. The walk takes you exclusively through green spaces, away from the busy streets. It runs through St James’s Park and towards Kensington Gardens, allowing you to see the best of London’s parks as well as iconic sights such as Buckingham Palace at the same time.
Depending on how long you spend admiring the gardens and palaces on the way, and of course how leisurely your stroll is, the walk will take a minimum of one hour. Expect to spend much longer though, if you really want to enjoy this self-guided walk, and particularly if you have a penchant for royalty.
Start the walk at St James’s Park Underground Station, and head straight into St James’s Park itself to begin. Take a detour from the gardens and across the Mall to admire St James’s Palace. This is a current Royal Residence so, unfortunately, you can’t see the interior, but you may catch the Changing of the Guard ceremony outside.
Carry on along the Mall, and you will soon arrive at Buckingham Palace. Here you may be lucky enough to see the Changing of the Guard too, especially if you time your walk to arrive at 11 am on a weekday or Saturday, or 10 am on a Sunday. Continue on, with Green Park on your right, cross the road and you will soon be in Hyde Park, where you can be entertained at Speaker’s Corner, walk along the banks of the beautiful Serpentine Lake and get lost in the seemingly endless green space. Cross through Kensington Gardens, and end the walk with a look around Kensington Palace, home to a permanent exhibition on Princess Diana.
‘Wellington Arch, Hyde Park Corner’ by Robert Cutts – https://flic.kr/p/a8tJtS
3. London Wall Walk
Anyone looking to delve into the long and ancient history of London need look no further than taking on the London Wall Walk. Despite its current mammoth size, London was originally contained within the relatively small area that’s now known simply as the City of London. The history of this central part of the city extends back thousands of years, and there have been fortifications and castles built to protect it through the centuries.
The Romans heavily fortified London and built up a huge wall to encircle the city, stretching around two miles in length from the current location of St Paul’s Cathedral to Tower Hill. Of course, as the city expanded much of the wall was torn down, lost to other constructions, and some sections that survived for centuries were eventually destroyed by German bombs during World War II.
Some parts of the ancient wall do still remain, however, and if you know where they are then you can trace the outline of the London Wall on a self-guided walk. The route begins by the Tower of London, where you can see the remains of an old gatehouse that was incorporated into the tower. From here, there is a section of Roman Wall remaining close to Tower Hill Station, and from here, you walk northwest towards Aldgate, which was originally the site of one of the many gates in the wall, dating back to long before Roman times.
From Aldgate, the wall continued around London to the west to Bishopsgate, also the site of a gatehouse. Carry on following what was the northern route of the London Wall, and you will arrive at Cripplegate, where you can find extensive remains of the wall still. Close by, at the Museum of London, you can see the large remains of a tower, and some impressive fortifications in the surrounding streets. This is a good point to end – or start – the walk, as in the museum you can learn even more about the city’s long history.
‘Tower of London from Thames’ by August – https://flic.kr/p/mjMHp
4. Hampstead Heath Circular Walk
The Hampstead Heath Circular Walk is one of London’s most loved self-guided walks. It’s an easy four-and-a-half miles long or, with a few additions, a slightly more challenging six-and-a-half miles long. Hampstead is a beautiful open space north of the City of London. It’s one of the largest green areas close to the city and makes for an excellent place to walk, with many lakes, ponds and even London’s highest point, Parliament Hill.
The Hampstead Heath Circular Walk begins conveniently at the Hampstead Underground Station, before entering the public park and taking walkers through its many lovely spots. The trail leads to the top of Parliament Hill, so be prepared for a slight upwards battle before being greeted by expansive views out over London. You can see the City of London’s skyline to the south, including iconic skyscrapers such as the Gherkin.
The walk continues through the park and eventually back to the underground. If you’d like to add in the extra few miles, an extension will take you to Highgate, past St Michael’s Church and into Highgate Cemetery, before returning back to Hampstead Heath and finally back to the Underground Station.
The Hampstead Heath Circular is a spectacular way to experience one of London’s best public parks, to explore the outdoors and to enjoy a spot of nature within the confines of the city.
‘Hampstead Heath’ by Laura Nolte – https://flic.kr/p/8HkJ4z
5. Jubilee Greenway
At almost 40 miles in length, the Jubilee Greenway is not necessarily a walking route you would want to cover in just one day unless you were feeling particularly energetic. This long trail was inaugurated in 2012, to mark both the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics being held in London. The idea was to link many of the Olympic venues together, alongside parks and waterways to give visitors a fantastic walking trail to undertake when visiting the city.
The route takes walkers from Buckingham Palace, through Hyde Park, Victoria Park, through Paddington and to Little Venice, before carrying on around to Greenwich, and as far as the Thames Barrier, then looping back again through Westminster to end at Buckingham Palace.
Of course, you can choose to undertake only certain sections of the whole Jubilee Greenway; one favourite segment is the walk from Little Venice to Camden. This takes you along a spectacular section of London’s canal network, as you walk along Regent’s Canal, past charming waterfront scenes and colourful houses. When you get to Camden after an hour of gentle walking, you can enjoy the atmosphere of one of London’s most famous markets. There are plenty of great places to eat and to drink, to refuel after the journey.
‘Hyde Park, London, England’ by dconvertini – https://flic.kr/p/hoJAsr
6. Richmond Park
Richmond Park is the largest of London’s royal parks. Found on the outskirts of the city in the borough of Richmond, it’s known for its lovely open space and for the huge herds of deer that call this place home. The park was created by Charles I in the early 17th century, as a place to breed deer for his hunts. Today the wider public has access to the park, and it’s a great place to spend the day walking.
There are a variety of paths and trails that cross through Richmond Park, but one of the most comprehensive and enjoyable takes walkers through just under seven miles of the park. The Tamsin Trail, as the route is known, takes visitors through all the highlights of the park and, depending on your walking pace, will take a few hours to complete. The route runs around the edge of Richmond Park, and walkers can join anywhere that is convenient. The trail follows the charming Beverly Brook along the eastern edge of the park, past Bishop’s Pond to the north and King Henry’s Mound in the west. There are a few hilly areas, but it’s not too strenuous a path.
You can take a short break from walking to explore Pembroke Lodge, which is located on a hill that gives a great panorama over the surrounding area. The lodge is a former mansion which has been the home of many a famous British character, including philosopher Bertrand Russell. There’s even a great little cafe for much-needed refreshment during your walk around Richmond Park.
‘Deer, Richmond Park, London’ by Claire Herbaux – https://flic.kr/p/zhVjJw
7. Thames Path
The Thames Path is a huge network of footpaths that follow the course of the River Thames from London, and far out into the surrounding counties and countryside. The path is long – 180 miles long – and it takes intrepid hikers all the way from the Thames Barrier in Woolwich, right to the source of the River Thames in Gloucestershire.
The walk takes at least two weeks to complete in its entirety, as it follows the river out of London and through the beautiful countryside, through Oxford and Abingdon, and into the Cotswolds, one of the country’s most picturesque areas. The route is a National Trail, meaning that it’s well marked and as far as long-distance hikes go, fairly easy to walk, with easy rest stops, plenty of accommodation and plenty of pubs along the way.
However, if you don’t have time to spend two weeks exploring the Thames, there are plenty of shorter sections of the route that you can take on in London. The Thames Path meanders its way through many of London’s most iconic locations, and there are easy day walks that incorporate the trail, from the beautiful – and short – section that takes you from Richmond to Hampton Court, or the Greenwich to London Eye section which takes in all of the best highlights in central London that are found alongside the river. If you do want to spend some time exploring the nearby areas, then check out our guide to the 5 best day trips from London.
As London specialists, Premium Tours can help you to find the best walks in London along with the most fascinating sights. Have a look at our website to find out more or to book one of our London tours.