There’s nothing quite like being locked in your flat 23 hours of the day to make you *really* appreciate some time in the great outdoors – leaving the inevitable arguments over the thermostat and three-day-old dishes behind. And, in London, great the outdoors really are. Thankfully, for the duration of Lockdown 3.0, we’re allowed past the parameter of our front door for as much exercise as we can physically (and mentally) manage; and, although official advice has been sketchy when it comes to setting precise limits on the distance we can stroll, bike or run, Boris Johnston inadvertently set a precedent when he was spotted cycling in Stratford’s Olympic Park earlier this month – seven miles from his home on Downing Street.
In a city that boasts so much green space that it can technically be classed as a forest, there’s no shortage of tree-laden routes to traverse on your daily constitutional. So we’ve named seven of them (each under seven miles start to finish) that you can meander around as part of your state-mandated exercise regime. But, no matter where you go, ensure you stay as far away from others as possible, strictly adhering to a two-metre distance, and wear your mask when ordering coffee, if you need to pop into the supermarket or you’re walking on busier streets. In other words, don’t be a dick.
You can read the official Tier 4 guidelines on exercise here.
- North-West London
Perfect if you live in: Golders Green, Hampstead, Gospel Oak, Highgate, Archway
Take in some of London’s finest greenery on this route, striding across the expansive squares that piece together to form Hampstead Heath’s far-quieter extension and on to the main common’s surprisingly untamed woods (via some of the area’s most enviable homes – extra points if you spot the one with life-sized superhero statues perched on the roof). Pop out onto the cobbled streets of Hampstead, and you’ve got the perfect place for a coffee pitstop (see below) before dipping back in and past the famous bathing ponds and up towards Parliament Hill, where you can take in some of the city’s best views. Still have some energy left? Then head uphill (sorry) towards the famous Highgate Cemetery – it’s open, by the way – and cut through Waterlow Park before veering round to appreciate the 17th-century architecture of Kenwood House; fans of the movie Notting Hill will recognise this stately home from one of the film’s final scenes. Sightseeing and fresh air in one? We’re too good to you.
Pick up a takeaway coffee: Meander along any one of Hampstead’s fairytale-esque streets and you’ll find an abundance of coffee shops, from Ginger & White to Heath Street Bakehouse (where you’ll be able to snag a buttery pastry to top up those lost calories).
2. North London
Perfect if you live in: Highgate, East Finchley, Archway, Wood Green, Hornsey, Muswell Hill
We do love a good view, and the one from Ally Pally (that’s the locals’ unofficial title for Alexandra Palace, FYI), is one of the best. Surrounded by a pretty-sizeable park, this historic venue, one-time refugee camp and birthplace of the BBC sits atop a hill that boasts an impressive vista taking in some of the city’s most iconic buildings. Before you reach the summit, make sure you meander through the affluent broadways of Muswell Hill and Crouch End to grab a coffee and croissant to enjoy as you climb to the top.
Afterwards, depending which way you came, head for more greenery via the prim Priory Park or the inner-city forest of Highgate Wood, stopping by to marvel at the adorably quaint Shepherd’s Hill Allotments (we challenge you not to feel like an extra in Midsomer Murders – erm, in a good way) before continuing on to the Parkland Walk. This stretch of former railway line is now London’s longest nature reserve, interspersed with artistic graffiti, gardens, more alotments, bridges and roads that’ll lead you all the way to Finsbury Park, if you fancy – otherwise, head up and back to Ally Pally, taking in the park’s colourful rose garden en route home.
Pick up a takeaway coffee: Swing by Coffee Circus, hailed by several Tripadvisor reviewers as the best coffee in Crouch End (impressive), or sample the seasonal beans (and an array of teas for those more partial to a brew) at Velasquez and Vanwezel.
3. North-East London
Perfect if you live in: Crouch End, Finsbury Park, Stoke Newington, Dalston, Highbury, Holloway
Remember the good old days crammed into packed stadiums on chilly afternoons? Opt for a dose of nostalgia with a stroll past Arsenal’s home ground, swooping around Emirates and up towards Stoke Newington’s Clissold Park. Pop in through Robinson Crusoe Gate (so-named for the book’s author, who lived close by – you’ll see Daniel Defoe’s blue plaque a little further along) and keep wandering eastwards once you emerge from the other side, reaching the lesser-known and far-more-rugged Abney Park. One of London’s informally named “Magnificent Seven” alongside its more-famous sibling, Highgate Cemetery, this historic graveyard is home to Mancunian poet Isabella Banks and one of Florence Nightingale’s colleagues. Ooh.
After traversing the tombstones, head north towards Woodberry Wetlands, where you can catch a glimpse of some of London’s elusive wildlife before looping round to Finsbury Park and the lengthy Parkland Walk. Either follow the main street parallel to Holloway Road back down to your starting point, or weave in and out of the side streets to nosy at some of the area’s cutest abodes.
Pick up a takeaway coffee: Dubbed a “village” by locals, Stoke Newington Church Street (that’s its full name, btw) is full of cool, quirky cafes – and a noticeable lack of chain names (save for the omnipresent Nando’s, naturally), from the family-run Caffeine to plant lovers’ haven The Green Room Cafe.
4. East London
Perfect if you live in: Hackney, Mile End, Bethnal Green, Hoxton, Islington
City strolls more your bag? Then leave the leafy surrounds behind in favour of graffiti-strewn streets. Despite the area’s undeniable (and controversial) gentrification over the last twenty years, Hoxton remains home to some of the capital’s most-characterful roads, covered in cool, colourful graffiti that alludes to its artistic past. Bypass the artwork synonymous with Shoreditch on Great Eastern Street and travel along the likes of Rivington Street instead (there’s a Banksy there, you know), before heading up to a much-quieter Columbia Road sans flower market. Grab a coffee and carry on to Haggerston Park, where you’ll find a teeny nature reserve – and the site where Michael Jackson landed his helicopter in the early 90s (yep, really) – then on up to Broadway Market. If you’re in the mood for a lengthier walk or cycle, go on up to the ever-popular London Fields (the perfect spot for a legal BBQ come summer, if restrictions lift), but if not, make a sharp left and meander along the beautiful Regent’s Canal*. Winding all the way along to the picturesque townhouses and terraces of Islington, this waterside walk grants you views of enviable houseboats – but, unfortunately, the famous singing sharks, an installation by local artist Jamie Shorten, have now been removed. Boo.
*Camden dwellers, you can trace the canal in the opposite direction, either through the periphery of Regent’s Park or up via Primrose Hill (another top-quality view) and all the way along to the Insta-worthy Little Venice.
Pick up a takeaway coffee: Where? Take your pick! You’ll no longer need to fight the crowds at Broadway Market or on Columbia Road for a flat white at Pavilion, pastries at Climpson & Sons or a cappuccino at Colombian Coffee Roaster Hermanos. And if you need a top up by the time you reach Islington, there are plenty places to choose from, either there or en route.
5. West London
Perfect if you live in: Battersea, Fulham, Earl’s Court, West Brompton, Kensington,
Another one for those partial to pounding concrete; across the river from Clapham Common and Battersea Park, you can veto grassy knolls in favour of some of the city’s prettiest streets. You’ll find a colourful terrace tucked down Ennismore Garden Mews, famous street art splashed across the brickwork of Kendrick Mews and an inviting, ivy-strewn archway sneakily leading into the secretive Kynance Mews, appreciating the stunning architecture of the V&A and Natural History Museum as you saunter between the three. Once you’ve tired of gawping at some of West London’s fanciest homes, start heading south towards the river, weaving through the streets around Earl’s Court until you reach another of the city’s Magnificent Seven: Brompton Cemetery. Trace the steps of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes fans will recognise these surrounds from the pair’s first movie) before nipping down for a stroll along the Thames until you reach London’s oldest botanic garden, the Chelsea Psychic Garden. Established by apothecaries in the 17th century, this home to medicinal plants has recently reopened for exercise purposes, but you’ll need to pre-book your ticket if you want to go inside. Afterwards, take a detour to see some more pastel-hued houses on Byward Street before sweeping past the Saatchi Gallery and through the enviable postcodes surrounding Sloane Square.
Pick up a takeaway coffee: Saunter along King’s Road to long-term pop-up caf’ Redemption Roasters for your espresso – it’s so-named because the roastery is housed in The Mount Prison, giving prisoners essential expertise that can be used once they’ve served their sentence.
6. South London
Perfect if you live in: Brixton, Herne Hill, East Dulwich, West Dulwich, Forest Gate
If you’re in search of another set of cosy, village-style streets a stone’s throw from central London (who knew, right?), then head for a walk through the areas of Herne Hill and Dulwich Village (clue’s in the name). Start off with a pitstop at the mosiac-covered house of artist Stephen Wright before swinging down for a walk along Lordship Lane, passing Enid Blyton’s birthplace – presumably the house that was there before the arcade that stands now – and heading towards the Horniman Museum. The museum itself is, obviously, closed, as is the butterfly house, but the gardens remain open to meander through before you head back up to Dulwich Park and on to the village. Swing past England’s oldest art museum, otherwise known as Dulwich Picture Gallery, and you’ll be treated to an array of graffiti so good it’s dubbed the Outdoor Gallery, each mural painted by artists from all over the world creating interpretations of some of the historical paintings housed inside. Once you’re feeling suitable cultured, carry on to the home of the famous Grade II listed, art deco-designed Brockwell Lido, taking in the views of London’s skyline from the park’s highest peak. Afterwards? We reckon a coffee and wander along Half Moon Lane is in order.
Pick up a takeaway coffee: Head to the suitably quaint Romeo Jones in Dulwich Village, sample a smoothie at Herne Hill’s The Parlour or grab a house-blend coffee at the stylish Arcade.
7. East London
Perfect if you live in: Hackney, Stratford, Mile End, Bethnal Green, Homerton
Yes, we’re talking about another cemetery – but this one is our personal favourite. Established during the Victorian era, Tower Hamlets Cemetery transformed from a functioning burial ground to a park in the 60s, filled with a mix of romantically overgrown woodlands, (rather spooky looking) tombs and moss-covered, off-kilter gravestones to navigate through. At the other end, you can wander into the adjoining Ackroyd Drive Green Link: a rather catchily named (or not) local nature reserve that leads to Mile End Park, it’s filled with sprawling, untamed wildflowers set against colourful graffiti along the aligning railway arches. Afterwards, head up to the much-loved Victoria Park, reminiscing about festivals past (what we’d give to drink a warm beer in a plastic glass right now) or taking in the historical sights – you can find remnants of the original London Bridge here (you know, the one that fell down in that nursery rhyme)? Of course, the bridge never ran through the park, but the alcoves were gifted to it back in 1860. Stop off at Hackney Wick for a coffee, then up to the expansive marshes – where you’ll likely spot a football match of five when tiers start to lift – before following the edge of the River Lea en route home, or cycling through the Olympic Park à la Boris.
Pick up a takeaway coffee: Part coffee house, part music studio (in normal times), Thingy Cafe is handily situated between Victoria Park and Hackney Marshes, but there’s no shortage of places littering the riverside. Sample Grow‘s hand-roasted beans, and, when restrictions lift, it’s a great place to sit outside for some sustainable and ethically focussed food, too.