Discover London’s greenway walks

With 47% of its surface area occupied by green spaces, London is one of the capital cities with the largest number of nature reserves. And while there are many ways for people to discover the city, one interesting way to see it is through its greenway walks. 

Eltham Palace, manor house in southeast London.

One of the best known is the Capital Ring Walk, which is divided into fifteen sections that cover a total of 126 kilometres, plotting a circuit around the capital. The recommended route starts from Woolwich, in south-east London and runs westward, passing through Crystal Palace and Wimbledon to Richmond. It then ascends to Hendon and Highgate before turning east to Hackney, from where it returns to the starting point, Woolwich. There are different attractions to explore depending on your chosen section, with highlights ranin from Eltham Palace, with its hundred-year-old glamour and fabulous gardens (the complex is managed by English Heritage), to Walthamstow Marsh. Whichever section you choose, you’ll find the route clearly signposted, so it’s easy to explore. Some people decide to do the route by bike, but keep in mind that certain sections, such as those that cross parks where cycling is prohibited, require you to get off the bike or take an alternative route to continue pedalling.

Little Venice. Canal with houseboats moored along banks.

2012 was an important year for the capital, as it successfully hosted the Olympic Games and celebrated the 60th anniversary of the accession of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, known as the Diamond Jubilee. It was also the year when the Jubilee Greenway was completed. The route is divided into 10 sections that allow you to discover different parts of the city. The recommended route starts out at Buckingham Palace and the first section continues to Little Venice. This is one of the most enjoyable, as some of the most iconic sights of the city are concentrated along a length of just seven kilometres, including the palaces of Buckingham and Kensington, beautiful St James’s Park and Little Venice itself. A stroll along this section enables you to explore great Royal Parks and open spaces, in addition to the lesser-known canals of Little Venice, with their houseboats on both banks, an area that is is extremely attractive at this time of year, when the leaves start to turn. Café Laville, which serves Italian dishes, is a great place to enjoy the canal views. The Waterside Café, which dubs itself  “the original floating café” due to it being on one of the iconic narrow boats of Little Venice, has been open since 1995 and features a menu that pays tribute to the classic breakfasts, brunches and cream teas of a traditional British café. Expect beans on toast, bacon butties, and scones with jam and clotted cream, which are absolutely to die for and very easy to find in the British Isles but almost impossible to find elsewhere. 

Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

The Thames Path is another iconic pathway in the city. Starting in the Cotswolds, it follows the course of the River Thames through gently rolling British countryside before continuing through the centre of London, from Richmond to Woolwich and the Thames Barrier. It is also divided into several sections that enable you to see some of the most emblematic buildings in London while you enjoy a pleasant walk. From the Houses of Parliament to Tower Bridge via Kew Gardens, Battersea Park and Hampton Court Palace, the mix of green spaces and iconic buildings along this route is fascinating. On the Banks of the Thames is one of the most famous restaurants in the capital, the River Café. It is run by Ruth Rogers, who has trained many talented British chefs in her kitchens, including Jamie Oliver. With a menu inspired by Italy, the restaurant was first created as a canteen for the Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners architectural practice (the famous Italo-British architect Richard Rogers and the chef, Ruth Rogers, have been together for decades).  A place to see and be seen, the restaurant’s design, created by the Rogers studio, is colourful and attractive, and the menu is absolutely delectable.  

Rail travel is experiencing a revival, partly thanks to people’s desire to travel in a sustainable way, but it’s also closely linked to the history of the UK. Its invention, and its later expansion, constituted a great step forward for the economy of the country, which became an unprecedented industrial power. Victorian London grew at the pace set by its railways. The line that linked Liverpool to Manchester opened in 1830 and was the first railway line.  When Queen Victoria accessed the throne in 1837, the city already had 1.7 million inhabitants and the arrival of the railways during subsequent decades made a notable contribution to the exponential growth of the population during her reign.

North London is a peaceful, quiet area in which to discover one of the most attractive green routes in the city, Parkland Walk. This walk connects Finsbury Park with Alexandra Palace and runs along an old unused railway line. It’s the longest nature reserve in London, with the route covering around seven kilometres, and has more than 200 plant species. Hedgehogs, foxes and butterflies are just three of the many types of fauna that you could come across during the walk, which allows you to observe the day-to-day life of Londoners from a unique viewpoint, as you’ll have the chance to walk through neighbourhoods that tourists would not otherwise see.  

Both Finsbury Park, where the route begins, and Alexandra Palace, where it ends, are two classic areas in the northern part of the city that Londoners can enjoy all year round (early morning jogging, picnics in the afternoon, team sports… there is a lot of life in these parks). As its name suggests, in the latter stands the palace which dates from the end of the 19th century and was used, as it still is today, for large events, as it had a concert hall, a theatre, a circus and a lake. During the First and Second World Wars, it was a shelter for refugees and now it hosts events of all kinds, from concerts to ice skating at Christmas. One curious thing is that this building was the birthplace of television, back in 1935.

If you visit it on a Sunday, you can wander round the Alexandra Palace Farmers' Market (from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.). There you will find many treasures of national gastronomy, such as the urban Wildes Cheese, one of the first micro dairies to be set up in the capital, in the nearby district of Tottenham. Since it first opened in 2003, this small farmer’s market has continued to grow and has many appealing options, as you can buy items ranging from sweet pastries to sausages and hamburgers made with the meat of free range saddleback pigs, or a bag of delicious English apples.

Not far from Alexandra Park is Crouch End, a lesser-known spot for tourists, but one that is very popular with North Londoners thanks to its independent shops and cafés. One good option is the Miranda Café, which has an excellent menu for vegans and vegetarians. Near Finsbury Park you can also enjoy a traditional pub lunch at The Naturalist.

The Great Eastern Parks is a new route that runs through some of the parks in East London. The initiative arose following a campaign launched by the East London Garden Society to try and get several real estate developers to include green spaces in the new buildings that were being erected in Shoreditch. The walk demonstrates the power of teamwork among members of the community to make cities greener and more sustainable, with Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Spitalfields City Farm, Victoria Park and Poplar River Park just some of the green areas that can be visited along the route, which runs along an old Great Eastern Railway line. Near Victoria Park is the Pavilion Café, which features a terrace with marvellous views of the lake and the park; the perfect way  to end your walk.