London In Autumn | The Best Places For Beautiful Leaves
As cities go, London is amazingly green. There’s rivers, canals, wetlands, greenways, flower fields and in autumn, an amazing array of beautiful parks and places to watch the leaves change colour. As level 2 lockdown is imposed (we hope at some point you’re reading this and coronavirus is but a distant memory), and the grey of winter in the city starts looming, it’s the perfect opportunity to take advantage of those hours where you’re not at home and go exploring across crunchy leaves, golden trees and rosy, vine covered houses. Your Flotsam towel makes a great park blanket for picnics, too. We haven’t listed all the places to see leaves in London and there’s a fair few we didn’t make it to this year in East London such as the River Lea & Victoria Park, Greenwich Park & Epping Forest.
Here's our favourite places to visit London's beautiful leaves in Autumn
1. Hampstead Heath & The Pergola
Hampstead Heath is 100% one of our favourite places in London and consequently we hardly ever go there. Every time we do, we have romantic visions of moving to Hampstead and doing something fancy for a living like owning an art gallery and going for crisp morning walks in the trees with our dog (we don’t have a dog) and expensive baby (who has kids in London?!) before retiring to our wine cellar for an afternoon of vintage tipples. Sadly, we’re still living south of the river, but visiting Hampstead is a beautiful day out and the Pergola is one of the best bits.
Hampstead Heath was first recorded in 986 as a hide of land called Hemstede given by Ethelred the Unready to one of his (very lucky) servants. Over the next thousand years, the heath passed in and out of ownership, from the monks of St Peter’s to the butler of Henry II, with parts eventually being brought into public ownership such as Parliament Hill, which was purchased for £300,000 for the public in 1888.
Dating from 1905, the Pergola was commissioned by Lord Leverhulme as part of the gardens of his estate at Hill House. Taking advantage of the Hampstead construction of the Northern Line enabled the Pergola’s designers to use the debris from the tunnels and create raised gardens and the structure that we see today. Lord Leverhulme originally designed the Pergola to be for opulent garden parties but today it has a more faded glamour and if you catch it by yourself, gives you an air of urban explorer as you discover its semi derelict terraces covered in wisteria in spring and beautiful leaves in autumn.
The easiest way to reach the pergola by public transport is to get the tube to Hampstead and then walk for 10 minutes north up Heath Street and across the very edge of West Heath parallel to the road.
2. Richmond Park
If you want deer with your autumn leaves, Richmond Park is definitely the place to go and if you’re not completely leafed out for the day, you could combine it with Kew Gardens for a properly autumnal day trip. Apart from beautifully feeling like you’re a world away from London, visiting Richmond Park has some real highlights. Top of the list is finding the deer, which are spectacular to watch, from speckled does hiding in the trees with their young to huge stags clashing antlers to herds elegantly picking their way through the high ferns. From certain parts of the park, there’s some incredible views, including all the way out to central London. Stepping just outside the park to the Terrace Gardens offers a beautiful scene across the curve of the Thames, with amazing food just down the hill by the river at Petersham Nurseries. Our other guilty pleasure at Richmond is finding that old video of Fenton the dog on YouTube, which both makes us laugh and give all the deer a fairly wide berth, contemplating how woefully slow at running we are in comparison.
3. Battersea Park
Battersea Park is particularly beautiful in autumn because of its expanse of waterways that capture the colours of the trees and amplify them in their reflections, as well a its setting by the Thames, where you can sit and look out across the water past the drifting houseboats to the terracotta mansions on Chelsea Embankment.
Battersea Park manages to be small enough to walk around in an hour, but somehow also packs in a boating lake, a zoo, a bandstand, some all weather sports pitches, a sub tropical garden and the giant London Peace Pagoda, which is tended to daily by a buddhist monk. You can also go for a stroll up to the new set of restaurants and an Archlight cinema by Battersea Power Station, which is slowly being renovated. Battersea doesn’t really have a good cafe, so if you’re feeling brave, pop into the world’s most expensive supermarket by the power station and grab some tasty munchies for a picnic.
4. St James’s Park
Ok, ok, we’ve completely skipped East London this year and gone mostly for West London autumnal days out, but we have one more and even though it’s probably obvious we love it. We love it even though it annoys us that the government probably spends ludicrous amounts of money changing the seasonal planting but won’t fund free school meals, and also that the planting budget for Westminster greatly exceeds Lambeth on the other side of the river. Yes, St James’s Park is very manicured, but it’s also very, very pretty and when you’ve mostly been in the house a lot for months, coming somewhere that manages to be colourful in all seasons really helps. In autumn, the leaves reflect off the water with views across to Buckingham Palace and The London Eye and there’s an abundance of fauna, with pelicans, herons, swans and fat little squirrels scampering about.
5. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Yes, yes we know. We keep featuring Kew on our blog. But that’s because Kew has amazing things you can do in all weathers, and the feel of the place changes season by season. You’re also less likely to be interrupted by a car, and more likely to happen upon some rare and beautiful plants than you are in some of London’s other parks, and the way the place is laid out makes for some spectacular autumnal vistas. If you visit on a weekday, you’re likely to feel like you have the place mostly to yourself. Plus, at Kew you can learn more about the trees themselves, like how hormonal changes in trees triggered by longer nights causes the leaves to change colour, and why leaves change colour in different shades.
6. Kynance Mews
We’d never heard of Kynance Mews until researching autumnal London spots for the blog, but being a short tube ride away (and apparently one of the most Instagrammable places in London) we figured we’d check it out. The mews is indeed particularly pretty, in autumn times covered in lots of fiery Virginia Creeper (otherwise known as red vines) which fool you into thinking you’ve landed in some cute chocolate box town outside the capital. A house will set you back at least a pretty £2.3 million, and you’ll have to contend with endless influencers doing pictures, but if you’re lucky enough to call this place home you’re in the enviable position of living in a little pocket of cultural history. Bruce Chatwin lived at number 9 for a time before he eventually set off to write In Patagonia, number 13 is the home of Julie Andrews’ character in Star Wars and number 10 was the home of Juliette Binoche’s character in the 1992 film Damage.