London's Best 1 Hour Walks
As the light fades and winter closes in, taking advantage of those sunshine hours on the weekend by exploring London’s varied landscapes on foot makes for a great way to while away the time. Lockdown has meant we’ve been appreciating so much more of the outdoor spaces in our home city than we did before, embracing wild spaces like Walthamstow Marshes and Hampstead Heath as well as enjoying the classic tourist routes along the Thames. Those rare moments where you find yourself alone are more common than before, giving you the occasional feeling that you have this magical city all to yourself.
Below, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite one hour (or so) walks in London that are beautiful in all seasons and make for the best days out in the city when everything else is shut, or you're just after some outdoor time.
Here's our favourite one hour walks in London
1. North to West London: Camden Lock to Little Venice via Regent’s Canal
We have a few special places and routes through London that we reserve for giving out of towners (especially foreign ones we’ve tempted over with the promise of British things) a tour of the most beautiful parts of the city. This one, from Camden Lock to Little Venice, is often top of the list. It travels through one of the most beautiful sections of Regent’s Canal and in normal times, you’d be starting it at Camden Market and losing yourself in the bustle of trinkets and coffee. These days (2020), the market is sometimes closed and often less busy than normal, but you should go give those independent traders who are sticking at it a boost because even if you’re from London, you can still use a fridge magnet or two.
Heading west from Camden along the Canal takes you past the Pirate Castle pub, where you can hire kayaks and go for a paddle, and a stencil purported to be a Banksy just under Oval Road. Popping out from under a few more bridges brings you to the northern tip of Regent’s Park & the Feng Shang Princess, a floating Chinese restaurant shaped like big red pagoda. We’ve never been, but it manages to be something of a spectacle in itself, improbably bright against the London sky. The Regent’s Park section of this walk is particularly cool because you get to meander past London Zoo, with the aviary on one side and the hyenas on the other contrasting against the more British fauna, such as the flotillas of swans you’ll often see cruising down the waterways and terrorising unsuspecting tourists. The canal curves around the edge of the park, backing on to the palatial mansions of Regent’s Park’s Outer Circle, where the gardens cascade down to the water and you get to peek in to how the other half live. The next section, heading further west, is populated with narrowboats on permanent moorings and has the air of accidentally landing yourself in someone’s garden. It’s super colourful, full of wildflowers and painted boats, woodsmoke and hanging baskets. A few more minutes of strolling brings you to the beautiful Little Venice, with its collection of colourful houseboats and weeping willow trees trailing into the water. At Little Venice, Regent’s Canal meets the Grand Union Canal, and if you took a boat the whole way (which would take you some time as houseboats aren’t allowed to go more than 4mph), you could travel all the way to Birmingham by boat.
This walk can be done in a leisurely hour or a zippy 20 minutes by bike, either starting at Warwick Avenue or Camden Town station, depending on which way you’d rather travel.
2. East London: Tottenham Hale to Hackney Wick via the River Lea
Now, Tottenham Hale is one of our least favourite places in London due to the fact that it’s always raining and is also the spot we’ve spent unthinkable numbers of hours waiting for the generally late or cancelled 8:45 am Greater Anglia train to Cambridge for work. It is, however, home to some pretty cool stuff like Grow Tottenham, the Cause nightclub (home to some soul saving outdoor live music) and the studios of Punchdrunk, who run immersive design workshops from a spooky warehouse. Today, we’re not heading into Tottenham but rather going under the bridge and walking down the River Lea to from Tottenham Hale to Hackney Wick. If you’re tired of the bustle of East London, this walk lets you breathe easy, following the river down past the nature reserves of Walthamstow Wetlands and Hackney Marshes and making you feel like you’re more in the countryside than the city. The lovely thing about researching blogs in London is that you new learn things about places you often frequent, and with London being as old as it is (and the River Lea even older), this one has some fun facts. We learned that Old Ford Road was the site of a roman era river crossing (makes sense now, we always thought it had something to do with a car), that Henry I’s wife Matilda tripped over at the ford and used it as an excuse to install a curious looking three arched bridge, and that at one point in about 878 a marauding party of Danes sailed up the River Lea and tried to capture Hertford before they were thwarted by Alfred the Great. Today, the loveliest thing about this walk is just exploring the fringes of the city, from finding little coffee places on a detour to Chatsworth Road to meandering off into the wilds of Hackney Marshes. Finishing up at Crate in Hackney Wick for a pizza and a pint makes this a walk with a destination in mind, where you can sit outside and watch people, boats and ducks paddle down the river.
3. Telegraph Hill to Peckham Rye via Nunhead Cemetery
This one is a little off the beaten track in South London, but makes for a good wander for the afternoon if you need to get out of the house. We usually start at the top of Telegraph Hill, which has some beautiful views over London on clear days as you pop out from the residential streets onto a grassy plateau. Telegraph Hill was once known as Plowed Garlic Hill, but takes its name from an old telegraph station that used to live at the top. Heading up and around to Linden Grove past the Nunhead Gardener brings you to the very beautiful (and often very busy) Nunhead Cemetery, where strolling Londoners seem to have decided that the best spot for a weekend walk is amongst the city’s ancient dead. Nunhead Cemetery is one of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries of London, a somewhat curious name for a set of 7 cemeteries constructed in the 1800s to alleviate overcrowding in the smaller parish burial grounds, as the population of the city more than doubled. Nunhead Cemetery was left untended for years and is now a nature reserve, where vine covered graves and thick woodland hide tawny owls and woodpeckers as well as a few notable (and well dead residents). We hadn’t heard of most of them but they include a 19th century bus tycoon, an influential type founder by name of Vincent Figgins and an English music hall performer called Jenny Hill who had a successful career performing in such far flung destinations as New York and Johannesburg. We like finishing up this walk at Peckham Rye Park, but you could also head on to Camberwell Cemetery and Dulwich Park.
4. Hampstead Heath Pergola to Gospel Oak Overground
This walk is really good for feeling like you’re out of the city and exploring the grounds of some wild country estate. We like starting it at the Pergola at the edge of the West Heath, a Georgian era, semi ruined set of terraces that in spring is covered in soft wisteria and autumn turns shades of burnt vermilion as the leaves fade into winter. From here, head up Spaniard’s Hill into the main heath, passing through beautiful, wild woodlands until you reach the wide open grounds of Kenwood House, which dates from around 1694 and used to be a private residence for various English gentry, before falling into public ownership after world war 2. Kenwood house is a good place to stop for ice cream and naps in summer and hot tea in winter, with views out across the heath.
Head down through the woods towards the bathing ponds, for some idyllic reflections of the surrounding landscape and a refreshing (or nippy) dip depending on which season you’re visiting in (and if they are open). The Hampstead bathing ponds were originally dug in the 17th and 18th centuries as reservoirs to serve the capital’s growing population and are fed by the headwaters of River Fleet, creating freshwater pools for the last few centuries of bathers. The Fleet disappears underground after Hampstead and its course is now used as a sewer, but lends its name to parts of the city such as Fleet Street (we always thought this was to do with fast paced business men) and Holborn, which was an alternative name for the river coming from from the word ‘bourne’ or stream.
Before heading to Gospel Oak to Hampstead Heath overground, we’d recommend stopping off at Parliament Hill for some beautiful views of the city, where you can see all the way from the Gherkin to the London Eye.
5. Tower Bridge to Parliament along the Thames
It’s funny how living in London for so many years means you rarely visit the central parts of the city, preferring to find new experiences as nightlife filters out to the suburbs and alternative areas become new hubs of culture. This walk, however, is something of a stunner and makes us feel like tourists falling in love all over again, taking in all the famous the sights along the south bank of the River Thames from Tower Bridge to Parliament. We’d recommend doing this walk on a saturday, starting at Tower Gateway tube, walking over the big, blue Tower Bridge to the south side of the river, where you can sit on the little terraces at Potters Fields Park and soak up the amazing view of the bridge and Traitor’s Gate at the Tower of London. Heading west takes you past HMS Belfast, a 1930s war ship that’s now a museum complete with life size models of sailors reenacting ship life in world war two. The beautiful Hay’s Galleria, further on, used to be one of the main shipping wharves for delivering tea and other edible produce to London, taking the nickname the Larder of London before it was bombed in the war. Next stop is Southwark Cathedral and Borough Market, where you can spend your Saturday perusing delicious looking produce from truffle honey to pickled artichokes. If you’re hungry, Padella, El Pastor and Arabica serve some amazing food, or you can get some quick bites from the street food stands and find somewhere on the river for a nibble. Curving around Southwark Cathedral brings you to the Golden Hind, a reconstruction of Elizabethan explorer Sir Frances Drake’s ship and is worth a visit when it opens back up. Heading down Clink Street takes you past the ruins of the 12th Century Winchester Palace and onwards to Shakespeare’s Globe. In Shakespeare's time, the south side of the river fell outside of the jurisdiction of the City of London and became home, for a time, to more immoral venues such as bowling alleys, theatres, bear baiting rings and prostitution, all of which were licensed by the Bishop of Winchester, who resided at the Palace. The prostitutes were known as ‘Winchester Geese’ and goosebumps became slang for venereal disease. The Globe we see today is a reconstruction based on the 1599 and 1614 incarnations of the theatre, the first destroyed by fire and the second demolished by the Puritans in 1642. Just past the Globe is the Millennium Bridge and Tate Modern, which inhabits the old Bankside Power Station, built originally by the same architects as Battersea. You need to book timed tickets these days, but if you’re after a little bit of art, there’s sometimes some public sculpture in the Tate’s riverside gardens. The museum’s Terrace Bar has some really beautiful aerial views of the thames, especially at sunset. Looping around past the Oxo Tower and Gabriel’s Wharf has some good spots for mudlarking along the riverbank at low tide, bringing you to The National Theatre & Southbank Centre at Waterloo. In summertime, the Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden is a beautiful spot for city views and wildflowers, and you can pick up second hand books at the market underneath Waterloo Bridge. The end of this walk takes you past the London Eye to Parliament, and if you head just under Westminster Bridge there’s some benches to finish up on with one of our favourite views of London across the river to Westminster palace.