Things to do | Posted 07 Oct 2020

London may be one of the biggest cities in the world, but it’s also one of the best when it comes to having fun and relaxing outdoors. You might also be surprised to discover how green the UK’s capital really is, with more than 40% of the city made up of parks, gardens, and secret green space. London even became the world’s first National Park City in 2019 as a result. Of course, it’s not just about nature, London is also alive with exciting open-air activities, from al fresco dining and street food to vibrant outdoor markets and contemporary art trails.

When it comes to city breaks and weekends away to London, going out is officially the new staying in, with more and more people looking for activities they can do outside in the fresh air. Why? Well, they don’t call it the ‘great outdoors’ for nothing. There’s simply nothing quite like seeing the world with your own eyes, reconnecting with nature, breathing in the air, and getting active. The health benefits are huge too, both physically and mentally. When you combine this with London’s spectacular landmarks, history, and culture, the abundance of green spaces across the city, and the huge amount to see and do, you’ve got a marriage made in heaven. Let’s take a look at the best outdoor activities in the city.

Explore the South Bank

Suitable for: weekend breaks, couples, families, friends, anyone and everyone who wants to see London’s landmarks in a fun, vibrant setting
How to get there: just walk over Hungerford and Golden Jubilee footbridge from the north side of the Thames and you’re there. Alternatively, the nearest tube stations are Embankment north of the river or Waterloo on the South Bank
Price: Free

With its carnival atmosphere and world-famous culture, combined with unbeatable views of famous landmarks like Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, the National Theatre, and more, the South Bank is the equivalent of an epic ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation. With al fresco dining and drinks available at the many pavement cafes and restaurants, as well as street performers and amusements, you can easily spend a whole day out here in the open air.

London’s best outdoor markets

Suitable for: foodies, bargain hunters, couples, families, friends
How to get there: there are regular outdoor markets across London. Try Berwick Street Market in Soho for one that’s super central and close to everywhere
Price: free (always check with the individual market)

From food and farmers markets, to antiques and bric-a-brac, London’s outdoor markets are world-famous and a great way to spend a weekend in the capital. Borough Market, next to London Bridge, and its quieter cousin Maltby Street Market are the kings of street food. Portobello Road Market is where to head for the world’s largest antiques market, Marylebone Farmers Market for the best fresh seasonal produce, and the likes of Leather Lane Market and Petticoat Lane Market are top for bargains.

Walking trails along the River Thames

Suitable for: couples, weekend breaks, sightseeing, families, walkers
How to get there: try the popular walk from Tower Bridge to Wapping. Just start near the Leonardo Royal Hotel Tower Bridge and finish up at Wapping High Street on a walk that takes you past St Katharine’s Docks, East End pubs, pirates, and hundreds of years of naval history.
Price: free

The Thames is England’s longest river and offers the lengthiest river walk on the continent in the form of the Thames Path, at a staggering 184-miles. Of course, you don’t need to walk it all at once and in reality, it’s divided into a number of sections, with landmarks like Canary Wharf, The Royal Docks, Battersea Park, Westminster, and many more along the way. The Thames isn’t your only option though. You’ve also got canals and waterways like Regent’s Canal which will take you past Buckingham Palace and London Zoo to Little Venice in Camden - a perfect place to linger for a street food pitstop. For something different try The Line - London’s first contemporary art walk starting at the Olympic Park.


Cycle through London

Suitable for: cyclists (obviously), couples, friends, weekend breaks, sightseeing
How to get there: you’ll find cycle hire hubs across London
Price: it varies by provider, but Transport for London’s cycle scheme costs £2.00 for unlimited journeys up to 30 minutes, within a 24-hour period. For journeys longer than 30 minutes, you pay £2.00 for each additional 30 minutes

London is one of the best cities in the world to see by bike thanks to the abundance of cycle hire and the introduction of Cycle Superhighways and QuietWays. Great bike routes for beginners include the likes of Islington Green to London Fields or the Olympic Park to Wanstead Flats, while the Tower of London to Big Ben bike ride offers the most sights.


Parks & Gardens

Suitable for: nature lovers, walkers, cyclists, families, couples, weekend breaks
How to get there: there are green spaces right across central London
Price: free (the vast majority of London’s public parks are free entry, but it’s always worth checking in advance, particularly if you’re visiting a more secret or hidden away green space)

Parklife! London has plenty of it as we’ve already mentioned and all those green spaces make a wonderful antidote to city living when you need some fresh air. London has huge public parks in the heart of the city as well as lots of secret, little green spaces and community gardens dotted around. Try St James Park for getting back to nature in the heart of the city with expansive fields, calming water features, and wildlife. Or Phoenix Garden, nestled behind Charing Cross Road, for a small, picturesque community garden, and finally, the church ruins of Dunstan-in-the-East for a secret green hideaway.


City Farms

Suitable for: families, couples, animal lovers, foodies, anyone looking for something a little different
How to get there: you’ll find Hackney City Farm on Goldsmith Row, London. The nearest tube is Hoxton station
Price: free

Did you know that trendy, bustling London has some of the UK’s best city farms? It seems you don’t have to head out into the sticks to enjoy fun at the farm. Low-impact living is the new cool and there are several city farms around London to choose from, but one of our favourites is Hackney City Farm. Based in a former brewery between busy Columbia Road and Broadway Market, this lively little farm is a big part of the local community and has a hugely popular Italian cafe serving up amazing seasonal produce to locals and visitors alike. With farm animals, gardens, beekeeping, a vegetable box collection scheme, and more. Also look out for Spitalfields City Farm, which is just minutes from hip Shoreditch and Brick Lane.


Go Boating

Suitable for: Weekend breaks, couples, friends, families, anyone who likes the water
How to get there: various locations across London. Hyde Park is literally surrounded by tube stations including Lancaster Gate (Central Line), Marble Arch (Central Line), Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly Line), Knightsbridge (Piccadilly Line)
Price: park entry is free, but there is a charge for boat hire, so please check with the individual provider, although in Finsbury Park, children dressed as pirates and princesses get 50% off!

From cruises along the Thames to the famous boating lake at Hyde Park, there’s something magical about taking to the water in London. It’s civilised, glamorous, and incredibly calming. With rowboats, lidos, cruises, and even a solar powered pleasure boat to sail on at the city’s many lakes, there are lots of different types of experiences on offer. Looking for a Victorian-style boating excursion for the afternoon, fun and laughter in a pedalo, or family-friendly duck and swan feeding? London has it all. The Serpentine in Hyde Park is the most famous of the capital’s boating lakes and has the aforementioned solar powered SolarShuttle (the first in the UK), but we also recommend Victoria Park and Finsbury Park for quieter days out. The latter is particularly good for families with young children.

When you’ve been enjoying the great outdoors all day, you need a luxurious home away from home where you can put your feet up and enjoy a drink or a delicious meal. It also helps to have somewhere centrally located so you’re never far away from the action. The Leonardo Royal Hotel London St Paul’s is a stylish spa hotel overlooked by one of London’s icons, St Paul’s Cathedral, and is just five minutes from Blackfriars station. It’s the perfect place to unwind after a busy day of exploring the UK’s bustling capital. Depending on where your outdoor activities take you, we also have hotels in Tower Bridge, London City, and Holborn - all ideal bases for your London adventures.

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