21 secret gardens and quiet parks in London to escape to this spring
From secret gardens in the city to wide open spaces on the outskirts, London has some of the best quiet parks and secret gardens in the UK. Escape from the concrete jungle into expanses of green space that will take your breath away. And, with spring in full swing and summer fast approaching, now’s the perfect time to take it all in.
Here are 21 of my favourite quiet parks in London to while away a few hours in the sunshine. Is your top spot on the list? Let me know if I’ve missed your favourite in the comments below, or drop me a message…
1. Bushy Park
Richmond Park isn’t the only jewel in south-west London’s crown. Bushy Park (above), home of Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare in the west corner of the park, is a stunning example of what London’s green spaces have to offer.
Discover the Temple and its pleasure gardens and, if you’re left wanting more, take a trip to admire Hampton Court Palace, which is right next door.
Nearest station: Hampton / Hampton Wick / Hampton Court / Teddington
More information: Visit the Royal Parks website
2. St George’s Gardens
I stumbled on this amazing garden on a walk around Bloomsbury and instantly fell in love. Its history is so typically-London (it was created as ‘open-air sitting room’ for the poor) and it still holds on to its Victorian routes. Plus, it’s hidden away from the main road so you feel like you’re walking into a local secret…
It’s not just for the poor anymore, but it does retain its ‘sitting room’ feeling, with plenty of seating to people-watch all through the day. The winding paths, beautiful tombs, and little details like the figure of Euterpe, the Muse of Instrumental Music, make this a perfect place for whiling away a few hours.
Nearest Tube: Russell Square / Euston
More information: Friends of St George’s Gardens website
3. St Ethelburga’s Centre
This amazing little secret garden in Bishopsgate, near Liverpool Street station, is one of my favourite places in London. St Ethelburga’s was once a medieval church that, sadly, was mostly destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1993. The remains of the church were rebuilt as a centre for peace to welcome anyone of any religion and provide a wonderful space for thinking.
The centre is formally open on Mondays between 1-3pm, but often open at other times. Contact them if you’re travelling a long way.
Nearest Tube: Liverpool Street
More information: St Ethelburga’s website
4. St Botolph Without Bishopsgate
Relax in the presence of the 18th-century St Botolph in the grounds of the churchyard. This colourful garden looks extra-special in spring and summer, and is a stone’s throw from Liverpool Street station, so it’s perfect for a bit of a sit down after work or on lunch.
Nearest Tube: Liverpool Street
More information: St Botolph website
5. Camley Street Natural Park
This nature reserve within a stone’s throw from King’s Cross station and Granary Square is one of the area’s best-kept secrets and comes alive in the spring. I love the tranquillity of this (very) green space, knowing that there is wildlife hidden all around me. It’s especially good for kids as there is so much to see all year round, but good for chilling out as an adult, too.
Nearest Tube: King’s Cross
6. Crystal Palace Park
If you’ve been heard of Crystal Palace Park but haven’t been yet, then make 2016 the year you make the trip. My favourite bit is undoubtedly the dinosaurs (or, at least, the Victorians’ ideas of how they thought they looked) but there’s so much to see here. Have a go in the maze, admire the ruins of the palace or find a quiet spot in the wide open space.
Nearest station: Crystal Palace
More information: Bromley website
7. Keats House gardens
Relax in the gardens where the poet John Keats apparently wrote his famous poem Ode to a Nightingale. The museum in the house where he lived between 1818 and 1820 is open from Tuesday to Sundays in the summer, and is well worth a look, but the gardens are completely free and just as beautiful.
The house is just round the corner from Hampstead Heath as well, so are a great alternative if you find the Heath a bit crowded during the summer. A perfect place to relax with a picnic and soak up the creative atmosphere!
Nearest station: Hampstead Heath
More information: London Shh website
8. Horniman Museum gardens
Fantastic views over London, a beautiful conservatory, and a free natural history museum on site make the grounds of the Horniman Museum one of the most interesting gardens on our list. They’re a bit out of the way but great if you don’t fancy travelling into central London, and Forest Hill feels residential enough to not feel like a bit city.
Nearest station: Forest Hill
More information: Horniman Museum website
9. The Phoenix Garden
This secret garden near the tourist-central areas of Oxford Street, Leicester Square, and Tottenham Court Road is a welcome retreat from the concrete and the crowds. I’ve been checking their website for updates in the run-up to writing this post as they’re currently closed for building works, but when they reopen you should go check them out next time you’re in the area (check the website for more details).
While you’re there, may I recommend Yumchaa for some of the best sandwiches and tea you can get in Soho.
Nearest Tube: Tottenham Court Road
More information: Phoenix Garden website
10. Ham House gardens
The grounds of this historic house on the banks of the River Thames in Richmond (technically Twickenham…) are just as lovely as the house itself. The kitchen garden has been here since 1653 and the building adjoining the orangery has been turned into a stunning light-filled cafe. There’s also a lot of open space to admire the gorgeous house before you.
The gardens cost around £4.50 to explore I think (at least they were when I was there last year: the website isn’t working for me to check as I’m writing this!) or around £11 if you want to enjoy the house as well.
Nearest Tube: Richmond
More information: National Trust website
11. Valentine’s Park
I’ve talked about Valentine’s Mansion until I’m blue in the face, but I’ve neglected to mention how brilliant the rest of the park is (which is probably why I don’t have a decent photo of the rest of the park…)
Valentine’s Park was voted the sixth best park in the country towards the end of 2015 and boasts a big lake, boating, an aviary, cafe, and loads of open space. It’s big enough to accommodate the locals and it’s always easy to find a quiet corner to relax in. It’s really popular with locals and easy to get to for everyone else, as it’s only a 10-minute walk from Gants Hill station (on the east end of the Central Line). Such a hidden gem.
Nearest Tube: Gants Hill
More information: Redbridge website
12. Painshill Park
Journey to the very edge of south-west London (I’m talking just before the M25) and get lost in this landscape garden. It has enough hidden treasures to keep you busy for a whole afternoon: crystal grottos, a beautiful lake and hidden ruins, as well as 158 acres of greenery.
Nearest station: Cobham & Stoke d’Abernon
More information: Painshill website
13. St Dunstan in the East church garden
I was questioning whether to add St Dunstan in the East in this post as they’re are becoming very well-known, but in the end, it’s just such a lovely place with such a rich history that I can’t leave it out…
This small patch of green born out of the ruins of a medieval church is one of the most beautiful places in the City of London (bar none, in my opinion) and is just so chilled-out at the weekends. I think the fact that the garden is in such a busy and modern part of the city – usually full of suits rushing to get to their next meeting, oblivious to the beauty that sits just yards from them – makes it all the more endearing.
Nearest Tube: Monument
14. Fairlop Waters
If you’re missing the beach, then head to Fairlop where you can enjoy the next best thing, just a 10-minute walk from the Central Line. The waters here are really calm and there’s a lovely walk going around the outside, as well as little gaps in the hedges where you can sneak in and sit on the “banks” of the lake while the water laps at your feet.
There’s even a boulder park for the kids (or the big kids) and climbing and exercise equipment dotted around the edge of the walking trail if you’re feeling energetic…
Nearest Tube: Fairlop
15. Christchurch Greyfriars rose garden
Like St Dunstan in the East, Christchurch Greyfriars was created by Christopher Wren, but bombed during the Blitz and then turned into a beautiful rose garden. It sits in the shadow of St Paul’s and is just round the corner from another of the area’s great historical spots: St Bartholomew’s Hospital.
It’s usually busier during the week as people from local offices use it for their lunch break, so the best time to come and enjoy it in peace and quiet is on the weekend, when the area is usually quieter in general, too.
Nearest Tube: St Paul’s
16. Barbican Conservatory
The Conservatory has to be one of the Barbican’s best-kept secrets. It’s only open on Sundays and Bank Holidays for a start and sits quietly near the top of this concrete behemoth, waiting to be discovered. It’s home to exotic fish and over 2,000 tropical plants and trees, which sit among the concrete walls so comfortably that it almost seems as if they were made that way. AND you can now have afternoon tea there!
Check the website for opening times, as they’re sometimes closed for private events. If you’re in the mood for a cuppa after exploring the Conservatory, then head to Barbican Cinema Cafe on your way back to the Tube station.
Nearest Tube: Barbican
17. Fenton House gardens
Fenton House is one of Hampstead’s finest historic houses, but not many people mention how stunning the gardens are, too. Take a walk in the pristine 300-year-old walled gardens, explore the sunken rose garden and then recline in the apple and pear orchard.
Before you leave, I’d recommend discovering the house, too: the panoramic view of London from the balcony (one of the highest points in the city) will take your breath away. And don’t forget to take a trip to the stunning Hampstead Heath Pergola while you’re in the area.
Nearest Tube: Hampstead
More information: National Trust website
18. Culpeper Community Garden
An urban oasis a stone’s throw from the bustling main street in Angel, Islington, the Culpeper Community Garden has 50 plots made up of a rose pergola, ponds, lawns, vegetables, and wildlife. It’s a welcome retreat for locals, market traders, lunchtimers, and visitors, and is a sterling example of what community can do: it’s run completely by garden members and volunteers.
If you’re after something sweet to drink while you’re taking in all that greenery, then head to Piacha Tea Bar up the road and pick up a lovely tea smoothie.
Nearest Tube: Angel
More information: Culpeper Garden website
19. St John’s Lodge Gardens, Regent’s Park
This small garden to the north of the inner circle in Regent’s Park was designed for meditation for the 3rd Marquess of Bute, so it’s hardly surprising that it’s both serene and beautiful. St John’s Lodge is a private residence, but you can still access the garden through the small gate along the inner circle.
More information: Royal Parks website
20. Isabella Plantation, Richmond Park
Created from boggy ground in the 1830s, Isabella Plantation is one of the highlights (and little-known gems) in Richmond Park. The plantation is at its peak in late April and early May, but its evergreen azaleas and other rare plants surrounding the streams and ponds mean it’s beautiful all year round.
More information: Royal Parks website
21. Coram’s Fields / Brunswick Square Gardens
Named after Thomas Coram, the man who set up the Foundling Hospital in 1739 to care for babies who were at risk of abandonment, Coram’s Fields provide a place for children and young people to play in peace. The hospital marked the start of the history of the Coram charity, which now changes the lives of over a million children a year, and the original hospital building now stands as a museum dedicated to the history of the charity right next to the fields.
Adults aren’t allowed into Coram’s Fields without a child, but grown-ups can enjoy the adjoining Brunswick Square Gardens for the kind of cultural quiet that only Bloomsbury can bring; Brunswick Square is mentioned in Jane Austen’s Emma and the Bloomsbury Group (including Virginia Woolf) met at a house on this site, too.
Nearest Tube: Euston Square / Russell Square
More information: Bloomsbury Squares website
You might like…
- Hampstead Hill Garden and Pergola: An extravagant Edwardian paradise
- The 21 most beautiful quiet places in London
- Syon Park: Kew Gardens’ quieter (and gold-plated) cousin