The days are getting just a little bit longer and if you look hard enough there are already a few signs of spring in the city. In the first of a two-part post, London-lover, keen walker and travel writer Andy Jarosz shares four of the capital's most enjoyable walks, taking in famous views and well-known sights along with hidden quirks and recommendations for the all-important refreshment break.
Starting from a central location and heading out towards the four points of the compass, we kick things off with our first two walks through the north and east of the city. Stay tuned for the south and west...
London may have a comprehensive transport network but it is also perhaps the most walkable of all of the world’s major cities. Many famous attractions are only a short walk apart and a stroll through the city’s streets provides an insight into London life that would be missed by travelling underground.
These two walks are designed to show visitors a different perspective on the landmarks and history of London. The suggested routes are best followed with a street map as they merely feature the highlights and allow you to find your way between each point. This is how London is best explored; by making your own discoveries as you stray off the main roads on your way across the city.
North London Look-outs
This 6 mile walk takes in two of the best spots to admire the London skyline and crosses some of the city’s most attractive suburbs. Allow 4-5 hours to complete the route, including a compulsory stop for coffee and cake and a visit to Highgate Cemetery.
Start: Baker Street tube station / End: Highgate
Follow the signs for Regent’s Park and enter the south of the park via York Bridge. As you make your way through the park you can pass rose gardens, ornamental fountains or a boating lake depending on your chosen route (there are two large park maps by the bridge), but in each case you should eventually find yourself at the park’s northern exit just to the left of London Zoo. Cross the road to enter Primrose Hill.
The first climb of the morning is a relatively gentle one and you are soon rewarded with fine views across the London skyline. This is considered by many to be the best free view in London and photographers are often found at the summit capturing the moods of the constantly varying light. Primrose Hill is also a popular place for local families and couples of all ages to gather and watch the sunset.
Wind your way through the grand houses of Belsize Park and Hampstead to reach the foot of Hampstead Heath, one of London’s largest public spaces. Follow the steep paths to reach Parliament Hill, the highest point in the park. You can catch your breath while admiring the London panorama and enjoying the sight of many kites flying above this windy hilltop.
Assuming you’ve managed to resist the cafes you have already passed so far, you should have worked up a good appetite. Make your way through the eastern exit of the Heath (in between the Highgate Ponds) and head for Swain’s Lane, a pleasant suburban street with a healthy selection of coffee shops and delis.
Café Kalendar (15a Swain's Lane), a popular stop for local mums and visitors to the park, is a good choice for your well-deserved break. The coffee is excellent and the cherry cheesecake is highly recommended. In summer months the outdoor seating provides the perfect spot for watching the colourful folk that make up this prosperous, bohemian neighbourhood.
Head uphill for the third and final time, making a slight detour to take in Highgate Cemetery, the final home to prominent names including Karl Marx, Malcolm McLaren and Douglas Adams. There is an admission charge to enter the cemetery but the opulent tombs of its residents make this a highly worthwhile visit.
From here continue up the hill to Pond Square, the centre of the popular London district of Highgate. This is the end of the walk and a good place to sit and linger. By now you may be tired, but you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve explored several of those secret places that Londoners are always trying to keep to themselves.
The East Ender
This 4 mile route starts at St Paul’s Cathedral and takes in several of East London’s finest sights, some better known than others. Allow 2-3 hours and a little longer on a Sunday when the flower market is open.
Start: St Paul’s Cathedral / End: Brick Lane
Follow the main road as it winds its way behind St Paul’s towards Cannon Street station. Opposite the station you’ll find the London Stone, one of the city’s oldest and least noticed landmarks. Its original purpose is uncertain with historians suggesting it was the milestone from which all distances in Roman Britain were measured.
Around the corner from the stone along Walbrook is the church of St Stephen Walbrook, a strong candidate for the most beautiful church in London. The bright circular interior is considered by many to be Sir Christopher Wren’s finest creation. The church is open on weekdays between 10am and 4pm only.
From God to Mammon, the Bank of England museum is only a couple of minutes walk along Threadneedle Street. Entry is free and even if your visit is a brief one you should take the opportunity to lift a bar of solid gold, currently worth around £350,000.
From the Bank head to nearby Leadenhall Market, a stunning Victorian covered space and the location for Diagon Alley in the filming of the Harry Potter films. Make your way through the market towards Aldgate High Street and soon beyond that, Brick Lane.
It’s easy to spend several hours mooching along Brick Lane, once the heart of London’s criminal underworld and now one of its trendiest streets. From the many Bengali curry houses at its southern end to the edgy fashions on display further up, the street provides a wonderful blend of colourful sights and appetising smells. Visit the Beigel bakery at the northern end of Brick Lane for sensational hot salt beef bagels. The place is extremely popular so be prepared to queue; you won’t regret it and at £3.50 for a generously filled bagel you can always return for seconds if you’ve got room for more than one.
The route ends here, but a short walk from Brick Lane will take you to Columbia Road and London’s best flower market (Sundays only). It’s a lively and colourful affair and a photographer’s dream. If you finish your walk here there are several options for a coffee or something stronger around Columbia Road.
Don't forget to check back next week for more leisurely strolls through south and west London.
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.