I have spent the majority of my life living in the Kent countryside – basically in the middle of a field. I’m pretty sure there were more sheep than people. It was very picturesque – sprawling green fields, lambs jumping around in the spring and ducklings hatching in my back garden – but I prefer the hustle and bustle of a city, and London could not be more hustley and bustley if it tried. It’s a pretty stressful city and, although I love living here, I do miss Kent more than I thought I would. Happily, there is a huge variety of things to do in London – many of which provide the greenery and the peace I have been missing.
1. Find a little piece of Japan in Holland Park’s Kyoto Garden
Holland Park is a very pretty park in Kensington. As far as parks go, it’s quite an interesting one. There’s sculptures dotted around, some very heavily scented flower beds and a Japanese garden, complete with peacocks, a koi carp pond, some oriental-looking trees and a waterfall. It wasn’t the place of quiet contemplation that I had read about, considering the sheer amount of people trying to take pictures of the peacocks but it was beautiful. I pulled up a patch of grass next to the garden and had a picnic, which was much more relaxing than actually walking around the place. From here, I discovered that the Kyoto Garden is the perfect place for people watching. Since it is so picturesque, it seems to be a popular choice for wedding pictures. I spotted at least four pairs of newlyweds posing around the garden, plus a couple of yogis posing for a photoshoot and many more taking pictures of themselves with the blossom trees.
2. Spot the pelicans in St. James’ Park
I didn’t quite believe it when I heard that there were actual pelicans living in St. James’ Park. I mean, the park is lovely (and surprisingly calm and peaceful considering the fact London is such a hectic and traffic-filled city) but I wasn’t sure if a lake in the middle of London would take the fancy of a pelican. I was wrong. As I walked towards Duck Island (past a sign saying “do not feed the pelicans”) I spotted a group of four real life pelicans. As it turns out, St. James’ Park has had over 40 pelicans since 1664, when they were given to King Charles II by the Russian Ambassador. Apparently, pelicans like to live in groups by large, shallow lakes so they’ve taken well to living in London’s park. They also have a pretty good palace-view. I don’t even want to imagine what their rent is like.
3. Sit inside the garden in St Dunstan-in-the-East Church
London is a very hectic place but there are a surprising amount of peaceful spaces, even in the corporate City. St Dunstan-in-the-East is an old church, whose history dates back to the 1100s. It has been damaged and rebuilt over the years and was almost destroyed by bombing in World War II. Now, the steeple, tower and outer walls are all that remain and the inside has been turned into a garden, complete with grass, benches and a fountain. It is the perfect place to escape to on your lunch breaks and take in some history at the same time.
4. Find some exotic plants in the Barbican Conservatory
If you’re looking for conservatories full of exotic plants in London then, lets face it, Kew Gardens is probably going to be your first port of call but if you’re looking for somewhere that isn’t going to cost you an arm and a leg and is more central then the Barbican Conservatory is the place for you my friend. I must admit, when I walked into the first section, I was a little underwhelmed. It wasn’t as big or as packed out with greenery as I’d imagined. Then I turned a corner and found what I had been looking for: lots more overgrown greenery, a little pond, a few turtles, a cute little pathway and – the cherry on the sundae – a cactus room. I love a good cactus – and there were loads of them here. After exploring for a while, taking photos ready to be Instagrammed later and dodging the various “photoshoots” that were going on (it is a pretty back drop) the Uni Friend and I went and sat on a bench for a while and had a good old chat. It was a lovely place just to sit and relax.
5. Relax in a Tibetan Peace Garden
The Tibetan Peace Garden can be found next to the Imperial War Museum in the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park – placing war and peace and west and east side-by-side. The site is filled with stones and sculptures, symbolic of of Buddhist teachings – plus some handy information boards so that you can work out exactly what it is you are seeing. The garden is situated next to a main road but, even with the traffic noise, it was still easy to find some zen in the garden, lying on the grass, surrounded by plants from the Asian continent.
6. Take in the views from Primrose Hill
Primrose Hill is probably on the majority of London bucket lists – including mine. The only problem for me is that, being near Chalk Farm in North London, it is quite far away from me down south. Then one weekend, my Class Pass adventures took me to an aerial class in that direction so afterwards I took a wander in that direction one Saturday morning. The hill wasn’t quite as huge as I was expecting but – particularly after a tough workout class – I was still a bit tired by the time I reached the top so I was more than happy to spend a while taking in the views. There were quite a few people milling around at what seemed to be the main viewpoint (but thankfully not loads) and the day was bright but sadly not particularly clear but despite the layer of smog obstructing my view, I could still see the outline of several high London buildings. On a completely clear day I imagine the views are amazing – but you may have to fight your way through more people to see them.
7. Take in more views from Greenwich Park
Primrose Hill might be famous for its views but Greenwich Park’s are equally awesome. Getting over to Greenwich may have been quite the trek (and that does not include the mini-trek up the hill in the park to catch the views) but I tied it in with a visit to the University of Greenwich to see the Travel Photographer of the Year exhibit and it turned out to be the perfect day. From my spot on top of the hill next to Greenwich Observatory, I could see the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and the O2 arena not too far away and the iconic buildings of the City (like the Gherkin and the Cheesegrater). If I peered around the trees beside meI could even spot the Shard and St Paul’s Cathedral. Here I actually got a better view of London’s classic skyline than I did at Primrose Hill – although since it was a clearer day it’s not really a fair comparison!
8. Walk through Epping Forest
When The Flatmate suggested a visit to Epping Forest for one of our Adventure Days, I was sceptical. Although I have come round to the delights of a good gym session in the last year, I still generally like to spend my free time sitting, drinking and eating. Even when I’m out on an adventure. A good market or exhibition will probably get me up on my feet but I wasn’t sure bare nature was going to do it. But the rest of our group were up for it and I didn’t want to be the annoying one so I agreed. It turned out that The Flatmate knew what she was talking about. The journey from South London, from one end of the Victoria line in Brixton to the other in Walthamstow Central AND THEN the overground to Chingford, certainly made it feel like we were leaving London altogether as opposed to just being on the periphery. The forest itself was beautiful. We found a big lake where we stopped to picnic and we strolled through trees and on dirt tracks until we found an actual pathway. We may have got a little bit lost but ultimately found our way back. The place reminded me of my local forest in Kent: Bedgebury, where I used to walk and cycle my bike on outings with family and friends when I was little. Only the place was still in an Oyster zone.