The Horniman Museum is a genuine secret gem in south east London. It takes an effort to find but it is SO worth it.
It's a free museum, packed with all kinds of interesting collections: from anthropology to musical history to all kinds of natural treasures.
There's even an aquarium, and a lovely park to have picnics in, weather permitting.
Take a trip to the depths of non-tube-land south east London and discover a fascinating world.
100 London Rd, Forest Hill, London, SE23 3PQ
Open daily 10.30-17.30pm (except 24-26 Dec)
Entrance to the museum & gardens is free, but there is a charge for the aquarium
Getting there: buses 176, 185, 197, 356, P4 stop outside the museum on London Road
Forest Hill London Overground station is a five-minute walk away.
Google map: bit.ly/Z7bh4d
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The Wheatsheaf hotel and pub in Virginia Water is set in an ideal location as it is right by Virginia Water Lake and Windsor Great Park. It is cosy with its open fireplaces and it has a large beer garden at the back. The inn welcomes families for dining and staying. Traditional, freshly cooked English food and light bites are available.
For a bit of history, King George III and Queen Charlotte are known to have stayed at the inn in the early 1800s.
London Road, Virginia Water, Surrey GU25 4QF
Google map: bit.ly/RPdXMJ
In the 90s I used to walk Yogi, a joyful Bouvier des Flandres, in these gardens every day. Yogi has long gone, but the gardens are in better shape than ever after a £12.1m facelift courtesy of National Lottery funding. An artificial lake, classic bridge, cascade of waterfalls and even an Inigo Jones gateway are just some of the treasures hidden among the specimen trees and latticework of pathways in this early example of English landscape gardening. Dogs still roam free in the wild woods and fields, but must be leashed in the more formal areas.
This south London park, its landscaped gardens formerly part of the Kelsey Estate, has been kept secret by the locals for the past 99 years. It has been our family favourite since Grandma pushed Mum around in her pram before the Second World War. When I was a little girl, Mum and I fed the ducks together every Sunday. As Kelsey Park heads towards its centenary, and since I have no daughter of my own to pass it on to, the time has come to share Beckenham's hidden treasure with the rest of the world. I hope Grandma isn't turning in her grave.
"... Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as ... Parklife!" Blur, 1994
Us south Londoners have the most amazing free sports venue, here on Blackheath and adjacent Greenwich Park. Whatever your age, you can play and run your way across one of London’s biggest green spaces soaked in two thousand years of history.
Arriving at Blackheath Station walk up through Blackheath Village onto the heath proper. On the very place where thousands gathered for the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 you can play football, hockey, rugby, football, cricket, lacrosse, athletics, baseball and American football. It is also ideal and popular all year round for kite flying.
Walk across the heath past the start of the annual London Marathon to the gates of Greenwich Park where children can take a donkey ride. Then cross the A2 along which for centuries pilgrims rode and walked to Canterbury.
Through the gates and into the park where you can play cricket on a pitch in the shadow of the Georgian Ranger’s House, filled with mediaeval and renaissance art and old Dutch Masters; or play tennis on a court split by the nought degrees Meridian Line; walk toward the Royal Observatory and the statue of General Wolfe, winner of Canada for the British, pockmarked with Luftwaffe bullets and then take in the magnificent view that takes in the masts of the Cutty Sark and Canary Wharf.
Walk, run, jog, play with frisbees and cycle all for free in these grounds - horseback-ridden by Henry VIII and Elizabeth 1 - past the remains of a Roman temple, past a deer park, flower garden, bandstand and magnificent trees.
But if you want to be organised by someone else you can take part in sessions for military fitness, weight training and running for mixed groups and mums only. And if you’re worn out by all this you can take children and watch them making some effort on the children’s boating pond in the shadow of the Maritime Museum.
Blackheath Railway Station, Tranquil Vale, Blackheath, London, SE3 9LE
Buses: 53, 54, 89, 108, 202, 380, 386
Other stations around Greenwich Park: Network Rail, Maze Hill: DLR, Cutty Sark
Sports on Blackheath
For all field sports contact GreenScene, London Borough of Lewisham
Tel: 020 8314 2047 firstname.lastname@example.org
Kite-flying is free and can take place all year round.
Donkey rides are temporarily-suspended due to bereavement but will resume in October 2012.
Sports in Greenwich Park
Small putting green at Greenwich Tennis Centre, north of Ranger’s Field
(0)20 8293 0276 www.playzennis.co.uk
One cricket square on Ranger’s Field near Blackheath Gate available to book Tuesday-Thursday and weekends during park opening hours, 1May-30 September. Pavilion with changing rooms and showers.
Tel: 020 8858 2608
South end of the park close to the Blackheath Gate.
Call 20 8858 2608 for details of pitch hire times and prices.
Military/Keep Fit Training/Running
British Military Fitness
020 7751 9742
Contact for prices
Go Commando Personal Training
£20 per 3 hour session
Serpentine Running Club
07970 896440 out of office hours
Michelle - 07956 234309
Rebecca - 07967 793957
Email - email@example.com.
Pedal and rowing boats, open from Easter til October, weather permitting.
Google map: bit.ly/Onf2YV
It's worth making a special trip to find Hampton Lido, as the Canadian triathlon team have just done. This little gem, saved from demolition in 1985, is hidden away in SW London by Bushy Park. Open 365 days of the year, the open air lido has a heated 36m pool, plus a children's pool and a delightful grassy area to spread rugs on beneath shady trees.
The low, 1930s style building along one side has a gym with all the latest equipment and a fitness studio which offers yoga, pilates, circuits and more. Upstairs is the small Sun Deck cafe for breakfast (best porridge in London) lunch, drinks and snacks and a south-facing balcony terrace overlooking the pools. There are music concerts on the grass in the summer and if you join the Poolside Club you can swim and BBQ in the evenings outside public opening hours.
Three life-guarded, open-air swimming ponds (yes real ponds, weeds and all!) in the heart of London. Each pond (ladies, mens and mixed) has its own unique atmosphere, whether you want secluded bathing among ducks and lily pads, clear open water for training, or a place to splash about with friends and wash away the London grime. At each pond, there is a grassy bank for sitting, a jetty to dive off and changing rooms complete with showers. Swimming in the pond is the most serene, yet invigorating way to finish off a summers day in the capital. Oh and did I mention that they're open all year round?
+44(0)20 7485 3873
Google map: bit.ly/QdGSKG
Nearest tube: Highgate or Hampstead
Overground: Gospel Oak or Hampstead Heath
Whether you are visiting Olympic Park or just looking to keep the kids occupied head down to Billingsgate, take a picnic but be sure to pack a mackerel (the fish market closes at 8.30am) and when you spot Sammy the seal (although most likely Simone) throw the fish at her. She has been hanging around here for a few years and why not with all that fish around? You might see porpoises and the odd dolphin too....
River Thames between Canary Wharf and as far in as Vauxhall Bridge. West India Quay on DLR and walk along the docks.
Google map: bit.ly/QdJAzO
If you fancy some wild swimming, but don't want to dodge the River Thames traffic, there are other watery magnets around the capital. Try the ponds on Hampstead Heath, or the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park. There are also Grade II listed lidos in Parliament Hill Fields and Brockwell Park. Break up a day of London sight-seeing with a dip in the outside pool at the Oasis in Covent Garden. Finally, at 90m, the Tooting Bec Lido is perfect for serious swimmers.
Outdoor Swimming Society: www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com
The Outdoor Swimming Society interactive map: wildswim.com/
Kate Rew's film about wild swimming in London: www.guardian.co.uk/travel/video/2010/aug/05/kate-rew-wild-swim-london?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3486
Hampstead Heath Ponds
Men only, women only and mixed. No children under 8, children under 16 with an adult.
Address: Hyde Park, W2 3XA
Tel: +44 (0)20 7706 3422
Open: 10am-6pm weekends and bank holidays in May; 10am-6pm daily June-mid Sept
Brockwell Park Lido
Address: Brockwell Park, Dulwich Road, London, SE24 0PA
Tel: +44 (0)20 7274 3088
Open: Mon-Fri: 06:30-22:00, Saturday: 07:30-21:30, Sunday: 07:30-21:00
Parliament Hill Fields Lido
Address: Gordon House Road, NW5 1NB
Tel: +44 (0)20 7485 3873
Open: May-Sept 2012: 7am-9am & 10am-6pm daily; 6.30-8.30pm Mon, Thur & Fri. Sep-May 2013 7am-12.30pm daily
Oasis Sports Centre
Address: 32 Endell Street, WC2H 9AG
Tel: +44 (0)20 7831 1804
Open: Mon-Fri: 6.30am-9pm, Sat-Sun: 9.30am-6pm. (Last admission one hour before closing).
Tooting Bec Lido
Address: Tooting Bec Road, SW16 1RU
Tel: +44 (0)20 8871 7198
Open to the public from 19 May to 30 Sep. For the rest of the year, the Lido is open every day to the South London Swimming Club.
You don't have to be a famous comedian or a boat-race prankster to swim in the Thames, but from 1st July 2012 you do have to get prior consent from the harbour master if you want to swim between Putney Bridge and Crossness (near the Thames Barrier). Anyone can enjoy a dip in the water upstream, and there are some lovely spots to cool off on a hot summer's day from Chiswick to Richmond, via Barnes, Old Isleworth, and Strawberry Hill.
Port of London Authority: www.pla.co.uk/swimminginthethames
Yes, you can sail in the middle of London. The Shadwell Sailing Club is open to the public every Tuesday from April till October. For as little as £10 a session the club will provide all the equipment, sailing gear and instruction needed for novices and experts alike. The evening starts at 6.00pm, and if the conditions are good, you could find yourself on the water for four hours. After all that exercise you'll relish a pint or two at the Prospect of Whitby right next door.
3-4 Shadwell Pierhead, Glamis Road, London E1W3TD
Tel: +44 (0) 2074814210
Google map: bit.ly/Ontf8n
The Shadwell OAC also runs youth courses for RYA certificates in sailing.
Fishing is free anywhere along the tidal Thames from Teddington Lock to the sea. Catch freshwater and sea fish, ranging from roach, pike and perch to bream and flounder. Choose your spot carefully and watch the tide. A friend of mine is a passionate angler, and swears Thames carp fishing is some of the best to be had anywhere. You'll need a rod and line licence, available online or through the post office.
Licence: 1 day £3.75 (or £8 for salmon and sea trout)
Google map: bit.ly/OnukwR
Under-recognised but really fun for the family: my nephews went mad for the splash zone, a kids area open in summer. Plus lots of special kids activities as well.
Cheap and good fun for all the family - Richmond Park has lots of space for young ones to run around, beautiful deer to admire from near or far, the Isabella Plantation with its gorgeous walks and hide and seek places, cycle paths, free car parking, cafe or lots of picnic spots and great views of London over to canary wharf. If you hanker after a nice river walk or town amenities, you can just stroll down from the park along the riverside, watch boats and feed the ducks. Bliss.
This hidden gem is well worth seeking out. Arguably one of London's larger city farms, there is an abundance of animals from all the farmyard favourites to tropical birds and even some alpacas. A beautiful shire horse gives cart rides in the summer months and there are regular events for all the family. It's free to get in and there is plenty there to keep you coming back.
Stansfeld Road, Beckton, London, E6 5LT
Closest station: Royal Albert DLR
Bus: 300, 376, 262
+44(0)20 7474 4960
This walk brought the history of the Thames to life for the whole family. Led by Fiona, an intertidal archaeologist we strolled along the river with stops for background facts. Then onto the part my sons had been waiting for. Clad in plastic gloves and wellies we were led down the safest path onto the foreshore outside Tate Modern and let loose to beachcomb (strictly no digging). An amazing array of items were found by the group and expertly identified by Fiona. We went home with clay pipes, a Victorian jelly mould and a piece of a 17th century 'Witch pot' tossed into the river full of pee to ward off evil spirits. And my seven-year-old son's highlight, a musket ball.
Dates and times depend on the tides so check www.walks.com and search for mudlarking. Meets at Mansion House tube. No booking needed, £8 for adults and free(!) for kids.
Darting through the chilly winter night to the steaming outdoor pool, or sunbathing and splashing here in summer is my idea of fun in London. Just a saunter away from Covent Garden Market, and shielded by a disguise of tower blocks, Oasis Sports Centre is one of London's hidden treasures. It is such an unexpected contrast to the shops and offices that surround it- a true Oasis.
Keep little ones and teenagers intrigued on a shoestring budget with a day trip to the Natural History Museum. The impressive cathedral-like structure plays host to one of the largest natural history collections in the world.
The collection includes everything from microscopic slides to mammoth skeletons, a dinosaur gallery to Darwin’s work on natural selection and an enormous life-size model of a blue whale.
The National History Museum also offers special exhibitions, an outdoor ice skating rink (in winter) and a wildlife garden. Admission to the permanent collection is free.
Recently I took my mother for a trip onto the London eye to celebrate her 75th Birthday. When purchasing our tickets, I was asked if I was her carer as she walks with a walking stick and I enquired why. They said that the carer goes on free so in essence it's a buy one get one free ticket. The London Eye was a wonderful experience and I would recommend it to anyone.
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