This flight of fancy is one of my favourite places in London. It's a few moments from bustling Hampstead but feels like something from another time.
The red brick Victorian pergola is a delight, crammed with plants and trees, the twisting paths and ornate walkways are a joy to discover. Each flight of steps leads to something new. I love this place in winter when the frost outlines the hanging vines and the sun sparkles on the pond.
North End Way, Hampstead, NW3
Google map: bit.ly/Vp3Izx
Wherever you are in London the Regents Canal is never too far. On a crisp autumn day, especially in the morning when the water is so calm there is no nicer way to travel then a walk along here. The east side is my favourite with many snack bars and coffee hubs where you can sit and watch the Hackney posse rock about. Better yet are the charming houseboats that are docked up, especially towards trendy Broadway market which have taken to selling goods and sometimes even having live music. Take bread to feed the ducks and enjoy a piece of real London living.
The best place to start is the opening near Angel tube and the Canal can take you all the way to Victoria park.
The "Lungs of London": take a break from the city buzz and head up to Hampstead Heath. To breathe in wide, open and green views, start from the wonderful lido at Gospel Oak; trot up Parliament Hill to marvel at the city stretching out from east to west below; continue round the fields and woods to Kenwood House and enjoy a well-earned break on their outside cafe terrace; play spot the bird or spot the dog as you jog gently back down (approx three miles round route). To add to your fitness experience and commune further with nature, stop off at one of the swimming ponds (one each for men and women on the east Highgate side, and one mixed pond near Hampstead entrance) or finish off with a few lengths of the lido! To enjoy all four pools, enter the Hampstead Heath duathlon in early September, running between swims in all the pools, starting at the lido and finishing at the athletics track.
www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath for a trails map and details of events like the duathlon. Can be easily reached from Gospel Oak or Hampstead Heath overground stations or C2 bus from Oxford Circus or 214 from the City/St Pancras, stopping at Parliament Fields.
After a hard days shopping or sight-seeing in London, there is nothing better than a time-out in a floatation tank. While the whole city is buzzing around you, you can let every single muscle in your body relax to the max as you float effortlessly in a warm relaxing salt bath. The feeling is magical, akin to floating in mid-air, with the effects of gravity being removed from your body as you drift in to a dream-filled sleep. The Epsom-Salt solution in the baths also has numerous health benefits, so you also get a bit of a detox! After a floatation session, I can't even explain how revitalized I felt. It's something that you REALLY have to experience if you are in London!
Found near St Pauls, Postman's Park is a quiet retreat that will keep you captivated for hours. A former burial ground, it has since 1900 served as a Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. Dozens of memorial tablets line the walls in poignant memorial of ordinary and otherwise forgotten people, who died saving the lives of others.
King Edward Street, London EC1
Google map: bit.ly/ykjudK
Pasha claims to be London's only Kazakhstan/Kyrgyzstan restaurant, hiding at the back of an exterior that seems straight out of a scene from Borat.
Pasha also hosts a hotel and a sauna and hammam (Turkish steam bath) on the premises. Quite an unusual venue and a great, if somewhat wacky, night out.
Johanssons looks like a tiny deli and sandwich bar from the front but behind it stretches out into a Tardis of wonderfulness. There is a small bistro behind with a lovely garden where you can enjoy a quality bottle of plonk and some olives. The Mediterranean/Swedish menu has sea bass, wild boar, home-cured salmon and scrummy pork belly plus there are plenty of veggie options.
2 Grove Lane, Camberwell, SE5 8SY
+44 207 701 4944
Buses 12, 36, 171, 436 to Camberwell Green
Google map: bit.ly/p0Vmh0
After swimming lengths, I'm always famished.
Actually, I need no excuse to pop into the Brockwell Park's Lido Cafe, swim or no swim, I'll be there enjoying a cup of coffee or a hot chocolate. The menu is extensive and inspired with smaller portions for kids, and food served throughout the day. When the outdoor pool is open, there's even a little hut where swimmers and 'sunbathers' (ha!) can get snacks.
Special events include live jazz and flamenco evenings and five-course supper parties.
Art Deco fans can also admire the interior, when not gazing at all the beautiful bodies by the pool. Dream on!
A walk along Buckinghamshire's Chess river, through ancient forests, past water meadows, and through fields teeming with wild flowers, lined by cob nut trees and blackberry bushes, is a wonderful way to clear the smog from your brain.
Best of all, it's accessible on the Metropolitan tube line and a round trip will cost all of £7. En route, the Cock Inn at Sarratt and the Rose & Crown at Chorleywood make splendid stopping off points for sustenance and liquid refreshment. We passed a watercress farm too, and a huge bunch of freshly-harvested greens cost £1.50 and tasted a hundred times better than the stuff from the supermarket.
Take the Metropolitan Line from Baker Street or Marylebone Station to Chalfont & Latimer. Follow the river walk along the Chess river to Chorleywood village.
Chorleywood is on the Metropolitan tube line also.
The walk is about 7km.
Chorleywood Common, Chorleywood, Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, WD3 5LW
Google map: bit.ly/reCtPs
Church End, Church Lane, Sarratt, Herts WD3 6HH
Google map: bit.ly/nI5yiW
Relay is a delightful tea room; a haven of calm, genteel, good manners in the hectic chaos of the market. Property tea is served in dainty china cups and the range of cakes and puddings is overwhelming. Look out for the eggshell blue walls and aroma of apple crumble wafting out across the avenue.
The Clock House is an amazing pub located right on Peckham Rye Common. It's a traditional inn, with polished wood and brass, many great bitters from Young's of Wandsworth, gorgeous stained glass windows, plenty of clocks and timepieces - obviously - and there's even a tiny cinema, where you can watch new releases in a friendly, 'front parlour' atmosphere. The menu is extensive with tapas and some great pub favourites: steak & ale pie, North Atlantic crab cakes, linguini with clams. The batter is made with best bitter and - joy of joys - there's home-made gravy! There's a 'snug' room at the back and outdoor seating on benches overlooking the leafy common. A real find.
Situated on the edge of Peckham Rye Park and right in the middle of Peckham Rye Common, this cafe is a fantastic place for a bite to eat, an ice cream or a sit down in the shade. Gone are the days of stale, curled up sandwiches and lukewarm coffee, now there are pitta, ciabatta, all-day breakfast butties, Rye burgers and tasty wraps. The ice cream comes from Jude's in Hampshire and I tried a divine blackcurrant crush sorbet. Very refreshing.
Strakers Road, Peckham Rye Common, London, SE15 3UA
+44(0)208 693 9431
Open Mon-Thur 09.00-17.30, Fri-Sun 09.00-18.00
This delightful garden was originally laid out by social reformer Octavia Hill.
Hill (1838-1912) was an amazing woman and way ahead of her time. She was a pioneer of affordable housing and many consider her the founder of modern social work. She campaigned tirelessly for the environment and open spaces and co-founded the National Trust, which today protects over 300 historic properties and keeps 250,000 hectares of land open to everybody.
Hill believed in humane housing conditions and arranged for the construction of two rows of pretty cottages and a community hall, designed by Elijah Hoole. The garden predated the buildings and was laid out in 1887. It was created to provide ‘an open air sitting room for the tired inhabitants of Southwark’ and had an elaborate layout of curved lawns, flower beds and serpentine paths, an ornamental pond with fountain, bandstand and covered children's play area. There were once two mosaics in the garden. One showing ‘The Sower' was restored in 2005 and can still be seen.
Bankside Open Spaces Trust used Heritage Lottery funding to restore the garden to its former glory, complete with pond, bridge, fountain, flower beds and paths winding through this lovely Victorian garden.
50 Redcross Way, London SE1 1HA
Jubilee Line underground to Southwark
Google map: bit.ly/jsTIXR
This pop-up community garden has transformed a plot of wasteland in the shadow of the railway arches into a gorgeous green space: a place of healing and learning - with a dose of greenery thrown in for good measure.
Created by a collective of urban gardeners, designers and a team of volunteers, and shaped by a hospital department, the UPG also hosts a series of talks, workshops and film screenings.
The Rambulance restaurant nestles in the corner of the space in an old ambulance and serves up a seasonal menu of homegrown veg and herbs.
This lovely garden provides a space for artists, gardeners and health workers to explore the role of plants in the nation's health.
This authentic hammam is located in London's vibrant Turkish community, and is a brilliant place to unwind. I went on one of the ladies' days (Wednesday and Saturday) and was encouraged to spend as much time as I wished in the calm, marbled steam room. A foaming scrub followed, after which an 'anti-stress massage' of my back and legs left me feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, all for £35. Other packages include deep tissue massage and full-body aromatherapy.
Admiring the interior of this 1929 building from the loungers in the lobby, or just swimming in the pool, is relaxing in itself. But head downstairs for the steam rooms, saunas and an array of private rubdowns in a treatment room (salt scrub, sugar scrub, olive soap) to fully indulge. The Porchester Spa's architectural grandeur is offset by its down-to-earth feel; it has a distinctly unpretentious tea kitchen for when you need a bit of refreshment. Keeping cash on your person to pay for a private treatment poses a bit of a dilemma - where to put it? - but don't let that stop you!
An oasis of peace in central London! Keiko's massages are well described by a friend of mine as "a cross between psychotherapy and spa". Wide range of treatments from Balinese rituals to CACI and green peel facials are delivered in a lovely, spacious and fragrant treatment rooms.
64 Marchmont Street,
020 7837 9156
Hyde Park, Hampstead Heath, Regent’s Park, Trafalgar Square are all well known options but I would heartily recommend Holland Park and its surroundings. Hugely underrated, this beautiful park in West London has a truly gorgeous flower garden, Marco Pierre White’s yummy Belvedere restaurant, tennis courts and ample space for a summer’s day picnic.
Fancy a swim? Believe it or not, you can swim outside in London. Shoreditch House – owned by Nick Jones, the man who brought us Soho House – is situated in east London and has a heated rooftop pool.
It also has a fabulous set of places to drink inside, an onsite bowling alley and a Cowshed spa. Very possibly the best place to chill out in the capital.
For those who love variety and nature, R. B. Gardens at Kew may be the most pleasant destination in London. There's a Travelodge near the garden with great pre-booking offers, which can be booked via online, usually a few weeks in advance.
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