16 July 2008

Collected here are some of London’s sights that can be best enjoyed on foot, and why enjoying them on foot is by far the best way. With tips on preparation so that you are not left high and dry and kept comfortable, as well as list of tour route maps which will be added to, this page is worth keeping to hand when you visit London or even for those living in London. There are also some handy short cuts here that may avoid much longer tube/bus journeys, so even for a seasoned Londoner, there is something here.

If you are shopping for maps, take a look below for a selection and also some good shoes for the walk. The illustrated routes try to be as clear as possible, highlighting the landmarks and things that you will see on the way.

London, or more aptly Greater London, is a beautiful city. It has green spaces, good transport and some superb walks, be they for pleasure or to simply get a crafty short-cut to work.

Why should I enjoy it on foot?

Amazing Buildings - take a walk, and look up

London is best enjoyed on foot. You will be surprised how close everything is once you know it. You get to start looking more closely at our amazing historic buildings - look up, and you’ll catch just how awesome they are.

Like all cities it also has tricks to get around it easily and make the most of it when around. Walks targeted through certain areas allow you to enjoy certain interesting spots, and carry on walking to a convenient tube station to get back out of town.

Walking allows you to experience more of it, seeing the sites that in the tube you would otherwise miss. It is good for your health, your well being and happiness. It allows you to better meet and interact with people than the awkward “trying to ignore each other” moments on the tube. Getting out of the car, or even off the tube, allows a person to see more of the city, and start to “join the dots”.

Oh yeah - and walking is FREE!

Big Ben Seen on Foot

  • You will learn to join the dots in London – the tube is quick, and great, but you may not actually understand where different areas are in relation to each other, or see much of them.
  • You will see more of London and learn about areas not directly on the Tube system.
  • You will find shortcuts to make your routes quicker.
  • You will be healthier due to all the walking.
  • You can take yourself, and visiting friends on tours without expensive tour buses. Nothing like an opportunity to show off local knowledge.
  • You will feel happier. Walking does lift my mood a lot and relax me. Walking in London gives me enough to gawp at, even having done so for many years, that I tend to be quite relaxed, and possibly inspired after a good walk.

Afraid your legs or feet will ache?

While it is true that you will have some tiredness, generally a healthy gait, obtained by walking regularly will reduce the pains and aches you may associate with walking.

If you find you have creaky knees, clicking ankles and often have joint discomfort when standing, perhaps you are wearing the wrong kind of shoe - MBT's correct posture and gait. They are perhaps the most comfortable foot wear, and improve muscle tone along with posture as you use them.

If you want to wear dress shoes, pack some in a backpack and change into them at your destination.

At the end of a long walk, it is often a good idea to have a footbath (any old tub will do, but the pro ones are nicer) and a foot massage.

Like all things, good preparation for walking can really make an experience an enjoyable one.

While no additional kit is required, beyond you and your feet, you can do much to enhance it.

What do I mean by “Join The Dots”?

Joining the dots

Most people only know London by the tube stations. Generally, they get around using only this, and the occasional bus.

The tube map itself is actually a little more topological than geographical, that is, it shows the relative connections of the tube more than the relative positions/distance of them. Some areas are just not known because they are between stations. Some stations that may be 40+ minutes away on the tube, may be only 20 minutes away on foot.

Joining dots like that not only allows you to experience more of London, but to get around it quicker, and to plan routes that before seemed much harder.

My Favourite Walks

Monument - it has a lot of stairs!

Holland Park is a favourite that has become part of my daily commute. This beautiful park has plenty to enjoy.

Also in my daily commute is a walk from the sparkling new Shepherds Bush station, through Kensington Olympia, and down to my workplace near West Kensington. This takes you past the amazing Olympia buildings, as well as the new Westfield Shopping Centre. It is quiet in the back streets between Shepherds Bush, Hammersmith and Olympia.

Hyde Park has enough to walk around for days, and you can cross to St James Park and see Buckingham Palace without straying far from the amazing park land. The serpentine itself is very serene, as does the Diana memorial, which is a joy to the feet.

Staying in West London, you can walk through Notting Hill (exiting from Hyde Park if you have walked that far), starting at The Champion (which has a superb drinks selection), then stopping for food at The Churchill Arms, you can then continue along Kensington Church Road, Church Road being full of beautiful old antique shops and churches. There are other pubs suitable for a pub crawl, and you can continue onto the High Street. Following this down takes you into Hammersmith, which has a great selection of pubs, but the main aim is to go around the Broadway, and onto the Thames Path at Hammersmith bridge. Hammersmith Bridge is itself quite magnificent. Walking along the Thames, you have a choice of stopping off at a number of pubs, including The Rutland, The Dove and The Ship.

Holland Walk, Holland Park, West London

Holland Walk Map

  • Distance: 0.7 miles

  • Sights: Holland Park

  • Good For: Relaxation and joining dots.

Holland Walk is a short but pleasant route I incorporated into my daily route when Shepherds Bush was closed. It has a few variations going through the park too - more scenic (although it is all scenic) and more direct.

Holland Park station is pleasant, and has a few very interesting independent businesses close by, including The Castle (a pub with a number of good beers), a bakery, fashion shops, nutritionists and a couple of lesser known charity shops.

In easy reach of Holland Park Station is also Kensington Leisure Centre (not my favourite, but not too bad either), and some of the old granaries of London, with a plaque depicting the age and also how poverty stricken these parts of town were, which is far from the very affluent area it is now. Flats in Holland Park are leased at prices that would give even the very rich cause to hesitate.

As you come out from Holland Park Station, cross the road. It can be very busy, so do use this crossing, and watch out for bikes. Turn left here. There are some really beautiful houses, and a memorial on the corner here. Some of these huge houses are sadly derelict, but I suspect they are owned by someone with grand designs on them.

Bluebells in the park

Go at the right time of the year to see Bluebells in Bloom in Holland Park, London

Cross over the road named only “Holland Park”, and carry on past the houses, and on the right you will see a small bike path, that leads off uphill between the houses.

Follow this path, again past beautiful large houses, and you will see the park on your right. You will pass some of the nature reserve areas of the park, and may here see a squirrel pausing, or even a cat hunting (as I have done). Things are in character, with even the lamps and signs suited to the place - looking like old gas lamps. You will pass a large school on the left, and you will also pass the Hostel in Holland Park on the Right.

As you walk through, you may hear the call of the Peacocks that reside in the park. Continuing along, it gets greener, and the large green is on right, with another row of grand town houses on the left.

Eventually you will come through the gates onto Kensington High Street, which is fantastic for shopping. You will immediately see a number of well known chains, and interesting small independent shops. The character of this area is superb. If you chose to follow Earls Court Road, you will be able to reach Earls Court in walking distance, but you will again pass plenty of shops full of character on the way, my favourite being an independent garden centre.

This walk is available even after hours when the park is closed, though obviously, if you are walking late, please bear you safety in mind, as even in an affluent area, you still want to play it streetwise.

View this route in more detail on the Google Maps Pedomete

Find out more about Holland Park

See some of the sights and great reasons to take a walk through and around Holland Park, between the affluent areas of Kensington High Street and Notting Hill.

Meet the Peacocks and Squirrels, watch out for the Cricket players (don’t get in the way of a fast bowl - they hurt), take time out in the peaceful Kyoto Gardens.

Once you are done, you can then take a break in one of the brilliant local traditional pubs like The Churchill Arms on Kensington Church Street, or The Champion in Notting Hill. Of course - there are some great pubs right next door to Holland Park too, including Paul - an awesome Patisserie - where a coffee and some great pastry is available.

How to never be lost in London

London Towers

When walking in a new area, it is easy to get lost and wander where you have ended up. However, London, and Greater London (everything within the m25) is fairly easy to get yourself back on the route. There are major landmarks - like St Pauls or 30 St Mary Axe (aka The Gherkin) there, but if you don’t know them well, here are some tips to get yourself found again.

First, bring yourself an A-Z street map or guide - there are a few you can buy on this page. If you have an electronic guide, that is even better. Ensure that the guide goes out as far from the centre as you have, some of them do cut off after underground zone 1.

London Street name signs normally state the postcode and borough as well, which will help when finding where you are on the map.

Next, if it is the daytime, and you are in central London or the west end, ask someone. People can be busy, but many are quite friendly about telling you where you are. Be aware that many people in London are visitors and tourists themselves, but they may have the A-Z that you forgot to bring, and be able to help you out there.

If those aren’t working for you, let the public transport network help. If you are a Londoner, the chances are you have an Oyster Card - if not, I really advise getting one, you can save money on cash fares and you get to use it across the network. When you are lost, look for a bus stop, or if you cannot see one, walk towards the largest looking junction and find one there. At bus stops, there will be a name of the area, possible a local street map, which buses run locally, and it will give you an idea how far you are from the nearest tube station. Get your bearings or a bus from there to the nearest big landmark or tube station. This is probably my most used method of getting out of a pickle if I have walked too far off the beaten trail.

Bring a smart phone with a maps app - usingbsome street names, a postcode and finmd where you are. Find a tube or bus station, and apply the above.

With these simple methods, it is very, very hard to get lost in London, unless you walk in one of the big woods (perhaps Queens wood, or Hampstead Heath) or venture far past the outside of the M25.

Buy an A-Z or Map to help you - if you don’t have a satnav gizmo, you will need some idea of where you want to go. Of course, London is friendly enough to ask someone, but with your own map, you can plan ahead a bit.

Getting to the River from Tottenham Court Road

  • Distance: 1 mile

  • Sights: The Thames, Theatres, Leicester Square, Chinatown, Charing Cross Road bookshops, music shops.

  • Good For: Sightseeing and Shopping.

To many London travellers, Tottenham Court Road, and the Thames seem pretty far from each other, but it is handy to realise first that there is only a mile between them, and that it is a very pleasant walk.

Centre Point is where this walk starts. This is the crossing of Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road and Charing Cross Road. At this location, you have the shopping precinct that is Oxford Street, the Technology area of Tottenham Court Road where you can find most gadgets and gizmo’s for sale, and even haggle for a good price. You have New Oxford Street, which will take you to the British Museum, and Charing Cross Road itself, which is part of this route. Centre point itself is an unmissable building – towering over this crossing, it was built huge, and yet is not fully occupied. You also have the theatres of this area.

The route from here goes along Charing Cross Road, where you will pass amazing bookshops like Foyles on the right hand, and equally amazing musical instrument shops on the left. Both groups are worthy of investigation. As you carry on down, you will pass the The Palace Theatre (currently showing the hilarious Spamalot), on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue (which would take you to more theatres or ChinaTown).

Carrying on, you then pass Leicester Square, which is a hub of culture and entertainment in London. If you have not visited, I strongly suggest spending time there. Leicester Square also adjoins Chinatown. There are Cinema’s, Night Clubs, Bars, restaurants, street performers and also major events held here. It is the place where nearly every major film première in the UK is at.

As you continue, you come to the Strand, another old and picturesque part of London, with another shopping precinct, and Charing Cross Station. If you go along beside the station (which the map does not quite show, as it is pedestrian only), you will be on a small alley taking you to the back of Embankment Station. This alley again has a great selection of bars and restaurants.

If you go through Embankment, you will come to the Thames, and what sight you will have. I never cease to be drawn to the Thames, to watch the water, the boats on it, and the skyline. Once you are there, there any many more walks to be had.

Museums and Sights

Natural History Museum

South Kensington has three of the best places to visit. From there, the Natural History Museum, The Science Museum and the V & A are all accessible. Any one of them is large enough to constitute a days walking, if not more.

If you are walking along the Thames path, you may also visit St Pauls Cathedral, The Tate Modern, The Tate Britain, The Tower Of London, walk past the beautiful Tower Bridge, walk alongside Westminster Palace and Big Ben. You can visit Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, see The Golden Hinde, Southwark Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral (two separate buildings) and The Millennium Bridge.

A little in from the Thames, you will find Trafalgar Square which has The National Gallery, and is in walking distance of the West End, with Theatre Land, China Town, and Oxford Street for a shopping area. Bond Street or Tottenham Court Road (great for technology) are in easy reach. Or you can head towards Charing cross for bookshops and musical instruments.

You can take in much of London by starting at Tottenham Court Road, going down through Charing Cross Road towards Leicester Square and Covent Garden, into the Strand, and then continue on to Embankment, placing you on the Thames again.

Following Oxford Street down, you will pass Bond Street, and then later come on to Marble Arch and Park Lane, where you will see Harrods and The Ritz Hotel, this eventually leads you to Hyde Park or Bayswater Road, further takes you to Bayswater and the shopping centre there.

Me and London

I have lived in London since 1997, staying in different parts and thoroughly enjoying the centre of London - both as a regular commuter working there, as a tourist type enjoying museums and sights, and also the nightlife too. I like to get out and walk a fair bit so I can really get to know an area.

Image Sources

Tower bridge and Holland Park photos taken by myself with a Nokia N73.

Other photos used from Morguefile.com – clipped and edited.

Tube illustration drawn by me in Inkscape.

Maps are from Gmaps pedometer.