7 beautiful river walks in London
Walks to explore the capital’s palaces, gardens, nature reserves, historic sites and more
1. Ten bridges stroll - Tick off central London’s greatest hits
There’s almost too much to see on a 5-mile amble along the Thames in central London. North of this stretch of river lies the ancient royal and religious district of Westminster and the financial hub of the City. Across to the south you’ll find lively old Lambeth and historically shadowy Southwark. In between is an easy stroll through 3,500 years of history.
Set out north from Westminster Station along the Victoria Embankment, constructed in the 1860s by Joseph Bazalgette to combat water-borne diseases. You’ll soon pass the statue of Queen Boudica, scourge of the Romans. Then comes Cleopatra’s Needle, first erected in Cairo around 1460 BC before being brought to England. Turning at London Bridge, pause for views of Tower Bridge. On the south bank you’ll encounter the Clink Prison Museum, Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre and Tate Modern gallery. Then you’ll skirt the National Theatre, Royal Festival Hall and other cultural gems in the South Bank’s crown. The giant London Eye ferris wheel turns near medieval Lambeth Palace, London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Finally, cross Lambeth Bridge to pass between the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, a suitably impressive end to your capital adventure through the past.
2. Richmond to Hampton Court - Take in riverside grandeur
With its broad, deer-grazed parks and graceful Georgian architecture, Richmond is an appealing destination in itself. But it’s also the starting point for one of London’s best riverside walks. Head south on an 8-mile route past the homes of the wealthy and famous of past centuries. From Richmond Bridge, meander through peaceful Petersham Meadows. Soon, the creamy 18th-century Marble Hill House comes into view across the river, followed by Ham House. This magnificent mansion dating from the Stuart era is surrounded by glorious 17th-century gardens.
Soon the river flows around Eel Pie Island, an artists’ haven that once hosted concerts by Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones. Opposite lies Ham Lands Nature Reserve, teeming with birdlife and butterflies in summer. A final sweep alongside Teddington Lock announces your arrival at Hampton Court Park and Henry VIII’s great Tudor palace.
3. Wandle Trail - A tributary’s tale
The Thames isn’t the only river in London, though most of its tributaries were long ago covered over. One alluring waterway still above ground is the Wandle. A varied 12.5-mile trail follows its course from its meeting with the Thames in Wandsworth into the capital’s deep south. You’ll amble from Victorian terraced streets into nature reserves reclaimed from sewage works, and the artsy hub of Merton Abbey Mills. Then you’ll roam the attractive expanses of Morden Hall Park and Wilderness Island, home to kingfishers, woodpeckers and flitting butterflies. The trail ends at East Croydon Station, but various stations and tram stops provide options for cutting short your walk.
4. Barnes to Hammersmith - Admire mansions and wildlife
The shores of the Thames between Barnes and Hammersmith Bridges have long attracted wealthy Londoners. Start from Barnes Bridge station for a 5.5-mile loop walk along both banks. This stroll provides a showreel of some of the capital’s most attractive streets. Stepping away from the Thames briefly, you’ll encounter Chiswick House, a classically-inspired 18th-century mansion in beautifully landscaped grounds. The nearby home of painter William Hogarth makes an interesting stop, too. Farther east along the north bank, Chiswick and Hammersmith Malls are lined with lovely Georgian and Victorian Houses studded with blue plaques. Cross at Hammersmith Bridge to return west through the Leg O Mutton wetlands, watching for cormorants, herons and tufted ducks.
5. Rotherhithe circuit - Delve into Docklands heritage
Just east of the City, a plump finger of land stretches north from the south bank into the Thames. This is Rotherhithe, once the site of ten bustling docks. Canadian and Scandinavian timber, whale blubber and bones for corset-making were all unloaded here. Roam its waterfront and remaining quays to unearth lots of intriguing stories from history. It was from here that the Mayflower first sailed on its 1620 voyage to the New World with the Pilgrim Fathers. You’ll find links in St Mary’s Church, resting place of the ship’s captain, Christopher Jones, who’s also commemorated with a modern statue in the churchyard. Nearby stands a pub named for the ship, and the quirky sculpture Sunbeam Weekly and the Pilgrim’s Pocket by Cumberland Wharf Garden. Circuit the whole peninsula on a 5-mile walk to spot herons in Russia Dock Woodland and visit the fascinating Brunel Museum. Finish by climbing the artificial hill in Ecology Park for grandstand views of the docks.
6. The lower River Lea - Recall Olympic glories
The capital’s longest tributary snakes 42 miles from its source in Luton through East London. Its valley found fame hosting various events during the 2012 Olympics. Footpaths trace most of its course to Bow, where it joins the Thames. Set out on a 7-mile walk along its lower reaches to discover sporting sites and thriving wildlife havens. Starting at Tottenham Hale station, watch for spectacular waterbirds, peregrine falcons, bats, voles and other wildlife in the huge Walthamstow Wetlands nature reserve. Pause to cheer on a game of football or rugby on the many pitches of Hackney Marshes, then continue to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. This is now a bustling public space where you’ll find a range of events, attractions and places to eat and drink.
7. Kew & Isleworth - Botanical and architectural attractions
The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is a dazzling floral world that you should explore, of course. But you’ll enjoy still more natural loveliness on a 6.5-mile circuit tracing the south and north banks of the Thames. South of Kew Bridge, skirt the Old Deer Park where, despite the name, you’ll find no deer today. (They’re all in the larger park south of Richmond.) Continue along a tree-shaded trail with great views to the other bank and magnificent 16th-century Syon House. Crossing Richmond Bridge to wander through leafy Isleworth, you’ll reach the extensive grounds of Syon Park. Brentford, on the other side of the park, reveals the area’s industrial face. Here you’ll find two wonderful family-friendly attractions. Delve into the Musical Museum to admire its Mighty Wurlitzer theatre organ, then discover the fascinating story of London’s water supply in the Museum of Water and Steam.
We’ve got ideas for hundreds of wonderful walking routes across England, Scotland and Wales, long and short, easy and challenging. Search for routes on our website. Or join a guided walk with a local Ramblers group. Find your nearest Ramblers group and choose a walk that suits your pace, fitness and interests.
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