In the second post of our two-part feature on London’s best walks, we catch up once again with keen walker and travel writer Andy Jarosz who guides us through some of the highlights of the southern and western parts of the city…
A Stroll through South London
This 4 mile route straddles both sides of the Thames and provides a constantly changing urban landscape, from skyscrapers to grand old buildings and impressive examples of Victorian engineering. Allow two to three hours plus additional time in the Greenwich museums.
Start: Canary Wharf underground station / End: Blackheath village
As you emerge from the depths of the Jubilee Line into the open expanse of Canada Square the towering buildings of Canary Wharf dominate the skyline in every direction. Almost 100,000 people come to work in this part of London which serves as the European HQ for many of the world’s major banks. In the summer you’re quite likely to find an open-air exhibition or musical performance, with bank staff loosening their ties for a few precious moments in the sun before returning to their desks.
Wander southwards between the skyscrapers and over the many footbridges spanning the adjoining waterways. You’ll pass many modern apartments before eventually leaving the high-flying world of Canary Wharf for the parklands and housing estates of the Isle of Dogs. Now one of England’s poorest boroughs, this area once thrived as the home to thousands of men who worked in London’s commercial docklands.
Reach the river at Island Garden and stop to admire the view across before heading underground into the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, one of only two pedestrian tunnels under the Thames. Each end of the tunnel is marked by a glazed dome while around 200,000 white tiles line the walls along the underground walkway. If you’re lucky the lifts at either end of the tunnel will be working, but very often the exit into Greenwich will involve climbing eight flights of stairs.
You can linger for a whole day in Greenwich. The National Maritime Museum (free admission) is well worth a visit, and you’ll see the impressive sight of the famous tea clipper the Cutty Sark as soon as you emerge from the tunnel. Nearby Greenwich Market is a wonderful mixture of arts, crafts and food from around the world.
Make your way into Greenwich Park and follow the path up to the Royal Observatory where you can enjoy fine views across much of London. From the path near the building you’ll see the illuminated Prime Meridian line, the arbitrary line that divides the world’s western and eastern hemispheres. The museum inside the Observatory is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in astronomy, with the excellent planetarium films proving a highlight for many visitors.
From here it’s an easy walk across the top of Greenwich Park and over Blackheath Common into Blackheath Village, where our walk ends. This is one of London’s most desirable neighbourhoods and the streets are lined with high-end shops and upmarket restaurants. Highly recommended is Hand Made Food on Tranquil Vale, which offers a variety of lunches and sweet treats with a focus on organic and locally sourced ingredients. The walls of the upstairs room are lined with European maps and a rich variety of books, including a giant atlas, can be enjoyed while waiting for your order. Blackheath Stationis only a minute’s walk away.
West London Waterways
This walk covers around 6 miles, starting and ending at two of London’s most popular markets. The flat route in between follows a tranquil canal path where it’s easy to forget that you’re in the heart of London. Allow around 4 hours, including browsing time in both markets.
Start: Camden Town underground station / End: Notting Hill
As soon as you emerge from the station in Camden you’ll notice the vibrant mix of modern and retro clothing filling the shops and market stalls. Make your way through the crowds (no easy task at weekends) and head for the canal. On warm summer days the waterside is packed with locals and visitors enjoying a beer or a snack from the many international food sellers.
Leave the bustle of Camden behind as you follow the canal towards Regent’s Park. Although the large animals of London Zoo are hidden from view on your route, you’ll pass the Snowdon Aviary and see (and smell) egrets and ibis at very close quarters.
The route passes several millionaire mansions before emerging at Little Venice, a junction of two canals marked by a profusion of house boats along the water’s edge. You can head south to enjoy a snack with the office workers at the bright and modern Sheldon Square, or if you’re here on a Friday, keep walking to Paddington Basin where you can admire the world’s only Rolling Bridge. Built in 2004 it curls into a ball to allow boats to pass, although in its current location it serves little purpose other to provide amusement for curious onlookers. The bridge curls up every Friday at noon.
Retrace your steps to Little Venice and continue along the canal until you reach the Grand Union pub. A few minutes away on Golborne Road you’ll find London’s finest Portuguese café and deli. Café Lisboa is something of a local institution with folks sitting outside even in winter, sharing stories and cigarettes in a variety of languages. This is considered the finest place in London for the world-famous Portuguese custard tarts pasteis de nata. Grab a table if you can, choose a selection of savoury and sweet offerings from the counter (they are surprisingly cheap) and tuck in. A lively atmosphere is guaranteed with regulars popping in to order cakes for weddings and baptisms while exchanging gossip with the staff. It’s a joy to observe even if you don’t understand a word.
The café is very close to Portobello Road, perhaps London’s most popular street market. On Saturday when the market is in full swing the crowds can be overwhelming. You can enjoy hot street food from Ghana or Germany while browsing the antiques and quirky fashions on display. The top end of Portobello Road is a favourite spot for photographers who stop to capture the pastel coloured houses and eye-catching doorways. From the end of the road it is only a few minutes’ walk to Notting Hill station.
Remember to check out Andy’s previous post with two more great walks in north and east London.