The best things to do in Shoreditch and Spitalfields (without the crowds)

From medieval crypts and a dissenters’ burial ground to tiny bookshops and pretty Georgian streets, Shoreditch and Spitalfields in east London have so many peaceful corners and activities to offer if you scratch beneath the over-hyped hipster surface.

Here are my 11 favourite things to do in Shoreditch and Spitalfields… great when you need to escape the crowds of tourist attractions such as Boxpark or Hoxton.

Is your favourite place on the list? Let me know in the comments or send me a message!

See medieval London below ground at Spitalfields Charnel House

Spitalfields Charnel House, London
Image: A Peace of London

At almost 700 years old, Charnel House in Bishop’s Square is Spitalfield’s oldest building.

Back in the 14th century, it would have been crammed with skull and leg bones — these were the most important parts of the body to save so that the dead could walk and talk on Judgement Day.

After the priory of St Mary Spital was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539, the space was used as part of a house and then as a storeroom for rubble from the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The message in the above picture reads:

“The crypt of the chapel of St Mary Magdalene and St Edmund the Bishop built in about 1320 and sited in the priory of Hospital of St Mary Spital. This crypt was used as a charnel house, a store for human bones disturbed during the digging of graves within the cemetery.

“In the chapel above, services were held to dedicate the bones beneath.

“After St Mary Spital was closed 1539, most of the bones were removed, and the crypt became a house until it was demolished in about 1700.

“The crypt then lay forgotten beneath the gardens of terraced houses and then Steward Street until it was found in archaeological excavations in 1999.”

And the best part?

The Charnel House is now protected by glass walls that allow you to view the ruins anytime of day.

There’s even a glass roof so you can peer down under your feet…

Address: Bishops Square, London E1 6FQ

More information: Read the history of the Charnel House on the Spitalfields Life blog here.

Have a nose in This Shop Rocks, Brick Lane

This Shop Rocks, Brick Lane, London
Image: A Peace of London

The sounds of bustling Brick Lane melt away when you head downstairs in this little secondhand shop.

Upstairs is filled with antiques and furniture, while the basement is reserved for books and other things you never knew you needed.

You could hear a pin drop down here, so put an hour aside, take some cash and prepare for peaceful vintage heaven.

Address: 131 Brick Lane, London E1 6SE

More information: Visit their Yelp listing here

Take a wander in pretty Georgian streets

Vintage car in Elder Street, Spitalfields, London
Image: A Peace of London

If you want proof of how much east London has changed in the last 300 or so years, then you only need to go as far as Elder Street, Folgate Street and Blossom Street.

The streets of Spitalfields were some of the poorest in Victorian London and the houses were worth almost nothing just a few decades ago.

Cat in Shoreditch
Image: A Peace of London

Nowadays, you can expect to pay well over £1.5 million for the privilege of living in on Elder Street — and to be overlooked by some of the most affluent businesses in the country in their glass towers.

The thought that these streets were full of starving children a little over 100 years ago is sobering as you wander past the beautiful brick and quintessential Victorian doorways.

Spital Yard, Shoreditch, London
Image: A Peace of London
Georgian houses in Elder Street, Spitalfields, London
Image: A Peace of London
Georgian buildings in Shoreditch, London
Image: A Peace of London
Street art in Princelet Street, Shoreditch, London
Image: A Peace of London

See ‘the bells of Shoreditch’ at St Leonard’s Church

Shoreditch Church - St Leonard's - London
Picture credit: Helen.2006 / Flickr

“When I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch”

This church made famous by a slightly twitsted nursery rhyme (Oranges and Lemons, if you’re trying to place it) is also known as the actors’ church — some of the biggest names in Elizabethan theatre are buried in the medieval church underneath Shoreditch’s crypt.

The big names include:

  • James Burbage, who built the first English theatre
  • His son Cuthbert Burbage, who built the Globe Theatre
  • Another son Richard Burbage, who was the first to play Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Hamlet, Richard III and Romeo.

The church you see today was built after the medieval one collapsed in the 18th century; the replacement was designed and built by George Dance the Elder, who also designed Mansion House.

Excitingly, the original medieval crypt might be opened up in the future but for now, you can decompress here between midday and 2pm during the week.

Address: Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6JN

More information: Visit the Shoreditch Church website

Visit the dissenters’ graveyard at Bunhill Fields

Bunhill Fields, Shoreditch, London
Picture credit: John W. Schulze / Flickr

Its name might suggest a vast green open space, but visit Bunhill Fields and you’ll instead get a burial ground full of radicals and nonconformists.

The most well-known among them are:

  • William Blake, who is actually buried in an unmarked grave about 20 metres away from his plain headstone
  • John Bunyan, best known as the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress
  • Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe.

The name “Bunhill” comes from the 1500s when the land was used as a dumping ground for animal bones — and the site lived up to its name when 1,000 cartloads of human bones were moved here from St Paul’s Charnel House.

Blake, Bunyan and Defoe are joined by about 120,000 others buried here — 75 of whom are buried in listed tombs.

The close proximity of each of the 2,333 stones gives you a real sense of how graveyards looked before the Victorian cemeteries opened in outer London to ease the pressure.

Address: 38 City Road, London EC1Y 2BG

More information: Visit the City of London website

Enthusiastic William Blake fans could follow a visit to his grave with a trip to the William Blake Mosaics of Lambeth.

Feel all warm inside (and not just from the coffee) at Café from Crisis

Cafe from Crisis, London
Image: A Peace of London

Head out of Spitalfields on Commercial Street and you’ll find a trendy café with a big heart.

Café from Crisis is based at the Crisis charity’s HQ and offers training and employment to homeless people and ex-offenders. So far they have helped over 400 people into sustainable work by training them for jobs in the catering industry.

As if that wasn’t good enough…

They also offer coffee from roasters in Essex and Peckham, healthy food that’s cooked onsite, smoothies and vegan treats. Even forgetting the fact that by eating or drinking here you’re helping to support people who need a break, this place is definitely worth a visit.

Even forgetting the fact that, by eating or drinking here, you’re helping to support people who need a break, this place is definitely worth a visit.

Address: 66 Commercial Street, London E1 6LT

More information: Visit the Crisis website

Snatch a few moments of peace at Elder Gardens

Elder Gardens in Spitalfields, London
Image: A Peace of London

Hidden away between Folgate Street and Carluccio’s are Elder Gardens — a set of two little patches of nature that belie their uber-hip city location.

There are strict rules about what you can do here and the gardens are surrounded by flats so you’re pretty much protected from noise from all angles.

You’d also be forgiven if you didn’t know they were there, which means that you’ll only be joined by a select group of fellow peace lovers on your “escape” from the city.

Address: Lamb Street, London E1 6UJ

Switch off at Hanbury Hall

Hanbury Hall cafe, Spitalfields, London
Image: A Peace of London

This peaceful coffee shop next to Spitalfields Market does have some slightly strange opening times…

But when it does open, the team serve lovely cakes, healthy lunches and a wide range of tea and coffee.

Stay downstairs for group visits but head upstairs if you really want to shut yourself away — the upstairs level is super-quiet with clean lines and high ceilings, owing to the building’s history as a Huguenot chapel.

Address: 22 Hanbury Street, London E1 6QR

More information: Visit the Hanbury Hall website

Dennis Severs’ House in Folgate Street

Dennis Severs House, London
Image: A Peace of London

Rather than acting as a traditional historic house, Dennis Severs House (otherwise known as 18 Folgate Street) takes the form of a ‘still-life drama’.

Explore this little house and you’ll get a sense of what life would have been like for the Huguenot immigrants who would have made it their home in 1724.

As you pass through the door of 18 Folgate Street, you’re supposed to feel like you’ve stepped into a painting — complete with smells and sounds of Huguenot life.

So leave your phones at home for this one — to preserve an accurate experience, cameras are not allowed and tours are conducted in silence.

Address: 18 Folgate Street, London E1 6BX

More information: Visit the Dennis Severs’ House website

Spitalfields City Farm

Spitalfields City Farm, London
Picture credit: David Hill / Flickr

There’s nothing better than a city farm when you’re slightly tired of London.

Spitalfields happens to be one of the best — not least because it hosts the Oxford/Cambridge Goat Race, which is one of the quirkiest events in London’s calendar (and in east London, that’s saying something).

The farm was opened in 1978 after local residents lost their allotments to development (nothing changes) and campaigned for a spot of wasteland to be put to good use.

It wasn’t long before animals started appearing on the new allotments, and Spitalfields City Farm was born…

The strong links to the community have remained, and the local community has been able to protect Spitalfields City Farm from the development that has taken over so much of east London for almost 30 years.

There are loads of ways to get involved in that community spirit, including a campaign to fund a new roof to keep the animals warm and dry.

Address: Buxton Street, London E1 5AR

More information: Visit the Spitalfields City Farm website

Also in east London…

More quiet London area guides…

 

A sunny Christmas walk through Lesnes Abbey

There’s no better way to fill a sunny day in winter than with a walk in one of London’s best green spaces. This year, to continue the tradition after last year’s Boxing Day walk in Epping Forest, we took ourselves off for a walk in sunny Lesnes Abbey.

The Abbey was founded in 1178 by Richard de Luci, Henry II’s Chief Justiciar, supposedly in penance for the murder of Thomas Becket. De Luci retired (aged 90) and died here; he was buried in the Chapter House, to be joined later by the heart of his great granddaughter, which was also buried here to speed her passage through purgatory.

Lesnes Abbey Ruins, Bexley, south London
Image: A Peace of London

Since then, Lesnes played bit parts in English history. Edward I stayed here for three days in 1300 and in 1381 a mob linked to the Peasants Revolt burst into the Abbey and forced the abbot to swear an oath of support, before leaving to join Wat Tyler’s main band in London.

But, like many monasteries from the time, Lesnes Abbey was destined to be lost to Tudor dissolutions. It didn’t last as long as other London monastries such as Christchurch Greyfriars, though. Already in neglect due to financial difficulties, Lesnes was one of the first monasteries to be dissolved in Cardinal Wolsey’s suppression of those with fewer than seven inmates in 1525.

Lesnes Abbey Ruins, Bexley, south London
Image: A Peace of London

This suppression was undertaken to fund the new Cardinal’s College at Oxford and was one of the first jobs that Thomas Cromwell did in Wolsey’s service. Cromwell would go on to administrate the infamous dissolution of the monasteries in his service as Henry VIII’s right-hand man during the 1530s.

In 1534, Lesnes was granted to Sir William Brereton; all of the Abbey’s buildings, apart from the Abbot’s Lodgings, were destroyed during this time. After Brereton’s execution as part of Anne Boleyn’s downfall just two years later, the site was acquired by Henry Cooke, who converted the Abbot’s Lodging into a mansion.

Lesnes Abbey Ruins, Bexley, south London
Image: A Peace of London

From here, Lesnes passed to Sir John Hippersley who used some of the Abbey’s remains for building materials. The Abbot’s Lodgings lasted until 1845, when they too were destroyed.

Today, the ruins of Lesnes Abbey sit quietly on south-east London’s landscape. The plan of the original buildings is clearly visible and the signs dotted around important sections help you to picture the busy hub of life that it would have been in the 1100s.

There’s even a surviving serving hatch that passes from the kitchens to the refectory and the remains of the pulpit that would have been used to give sermons during meals. It’s these details that give Lesnes the edge over many green spaces in south-east London and, in my humble opinion, a place as one of the capital’s best heritage spots.

Nearest station: Abbey Wood

More information: Lesnes Abbey Woods website

Lesnes Abbey Ruins, Bexley, south London
Image: A Peace of London
Lesnes Abbey Ruins, Bexley, south London
Image: A Peace of London
Lesnes Abbey Ruins, Bexley, south London
Image: A Peace of London
Lesnes Abbey Ruins, Bexley, south London
Image: A Peace of London
Lesnes Abbey Ruins, Bexley, south London
Image: A Peace of London
Lesnes Abbey Ruins, Bexley, south London
Image: A Peace of London
Lesnes Abbey Ruins, Bexley, south London
Image: A Peace of London
Lesnes Abbey Ruins, Bexley, south London
Image: A Peace of London

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London Sewing Machine Museum review

London Sewing Machine Museum’s surroundings are decidedly 2016. This tiny museum sits in the top levels of a warehouse, opposite a Lidl and within a stone’s throw from Tooting Bec station.

But step inside and you’ll enter a different world of class, vintage domesticity, 600 machines and one family’s eccentric history.

London Sewing Machine Museum
Image: A Peace of London

The machines in the huge collection are fascinating, but what’s most interesting to me is the dogged resilience with which its creator has held onto his family’s heritage.

To learn more, you’ll need a guide — so it’s worth waiting around for the start of a tour — but here’s just a taster of what you’ll hear…

The history of London Sewing Machine Museum

The museum’s history starts just after WWII, when Thomas Arthur Rushton set up a small business in Wimbledon restoring sewing machines that he’d retrieved from derelict homes.

London Sewing Machine Museum
Image: A Peace of London

Retrieving them was hard work; thry were built to last and had to be carried by hand since there was no van.

When Thomas’ son Ray Rushton joined the business, he was naturally enlisted to collect the machines (on his bike this time, before a van was acquired). In 1979 the business moved to a new location in Tooting, where it still stands today with 78-year-old Ray at the helm.

Highlights of the collection

There are over 600 sewing machines in the London Sewing Machine Museum collection, from the first Singer and a patent that was sent for the Great Exhibition, to a machine that was given to Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter as a wedding gift when she married Prince Frederick William of Prussia.

The latter dates from 1865 and Ray bought it for £23,500, making it the second most expensive sewing machine ever bought.

The most expensive sewing machine ever bought is, naturally, also in Ray’s collection. Dating from the 1830s, it is believed to be the fourth prototype by Barthelemy Thimonnier – the inventor of the sewing machine. Basically, it’s one of the first sewing machines ever made.

Fourth sewing machine made by Barthélemy Thimonnier at the London Sewing Machine Museum
The famous Thimonnier (Image: A Peace of London)

Thimonnier’s work is also very rare; when 19th-century seamstresses heard of his creation, they burned down his factory with him in it. Luckily he escaped and managed to grab a couple of machines on his way out, but most of his work was gone forever and he died poor.

So, how much did Ray buy this incredibly important, incredibly rare sewing machine for? £50,000.

Sewing machines just got interesting, and the London Sewing Machine Museum (and Ray) is right there in the centre of the action.

Essentials

Address: 308 Balham High Road (above Wimbledon Sewing Machine Company), London SW17 7AA

Opening times: 2pm-5pm, first Saturday of the month

Nearest Tube: Tooting Bec

More information: The Crafty Sewer website

London Sewing Machine Museum
Image: A Peace of London
London Sewing Machine Museum
Image: A Peace of London
London Sewing Machine Museum
Image: A Peace of London
London Sewing Machine Museum
Image: A Peace of London

Crossrail Place Roof Garden: heaven is a place in Canary Wharf

Peace and quiet are not things you’d expect to find on top of the Crossrail development at Canary Wharf right now, but Crossrail Place Roof Garden has them in droves.

Located within five minutes’ walk of Canary Wharf and West India Quay stations, the roof garden draws on the heritage of the surrounding area: Crossrail Place sits on the Meridian Line, and the plants here are arranged depending on which hemisphere they come from. Many of the plants in the garden are native to countries visited by ships of the West India Dock Company who unloaded here in the 1800s.

Crossrail Place Roof Garden, Canary Wharf, east London
Image: A Peace of London
Crossrail Place Roof Garden, Canary Wharf, east London
Image: A Peace of London

The contrast between these exotic plants and the architecture is stunning, especially when the sun is shining through the grass and while the sun sets over east London’s horizon. Like many roof gardens in London, this one is super-hidden and known only to a few who wander down its peaceful avenues and escape the busy streets below.

And, unlike at the hectic Sky Garden, there’s no need to book for this free urban paradise; it earns a place as one of the best roof gardens in London and also one of the quietest.

Crossrail Place Roof Garden, Canary Wharf, east London
Image: A Peace of London

They also have a great schedule of community events held in the performance space, showing off the talents of London’s schools and community projects. I first discovered the roof garden at a performance by up-and-coming star Trevor Kanswaren in aid of the Central London branch of Samaritans. Keep an eye on the Bloom project site for details of upcoming gigs.

Crossrail Place Roof Garden, Canary Wharf, east London
Image: A Peace of London

And, if the British summer lets you down, you’ll find plenty of space to stay safe and dry underneath the dramatic glass roof that partially covers the garden while also giving it space and water to grow.

Nearest Tube: Canary Wharf / West India Quay

Opening times: Daily until 9pm (or sunset in summer)

More information: Canary Wharf Group website

Crossrail Place Roof Garden, Canary Wharf, east London
Image: A Peace of London
Crossrail Place Roof Garden, Canary Wharf, east London
Image: A Peace of London

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Sutton House, Hackney: A Tudor house with intriguing secrets

It’s not every day that you find that you live half an hour from a house that was created and owned by a major character in Tudor history. But when I discovered just how close Sutton House is, I couldn’t resist a visit. While there, I learned more about Sutton House’s creator — Sir Ralph Sadleir, Secretary of State to Henry VIII, and protégé of Thomas Cromwell — and discovered some of the secrets hidden within its walls…

If Sadleir’s name rings a bell, that’s because he features in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall novel series about Thomas Cromwell, as well as many accounts of Cromwell’s rise to power. In Wolf Hall, Sadleir is renamed Rafe Sadler. He also features in the BBC series (played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and the theatre production of the same name.

Sutton House, Hackney, London
Image: A Peace of London

But back to the history: Sadleir created the house in 1535 while both he and his mentor Cromwell were on their way up the professional ladder. It was originally known as Bryck Place — its red bricks were a rarity in Tudor London — and, unlike today, it was surrounded by Hackney’s ‘green fields and clean air’.

Sadleir lived here with his wife Ellen (otherwise known as Helen or Margaret), who he met in 1530 while she was working as a laundress in the Cromwell household. The couple fell in love and moved to Bryck Place in 1535, a year before their first child, named Thomas after Cromwell, was born — Ellen’s bedroom is now marked with a child’s cot.

Ralph Sadleir, former owner of Sutton House, Hackney, London
This painting by Holbein is believed to portray Ralph Sadleir, protégé of Thomas Cromwell and former owner of Sutton House

As Cromwell rose in status, so did Sadleir, and he gained the enviable position of Privy Councillor in 1540. After a brief spell in the Tower following Cromwell’s execution later in the same year, he managed to regain Henry VIII’s trust; the king would later add him to the council that would rule England during Edward VI’s minority.

During the first 10 years of their marriage, Sadleir’s wife Ellen was thought to be a widow; her husband Matthew Barre abandoned her and their two children. But Barre’s reappearance in 1545 led to Sadleir’s successful petition to Parliament for Ellen’s divorce from Barre on grounds of desertion — the first divorce of its kind.

Ellen Sadleir's bedroom at Sutton House, Hackney, London
This room is believed to have been Ellen’s bedroom (Image: A Peace of London)

Sadleir’s early beginnings in Thomas Cromwell’s household marked the start of his long and successful career in the Tudor court; after serving Edward VI until the young king’s untimely death in 1553, he supported the protestant Lady Jane Grey and was subsequently forced into semi-retirement during the reign of Mary I. However, he returned to favour when Elizabeth I became queen; he was on important royal business in Scotland when he learned of the reappearance of his wife’s husband.

So Sutton House has sociological significance as well as historical importance. Here’s what I got up to on my visit, and some hints at the secrets I uncovered…

I admired the beautiful wall panels (and the house’s original brickwork behind them)

Tudor fireplace at Sutton House, Hackney, London
Image: A Peace of London
Sutton House bedroom, Hackney, London
Image: A Peace of London
Sutton House Tudor fireplace, Hackney, London
Image: A Peace of London

I enjoyed the biggest slice of carrot cake in Hackney…

The Sutton House cafe, Hackney, London
Image: A Peace of London

I found out what’s behind the secret door in the bedroom…

Secret door at Sutton House, Hackney, London
Image: A Peace of London

And spotted this fellow etched into the fireplace… but what was he drawn for?

Graffiti at Sutton House, Hackney, London
Image: A Peace of London

I learned the perils of a Tudor kitchen (thankfully without the heat of one)

Sutton House Tudor kitchen, Hackney, London
Image: A Peace of London

And learned why Sutton House is called a house of two halves…

Victorian study at Sutton House, Hackney, London
Image: A Peace of London
Sutton House, Hackney, London
Image: A Peace of London

The essentials

Nearest station: Homerton / Hackney Central

Opening times: Wednesday to Sunday, 12pm-5pm (open daily in August, and on bank holidays)

Admission is about a fiver but National Trust members get in free: you can join National Trust here.

More information: Visit the National Trust website

More quiet Tudor London…

Mudchute Park and City Farm: Lambs, alpacas and… an anti aircraft gun?!

Can you believe how gorgeous the weather has been this weekend!? All week the sun has taunted us through the clouds while the wind and air staunchly refused to believe it was spring. And yet, come the Bank Holiday weekend and all of a sudden it’s practically summer! What a perfect excuse to get out and explore!

So me and the other half couldn’t resist a day out, and we didn’t have to go far… Mudchute Park and Farm is one of the finest city farms in London and sits in the shadows of Canary Wharf. I was amazed to find it’s also completely free to visit.

So off we went to explore 32 acres of countryside, right in the heart of east London. Here’s what we got up to…

We learned the difference between llamas and alpacas. These handsome fellows are alpacas…

Alpacas at Mudchute City Farm, London
Image: A Peace of London

We celebrated spring in the best way possible — by spending time with the cutest lamb in the world.

Black lamb at Mudchute Park and Farm
Image: A Peace of London

And met the sleepiest pig in east London.

Pig at Mudchute City Farm, London
Image: A Peace of London

We explored the quiet corners of the park…

Green space at Mudchute Park, London
Image: A Peace of London

And relaxed with some beautiful donkeys.

Donkeys at Mudchute City Farm, London
Image: A Peace of London
Donkeys at Mudchute City Farm, London
Image: A Peace of London

We got another view of the City of London.

View of Canary Wharf from Mudchute City Farm, London
Image: A Peace of London
View of Canary Wharf from Mudchute City Farm, London
Image: A Peace of London

And saw an ack ack gun used at Mudchute in defence of London.

Wartime gun at Mudchute City Farm, London
Image: A Peace of London

And we bathed in the sun, just like the turkeys and goats…

Turkey at Mudchute City Farm, London
Image: A Peace of London
Goat at Mudchute Park and Farm, London
Image: A Peace of London

Nearest Tube: Mudchute DLR

Opening hours: 9am-5pm daily, including Bank Holidays

More information: Mudchute Park and Farm website

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24 quiet London parks and secret gardens to escape to

From secret gardens in the city to the best London parks on its outskirts, the capital has some of the best quiet green spaces in the UK. Escape from the concrete jungle into expanses of colour that will take your breath away. And, with spring in full swing and summer fast approaching, now’s the perfect time to take it all in.

Here are 24 of my favourite quiet parks in London to while away a few hours in the sunshine. Is your top spot on the list? Let me know if I’ve missed your favourite in the comments below, or drop me a message

Meanwhile Gardens

Meanwhile Community Garden, west London
Image: A Peace of London

Meanwhile Gardens are central, they have an interesting history and are also super-peaceful; even on the hottest day of the year so far, I still managed to find a quiet spot.

If it hadn’t been for a meeting back in central London, I could easily have sat here for hours, listening to the world go by on the canal and watching the sunlight slowly drift along the Moroccan tiles.

Nearest station: Westbourne Park

More information: Read my review of Meanwhile Gardens here

Painshill Park

Painshill Park, west London
Picture credit: Pedweb / Flickr

Journey to the very edge of south-west London (I’m talking just before the M25) and get lost in this landscape garden. It has enough hidden treasures to keep you busy for a whole afternoon: crystal grottos, a beautiful lake and hidden ruins, as well as 158 acres of greenery.

Nearest station: Cobham & Stoke d’Abernon

More information: Painshill website

Morden Hall Park

Morden Hall Park, London
Image: A Peace of London

This National Trust park at the heart of the south London community boasts historic buildings (including a restored waterwheel), wetlands, a rose garden and the River Wandle within its sprawling acres. It’s especially peaceful in the evening, when you can wander the boardwalks and bridges in almost-perfect solitude.

Nearest Tube: Morden or Wimbledon

More information: Visit the National Trust website here

St George’s Gardens

St George's Gardens, Bloomsbury, London
Picture credit: Alanah McKillen / Flickr

I stumbled on this amazing garden on a walk around Bloomsbury and instantly fell in love. Its history is so typically-London (it was created as ‘open-air sitting room’ for the poor) and it still holds on to its Victorian routes. Plus, it’s hidden away from the main road so you feel like you’re walking into a local secret…

It’s not just for the poor anymore, but it does retain its ‘sitting room’ feeling, with plenty of seating to people-watch all through the day. The winding paths, beautiful tombs, and little details like the figure of Euterpe, the Muse of Instrumental Music, make this a perfect place for whiling away a few hours.

Nearest Tube: Russell Square / Euston

More information: Friends of St George’s Gardens website

Kenwood House gardens

Kenwood House gardens
Image: A Peace of London

Join the dog walkers and locals in-the-know by enjoying a Sunday walk at the 112 acres of Kenwood parkland. Kenwood House is one of my favourite historic houses in London and their gardens (adjoining Hampstead Heath) are just as beautiful, having been designed by Humphry Repton — the last great landscape designer of the 18th century.

Nearest Tube: Golders Green or Archway

More information: Read my post about Kenwood House here or visit the English Heritage website

Bushy Park

Garrick Temple at Bushy Park, London
Picture credit: tpholland / Flickr

Richmond Park isn’t the only jewel in south-west London’s crown. Bushy Park (above), home of Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare in the west corner of the park, is a stunning example of what the best of London’s parks have to offer.

Discover the Temple and its pleasure gardens and, if you’re left wanting more, take a trip to admire Hampton Court Palace, which is right next door.

Nearest station: Hampton / Hampton Wick / Hampton Court / Teddington

More information: Visit the Royal Parks website

St Ethelburga’s Centre

St Ethelburgas Centre for Peace and Reconciliation
Image: A Peace of London

This amazing little secret garden in Bishopsgate, near Liverpool Street station, is one of my favourite places in London. St Ethelburga’s was once a medieval church that, sadly, was mostly destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1993. The remains of the church were rebuilt as a centre for peace to welcome anyone of any religion and provide a wonderful space for thinking.

The centre is formally open on Mondays between 1-3pm, but often open at other times. Contact them if you’re travelling a long way.

Nearest Tube: Liverpool Street

More information: St Ethelburga’s website

St Botolph Without Bishopsgate

St Botolph without Bishopsgate garden, London
Image: A Peace of London

Relax in the presence of the 18th-century St Botolph in the grounds of the churchyard. This colourful garden looks extra-special in spring and summer, and is a stone’s throw from Liverpool Street station, so it’s perfect for a bit of a sit down after work or on lunch.

Nearest Tube: Liverpool Street

More information: St Botolph website

Camley Street Natural Park

Camley Street Natural Park, King's Cross, London
Image: A Peace of London

This nature reserve within a stone’s throw from King’s Cross station and Granary Square is one of the area’s best-kept secrets and comes alive in the spring. I love the tranquillity of this (very) green space, knowing that there is wildlife hidden all around me. It’s especially good for kids as there is so much to see all year round, but good for chilling out as an adult, too.

Nearest Tube: King’s Cross

More information: Read my review here or visit the Wild London website

Crystal Palace Park

Crystal Palace Park, south London
Picture credit: Berit Watkin / Flickr

If you’ve been heard of Crystal Palace Park but haven’t been yet, then make 2016 the year you make the trip. My favourite bit is undoubtedly the dinosaurs (or, at least, the Victorians’ ideas of how they thought they looked) but there’s so much to see here. Have a go in the maze, admire the ruins of the palace or find a quiet spot in the wide open space.

Nearest station: Crystal Palace

More information: Bromley website

Keats House gardens

Keats House, Hampstead, London
Picture credit: Laura Nolte / Flickr

Relax in the gardens where the poet John Keats apparently wrote his famous poem Ode to a Nightingale. The museum in the house where he lived between 1818 and 1820 is open from Tuesday to Sundays in the summer, and is well worth a look, but the gardens are completely free and just as beautiful.

The house is just round the corner from Hampstead Heath as well, so are a great alternative if you find the Heath a bit crowded during the summer. A perfect place to relax with a picnic and soak up the creative atmosphere!

Nearest station: Hampstead Heath

More information: London Shh website

Horniman Museum gardens

Horniman Museum Gardens
Picture credit: Samuel Mann / Flickr

Fantastic views over London, a beautiful conservatory, and a free natural history museum on site make the grounds of the Horniman Museum one of the most interesting gardens on our list. They’re a bit out of the way but great if you don’t fancy travelling into central London, and Forest Hill feels residential enough to not feel like a bit city.

Nearest station: Forest Hill

More information: Horniman Museum website

The Phoenix Garden

Phoenix Garden, London
Picture credit: Kacper Gunia / Flickr

This secret garden near the tourist-central areas of Oxford Street, Leicester Square, and Tottenham Court Road is a welcome retreat from the concrete and the crowds. I’ve been checking their website for updates in the run-up to writing this post as they’re currently closed for building works, but when they reopen you should go check them out next time you’re in the area (check the website for more details).

While you’re there, may I recommend Yumchaa for some of the best sandwiches and tea you can get in Soho.

Nearest Tube: Tottenham Court Road

More information: Phoenix Garden website

Ham House gardens

Ham House gardens, Twickenham, London
Image: A Peace of London

The grounds of this historic house on the banks of the River Thames in Richmond (technically Twickenham…) are just as lovely as the house itself. The kitchen garden has been here since 1653 and the building adjoining the orangery has been turned into a stunning light-filled cafe. There’s also a lot of open space to admire the gorgeous house before you.

The gardens cost around £4.50 to explore I think (at least they were when I was there last year: the website isn’t working for me to check as I’m writing this!) or around £11 if you want to enjoy the house as well.

Nearest Tube: Richmond

More information: National Trust website

Valentine’s Park

Valentine's Mansion, Ilford, London
Image: A Peace of London

I’ve talked about Valentine’s Mansion until I’m blue in the face, but I’ve neglected to mention how brilliant the rest of the park is (which is probably why I don’t have a decent photo of the rest of the park…)

Valentine’s Park was voted the sixth best park in the country towards the end of 2015 and boasts a big lake, boating, an aviary, cafe, and loads of open space. It’s big enough to accommodate the locals and it’s always easy to find a quiet corner to relax in. It’s really popular with locals and easy to get to for everyone else, as it’s only a 10-minute walk from Gants Hill station (on the east end of the Central Line). Such a hidden gem.

Nearest Tube: Gants Hill

More information: Read my review here or visit the Redbridge website

Isabella Plantation, Richmond Park

Isabella Plantation, Richmond Park, London
Picture credit: Laura Nolte / Flickr

Created from boggy ground in the 1830s, Isabella Plantation is one of the highlights (and little-known gems) in Richmond Park. The plantation is at its peak in late April and early May, but its evergreen azaleas and other rare plants surrounding the streams and ponds mean it’s beautiful all year round.

More information: Royal Parks website

St Dunstan in the East church garden

St Dunstan in the East, London
Picture credit: frenchdave / Flickr

I was questioning whether to add St Dunstan in the East in this post as they’re are becoming very well-known, but in the end, it’s just such a lovely place with such a rich history that I can’t leave it out…

This small patch of green born out of the ruins of a medieval church is one of the most beautiful places in the City of London (bar none, in my opinion) and is just so chilled-out at the weekends. I think the fact that the garden is in such a busy and modern part of the city – usually full of suits rushing to get to their next meeting, oblivious to the beauty that sits just yards from them – makes it all the more endearing.

Nearest Tube: Monument

More information: Read my review here or visit the City of London website

Fairlop Waters

Fairlop Waters, London
Image: A Peace of London

If you’re missing the beach, then head to Fairlop where you can enjoy the next best thing, just a 10-minute walk from the Central Line. The waters here are really calm and there’s a lovely walk going around the outside, as well as little gaps in the hedges where you can sneak in and sit on the “banks” of the lake while the water laps at your feet.

There’s even a boulder park for the kids (or the big kids) and climbing and exercise equipment dotted around the edge of the walking trail if you’re feeling energetic…

Nearest Tube: Fairlop

More information: Read my review here or visit the Fairlop Waters website

Christchurch Greyfriars rose garden

Christchurch Greyfriars, London
Image: A Peace of London

Like St Dunstan in the East, Christchurch Greyfriars was created by Christopher Wren, but bombed during the Blitz and then turned into a beautiful rose garden. It sits in the shadow of St Paul’s and is just round the corner from another of the area’s great historical spots: St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

It’s usually busier during the week as people from local offices use it for their lunch break, so the best time to come and enjoy it in peace and quiet is on the weekend, when the area is usually quieter in general, too.

Nearest Tube: St Paul’s

More information: Read about Greyfriars’ history here or visit the City of London website

Barbican Conservatory

Barbican Conservatory, London
Image: A Peace of London

The Conservatory has to be one of the Barbican’s best-kept secrets. It’s only open on Sundays and Bank Holidays for a start and sits quietly near the top of this concrete behemoth, waiting to be discovered. It’s home to exotic fish and over 2,000 tropical plants and trees, which sit among the concrete walls so comfortably that it almost seems as if they were made that way. AND you can now have afternoon tea there!

Check the website for opening times, as they’re sometimes closed for private events. If you’re in the mood for a cuppa after exploring the Conservatory, then head to Barbican Cinema Cafe on your way back to the Tube station.

Nearest Tube: Barbican

More information: Read my review here or visit the Barbican website

Fenton House gardens

Fenton House gardens, Hampstead, London
Picture credit: Laura Nolte / Flickr

Fenton House is one of Hampstead’s finest historic houses, but not many people mention how stunning the gardens are, too. Take a walk in the pristine 300-year-old walled gardens, explore the sunken rose garden and then recline in the apple and pear orchard.

Before you leave, I’d recommend discovering the house, too: the panoramic view of London from the balcony (one of the highest points in the city) will take your breath away. And don’t forget to take a trip to the stunning Hampstead Heath Pergola while you’re in the area.

Nearest Tube: Hampstead

More information: National Trust website

Culpeper Community Garden

Culpeper Community Garden, Islington, London
Picture credit: London Permaculture / Flickr

An urban oasis a stone’s throw from the bustling main street in Angel, Islington, the Culpeper Community Garden has 50 plots made up of a rose pergola, ponds, lawns, vegetables, and wildlife. It’s a welcome retreat for locals, market traders, lunchtimers, and visitors, and is a sterling example of what community can do: it’s run completely by garden members and volunteers.

If you’re after something sweet to drink while you’re taking in all that greenery, then head to Piacha Tea Bar up the road and pick up a lovely tea smoothie.

Nearest Tube: Angel

More information: Culpeper Garden website

St John’s Lodge Gardens, Regent’s Park

St John's Lodge Gardens, Regent's Park, London
Picture credit: Laura Nolte / Flickr

This small garden to the north of the inner circle in Regent’s Park was designed for meditation for the 3rd Marquess of Bute, so it’s hardly surprising that it’s both serene and beautiful. St John’s Lodge is a private residence, but you can still access the garden through the small gate along the inner circle.

More information: Royal Parks website

Coram’s Fields / Brunswick Square Gardens

Brunswick Square Gardens, Bloomsbury, London
Image: A Peace of London

Named after Thomas Coram, the man who set up the Foundling Hospital in 1739 to care for babies who were at risk of abandonment, Coram’s Fields provide a place for children and young people to play in peace. The hospital marked the start of the history of the Coram charity, which now changes the lives of over a million children a year, and the original hospital building now stands as a museum dedicated to the history of the charity right next to the fields.

Adults aren’t allowed into Coram’s Fields without a child, but grown-ups can enjoy the adjoining Brunswick Square Gardens for the kind of cultural quiet that only Bloomsbury can bring; Brunswick Square is mentioned in Jane Austen’s Emma and the Bloomsbury Group (including Virginia Woolf) met at a house on this site, too.

Nearest Tube: Euston Square / Russell Square

More information: Bloomsbury Squares website

You might like… more parks in London

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