Waterlow Park: the peaceful alternative to Hampstead Heath

Since September 1st is the start of autumn and we’ll soon be saying goodbye to the summer, I thought I’d share some photos of an autumnal Waterlow Park to celebrate one of the best parts of my favourite season — long Sunday walks.

These photos were taken last year on an exploration around Highgate, just when the leaves were turning golden orange and before they’d fallen off the trees.

The colours made the view all the more impressive…

View from Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London

On our way around the park, we happened across the statue of Sydney H. Waterlow, a philanthropist and politician who donated the park to the public as “a garden for the gardenless”.

Statue of Sydney H. Waterlow at Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London
Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London

All this colour made the lake (pond?) look quite dramatic.

The lake at Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London

While you’re there, take a walk around the gardens of Lauderdale House (which was sadly closed when we visited) and take in the equally-dramatic statues:

Statue at Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London
Statue at at Waterlow Park, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London

Waterlow Park: the essentials

Opening times: 7.30am-8pm, daily

Nearest Tube: Archway

More information: Visit the Friends of Waterlow Park website. For more information about Lauderdale House, visit the house’s website.

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The people of Kenwood House, Hampstead

Kenwood House in Hampstead (otherwise known as The Iveagh Bequest) has been more than a little elusive to me for just over a year. Neoclassical villas as lovely as this should be seen illuminated by sunshine (or at least decent daylight) however, the British weather has kept me from capturing its full beauty.

Kenwood House, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London

I still haven’t managed to get many decent photos of the inside, but I have found out a lot about some of the people who have made Kenwood House what it is today, and I can’t think of a better way to tell you about the house than to tell you about them.

Robert Adam

Library of Kenwood House, Hampstead, London
Robert Adam’s library at Kenwood House (Picture credit: Jörg Bittner Unna / Wikimedia Commons)

Aside from Lord Iveagh’s art collection (see below), much of what we admire at Kenwood House today is the work of the architect and designer Robert Adam, who was employed alongside his brother James by William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, to decorate Kenwood between 1767 and 1779.

“[Lord Mansfield] gave full scope to my ideas: nor were they confined by any circumstances, but the necessity of preserving the proper exterior similitude between the new and the old parts of the buildings.”

Robert Adam, The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam

One of Adam’s most striking designs is undoubtedly the library, which is regarded as one of his finest works; it was intended both to house Lord Mansfield’s vast collection of books and also to be the climax of a visitor’s route through the house.

Robert Adam quote at Kenwood House
Image: A Peace of London

Adam was so proud of Kenwood’s library that he featured it alongside masterpieces such as Syon House in The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam.

Entrance hall of Kenwood House, Hampstead, London
The entrance hall at Kenwood House featuring Robert Adam’s sideboard, pedestals and wine cooler at the far end (Picture credit: Jörg Bittner Unna / Wikimedia Commons)

Adam also designed much of the Mansfields’ furniture at Kenwood and there are still examples of his designs dotted around today, including the sideboard, pedestals and wine cooler that can be seen in the modern-day entrance hall (above).

Exterior of Kenwood House, Hampstead, London
(Picture credit: Panhard / Wikimedia Commons)

And not forgetting Adam’s changes to the outside of the building, which included the stunning portico on the south front (pictured above). This covers the earlier brick building and hints at the grand interiors that awaited Lord Mansfield’s guests.

Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh

Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh and owner of Kenwood House
Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh (Picture: public domain / Wikimedia Commons)

Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh (of the Guinness Breweries family) bought Kenwood House in 1925 to house part of his collection of paintings, with the intention of leaving it all to the nation in his will. When he died two years later, he bequeathed 63 paintings to Kenwood and stipulated that the house should be opened to the public so that some of his most treasured paintings could be enjoyed by everyone.

Rembrandt and Reynolds self-portraits at Kenwood House, Hampstead, London
The Rembrandt (bottom) and Reynolds (top) self-portraits at Kenwood House (Image: A Peace of London)

The 63 paintings that Lord Iveagh left are still displayed and conserved at Kenwood by English Heritage and include Rembrandt’s self-portrait — bought for £27,500 in 1888 — and other works by Turner, Reynolds and Gainsborough, which are all still available to see and enjoy for free.

Dido Elizabeth Belle


Born in 1761, Dido Belle (pictured above left with her cousin) was the illegitimate daughter of Sir John Lindsay and an enslaved black woman called Maria Bell. It’s believed that Dido was conceived during one of her father’s trips to Jamaica as an Royal Navy officer.

Dido, Maria and her stepfather were living in London by 1766, before Dido was moved to Kenwood House to be raised by Lord Mansfield, her father’s uncle. By this time, her mother had moved back to Jamaica.

While records of her annual allowance suggest that her status within the household was below that of the rest of her family at Kenwood, Dido was raised as a lady. She was taught to read, write and play music, and supervised Kenwood’s dairy — a task normally given to the lady of the house.

Kenwood House gardens
Image: A Peace of London

As a mixed-race gentlewoman living in London at the height of the slave trade, Dido’s status within the house was extremely unusual for the time. Visitors to the house commented on her closeness to her cousin Elizabeth; in the only known painting of Dido (above) she is dressed in expensive clothes like her cousin, however, the fruit she carries and her turban suggest that she is still considered different.

Her uncle’s will left Dido with less inheritance than her cousin, although this may have also been because she was illegitimate.

According to her father’s obituary, Dido’s personality and skills gained ‘the highest respect from all his Lordship’s relations and visitants’. She never returned to Jamaica; instead, she moved to Pimlico where she lived with her husband and three children until her death in 1804.

William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield

The second of our notable Kenwood residents is Dido Belle’s great uncle (and Robert Adam’s patron) William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, who bought the house for £4,000 in 1754.

Kenwood House, London by Vitalba and Pastorini. Published 1774
Kenwood House, London by Vitalba and Pastorini. Published 1774. (Public domain on Wikimedia Commons)

Lord Mansfield became Lord Chief Justice shortly after acquiring the house and, as the most important judge in the country, he made sure the house reflected his own increasing wealth and status. He was known as an entertainer and Kenwood provided the perfect backdrop to host fellow lawyers, politicians, artists and — according to the artist William Birch — King George III and Queen Charlotte.

But among Lord Mansfield’s most prominent achievements was his contribution to the abolition of the slave trade. As Lord Chief Justice he presided over landmark court cases in the history of slavery and the slave trade. These included the case of James Somerset 1772, in which he ruled that slaves could not be sent out of England against their will.

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 was still 61 years away, but Lord Mansfield’s ruling is widely held to be one of the key moments in the road to the end of the transatlantic slave trade.

Kenwood House: the essentials…

Opening times: Daily, 10am-5pm (until 4pm October-March)

Nearest Tube: Hampstead / Golders Green

More information: Visit the English Heritage website here. For more information on the people and history of Kenwood House, buy a guidebook here.

Some of the links in this blog post are affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a small commission when you click on them and make a purchase. It doesn’t affect the way you shop, and it’s a great way to support the A Peace of London blog.

Meanwhile Gardens, west London

One of my favourite quiet places in London has to be Camley Street Natural Park in King’s Cross and I’m very glad to report that I learned of a potential rival to its (very green) crown in yesterday’s beautiful sunshine.

Meanwhile Gardens sit alongside the Grand Union Canal near Westbourne Park station. They were built on derelict wasteland in 1976 to create some much-needed green space and to use an area that had been recently cleared of crumbling houses. The council gave temporary permission to build the gardens, hence the name ‘Meanwhile’.

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

The gardens we see today are the result of a restoration project in 2000 and truly live up to their name as a community project; the gardens are supported by youth offenders carrying out their reparation orders and in turn help support those with mental health problems.

They also encapsulate the diversity of this west London community — at one end is this quiet green space and at the other is a renowned skate park.

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

They’re 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.

To find Meanwhile Gardens and enjoy them for yourself, simply exit the Hammersmith & City/Circle line at Westbourne Park and head west along the canal (towards Ladbroke Grove).

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

Nearest Tube: Westbourne Park

More information: Visit the Meanwhile Gardens website

HT to Saira at Living London, on whose wandering I discovered these beautiful gardens. If you haven’t made it on one of Saira’s walks yet, do it this summer — you won’t regret it!

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


Burgh House and Hampstead Museum: a historic house with a difference

“It is a place where one can forget the hurly-burly of London … and sense a respect for the craftsmanship, imagery and colour of a less shallow era than our own.”

Article in Antique Collector, August 1937

Walk up to the imposing gates of Burgh House just off Flask Walk in Hampstead High Street and you might expect stories of the people who have lived here and perhaps a potted history of the building. But what you get is something more refreshing, accessible and fascinating for anyone with an interest in London history.

Burgh House and Hampstead Museum exterior, London
Image: A Peace of London

I visit a lot of historic houses in London — I’ve even volunteered at this one. They all show you a different side of London, and Burgh House adds the history of Hampstead to the mix.

The history of Burgh House

The house itself has all the style and grace that you’d expect from an 18th-century Hampstead home. It was built in 1704 in what was then fashionable Hampstead Wells, on land that was reclaimed from Hampstead Heath. Over its 300-year history, it has been inhabited by everyone from politicians and physicians to West India merchants and the Royal East Middlesex Militia — but it’s Burgh House’s place in Hampstead’s community history that has long been its outstanding feature.

Burgh House and Hampstead Museum interior, London
Image: A Peace of London

When John Keats was dying in nearby Well Walk (now Keats House), Israel Lewis — the house’s longest resident — sent fruit ‘of the nicest kind’ from the Burgh House orchard.

Frequent visitors to the house have included Samuel Wesley, the future Edward VIII and The Jungle Book author Rudyard Kipling — Kipling’s daughter, Elsie Bambridge, lived here with her husband. Elsie later wrote:

“Our life in the delightful old house and garden in Hampstead was a source of happiness to my father to the end of his life.”

Elsie Bambridge, daughter of Rudyard Kipling

But the residents of Burgh House were not always so renowned. The Rev. Allatson Burgh — who lived here between 1822 and 1856 — was so unpopular at his church of St. Lawrence Jewry that his parishioners tried to have him removed by petitioning Queen Victoria. Samuel Wesley’s description of Burgh is my favourite part of this story: ‘an odd fellow … and as diverting as Punch’.

Burgh House and Hampstead Museum interior, London
Image: A Peace of London

Burgh House today

After Kipling’s death in 1936, the Bambridges left Burgh House and it was left to dilapidate until 1946, when Hampstead council announced plans to turn it into a museum.

After a shaky few years in the 1970s, when celebrities including Judi Dench had to be called in to help save it from developers, the house was saved by the newly-formed Burgh House Trust and restored into the beautiful house we see today.

Burgh House and Hampstead Museum interior, London
Image: A Peace of London

The house and museum are now a celebration of Hampstead’s rise from a settlement for forest hunters in 7000 BC to a luxury haven in the present day.

Key events in the area’s history, including its use as a Tudor hunting ground and the London Underground’s stint as an air raid shelter in the second world war, are brought to life via tiny models (the lovely kind you only see in local museums), images and a collection of 3,000 objects.

Model of Hampstead Tube station at Burgh House and Hampstead Museum, London
Image: A Peace of London

The Buttery Cafe is probably one of the best historic house cafes I’ve been to in London — as well as the usual tea, coffee and cakes you’d expect, they also have a brunch/lunch menu full of locally-sourced, homemade food. The sweet potato hash was enough to tempt even my carnivore other-half (whose chorizo version was made with free-range pork) and I’d walk over hot coals to taste their hot chocolate again.

I hear their Sunday lunches are incredible, too — but you’ll have to beat me there…

Opening times: Wednesday, Thursday Friday and Sunday: 12pm-5pm

Nearest Tube: Hampstead

More information: Visit the Burgh House and Hampstead Museum website

Other quiet places nearby


13 quiet libraries in London that every book-lover needs to see

When it comes to classic and peaceful places to study, work, write, or just read (shock!), you can’t get much better than London’s libraries. Here are the 13 best quiet libraries in London (in my opinion), most of which come with free wifi.

Have I got the list right? Which library do you make a beeline for when you need to switch off? Let me know in the comments or send me a message — I love reading about your favourite places!

Keats Community Library

Keats House, Hampstead, London
Image: A Peace of London

This Grade II-listed library at Keats House is run by volunteers and open to everyone. It’s free to use but the library relies on volunteers and donations — with a little help from Michael Palin, its patron. So if you pay a visit and enjoy it, say thank you by making a donation or even offering your services. Alternatively, they have a lovely selection of events on offer including an evening with Michael Palin on 3rd June to celebrate the centenary of John Betjeman’s birth.

Nearest Tube: Hampstead Heath

Opening times: Tuesday and Wednesday 10am-6pm; Thursday and Friday: 10am-7pm; Saturday and Sunday: 12-4pm

More information: Keats Community Library website

London Metropolitan Archives

London Metropolitan Archives, City of London
Image: Matt Brown on Flickr

Among the collection contained within this lesser-known library are images, maps, films, and books dedicated to London’s history from 1067 onwards.

Whether you’ve got a specific project to research for or you just want to delve deeper into your family history, the archives are open to everyone for free. You’ll need to apply for a history card if you want to access any items within the archives, which is also free and only takes a few minutes once you’ve shown proof of ID/address.

If you’re interested in London’s history, you might also like the City of Westminster Archives Centre near Victoria.

Nearest Tube: Farringdon

Opening times: Monday 9.30am-4.45pm; Tuesday to Thursday 9.30am – 7.30pm (closed bank holidays)

More information: The City of London website

The Wiener Library

Wiener Library reading room, London
Image credit: Peter Alfred Hess on Flickr

This unassuming building on Russell Square houses one of the biggest archives of materials on the causes and consequences of the Holocaust and genocide. Peruse a book in the Wolfson Reading Room and then head down to the ground floor where you’ll find temporary exhibitions that will both disturb and compel you. I promise you won’t be able to take your eyes off any of it.

Nearest Tube: Russell Square

Opening times: Monday-Friday 10am-5pm (open until 7.30pm on Tuesdays)

More information: Wiener Library website

St Bride Foundation Library

St Bride Library, London
Image credit: kim anh on Flickr

The library at the St Bride Foundation near Fleet Street was built in 1895. Its collection charts the story of the printing industry and includes such gems as Dr Johnson’s Dictionary (just down the road from Dr Johnson’s House) and examples of printing from the Oxford University Press dating from the 17th century.

After major cutbacks last year, the library’s reading room is now open to the public one day a month from 1st June; access is free, but retrieving an item from the closed collections costs £1.

Nearest Tube: Blackfriars

Opening times: First Wednesday of every month from 1st June 2016 onwards, 10am-8pm

More information: St Bride Foundation website

The National Art Library at the V&A

National Art Library at the V&A, London
Image: pml2008 on Flickr

Millions of visitors stream into the V&A each year, unaware that there is a small group of Londoners quietly studying, learning, reading, and writing above their heads. This beautiful little library is completely free to use (you’ll need to be a member, which is also free) and there is plenty of space available to creative laziness or hard work.

Go for the classic design, go for the silence, or go for the free wifi: it’s up to you — just don’t let this wonderful little space pass you by.

Pro tip: you’ll need to leave any bags at the cloakroom in the main entrance to the V&A — let them know you want to use the library and they’ll give you a clear plastic bag for your notebooks, laptop, etc. Pens aren’t allowed either — you’ll have to stick to pencil.

Nearest Tube: South Kensington

Opening times: Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-5.30pm (until 6.30pm on Fridays)

More information: V&A website

The Poetry Library at the Southbank Centre

Poetry Library, Southbank, London
Image credit: Kevan on Flickr

What better place for inspiration than a quiet library filled with poetry? Take in the largest collection of poetry dating from 1912 onwards in Britain at the Southbank – they have over 200,000 items and the library is free for anyone to join.

Nearest Tube: Embankment / Waterloo

Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday, 11am-8pm

More information: The Poetry Library website

Westminster Chinese Library

As the name suggests, this quiet space at Charing Cross Library holds one of the largest collections of Chinese books in the UK. They have four Chinese-speaking members of staff and 50,000 Chinese books on offer.

As with all Westminster Libraries, they have free wifi on offer and it’s free to join, even if you’re visiting London from outside of the UK.

Nearest Tube: Leicester Square

Opening times: Monday 9.30am-8pm; Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday 9.30am-7pm; Wednesday 10am-7pm; Saturday 10.30am-2pm; Sunday 11am-5pm

More information: Westminster website

The Horniman Library

Horniman Museum Gardens
Image: Samuel Mann on Flickr

There are many reasons to visit the Horniman Museum instead of the Natural History Museum (main reason – it’s much quieter). One of the reasons is the Horniman’s library, which started with the collection belonging to the museum’s founder and namesake – Frederick Horniman – and has now grown to 30,000 volumes covering natural history, anthropology, and music.

Head down to Forest Hill on the first Sunday of the month for a rare chance to see this unique part of the Horniman’s history.

Nearest station: Forest Hill

Opening times: First Sunday of every month, 10.30am-5.30pm (open to researchers by appointment Mondays and Tuesdays)

More information: The Horniman website

The London Library

The London Library, St James's Square, London
Image: Pete D on Flickr

You’ll be in good company at this 175-year-old private library in central London: a list of esteemed previous members reads like a who’s who of literature. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, George Eliot, Bram Stoker, Virginia Woolf, and Agatha Christie have all come to The London Library to work, read, and write.

Nowadays, the collection spans over a million books dating from the 16th century onwards. You’ll need membership to visit, which starts at £15 for the day.

Nearest Tube: Oxford Circus

Opening times: Monday to Wednesday, 9.30am-8pm; Thursday to Saturday 9.30am-5.30pm

More information: The London Library website

Marx Memorial Library

#dailyworker #socialism #marxmemorialibrary

A photo posted by @selenamarinello on


“The heart of the British labour movement” is closer than you think. It’s just down the road from Farringdon station, in fact.

Learn about the science of Marxism, the history of socialism and the working class at this library dedicated to Karl Marx. It’s open during the week and they also run guided tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Nearest Tube: Farringdon

Opening times: Monday to Thursday, 12pm-4pm

More information: Marx Memorial Library website

Bishopsgate Institute Library

Bishopsgate Institute, London
Image: slocumjoseph / Flickr

The Bishopsgate Library is one of the quietest places in London that I know of — unlike in some other libraries, the mutual respect for everyone working and concentrating within the library is upheld to the letter. There is also free wifi on offer, no membership required.

Within the library collections are volumes on London history, freethought and humanism, LGBT history and many more subjects. Book ahead if you want to take out any books: the collections are kept behind closed cabinets and you’ll have to read them in their reading room.

Nearest Tube: Liverpool Street

Opening times: Monday to Friday, 10am-5.30pm (until 8pm on Wednesdays)

More information: Bishopsgate Institute website

Little Venice Sports Centre Library

This self-service library near Paddington is notable for having the longest opening hours of any library in Westminster. You can read, work, and relax there until 10.30 at night, and there’s free wifi on offer as well.

Find more Westminster libraries at the Westminster.gov website.

Nearest Tube: Warwick Avenue

Opening times: Monday to Friday 9am-10.30pm; Saturday and Sunday 10am-5.30pm

More information: Westminster website

Guildhall Library

Guildhall exterior, City of London
Image: A Peace of London

The third library on our list that specialises in the history of London and part of one of my favourite places in the City of London: the historic Guildhall. The original library at the Guildhall was founded in the 1420s and the current one holds over 200,000 items dating from the 15th century onwards, charting all aspects London life. Also featured are special collections devoted to Samuel Pepys, John Wilkes and Thomas More. The library even has its own blog.

While you’re there, pay a visit to the Guildhall Art Gallery and its Roman Amphitheatre, as well as the hall where Lady Jane Grey’s trial took place. The area is particularly quiet on the weekends.

Nearest Tube: St Paul’s

Opening times: Monday-Friday: 9.30am-5pm (open until 7.30pm on Wednesdays);  Saturday: 9.30am-5pm on selected Saturdays

More information: City of London 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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11 quiet places to visit in London that are perfect for families

This is a guest post by Julie, aka Jaf in the Box.

I love exploring, it probably comes from my own parents who were great at exposing us to a variety of places and taking us on various trips in France and abroad. Since moving to England more than 10 years ago I have done my fair share of exploring.

Now, as a mum of three, I am delighted to share with my favourite family-friendly ‘quiet’ (or rather quieter) spots in London with you.

1. London Wetlands

London Wetlands Centre
Image: Jaf in the Box

This place has got to be one of my favourite quiet places in London. It’s so close from the city centre and yet is such a haven of peace and tranquillity, surrounded by birds of all sorts. I would really recommend it to anyone.

There is a cafe for food, snacks or drinks for the grown-ups and little ones as well (plenty of available high chairs). I wrote a post on my own blog about it which might inspire you.

More information: London Wetlands website

Swans at London Wetlands Centre
Image: Jaf in the Box

2. Pembroke Lodge

Pembroke Lodge, Richmond, London
Image: Jaf in the Box

Pembroke Lodge is in Richmond Park not far from Richmond Gate but has super views across the Thames Valley. We love having a walk with the kids there as it’s never too busy and we sometimes stop in the newly restored garden where the kids enjoy playing.

There is a really good cafe where we can warm ourselves up if the weather is a bit cold. If you are brave, you can even walk down the hill to Petersham Gate where there is a nice sandy playground for the kids.

More information: Pembroke Lodge website

View from Pembroke Lodge, Richmond, London
Image: Jaf in the Box
Pembroke Lodge, Richmond, London
Image: Jaf in the Box

3. Chiswick  House and Gardens

Chiswick House, London
Image: Jaf in the Box

A beautiful park with lots of lanes where the kids can cycle (bear in mind that cycling is restricted to the tarmac drives within the gardens and not allowed on garden paths and lawns) or scoot. There is also a small play area and a good cafe.

More information: Chiswick House website

Playing in Chiswick House, London
Image: Jaf in the Box

4. Horniman Museum

Horniman Museum, Forest Hill, south east London
Image: A Peace of London

This is one of my favourite museums for the little ones as it’s like a small national history museum and a music museum all in one. The Museum gardens are also great as you have space to experiment with different instruments, great views across south London, a small farm and a nice cafe.

The only problem is the parking in the area around the museum so I would encourage people to come by public transport and stop at Forest Hill train station or get on a bus.

More information: Horniman website

5. Morden  Hall and Deen city farm

Morden Hall Park, London
Image: Jaf in the Box

A great park part of the National Trust with lots of beautiful roses in the summer and a pretty good city farm which is free (donations are encouraged though). It’s easy to park and there is a good garden centre where you can shop at the end of your visit. There is a cafe at the entrance and a cafe at the City farm.

More information: Deen City Farm website or National Trust website

6. Osterley Park

Osterley Park, London
Image: Jaf in the Box

A beautiful National Trust house – I am yet to be disappointed by the National Trust. It’s a stunning property in Isleworth with a lake as you arrive, with a nice cafe and shop if you fancy an ice cream, a snack or a drink.

The main lawn is perfect for a picnic or if you fancy kicking the ball but I love going into the House garden where it’s a bit quieter and they often have garden games such as croquet. They even have lounge chairs in a few spots which come well appreciated when the weather is nice!

More information: Osterley Park and House website

Family time at Osterley Park, London
Image: Jaf in the Box

7. RAF museum

Based in Hendon, this is a fantastic museum. It’s free of charge but you do pay a small amount for the parking (lots of space). There are amazing helicopters, planes, and it’s so big you are never bothered by anyone.

Just don’t lose one of your little ones in there as it happened to us; we had a good 10-minute panic search to find our little girl who had gone sulking behind one of the massive planes.

More information: RAF Museum website

8. Battersea  Zoo

Meerkat at Battersea Zoo, London
Image: Jaf in the Box

This is a small zoo right in the heart of Battersea Park. The park itself is a really nice park for walking with the family with a lake and lots of different alleys and even roads where you can cycle or roller skate. And you have the added bonus of being  by the Thames, which provides beautiful light and views, not forgetting to mention the sight of the stunning Peace Pagoda.

The zoo is not too big, perfect for the under-eights I would say and there are lots of picnic tables if you fancy lunching al fresco. The kids love the play area which can satisfy the younger kids as well as the ‘older ones’ (up to the age of 10 years old in my opinion).

More information: Battersea Park website

Battersea Zoo, London
Image: Jaf in the Box
Peace Pagoda at Battersea Park, London
Image: Jaf in the Box

9. Museum of Childhood

V&A Museum of Childhood, London
Picture credit: Martin Moscosa on Flickr

The Museum of Childhood is a fantastic museum with a really fabulous selection of old toys. It’s fun for the whole family and it’s free of charge. Beautiful building and plenty of spaces for a spot of lunch.

We went on a Sunday morning which meant we had no trouble finding a spot to park and no crowd to bother us. It’s close to Bethnal Green Station so any other time, it would be better to come by Tube.

More information: V&A Museum website

10. Kew  Gardens

Kew Gardens, London
Image: Jaf in the Box

This is an all time favourite. It’s huge and even when it gets busy there are so many cornered alleys to find a quieter spot to picnic, feed a baby, play, read etc. We love it and when everyone has had a real walk  we can go the Creepers and Ladders for some play time or we go to the small aquarium in the Main Green House.

More information: Kew Gardens website

Kew Gardens, London
Image: Jaf in the Box
Kew Gardens London
Image: Jaf in the Box
Kew Gardens, London
Image: Jaf in the Box

11. The Southbank

The perfect spot to pit-stop with the family as it’s big and I never have to worry whether the little ones are on their best behaviour. There is space for them to run around, particularly if you go there during the week, and they have changing facilities which come in handy.

More information:  Southbank Centre website

Happy family outings to all!

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