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

 

Chiswick House and Gardens review: west London’s coolest historic house (literally)

What does one do when faced with the hottest day of the year (so far) and a whole week as a lady of leisure before starting a new job? Why, visit one of the coolest historic houses in London, of course. And that’s exactly what I did when I visited Chiswick House and Gardens for the first time.

And when I say ‘coolest’, I’m not just talking about the fact that Chiswick House is on every nerd’s trip wishlist. It’s also ‘cool’ regarding its temperature; I stepped from 32-degree heat into a glamorous gold-plated human cool bag that was once used to entertain London’s high society.

Chiswick House exterior, west London
Image: A Peace of London

The house is surrounded by acres of gardens, which stretch for what seems like miles and could easily fill a day’s exploring; they include the Italian gardens, conservatory, temple and the magnificent lake that stretches across the grounds.

Sphinx on exterior of Chiswick House, west London
Image: A Peace of London

Walk up to the front of the Chiswick House itself to be greeted by two magnificent sphinxes and a dozen statues; the mix of regal elegance in some and mischievous grins in others are enough to make you question what sort of house you’re entering…

Statue on exterior of Chiswick House, west London
Image: A Peace of London
Statue on exterior of Chiswick House
Image: A Peace of London

Another sphinx awaits you inside on the far right-hand corridor of the building: this one was moved inside due to decay, but it’s interesting to see how well-intentioned restoration work was done with bricks and cement to help keep the shape of this magnificent but time-weary structure.

Opening times: Sundays to Wednesdays, 10am-6pm

Nearest Tube: Turnham Green

More information: Chiswick House & Gardens Trust website

Chiswick House Gardens - front of Chiswick House, London
Image: A Peace of London
Chiswick House Gardens
Image: A Peace of London
Lake and waterfall at Chiswick House Gardens
Image: A Peace of London
Chiswick House conservatory
Image: A Peace of London

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Brompton Cemetery: a breathtaking view on the past

Your first sight of Brompton Cemetery’s Great Circle of chapel and colonnades will take your breath away.

Enter via the Fulham Road entrance for the biggest impact: wild corners and shadowy walkways of a classic Victorian cemetery give way to a dramatic centrepiece that was designed as an ‘open air basilica’ in the style of the Piazza at St Peter’s in Rome.

Brompton Ceremony monument (1)
(Picture credit: Kotomi_ / Flickr)

The main attraction – the chapel – is flanked by colonnades, a vast network of catacombs, and a tree-lined central avenue that defines Brompton Cemetery and sets it apart from the other six cemeteries in London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’.

200 years of history

Brompton Cemetery is one of London’s historic garden cemeteries (along with Nunhead, Highgate, Abney Park, Kensal Green, Tower Hamlets and West Norwood, all built between the Georgian and Victorian eras) and one of the oldest garden cemeteries in Britain.

It was opened in 1840 as both a burial ground and public space by Stephen Geary, chairman of The West of London and Westminster Cemetery Company, who also created Highgate and Nunhead Cemeteries.

Brompton Cemetery in the 1800s
Brompton Cemetery in the 1800s (Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons)

Like other cemeteries in the Magnificent Seven, Brompton was built to relieve the demand placed on older graveyards; London’s population had increased from one million people to 2.6 million between 1800 and 1850, and this combined with inadequate sanitary conditions meant that death from disease was rife.

Parliament’s answer was a range of seven new garden cemeteries, built ‘as much for the enjoyment of the living as the repose of the dead’. Stephen Geary was commissioned to create Brompton’s addition, however, Geary’s own designs were rejected by the ‘Committee of Taste’ that was appointed to lead the design and Benjamin Baud’s (who worked on Windsor Castle) design was chosen instead.

Brompton Cemetery arcades
(Picture credit: diamond geezer / Flickr)

To help Brompton’s rather uninspiring site compete with the other more scenic cemeteries within the group, plans were drawn up for a dramatic cathedral layout that included a central aisle, a ‘high altar’ (the chapel), and a ‘nave’ (the colonnades). Original plans also included two ‘transepts’ in the form of two temples on either side of the colonnades and two matching bell towers on each entrance to the catacombs (only one of these bell towers was built).

Brompton Cemetery today

Today, Brompton Cemetery’s 39 acres contain 35,000 monuments for over 205,000 people that have been buried here. Its Grade I-listed status and Victorian charm belies the fact that it’s still a working cemetery; more modern burial plots lie on the outskirts of the largely overgrown plots dating from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Brompton Cemetery
(Picture credit: Mike T / Flickr)

Brompton also maintains its original purpose for ‘enjoyment of the living’ as a garden cemetery: original signs on the entrances still remain, informing the public that, ‘The public are permitted to walk in the Cemetery daily’.

Visit on any given day to find Londoners relaxing in the colonnades, eating lunch between the gravestones, and cycling down the grand central avenue. It’s a timeless and personal reminder of London’s history and the lives that have contributed to that history.

Brompton Cemetery
(Picture credit: Tommi Komulainen / Flickr)
Colonnades at Brompton Cemetery
(Picture credit: Andy Sedg / Flickr)

28 monuments on the site are also Grade I and II-listed, including the Chapel, the colonnades, the Chelsea Pensioners’ Monument, the Guards’ Memorial, the chest tomb of the ship builder, and two vintage K2 telephone kiosks just outside the gates.

The fact that the cemetery has remained largely unchanged over the past 200 years means it holds a second career as a film set: it’s been featured in Sherlock HolmesGoldenEye, Johnny English, The Wings of the Dove with Helena Bonham Carter, and Stormbreaker with Damien Lewis.

Brompton’s stories: the people buried at Brompton Cemetery

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928)

Emmeline Pankhurst (1913)
Emmeline Pankhurst in 1913 (Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons)

Suffragette leader who obtained property rights for married women, recruited women to the war effort, and helped bring about the introduction of full and equal suffrage for men and women. Emmeline and her daughter are buried in a grave close to the West Brompton entrance to the cemetery.

Dr John Snow (1813-1858)

John Snow
Dr John Snow (Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons)

He of Broad Street pump fame; Snow tracked an outbreak of cholera to the pump in Soho and discovered that the cause of the infection was passed through contaminated water rather than the air. He helped to save countless lives and was the only anaesthetist who Queen Victoria trusted to administer chloroform to her during the birth of her two youngest children.

Percy Pilcher (1867-1899)

Percy Pilcher
Percy Pilcher (Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons)

Pioneering engineer who patented the world’s first practical powered aeroplane, seven years before the Wright Brothers’ first flight. He built his aeroplane but when it came to showing it off to investors, its engine failed. He died the same day while demonstrating a glider to compensate for the engine failure.

Charles Collins (1828-1873)

Pre-Raphelite painter and son-in-law to Charles Dickens.

Admiral Robert Fitzroy (1805-1865)

Captain of Charles Darwin’s ship HMS Beagle and winner of the Royal Geographical Society’s Gold Medal.

Percy Lambert (1881-1913)

The first man to cover 100 miles in an hour, killed while attempting another record in south-west London.

Blanche Roosevelt Macchetta, Marchese d’Allegri (1858-1896)

Cousin of Franklin D. Roosevelt, singer, and biographer of French artist Gustave Doré.

“Tom”

This tiny grave for a two-year-old known only as “Tom” lies at the Fulham Broadway entrance to the cemetery. Its wooden monument and surround have yet to even start decaying, despite being over 100 years old and underneath a huge tree.

How you can help bring Brompton Cemetery back to life

Brompton Cemetery is a time capsule of London’s history and a unique place of beauty in the heart of our capital. But with time comes decay. So Brompton needs your help in helping to restore its crumbling architecture and to create a fantastic new visitor centre to tell its story.

The Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund has pledged nearly £4.5 million to the restoration project, but £500,000 needs to be raised in order to unlock this funding. Can you help?

Brompton Cemetery
(Picture credit: AnneCN / Flickr)

Grace Enright, from The Royal Parks Foundation, said the project has been embraced by the local community: “It’s been fantastic watching the local community get behind Brompton Cemetery. People love this garden cemetery for lots of different reasons, but everyone has come together to look after it.

“We’ve raised half of the funds needed to unlock the Heritage Lottery Fund donation, and we’re hopeful that those who love Brompton are going to help us reach our target so we can restore this magnificent cemetery to its former glory.”

For more information on how you can help save Brompton Cemetery, visit the Royal Parks Foundation website.

Nearest Tube: West Brompton / Fulham Broadway

Opening times: Daily, 8am-8pm

More information: Visit the Royal Parks website

With thanks to The Royal Parks Foundation and The Friends of Brompton Cemetery for their help in researching this post.

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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12 quiet things to do in London this Bank Holiday Monday

The weather might have been a bit hit-and-miss this Easter, but that’s no reason to cower under the duvet. Make the most of your last day off with some of London’s most fascinating, unusual and least-crowded places, all of which are open on Bank Holiday Monday…

1. See the dinosaurs at Crystal Palace Park

Crystal Palace Park dinosaurs, south east London
Image: A Peace of London

Pay the Crystal Palace dinosaurs a visit at south London’s best park (IMO). After you’ve marvelled at the Victorian imagination and learned how they came about on the audio tour, explore the Terraces that were originally the setting for Crystal Palace, and have a go at the maze if you’re feeling adventurous.

Bank Holiday opening times: 7.30am until dusk

Nearest station: Crystal Palace

More information: Bromley website

2. Experience “darkness itself” at Chislehurst Caves

Chislehurst Caves., south east London
Image: Simon Swatman on Flickr

Those who like to be scared silly on their days off (and don’t mind a couple of loud noises) will enjoy a walk (guided, thankfully) through over a mile of one of south London’s most haunted places. Find out how the caves saved 15,000 lives during WWII, experience total darkness 350 feet below ground, and hear the story behind the haunted pool.

Bank Holiday opening times: Tours on the hour between 10am and 4pm inclusive

Nearest station: Chislehurst

More information: chislehurst-caves.co.uk

3. Visit the home of an artist at the William Morris Gallery

William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow, London
Image: A Peace of London

Discover the family home of designer, craftsman, and writer William Morris, who lived in this Georgian house between 1848 to 1856 with his mother and his eight brothers and sisters. It’s now the only public gallery dedicated to William Morris and is a fine example of Georgian domestic architecture.

Fun fact: the house’s next occupant after the Morris family was the publisher Edward Lloyd, who is known for publishing ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ and the first vampire stories to be published in England.

Bank Holiday opening times: 10am – 5pm

Nearest Tube: Walthamstow Central

More information: wmgallery.org.uk

4. Peek behind the curtains at The Geffrye Museum of the Home

Geffrye Museum of the Home, Hoxton, London
Image: Davide D’Amico on Flickr

If you love peering into pretty living rooms on Pinterest, then take a trip to Hoxton and The Geffrye Museum of the Home where you can indulge your passion for interiors (and see another, more down-to-earth side of Hoxton). This acclaimed museum is normally closed on Mondays but makes an exception on Bank Holidays.

Bank Holiday opening times: 10am – 5pm

Nearest station: Hoxton

More information: geffrye-museum.org.uk

5. Step back in time at the Old Royal Naval College

Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London
Image: Márcio Cabral de Moura on Flickr

This small museum (known as the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre) charts the history of the ORNC site, the most interesting part being the remains of Greenwich Palace. As well as parts of the walls (with windows modelled on Hampton Court) they also have lots of Tudor artefacts found near the site, too.

Bank Holiday opening times: 10am-5pm

Nearest station: Cutty Sark DLR

More information: ornc.org

6. Visit the otters at WWT London Wetlands Centre

London Wetlands Centre, Hammersmith, London
Image: A Peace of London

It’s hard to imagine that there’s a wildlife sanctuary within walking distance of the busy centre of Hammersmith, but seeing is believing. Admire the otters (go during feeding time for the full otter experience) and relax as all manner of wildlife goes about its business around you. And, if you’re of the bird-watching persuasion, you can spot over 200 species of our feathered friends here.

Bank Holiday opening times: 9.30am-5.30pm (last admission 4.30pm).

Nearest Tube: Hammersmith

More information: wwt.org.uk

7. Go shopping at Battersea Flower Station

Battersea Flower Station, London
Image: Battersea Flower Station

It’s often described as ‘magical’ so now’s the time to explore this pretty independent garden centre and florist, just round the corner of Battersea Park and south of the Thames. All of their team and produce is from the area, so you’ll be supporting local suppliers, too.

Bank Holiday opening times: 11am-5pm

Nearest station: Clapham Junction

More information: batterseaflowerstation.co.uk

8. See the weird and wonderful at the Horniman Museum

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

Explore the rich collection, aquarium and gardens that make up one of south-east London’s best museums. Highlights include hundreds of animal specimens — either taxidermied, skeletal or displayed in formaldehyde — in the main gallery, the strange (living) aquatic creatures in the aquarium, and the magnificent conservatory outside.

Bank Holiday opening times: 10.30am-5.30pm

Nearest station: Forest Hill

More information: horniman.ac.uk

9. Learn about a legend at the Florence Nightingale Museum

Florence Nightingale Museum, London
Image: Florence Nightingale Museum

Florence Nightingale not only had a radical impact on sanitation, military health and hospital practices but also established nursing as a respectable profession for women. Learn more about the lady herself and, until 14th April, see a previously-unknown portrait among other treasures at their exhibition, Hidden Treasures from the Hospital Vaults.

Bank Holiday opening times: 10am-5pm

Nearest station: Westminster / Lambeth North

More information: florence-nightingale.co.uk

10. Indulge in Stuart extravagance at Ham House

ham house, richmond, london
Image: A Peace of London

This beautiful historic house is set on the banks of the River Thames in Richmond and is regarded as one of the grandest Stuart houses in England. It boasts a stunning orangery (now serving as a gorgeous café), a collection of rare and intricate artefacts and, apparently, a ghost or two.

Bank Holiday opening times: 12pm – 4pm

Nearest station: Richmond or Twickenham

More information: National Trust website

11. See Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare at Bushy Park

Garrick's Temple to Shakespeare, Bushy Park, London
Image: tpholland on Flickr

Discover 18th-century actor (and friend of Dr Johnson) David Garrick’s celebration of William Shakespeare, as well as the beautiful Bushy Park near Hampton Court Palace. Unfortunately, the Temple is only open on Sundays, but the pleasure gardens that surround it (and the view of the Temple next to the water) are worth the trip.

Bank Holiday opening times: Bushy Park and Garrick Temple Pleasure Gardens open 7.30am-dusk

Nearest station: Hampton

More information: garrickstemple.org.uk

12. Escape to the country at Mudchute Park and Farm

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

You don’t have to go far in London to get a taste of the countryside. This is especially true at Mudchute Park and Farm in east London, where the high-rise towers of Canary Wharf loom large in the distance.

Both the park and the farm are open seven days a week (including Bank Holidays) for free, and both a cafe and farm shop are available on site too.

Nearest Tube: Mudchute DLR

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

More information: Read my review or Mudchute Park and Farm website
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21 beautiful places in London (without the crowds)

I find beautiful places in London addictive. The excitement of exploring a new place; a journey full of anticipation (will it be as stunning as it looked in the pictures?); and finally the payoff of having my breath taken away. Glittering walls; lush green as far as the eye can see; colours to compete with the Med or Marrakech.

London might be known for frenetic streets, bright lights, and bowler hats. But it’s in the living, breathing gardens, parks and history that it’s at its most beautiful.

The Painted Hall, Old Royal Naval College

painted-hall-greenwich
Picture credit: Nick Bramhall on Flickr

‘The Sistine Chapel of the UK’, this impressive section of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor as a dining hall for naval pensioners. Incredibly, it’s completely free to visit.

More information: ORNC website

The Great Conservatory at Syon House

Great Conservatory at Syon House
Picture credit: stu smith on Flickr

Back in the early 19th century, greenhouses were small, brick affairs. That was, of course, until Charles Fowler created Syon Park’s Great Conservatory and broke the mould. He did away with the brown stone and instead used floor-to-ceiling glass that rests delicately on a metal frame. It’s now open to the public; visit on a sunny day for the full effect.

More information: Syon Park website or read my review of Syon House here

Orleans House Gallery, Richmond

Orleans House, Richmond, London
Picture credit: Maxwell Hamilton on Flickr
Orleans House, Richmond, London
Picture credit: Maxwell Hamilton on Flickr

There’s more to Richmond than the park, and the area’s hidden gem is this 18th-century baroque gallery. On a clear day, the light pours in through the high windows, filling the space with sunshine.

More information: Richmond Borough website

Hampstead Heath Hill Garden and Pergola

Hampstead Hill Garden and Pergola
Image: A Peace of London

This “secret” garden in Hampstead has London at its heart (literally): the hills in the pergola were built with earth removed during the extension of the Northern Line to Hampstead in the early 1900s.

Hampstead Heath Hill Garden and Pergola
Image: A Peace of London

The pergola was the creation of Lord Leverhulme — the then-owner of the manor that sits ‘next door’ — for extravagant summer parties but was neglected after the breakout of World War II, giving it an eerie, other-worldly feel.

More information: City of London website or read my review here

Eltham Palace’s entrance hall

Eltham Palace entrance Hall
Picture credit: Andrew Stawarz on Flickr

The childhood home of Henry VIII is now an art-deco paradise, the main attraction being the entrance hall above. In its heyday, it was used for the glitziest and most glamorous of parties and it provides a stark contrast to the surviving medieval great hall attached to it.

Admission is normally £13.60 but English Heritage members get in free: you can join English Heritage here.

More information: English Heritage / Eltham Palace website or read my post on the medieval and Tudor history of Eltham Palace

Watts Memorial, Postman’s Park

The Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, Postmans Park, London
Image: A Peace of London

Beautiful in a different sense to most of the other places on this list, The Watts Memorial is dedicated to ordinary men, women, and children of the past who gave their lives trying to save others. The tragic but poignant monument, decorated in typical Victorian style, is a window into the forgotten daily lives of those long gone, and a reminder that life is too short to waste.

More information: City of London website

Kyoto Garden, Holland Park

Kyoto Gardens, Holland Park, London
Image: A Peace of London

What is it about a waterfall that is so relaxing? Whatever it is, you can count on this colourful little corner of Holland Park to help you forget about the grey, boring world of tax returns and concrete.

More information: RBKC website

Painshill Park

Painshill park, london
Picture credit: Graham Bancroft on 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.

More information: Painshill website

Chumleigh Gardens

chumleigh gardens london
Picture credit: Ana Gasston on Flickr

Chumleigh Gardens is five types of garden in one: Mediterranean, Islamic, Oriental, African and English gardens sit side by side to reflect the area’s diversity.

More information: Friends of Burgess Park website

St Bartholomew the Great

st bartholomew the great church, London
Picture credits: Kotomi_ on Flickr

This 12-century building is London’s oldest surviving church. It’s hard to believe that this cavernous dome of a place fits behind its modest exterior, but venture through the Tudor gatehouse that shields it from the rest of Smithfield and you’ll enter another world.

More information: Read a brief history and review, or visit the Great St Bartholomew website

Fairlop Waters

Fairlop Waters, London
Image: A Peace of London

The water here is still, and there isn’t a high-rise in sight. A scattering of boats line the water and the rolling hills on the horizon will almost convince you that you’re nowhere near the Central line.

More information: Redbridge Culture & Leisure website or read my review here

Ham House gardens and orangery

ham house, richmond, london
Image: A Peace of London

Even the extravagant Charles I loved Ham House: he saw fit to give the lease to one of his closest friends. Nowadays it’s owned by the National Trust and it comes complete with stunning gardens and an orangery.

Tip: get the train to Richmond, not Twickenham, and take the £1 ferry across the river for a gorgeous view of Richmond Park. You’ll pass Orleans House (see no.18) on the way, too.

Admission is normally £12.20 but National Trust members get in free: you can join National Trust here.

More information: National Trust website

Wat Buddhapadipa

Wat Buddhapadipa Temple, Wimbledon, London
Picture credit: Jessica Mulley on Flickr

The first Buddhist temple in the UK (and the only Thai temple to be built in Europe) was originally located in Richmond and has been in its current location in Wimbledon since the 70s. It’s a formal temple, too: the grounds include an ornamental lake, an orchard, a house for the monks and a cottage.

More information: Buddhapadipa website

The view from Severndroog Castle

View from Severndroog Castle, London
Picture credit: Ian Macaulay Photographer

This little castle in south-east London is known for its imposing exterior, but less known for its incredible view stretching over London: it beats The Shard hands-down.

More information: Severndroog Castle website

The Hogarth Staircase at St Bart’s Hospital Museum

hogarth staircase, st bartholomew hospital museum, london
Image: A Peace of London

If the ceiling of the Painted Hall at ONRC leaves you wanting more, then you only need to head to the back of St Bart’s Hospital Museum, where you’ll find the beautiful Hogarth Staircase.

To make it even more special, some of the people in the paintings were based on real patients of the hospital.

More information: Barts Health website or read my review of the museum here

Leighton House Museum

Leigton House Museum Arab Hall
Picture credit: Will Pryce

The amount of detail in the flamboyant, intricate, and colourful home of 19th-century artist Frederic Leighton is hard to take in on a first glance, and that’s before you look at the art attached to the wall (as opposed to art that is the wall). Therefore, leave enough time to wander around each room to soak it all in properly.

More information: RBKC website

St John’s Lodge Gardens, Regent’s Park

St John's Lodge, Regent's Park
Picture credit: Laura Nolte on 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.

Thanks to @ypldn for the suggestion!

More information: Royal Parks website

St Dunstan-in-the-East

st dunstan in the east, London
Image: A Peace of London

This battered 12th-century church was turned to ruins by The Blitz, and since turned into a magical mix of outside and in; branches wind themselves round doors to the original church, and you can still walk from the graveyard, “inside” to the nave and then back “outside” to the garden. Go during the weekend, when it’s quieter.

More information: City of London website or read my review here

Isabella Plantation, Richmond Park

Isabella plantation, Richmond Park, london
Picture credit: David Iliff on Flickr

Created from boggy ground in the 1830s, this garden within Richmond Park 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

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London
Picture credit: EVERYMAN FILMS LTD on Flickr

It’s hard to believe that this magnificent temple is in London, and even harder to believe that all 5,000 tonnes of it were hand-carved (yes, carved by hand) in India before being assembled in London.

Over 3,000 volunteers helped to make it a reality and it’s funded entirely by donations. Which is even more beautiful than the place itself.

More information: Shri Swaminarayan Mandir website

The Peace Pagoda, Battersea Park

peace pagoda, battersea park, London
Picture credit: Garry Knight on Flickr

The last place on a list of beautiful, quiet places in London just has to be all about peace. This little spot in Battersea Park was offered to the people of London by the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order in 1984, in the midst of the Cold War. It mirrors others in Europe, Asia and the USA, and acts as a spiritual focus to unify the movement for peace. Can you get anywhere more peaceful than this?

Thanks to @WeirdSid for the suggestion!

More information: Battersea Park website

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