Outdoor London: ideas and activities

London is one of the world’s greenest cities. More than half its area is green or blue. The capital has about 3,000 parks and open spaces – from pocket parks to nature reserves and winding waterways. There’s something for everyone and it's free to enjoy all year round.

Making London a National Park City will give all Londoners more opportunities to experience and enjoy the great outdoors in London. So why not explore places you’ve not been to before or just enjoy the places you love.

Here are some ideas, apps, maps and suggestions to get you on your way. We put these together for National Park City Week in July 2018.

Share your experiences using #NationalParkCity. You can also find other ideas for exploring London's great outdoors on the London National Park City website.

Great walks

A great walk is one of the best ways to slow down and appreciate London’s amazing green spaces, scenery and waterways. Here are some ideas to start you on your journey:

  • check out The Inner London Ramblers, who have lots of ideas from short strolls to longer group led treks
  • boldly go with Go Jauntly - discover walks, curate your own and share outdoor adventures with friends
  • navigate or create a trail with Ticl as a fun way of exploring and learning within local areas, or follow a tree trail

Walk The Line

Love London’s art, history and wildlife? Then walk The Line, London’s first self-guided contemporary art walk between the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and the O2. Visit The Line website to find out more.

Kids go wild

There are lots of fun and inspiring ways for children to get closer to nature in the capital wherever you live.

London Curriculum Family Explorer Trails

These free resources are a great way for families to discover their city together and explore our unique open spaces. There's no place on earth like it! Download them here.

Kids downloads and activities

Want your kids to get inquisitive about nature? Let them explore, imagine, play and discover. Join The Woodland Trust’s Nature Detectives or record and track Nature’s Calendar.

Want to explore outdoor London? Take a look at the parks, gardens and playground section of Kidrated’s 100 quirky things to do in London. 

Wild kids welcome! Learn and play your way through the wonderful world of wildlife. Master online games, learn about nature, have a wild story-time and take part in some fantastic competitions on the RSPB website.

Croydon Goes Wild. Croydon supported London’s first National Park City week with a series of events and activities aimed at children and families. Their free to download booklet has suggestions for 30 things to do outdoors, which you can tick off wherever you live in London. Also look out for challenge events on Croydon’s Council’s website.

Help Kids Grow by encouraging them to get gardening. Check out the tips and fun activities to download on TCV’s Helping Kids Grow website.

Wildlife Watch is the junior branch of The Wildlife Trusts. Explore your local wild places, get involved in hundreds of events and activities and make new friends. Find out more on their website.

BBC’s Do Something Great has more information on Citizen Science and BBC Earth holds Wildlife Academies and seasonal ‘Watch’ campaigns….get ready for Autumn Watch 2018.

Join the call from the Natural History Museum. You can gather vital data for scientists and contribute to the Museum's science research or download resources to help you set up your own project. See how on the Citizen Science section of the website.

Zooniverse has a wide range of online citizen science projects – from hunting for comets, to tagging penguins. 

Parks and open spaces

About half of London is green. Apart from private gardens that means there’s lots of parks, open spaces, heaths, commons, nature reserves and gardens for everyone to enjoy. Visit your local council parks section on their website to find out places near to you or go further afield.

#GoParksLondon Challenge

CPRE London are encouraging everyone to visit a London park you’ve never been to! Post a photo using #GoParksLondon for a chance to win a prize! To get started visit www.GoParks.London

Royal Parks

London has nine royal parks which are stunning open spaces and places to enjoy all year round. Covering over 5,000 acres of historic parkland, London’s Royal parks provide beautiful green spaces right in the heart of the capital. Visit the Royal Parks website to find out more.

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Explore one of London’s newest parks. With 560 acres of parklands, there’s lots to discover! Download their four great trails on arts, wildlife and children’s activities or see their great family friendly events.

Visit London have gathered a great range of ideas and suggestions for Londoners and visitors to seek out historic gardensCity Farmsparksnature reserves and woodlands, as well as heaths and commons in London.

London Wildlife Trust’s Centre for Wildlife Gardening, Peckham

This fantastic demonstration garden in south London is friendly and accessible. Ponds, meadows, cornfield, and lots of ideas for small gardens in this oasis of calm. Find out opening times on their website.

Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew

Possibly London’s largest wildlife garden, the lawn mower is kept under a strict regime, allowing you to wander among tranquil meadows, marvel over bluebell woods, and view the biggest compost heap in the capital. Tel: 020 8332 5000 or visit their website.

Other great gardens you may not know about:

  • Roe Green walled garden, Opening times on their website.
  • Oasis Children’s Nature Garden, visit their website.
  • Sunnyside Gardens, visit their website.
  • Gillespie Park, Islington or visit their website.
  • Walworth Garden Farm, or visit their website. Southwark
  • Thrive Garden, or visit their website. Wandsworth
  • Sutton Ecology Centre, or visit their website.
  • Chelsea Physic Garden, or visit their website.

Time Out have selected a range of hidden gardens and open green spaces in London. Visit the Time Out website to find out more.

Arts, culture and heritage

A park or open space is the perfect setting for the best of London’s culture in the summer. There’s a huge variety of great free music, pop up open air cinemas and events taking place all over the capital. 

Here are some ideas but check out events taking place in your area on council websites. 

Outdoor Art

Culture whisper has selected the best of outdoor art in London in 2018 on their website. 

The National Gallery

If you want to go indoors to find about the outdoors in America, you can visit The National Gallery’s big summer exhibition on US first environmentalist and champion of National Parks: Thomas Cole- Eden to Empire which runs from 11 June – 7 October. 

Outdoor fitness and health

London’s open spaces and waterways are great places to plays sports, get fit and improve physical and mental health and wellbeing. Here are some organisations and activities to inspire you to get outdoors and improve your health. The Parks and Events section on your council website may provide local information. 

Back to Nature Bootcamps are run by the RSPB in the beautiful setting of Rainham Marshes nature reserve in Essex. To book your place, call RSPB Marshes Nature Reserve on 01708 899840. More information on the RSPB website

Get Active provides information on a wide range of sports activities and clubs across London. Find out more on the GetActive London website.

Good Gym are a community of runners that combine getting fit with doing good. They stop off on our runs to do physical tasks for community organisations and to support isolated older people with social visits and one-off tasks they can't do on their own. It's a great way to get fit, meet new people and do some good and everyone's welcome. Find your local community on the Good Gym website

Green Gyms have been created by The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) as fun and free outdoor sessions where you will be guided in practical activities such as planting trees, sowing meadows and establishing wildlife ponds. Unlike other conservation projects, the emphasis is very much on health and fitness. Find a Green Gym near you on the TCV website

Our Parks is an initiative bringing free, group exercise classes, led by experienced, fully qualified and insured instructors, to parks near you in partnership with local councils. Find out how it works and book classes on their website. 

Outdoor gyms can be found in parks all over London. Exercising in the fresh air is great for physical and mental health and they are also environmentally friendly. Find out about all the free to use outdoor gyms across London parks on the The Great Outdoor Gym Company website. 

Outdoor yoga sessions are great for relaxation and wellbeing soaking up fresh air and natural settings around you. Visit Londonist listings to get inspired.  

Muddy plimsols have compiled a map of outdoor fitness trails – or trim trails – dotted around London. Locations are shared mostly by word-of-mouth with the aim to promote awareness of fitness trails and introduce Londoners to new free fitness destinations on their doorstep. Find out more on their website

Park run UK is a series of 5k runs held on Saturday mornings in areas of open space around the UK with many taking place in London. They are open to all, free, and are safe and easy to take part in. Find out about adult and junior parkrun events near you on their website.

Plogging is the new Scandinavian trend taking over London when you pick up litter whilst you run. From the word ‘plocka’, meaning ‘to pick’, and jogging it combines squats with running and making the community cleaner. Fancy giving it a go? The first London plogging event coincides with World Cleanup Day. Visit Clean Up London Plogging Event to find out more.

Sports and Fitness Meet Ups in London brings together like minded groups including: Terrible Footballers; Weekend Walks to Fitness to Outdoor Bootcamps and Yoga. Visit their website to find a community that you would like to join.

Time Out have compiled a great selection of outdoor fitness classes on their website

Waterways including Thames and other rivers in our city provide great opportunities for watersports clubs and activities from: rowing, sailing kayaking, paddle boarding, paddle boarding yoga and even whitewater rafting. 

Visit London have compiled a list of water-sports options, clubs and activities on their website.

The Lee Valley Regional Park offers family fun activities and white water action at their water centre including: white water rafting, canoeing and kayaking. Visit their website to find out more.

Tranquil London

London is known for being a big bustling city but it has some amazing tranquil and quiet places to visit from the city centre to the outskirts. 

Nature Reserves

If you are looking for peace and quiet, you can get it away from it all without going far by visiting one of London Wildlife Trust’s tranquil nature reserves.

Tranquil City

The Tranquil City project explores areas of calm in the city. Its emphasis is to showcase environments that allow us to slow down our pace of life in the cities we live in and help create more liveable urban environments. Join a free Tranquil explorations and walks or Tranquil Pavement London, an interactive map encouraging the discovery of tranquillity in London.

Nature Trails

There are many great nature trails in London but here are some you may not know about.

The City of London manage amazing open spaces taking in The City of London Cemetery and Crematorium set in 200 acres of beautiful landscape which is home to hundreds of different species of plants, trees and wildlife. They also cover Wanstead Flats and Epping Forest. See their Nature Trails:

Cemeteries and secluded gardens

If you're seeking tranquillity with a touch of history, take a tour of one London’s famous cemeteries and pay homage to Karl Marx and Marc Bolan. There are many other peaceful places in London, from ancient temples to secluded gardens. of London's peaceful cemeteries. Find some inspiration on the Visit London website.

Tree trails

London’s urban forest contains around 8 million trees (that’s one for every Londoner) and cover’s 20% of the capital.

Visit the many nature and tree trails and forest explorations all around the city:

  • London's Tree Trails - see if there's a 'Tree Trail' near you and download TiCL App (Android and Apple devices), with this web map of more than 70 of London's TiCL tree trails.
  • Do the walk and TreeTalk and explore London’s Urban Forest. There are 6 unique self-guided walking trails through London to explore local trees and green spaces. Trails available: Conway Hall, Holborn; Stoke Newington to Woodberry Wetlands; Haggerston, Hackney; New Cross Gate to Greenwich; Westbourne Park and Elephant and Castle. Print or download to your device and explore each trail at leisure on the Tree Talk website.
  • If you are interested in Bromley’s trees you can download the Conservation Foundation’s app including an 11 mile cycle tour of Bromley’s Yews or central London’s Elms and map of London’s Mulberries.
  • Download the pocket guide City of London Tree Trail.
  • Explore the Woodland’s Trust ancient tree trail and ID app
  • Curious about the beautiful trees of Islington? Explore them with a walking tree trail developed by Curio.
  • Explore Hainault Forest with waymarked routes on ancient trees and find out more on the Woodland Trust website.

Waterways and wetlands

London has more than 600km of waterway, with 21 tributaries within Greater London and countless smaller streams. You can either explore these on dry land or in the water. 

The Canals and River Trust have compiled of information about waterways in London and South East. Their community projects are revitalising local waterways and creating wellbeing spaces for the future. Discover great days out and brilliant ways to walk, run, cycle, boat, paddlefish or even volunteer your way to a happier, healthier life.

London Wetlands Centre

Described as an urban oasis for wildlife and people, just 10 minutes from Hammersmith. Stroll among the lakes, ponds and gardens. Kids will love the play areas. Visit their website to find out more and what events they have on.

Thames 21 is the voice for London’s waterways, working with communities to improve rivers and canals for people and wildlife. They work with local communities to improve and maintain our waterways and mobilise thousands of volunteers every year to clean and green the capital’s 400 mile network of waterways. Visit Thames 21 website to find out more. They also run London Rivers Week between June and July every year. 

Water for Wildlife  The London Wildlife Trust launched Water for Wildlife in 2016 to discover life in London's waterways and boost freshwater habitats. They are looking for volunteers to help us survey rivers, streams, canals, reservoirs and ponds across London, looking for the creatures that call them home. Find out more on the LWT website and there are many water events during National Park City Week.

Visit London have compiled a great range of waters and rivers to visit in London. Visit their website to find out more.

Lea River Park – you can explore some of east London’s hidden gems on their new riverside walking and cycling route. Visit their website to find out more. 

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