Inside outside. For a city regularly battered by inclement weather, London grasped the knack of managing the outdoors — and expectations — long ago. From the mad dash indoors as the heavens open, to honorable attempts to salvage possessions cast wayward by unruly wind, enduring and adapting to the joys of a temperate oceanic climate has always been a defining quality of a true Londoner.
Fortunately, this mighty metropolis delivers. For amidst an ever-rising skyline and the tangle of glass and steel that has come to define most London neighbourhoods, the United Kingdom's capital presents a plethora of open, verdant spaces that are accessible in all seasons. To the west, Holland Park is home to the Kyoto Garden, a Japanese-style landscape set amidst 22-hectares of wider parkland. Here, the friendship between Japan and Great Britain is commemorated with a serene setup of tiered waterfalls, stone lanterns and Japanese maple trees, while koi carp and roaming peacocks further blur the lines between city and idyll.
In London, Ham Yard Hotel offers respite from the din of Soho with a series of diverse outdoor spaces designed by Kit Kemp. An outer courtyard is a great spot from which to people watch and observe all the popular boutique hotel’s comings and goings. A few stories up, a rooftop terrace brings panoramic views together with a large, leafy garden that is home to the hotel’s very own vegetable garden and honey-producing beehives. For a fully immersive plunge into London nature however, the Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds are unbeatable. The reserve of the truly steely, a dip in any of the three ponds is a testament of will, stamina and grit. It’s a reasonable price to pay for the elusive sense of peace that comes with being fully submerged in water alongside the Heath’s ducks, with the sound of birdsong in the distance and wild foliage above. Or so we’re told.
In a wholly different setting but embodying the same undercurrent of tranquility is Highgate Cemetery, a Grade I listed landmark which dates to the 19th century and is spread across 15 hectares. The burial site of the likes of artists Patrick Caulfield and Lucien Freud, novelist George Eliot and, perhaps most famously, philosopher Karl Marx, the cemetery is engulfed by shrubbery and wildflowers and its gothic style catacombs, tombs and vaults can be explored via a guided tour. Concrete lovers will find further solace eastwards at the famed Barbican Estate in the City of London where one of the capital’s best examples of Brutalism is also home to a hidden tropical oasis. While the not technically outside, the Barbican Conservatory is home to 1,500 species of plants and trees, three pools filled with koi, ghost, and grass carp, and a swell of international flora, all of which combine to recreate a reasonably authentic likeness of the outdoors.
Even further into East London, the 2012 Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park conjures memories of what now feels like a different era. Threading through Stratford and Hackney Wick are an endless stream of parklands, waterways and playgrounds alongside former Olympic and Paralympic venues, which continue to host events and accommodate both training athletes and amateurs.
It’s a swell way to work up an appetite and the nearby Towpath café on the Regent's Canal delights with delicious food served outside, come rain or shine. Founded and run by American food writer Lori De Mori and chef Laura Jackson in 2010, the tiny café dishes up crowd-pleasing gems like crispy roast chicken and a famed grilled cheese — hearty, robust fare designed to warm and comfort amidst spiteful temperatures. Other highlights here include The Line, a self-led public art walk that connects three boroughs (Newham, Tower Hamlets and Greenwich) and follows the Prime Meridian Line. Along the route, expect to encounter nature, heritage, and open-air sculpture and installations from artists that include Eva Rothschild, Larry Achiampong, Anish Kapoor and Joanna Rajkowska.
Priya Ahluwalia – Priya Ahluwalia translates her dual Indian-Nigerian heritage and London roots into Ahluwalia, a menswear brand that incorporates responsible manufacturing techniques and dead stock upcycling.
Yinka Ilori – Bold and brazen, artist Yinka Ilori’s work includes architecture, sculpture and furniture, and integrates the West African fabrics he grew up around.
Adejoké ‘Joké’ Bakare – A onetime amateur cook, Adejoké ‘Joké’ Bakare now helms Chishuru, a Brixton Village restaurant serving dishes made with British and West African produce. Image credits: Amelia Jefferies.
Despite its size, London is a walkable city. In the spirit of exploration and pavement pounding, journey south of the river to Bermondsey’s Maltby Street Market, not far from the more-touristed Borough Market. Whatever the conditions, this open-air weekend market features multiple rotating guest spots and arch-filling concessions in a colorful presentation of fresh produce and world food. In the same postcode the South Bank offers walking routes along the river and al fresco dining against a backdrop of world-class arts venues like the Brutalist Southbank Centre, and city landmarks like Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tate Modern, and the London Eye.
Set in a residential enclave regularly omitted from city guides, Camberwell’s South London Gallery is a hub of activity, both indoors and outside. Alongside two buildings which host contemporary exhibitions, the gallery also features two permanent gardens. The Orozco Garden, created by international artist Gabriel Orozco, is an exemplary demonstration of how art can serve and unite local communities thanks to a planted walkway that provides direct gallery access for residents of a nearby housing estate. The Fox Garden offers a more subdued mood, and blooms with a woodland scheme of hellebores, Japanese anemones and foxgloves that is bordered by the walls of the gallery’s original exhibition space.
And to conclude, what better way to experience London outdoors than with a visit to the ubiquitous English pub? Outfitted with a beer garden and a fire pit, Brixton’s Trinity Arms is a peaceful retreat from the bustle of this South London neighborhood. Settle in with pint and marvel at how, despite conditions or circumstance; indoors or outdoors, London is always open.
Words Ella Marshall Date 03 February 2021
For a city that refuses to be neatly boxed in, London offers up its leafy lungs for a leisurely wander or its ever-changing art scene for a kinetic amble with our detailed walking guide. Click below and off you go.
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