I’ve always maintained that one of the best ways to see a city is on foot. It might take you longer, but you soak up a lot more atmosphere and see a lot of things you’d miss if you were travelling on the road or by train. In cities like London with an underground network, this is especially true because you miss the journey there.
Last week we had a bit of a mini heat wave, so I took the opportunity to take one of my favourite walks in the capital, which I have laid out below for you to follow if you’d like to see it for yourself. It is not a walk to take if you want to see the major tourist attractions like Trafalgar Square and Big Ben, but – in my opinion – you will see some of London’s most beautiful areas and the unique personality of the “real” city that you won’t see elsewhere.
The walk can easily be completed in two hours, but may take longer if you wish to divert or stop along the way.
Before you start:
If you’re staying in a holiday rental you can visit the supermarket the day before and pack yourself a picnic to enjoy in the park. If you want to eat out you’ll find plenty of choice at the end of your walk. Definitely bring a bottle of water and some snacks for everyone in your party. I would also bring sunglasses and sun cream – or an umbrella depending on the weather (mental note: If you’re doing this walk from spring – summer, you might need all of these things in one day)!
Start – London Kings Cross St Pancras:
This is a good place to start. It’s a well-connected station served by mainline trains, the Tube network and the Eurostar. For a train station it’s also very nice to have a wander through. It was redeveloped a few years ago and is now a beautiful mix of original Victorian red brick and modernist glass and steel. It’s probably the only train station I can think of in London that has also managed to pull off being a high-class shopping mall as well. You can find a lot of the UK’s trendiest chains here including Joules, Oliver Bonas and Links. There are also a lot of trendy places to eat, even a branch of Fortnum and Mason and Searcy’s Champagne Bar if you want to splash out. Not a bad place to grab a quick coffee in, if you have time.
Stop 1 – St Pancras Road:
Leave the station by the top gate and you’ll find yourself on Euston Road. Turn right and continue up Euston road for about ten minutes. On your way you will pass a lot of really interesting neo-classical buildings. My favourites include the British Library and imposing Church of St Pancras. At this point you’re just on the edge of the famous Bloomsbury area, where you can find The British Museum which is built in the same style (but that’s for another day). After about ten minutes you’ll come to the gates of Regent’s Park.
Stop 2 – Regent’s Park:
What surprises a lot of visitors to London is that despite being a mega city, London is also one of the greenest cities in Europe. I think Regent’s Park is the best example: parts of it are beautifully landscaped with ornamental flowerbeds and fountains; other areas are simply left green. As you walk through, it’s quite hard to believe that you’re in the inner city. We chose one of these areas to sit down in and enjoy our picnic, as well as soak up a rare bit of sunshine.
There is an open-air theatre here which usually has a range of shows each season, including musicals, dramas and family-friendly shows. And of course there’s London Zoo, which is really worth a day trip in itself. If you have children they will love the habitats where you can get up close and personal to the animals (such as Rainforest Life and Meet the Monkeys) and live demonstrations. If you’re travelling with adults in July or August I would recommend Zoo Lates, when the zoo stays open into the evening and there are open-air bars, a food market, live entertainment – and a lot of adults acting like excited children on a school trip.
If you’re not going to the zoo you can take a walk around it and take a free peek at some of the animals. Without going in I have seen giraffes, llamas, penguins and exotic birds on previous walks.
Pass London Zoo and you will come to a bridge over the canal, linking the park to Regent’s Park Road. If you continue forward you will go to the Primrose Hill part of the park. Instead, you want to turn right and walk down a slope to reach the canal path (you want to walk in the direction of the large red Chinese style building, not away from it).
Stop 3 – The Regent’s Canal:
This part of the walk will take across you a short stretch of Regent’s Canal. Down here by the water it’s a different world, sunken, peaceful and dreamy. There are plenty of nice surprises to spot along the way, from the house boats that line the water’s edge, to the life-size model cow standing on the balcony of a smart townhouse. The whole length of Regent’s Canal is actually 8.6 miles, and it’s well worth walking in its entirety if you have a whole day to spare. This stretch of the canal is less than a mile so it’s a bit less strenuous. You will pass The Pirate Castle (actually a water-based activity centre, but really does look like a castle) and reach Camden Lock.
Stop 4 – Camden Lock:
As well as being a real working lock for the canal, Camden Lock is also a vibrant meeting spot and the centre of what you might call “alternative London”, home to music venues like The Roundhouse and The Barfly.
Stay on the same side of the river to explore Camden Lock Market. The Camden Town area actually has three markets (Camden Road Market, Camden Lock Market and Stables Market). Whilst they’re interesting to wonder around they’re probably more for teenagers and students, so Camden Lock Market would be my first choice. On the ground floor you’ll find an international food market. We had a wander around and saw everything from burritos, to curry and paella on offer. Most of the food was available for around £5 per portion and there are plenty of places to sit.
A craft market can be found downstairs and upstairs, which is recommended if you’re looking for a unique gift to take home as a souvenir. We bought this super cute pair of mini trainers from Whoops and a gorgeous stripy babygro from Wee Clothing, two small children’s wear brands, for some friends who just had a baby boy. How sweet!
Stop 5 – Gilgamesh:
After all that walking we thought we’d earned ourselves a nice sit down and a drink. There are plenty of noteworthy bars and restaurants in the area including Shaka Zulu, Proud Camden and The Cuban. I’ve noticed Gilgamesh Bar and Restaurant at the edge of Stables Market before and I’ve always been intrigued by it, so decided to give it a try. Nothing could have prepared me for what was inside. You sort of have to see it to believe it. The interior has an ancient Babylonian theme and almost all the walls are covered with stunning replica reliefs and statues. I’m a bit of a sucker for anything ‘ancient-world’ so was pleasantly surprised.
The menu is Pan-Asian. We didn’t have anything to eat as it was too soon after our picnic – but it looked very tempting. Instead we ordered some very snazzy looking cocktails which tasted as good as they looked.
End – Chalk Farm Tube Station
We were very happy as we made our way up to Chalk Farm Tube Station. If you’re not in the mood for sightseeing in London, I can’t recommend enough just going for a walk and seeing where you end up. What I have covered above is only one small area, but as you explore you’ll be amazed by how much diversity there is in just one city.
Hana Chelache lives in West London and enjoys writing about travel, food and life in London.