An Insider’s Guide to a Green Weekend in London
This article is part of a guide to london by FT Globetrotter
The top Primrose Hill in north London you can see as far as St Paul’s Cathedral and the Palace of Westminster, through the strips of trees that permeate the cityscape. One of 13 protected viewpoints of London, this visual corridor shows that, for a city that is home to almost nine million people, there is a surprising amount of green space. Over 35,000 acres of parks, gardens and woodland cover almost 40% of the UK capital, home to around 8 million trees and 14,000 types of plants and animals.
Enjoying the sights and sounds of nature in these green havens is relatively easy thanks to London’s growing network of footbridges, cycle paths and public transport, but taking an eco-break in the capital can be so much more than that. These days, going green isn’t about cuddling trees or staying in expensive eco-hotels in remote locations — it can apply to a city break, too.
As local authorities strive to achieve net zero emissions, the ripple effect of low-carbon policies is paving the way for environmentally conscious visitors. Regenerative wetlands and connected green spaces help manage stormwater, air quality and improve biodiversity, but also provide beautiful green sanctuaries.
In London, the circular economy is booming. Innovative Main Street businesses eliminate waste and pollution by using materials that can be reused, recycled or composted. Restaurants transform surplus food into delicious dishes; food markets are selling new jams and chutneys made from wonky fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be thrown away. Fashion stores repair, reuse and refurbish clothes, while means of transport such as bike rental and carpooling promote the concept of sharing rather than owning. Many hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions and other places of interest are also doing significant work on sustainability, installing low-carbon technologies to minimize their footprint.
Here are some suggestions for enjoying an eco-responsible city break in London.
Wake up to the hippest new green hotel in town at Living in the Queen’s Gardens at Bayswater, just a few minutes walk from Paddington Station. It’s as socially responsible as it is ecologically sensitive: the meatless kitchen is managed by Yotown (the healthy lifestyle retreat in North Devon) the minibar is stocked by social supermarketand rooms are filled with nature-inspired artwork, tactile ceramics, and an array of soft furnishings from dozens of social enterprises.
Start the day with an open-air swim at one of London’s Art Deco or open-water bathing spots (the nearest is the Serpentine in Hyde Park, just a five-minute bike ride from Inhabit), then return to the hotel for a cold-pressed juice packed with nutrients and a well-deserved “bowl of goodness.” I recommend the Yeo Benedict: smoked salmon and egg (or tofu) poached on a chia and oatmeal English muffin, with a vegan cashew Hollandaise sauce.
Spend the day making the most of the new Elizabeth Line connection which connects Paddington to East London in less than 15 minutes. Get off at Liverpool Street and take the short skytrain ride to Stoke Newington; from the station, it is only 200m to Abney Parkone of London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ garden cemeteries and also a nature reserve, buzzing with life in the woods.
From there it’s a short hop on the bus to Dalston Curve Garden, an open-access community garden built on the former Eastern Curve railway line. For lunch, go to Towpath coffee (near Whitmore Bridge over the Regent’s Canal) for simple, seasonal dishes such as candied wet garlic, goat curd and toast or beets, rainbow chard, braised lentils, anchovies and soft-boiled egg.
In the afternoon, watch a matinee performance at Dalston Solar Power Park Arcole Theater, which has the reputation of being one of the great success stories of British theatre. It champions diversity and aims to become the first carbon-neutral theater in the world.
For an aperitif with a view, head to the splendid third-floor rooftop garden at The Culpeper (near Aldgate East tube station), whose wines come from small artisanal producers who work in a sustainable, organic and biodynamic way, and where the garnish for your cocktail or mocktail is likely to be picked from the very garden where you are sitting. You can also eat here; Alternatively, head to Liverpool Street, from where there is only one stop to Stratford. Here you can browse the Olympic Park (I recommend a detour through the wildlife rich wetlands along the River Lea) to the famous zero waste gourmet restaurant Silo.
Walk back through Olympic Park to Stratford (or take the tube from Hackney Wick) to take the tube back to Inhabit Queen’s Gardens, stopping for a nightcap in Victorian grandeur at Cleveland’s Arms on Chilworth Streeta cozy oak paneled pub in a beautifully restored listed building around the corner from the hotel.
The next day, everything revolves around the canals. It’s my favorite way to explore London on foot or by bike as they’re traffic-free and, as they were originally used as transport arteries, they permeate some of the most historic parts of the city. You can reach one of the canal’s most scenic towpaths at Little Venice (where Grand Union Canal joins Regents Canal) and walk or cycle some more two miles along Regent’s Canal, skirting Regent’s Park and London Zoo to Camden Lock. The course is part of Jubilee Greenway Section Two walking route that connects all the major venues of the 2012 Olympic Games (keep an eye out for Jubilee Greenway discs in the sidewalk strewn along the road).
At Camden Lock there are a number of places to grab a coffee or have lunch at Buck Street Market, where sustainable food brands (all of which have vegan or vegetarian options) aimed at the conscious consumer are housed in brightly colored recycled shipping containers. Additionally, there are a variety of ethical fashion and retail traders. If you want to continue further along the canal before lunch, continue Jubilee Greenway Section Three to Angel, the home of The Duke of CambridgeBritain’s first organic pub, certified by the Soil Association in 1998. It’s a quiet oasis away from the busy high street, serving seasonal food and a range of cask ales.
Finally, returning along the canal, stop in the late afternoon at Primrose Hill, climb to the top to enjoy this magnificent view of the capital and watch the sun go down during your green weekend.
Richard Hammond is a journalist and author of The green travelera guide to sustainable travel, responsible planning and conscious adventure
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