In this season of mist and mellow fruitfulness, a long romp in the chilly air can be the perfect addition to a weekend. It's a lovely way to see a side of London we don't always appreciate while barreling from work to bar to theatre to tube. Stopping off at a pleasant pub after a couple of hours outside in the autumn murk is a thoroughly lovely way to enjoy an afternoon. Here are five of my favourite walks, all a stone's throw from the centre of town:
The park: Hampstead Heath
Alight at either Hampstead Heath/Gospel Oak (Overground) or Hampstead (Northern line) stations. If you come out at Hampstead, remember to take the lifts – it's the deepest station on the Underground and if you take the steps you'll get far more of a workout than you were bargaining for. A few moments walk from Hampstead through the picturesque idyll that is Hampstead Village will take you down to the Heath proper; from Hampstead Heath and Gospel Oak stations you are even closer. The Heath is a great place for a good long walk – if you venture in far enough you can truly forget you are in the city. Traffic noise fades out and is replaced with birdsong, squirrels scurry hither and thither, and if you like a bit of pooch-spotting, there's sure to be many NW3 dogs out on their daily constitutionals. Walk up Parliament Hill for great views across town, watch the ducks swimming on the ponds, or pop into Kenwood House for a little culture or a spot of tea.
The pub: The Freemasons Arms is a great post-walk pub – warm and welcoming with a great range of beers and cider, a tasty menu of food on offer, and comfy, squishy chairs.
The parks: Primrose Hill/Regents Park
For a lovely gentle walk, start at the bottom of Regents Park and walk up to the top of Primrose Hill or do the reverse. The best stations for reaching Regents Park are Great Portland Street (Circle, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan), Baker Street (Bakerloo, Jubilee, Circle, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan) and, funnily enough, Regents Park (Bakerloo). In Regents Park you can feed the ducks, go for a bracing ride on the pedalos, have a pitstop at the Honest Sausage, or even visit London Zoo. In Primrose Hill, walk to the top for amazing views across the city, and if you're lucky, a few celeb spots. The best station for Primrose Hill is Chalk Farm on the Northern line.
The pub: Two great pubs sit at opposite ends of these parks: The Pembroke Castle, next to the bridge between Chalk Farm and Primrose Hill, is cosy and friendly with a great range of ales and dangerously drinkable wines. It also has a great beer garden, if you chance upon some late autumn sun. The best pub on the south side of Regents Park for me is The Volunteer, just up from Baker Street. Fun and welcoming with great staff, it's equally good for a couple of pints or a Sunday roast.
The park: Hyde Park
Ah, the big daddy of the Royal Parks. Head south from Marble Arch (Central), west from Green Park (Jubilee, Victoria, Piccadilly), or start from one of the many stations dotted around the perimeter of the park for a good leg-stretch. When I did the Moonwalk charity walk a few years back, Hyde Park was a great place for training walks as it's so huge, with a decent lap around it. Enjoy the park, watch the horses going for their daily exercise on the sand lanes, marvel at the boarders and bladers, perhaps even pop into Apsley House on the south-east corner of the park to enjoy a slice of history.
The pub: After your ramble, pop along Piccadilly for a few steps to settle in at Henry's for a glass or two in comfortable, warm surroundings.
The park: Victoria Park
Victoria Park is truly the big green jewel in the crown of east London – it's a beautiful expanse, and is the City's oldest purpose-built park. There are beautiful trees and plants to watch the seasons change, fun play areas for small folks, two cafés offering delicious nibbles, and ducks on the pond with whom to share your crumbs. You can get to Victoria Park easily from Mile End (Central) or Hackney Wick (Overground).
The park: Greenwich Park
Greenwich Park is a lovely place to visit, whether you're just out for a bimble or enjoying a day out at one of the nearby attractions (the Cutty Sark & the National Maritime Museum are just around the corner). Visit the Royal Observatory and take the obligatory picture on the Greenwich meridian line, enjoy views from the hills, or check out the remains of Queen Elizabeth's Oak.
For more casual strolls around town, see our guide to London walks.