When you think of London, you may think of the busy bars of Soho, the street performers of Covent Garden or the suits in the city. What you may not think of is the leafy parks, quaint cafés and independent shops of London’s urban villages. If you’re craving a city break in London but don’t want to forego the countryside vibes, the likes of Wimbledon, Walthamstow and Highgate villages – just a stone’s throw away from the hustle and bustle of central London – mean you don’t have to. Here’s a taste of just some of our favourite villages in London.
With restrictions easing across England, please continue to follow government guidance and remember to plan ahead and check attraction websites before travelling. Take a look at our top tips on how to escape the everyday responsibly to see how you can make the most out of your day trips and breaks.
Apart from the eponymously named tennis grand slam tournament, well-heeled Wimbledon Village has excellent shopping and a whole lot of parkland. Easily reached by train and tube (the District Line to be precise), this southwest-London village feels worlds away from the bustle of central London. Sneak a peek at the houses, or should I say mansions, on Parkside (nicknamed Wimbledon’s Millionaires’ Row) and, if you visit during the eleven months the tennis isn’t on our screens, head to Wimbledon Common to check out the windmill. European-style café culture is embraced here, too, with many a pavement café perfect for some elevenses. If the sun refuses to make an appearance, pop into one of the many chic pubs and restaurants instead – the Dog & Fox and The Ivy Café are popular with the locals.
Before heading back into the city, pay a visit to the Buddhapadipa Temple – a Buddhist monastery covering four acres, complete with statue-filled gardens, an ornamental lake and an orchard. The temple’s Uposatha, or Shrine Hall, is filled with typical Thai mural paintings depicting the Buddha’s lifetime, while the window and door frames are gilded with gold leaf. It’s a beauty, that’s for sure.
One of the best neighbourhoods in London, this leafy conservation area is just 20 minutes on the train from London Bridge or Victoria, but has a distinct countryside feel with its traditional wooden signs and white picket fences. Relax in one of many green spaces, eye-up manicured homes and drop by the many independent shops, cafes and restaurants in both the Village and at nearby Lordship Lane in East Dulwich. Other points of interest for your Dulwich to-do list include England’s oldest art gallery, the prestigious Dulwich College, London’s last remaining tollgate (and a pretty one at that) and the Horniman Museum, with its anthropological curiosities and impressive views across London.
While away a sunny afternoon in Dulwich Park. This 72-acre suburban park is home to several gardens and a large boating lake where you can hire paddle boats. Afterwards, head to Belair House – a striking 18th-century villa that now houses the No.5 Restaurant – for some gourmet grub.
Starting life as a Saxon village, Greenwich has evolved from a shipping port to a royal playground throughout the centuries. Today, much of Greenwich’s heritage remains, with its cobbled streets, covered market and huge, hilly park. Jump on a Thames Clipper from Westminster Pier to reach this charming pocket of southeast London and honour Greenwich’s maritime history with a visit to the National Maritime Museum or the Cutty Sark – an iconic ship built in 1869 to bring tea to Britain from China. Refuel with some street food delicacies from Greenwich Market, open daily, or grab a cocktail at one of the riverside restaurants and pubs before admiring some magnificent art at The Queens House and The Painted Hall.
Hike the hills of Greenwich Park for unrivalled views across London’s metropolis – from Canary Wharf all the way along the Thames to the Shard. One of the biggest parks in London, it used to be a hunting ground for British Royals. Today, the park is protected and you can still find herds of deer roaming freely in the woodland. Be sure to stop off at the hilltop Royal Observatory to straddle the historic Prime Meridian Line that divides the eastern and western hemispheres and discover the meaning behind Greenwich Mean Time. For more village vibes, head to nearby Blackheath for fancy boutiques, cute cafes and a weekly farmers market.
While not technically a village, it’s difficult to come by a quainter or more photogenic spot in London than Little Venice. This neighbourhood sits along the Regent’s Canal and is typically filled with colourful houseboats and lined with lush foliage – adding to its scenic, secluded aura. Bordering the canal, you’ll find tons of swanky residences (some of which have had previous owners like Robbie Williams and Noel Gallagher) and pubs with al fresco dining. Starting from Camden, walk downstream to see the Regency streets of Maida Vale, then onto the enclave of upmarket West London houses next to Paddington Station. Or captain your own boat and drift along the verdant canal, passing the animals of London Zoo as you go. For celeb-spotting, take a mini excursion to St John’s Wood’s handsome high street and you might bump into the likes of Damian Lewis, Bill Nighy and Kate Moss.
Unknown to many Londoners, Little Venice is brimming with independent theatre venues. Book a candlelit table and enjoy award-winning fringe productions at the Canal Café Theatre, or hop on board the floating puppet theatre to catch a traditional Punch and Judy show. Throwback or what?
Escape traffic jams and crowded streets with a visit to the Thames-side village of Barnes. This west London pocket is so charming and laidback you wouldn’t think you’re only 30 minutes from central London. Said to have the highest proportion of independent shops in the UK, Barnes is chock-a-block with local grocers, delis and boutiques, as well as some of London’s most expensive streets. Wander around the pond at Barnes Green, the centrepiece of this beautiful village, go wildlife spotting at the London Wetland Centre or catch a flick at The Olympic Studios. This former recording studio has an important place in the music industry, having hosted stellar singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin.
You’re never far away from a great restaurant or pub in Barnes. Stop by Jamie Oliver and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s favourite haunt, Riva, for delicious Northern Italian dishes (many laced with moreish truffle), or enjoy river views and a taste of Cornwall at Rick Stein’s, set inside old stables.
Separated from Hampstead by the wonderful wilds of the Heath, hilltop Highgate is teeming with history, pubs, parks and A-list inhabitants. A stroll around this scenic neighbourhood reveals magnificent Georgian architecture and the iconic Whittington Stone statue, commemorating the spot where Dick Whittington and his cat allegedly heard the Bow Bells chime ‘turn again, Whittington, thrice Lord Mayor of London’. Take a detour through ancient Highgate Wood, an urban oasis with foliage-covered trails and an epic adventure playground for the kids, before rewarding yourself with a drink at The Gatehouse, a Tudor-style boozer formerly frequented by Charles Dickens and Lord Byron.
Highgate is also home to one of England’s most iconic burial sites, Highgate Cemetery. This Grade I-listed site, doubling up as a nature reserve, is the final resting place of numerous influential people, many honoured by extravagant gravestones and tombs. You can visit the original West Cemetery on a guided tour or wander the East at your leisure, but keep an eye out in both for some of its famous residents like Karl Marx, George Elliot and actress Jean Simmons.
Despite being so close to the City of London, Walthamstow was covered by forest until the 1770s. Today there’s less forest and more urban architecture, but its historical heritage and rustic ambience still bring a slice of country life into the city. The beating heart of Walthamstow Village is Orford Road, lined with indie eateries, delicious delis (one even specialises in beer and cheese!) and pretty Elizabethan architecture. Look out for the olde-worlde Ancient House (said to be London’s oldest house), the historic St Mary’s Church, whose graveyard has been reclaimed by nature, and the Nag’s Head Pub, famous for its jazz nights and resident cats.
Behind the photogenic façade of Orford Road, Walthamstow Village has an abundance of local breweries and bars. Make your way to Ravenswood Industrial Estate to sample freshly brewed pints on outdoor picnic tables or scout out London’s brightest, most extravagant venues, God’s Own Junkyard for a tipple in a warehouse filled with bawdy neon signs and sculptures. Or, if you fancy a bit of bird watching, Walthamstow Wetlands is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and haven for all kinds of feathered creatures.