If you’ve been following our blog, you’ll already have plenty of tips about our immediate neighbourhood, from eccentric shops to late-night bars. But with Waterloo, Charing Cross and the river on our doorstep, we’re well-placed for day trips further afield too.
Though part of the town centre’s waterfront has fallen foul of identikit, chain retail regeneration – hello Frankie & Benny’s, Zizzi et al – there’s still plenty to love in this green, historic outpost of London. The National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory are genuinely superb cultural attractions, the huge park has wonderful views down to the Thames, and the cluster of independent boutiques and stalls around the market help the shopping experience retain a bit of edge. London brewery Meantime is also here, offering a range of pre-bookable tours.
If you’re feeling energetic it’s possible to walk there down the north bank and cross at the Thames tunnel – leave several hours, and take a break in one of the riverside pubs around Wapping and Limehouse. For a more relaxing journey, take the Thames Clipper, which departs from Embankment pier and takes Oyster cards, or jump on a direct train from Charing Cross – they depart every half an hour.
London’s gorgeous botanical gardens are always a treat, but going by boat adds to the experience. Boarding at Westminster Pier (one stop from Embankment on the Circle and District line), you’ll float past several riverside landmarks including the Houses of Parliament, the disused Lots Road Power Station and Chelsea’s Royal Hospital, and see the city centre slowly give way to green suburbs.
At the gardens themselves, the huge Victorian Palm House, built in 1854, still has the power to impress, and the Princess of Wales Conservatory offers a whistle-stop tour of ten climatic zones, from arid desert peppered with aloes and cacti to a dripping, verdant rainforest.
The smaller outdoor gardens are wonderful too – we love the Mediterranean garden, perfumed by pine, lavender and cypress, and the elegant, precise displays around the Japanese Gate. For something a bit less sedate, test your nerves on the 18m-high skywalk.
If you don’t have the time to do it by boat, there are regular direct trains from Waterloo to Kew Bridge station, just a few minutes’ walk from the gardens.
Are we really suggesting a trip to Bermondsey? Yes, we are. Not traditionally a tourist hotspot, the half-residential-half-industrial neighbourhood a mile or so south of the Thames has lately become a Mecca for craft beer lovers. A cluster of excellent young breweries open their doors on Saturdays, creating one of London’s least picturesque but most rewarding pub crawls. The star of the route is arguably trailblazer Kernel, the first to open in the area and justly celebrated for its hoppy US-style fare – but Partizan, Anspach & Hobday and Brew By Numbers all have wide ranges and a readiness to experiment, while Bullfinch and Fourpure do solid takes on a couple of classic styles. You’ll need some grub, so take a pit stop at the Ropewalk street food market, one of London’s best-kept culinary secrets.
To get there, take the Number 1 bus from Aldwych towards Canada Water, getting off at Beamish House in Bermondsey. Fourpure Brewing, the first stop on the crawl, is just around the corner.
You don’t have to head into the countryside to see a stately home – one of the country’s best is right here on the fringe of London, and it’s a great day out for history buffs, families and garden fans (its grounds may not quite equal Kew, but they’re pretty spectacular).
Hampton Court will be forever associated with the larger-than-life Henry VIII, who took it from original owner Cardinal Wolsey and set about enlarging it, adding tennis courts, bowling alleys and huge kitchens; some 150 years later King William III added several new buildings and extended and landscaped the gardens. The palace reflects two very different periods of British history, bringing them to life for younger visitors with games, storytelling and reenactments.
Essential sights include the famous maze, the ‘Real Tennis’ court (a rather complex-looking predecessor of modern tennis) and those enormous kitchens, which occasionally host live Tudor and Georgian cooking events.
Riverboat services are available from Westminster Pier, and direct trains to Hampton Court station (around five minutes’ walk from the palace) run every half an hour from Waterloo.