There is a wealth of fantastic hiking near London. England’s capital city may be a bustling metropolis of global importance, yet the countryside around it is absolutely gorgeous. From trails exploring the spectacular south coast to footpaths that take you onto the hills to reveal some of the south east’s most cherished viewpoints, London’s surroundings are excellent rambling territory.
It’s no wonder hiking near London is so sublime, as the capital is surrounded by designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There’s the wooded splendour of the Chiltern Hills, the wild and windswept High Weald, the picturesque Surrey Hills, the colourful Kent Downs and the historic North Wessex Downs. And last but not least, let’s not forget that the south east is home to the wonderful South Downs National Park.
Accessing these designated beauty spots from the capital is easier than you might think. We’ve put together five day hikes and one little-known long-distance trail for you to get your best hiking boots stuck into. The best thing is, all of them can be accessed by train from the centre of London.
As well as glorious scenery, hiking near London is characterised by fascinating history and superb wildlife, it’s definitely worth packing your binoculars. At Leith Hill, you can wander the trails that were once trodden by Charles Darwin and Ralph Vaughan Williams – keeping your ears out for the song of skylarks. You can follow the ancient Ridgeway, the nation’s oldest trail, as you explore the colourful Chiltern Hills. On the commons between Haslemere and Liphook, you can spot all of England’s resident snake species. So, what are you waiting for?
Hiking near London: the Seven Sisters
The South Downs Way long-distance footpath reaches its climax at the iconic Seven Sisters cliffs by Eastbourne. This wonderful coastal walk takes advantage of the trail, taking you from the traditional seaside town of Seaford to vibrant Eastbourne via the famous cliffs and Beachy Head, Britain’s highest chalk cliff. It can get a bit windy up there, so it’s worth packing your down jacket.
Along the way you discover the scenic River Cuckmere as it ends its meandering journey; sweeping sea views from the cliffs; beautiful beaches with fossil hunting opportunities; picturesque lighthouses, perfect foreground interest for your photos; and a number of superb eateries once you reach Eastbourne. Both Seaford and Eastbourne are within a two hour train journey from London Victoria.
Hiking near London: following the Ridgeway
Hiking near London doesn't get much better than this undulating journey across the northwest facing escarpment of the Chiltern Hills, following the ancient Ridgeway trail between Princes Risborough and Wendover. It’s a walk characterised by lovely viewpoints and colourful surroundings, particularly in the warmer months when the wildflowers are at their best.
Perhaps the highlight of this wonderful ramble is Coombe Hill which, at 260 meters, is one of the highest points in the Chiltern Hills AONB and one of its most celebrated viewpoints. From the Boer War Memorial on the summit, you are treated to a huge vista of the Vale of Aylesbury and the distant Cotswolds are even visible on a clear day. Both Princes Risborough and Wendover are around an hour from London Marylebone.
Hiking near London: Leith Hill and Holmbury Hill
This is a delightful loop that utilizes part of the Greensand Way, a 108-mile long-distance trail that traverses the Greensand Ridge, and visits its highest point on Leith Hill. Adorned by a magnificent tower, Leith Hill is home to abundant wildlife and a fascinating history. Nearby Leith Hill Place was the home of composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, who was the grandson of Caroline Wedgwood, Charles Darwin’s sister, who lived here with her husband Josiah.
Other highlights on this gorgeous ramble include the wonderful views of the North Downs and the Weald from neighbouring Holmbury Hill and Caroline Wedgwood’s colourful Rhododendron Wood. The loop starts and finishes at Holmwood station, an hour from London Victoria.
Hiking near London: Butser Hill
At 271 meters above sea level, Butser Hill is the highest point on the chalk ridge of the South Downs and makes for a grand objective. It’s the second highest point in the national park, behind the Greensand Ridge’s Blackdown. Unsurprisingly, the panorama from the top is extensive, with the Channel and even the Isle of Wight visible on a good day. The chalk grassland of the South Downs is a delightfully springy underfoot, perfect for barefoot running shoes.
Our loop takes in the wider Queen Elizabeth Country Park, renowned for its colourful array or flora and fauna in spring and summer. The route utilises a sumptuous section of the South Downs Way on its way back to Petersfield, which is just over an hour’s train journey away from London Waterloo.
Hiking near London: the head of the Serpent
This is a linear walk that explores the opening section of the Serpent Trail, a long-distance trail that snakes through Sussex’s Greensand Hills. The name comes not just from trail’s overall S-shape, but because there’s also the opportunity to spot all three of England’s native snake species: the grass snake, the smooth snake and the adder.
The Highlight of this walk is Blackdown, the county top of Sussex and the highest point in the South Downs National Park at 280 meters. Trekking poles are handy for taking some of the strain during the ascent and descent from the hill. Unsurprisingly the views towards the South Downs ridge are excellent. Start point Haslemere and end point Liphook are around an hour away from the city, on the line between London Waterloo and Portsmouth.
Hiking near London: the New River Path
For a longer hike that takes you from the countryside into the centre of London, the New River Path is a great option. Starting in Hertfordshire’s pretty countryside, it follows the New River – an aqueduct built in 1613 to supply drinking water to the capital – to its end point at New River Head in Islington. For your own supply of H2O on the hike, take a decent water bottle along.
You also might want to split the walk over a few days, as the full trail is 28 miles in length, but it allows you to discover a whole new side to the capital. From Lee Valley’s wetlands, a Georgian mansion, beautiful parkland and interesting parts of urban North London you might not otherwise visit, it’s a varied and surprisingly green trail. You can access the start point at New Gauge from Hertford East Station, just an hour away from Liverpool Street station.
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Alex is a freelance adventure writer and mountain leader with an insatiable passion for the mountains. A Cumbrian born and bred, his native English Lake District has a special place in his heart, though he is at least equally happy in North Wales, the Scottish Highlands or the European Alps. Through his hiking, mountaineering, climbing and trail running adventures, Alex aims to inspire others to get outdoors. He is currently President of the London Mountaineering Club, training to become a winter mountain leader, looking to finally finish bagging all the Wainwright fells of the Lake District and hoping to scale more Alpine 4000ers when circumstances allow. Find out more at www.alexfoxfield.com