7 of the Best Outdoor Activities London Has to Offer

Long known for its museums, theatres and nightlife, London also plays host to a plethora of outdoor activities within its many parks, riverside paths and even nature reserves.

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It may come as a surprise to discover all the outdoor activities London has to offer. The city’s reputation as a rainy locale may make you think a trip to London is best planned around things to do indoors. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the city features a vast array of parks and gardens, riverside paths, walking tours, outdoor sports and nature reserves that can be enjoyed rain or shine. In addition to exploring the exceptional array of renowned museums, vibrant restaurants and countless historical sites in the capital, we’ve put together an itinerary of the best outdoor attractions and activities London has to offer. Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventures for adults or for families, London is appropriate for outdoorsy people of all ages.

Best Outdoor Activities for Cultural Aficionados

Step into historic London

London was established as a city during the Roman times, and its 2,000-year history means that remnants of the past exist around every turn. The most popular outdoor activity for visitors is exploring historic London, and the best spot to begin is the 11th-century Tower of London. This formidable fortress on the banks of the River Thames has been used as a palace, a prison, a mint and even a zoo throughout its thousand-year history. Another excellent option for outdoor activities central London offers is Westminster. It’s here that some of the capital’s most famous sights are found, including Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and the famed Changing the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace. The Westminster area is relatively compact, and walking among the many landmarks is among the most popular of all outdoor activities in London. End the day with afternoon tea at The Savoy, a historic hotel dating from 1889.

Stroll through London on a walking tour

No matter what your area of interest is, you can bet there’s a walking tour in London to suit it. Fascinated by engineering? The London Transport Museum provides a Secrets of Central London walking tour through the hidden streets and alleys in Covent Garden and Victoria Embankment to explore the architectural changes necessary to accommodate 200 years of public transport. If you’re a fan of true crime, book your tickets for the eerie Jack the Ripper Tour, which leads you through the spooky streets of Whitechapel in east London, where the infamous criminal famously murdered eleven women in the 19th century. Literature lovers will revel in The Sherlock Holmes Mystery Trail walking tour, which explores the many locations featured in literary and screen adaptations of the famed detective novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There are also Historical Pub Walking Tours, Street Art Walking Tours and a huge variety of Food Walking Tours, all of which are great outdoor group activities.

"Aesthetically, London is just beautiful; it’s a gorgeous city. The architecture, monuments, the parks, the small streets – it’s an incredible place to be." – Sara Bareilles

Best Outdoor Activities for Nature Lovers

These outdoor family activities in London are a walk on the wild side

It comes as a surprise to some that London has an array of nature reserves within its borders, accessible via just a short tube ride from central London. Wildlife enthusiasts will revel in the outdoor nature activities London provides. Perhaps the best place to view native flora and fauna is at the largest of these nature preserves, Richmond Park. Once a former royal hunting ground and now a National Nature Reserve, the 2,500-acre park in the west of London is renowned for deer herds, sweeping grasslands and ancient trees. Other notable nature reserves include Camley Street Natural Park, Bethnal Green Nature Reserve, and Walthamstow Wetlands, Europe’s largest urban wetland reserve. If it’s more exotic wildlife you’re eager to see, head to London Zoo in The Regent’s Park. This 200-year-old zoo makes for an excellent outdoor family activity in London, with its collection of over 16,000 animals from 750 different species. Its easy accessibility also makes the zoo great for adults with disabilities.

London is good for outdoorsy people of all ages.

Go green in the capital’s many parks and gardens

It may surprise you to learn that although London’s population is well over 9 million people, there are still a wide array of parks and gardens dotted amid the urban landscape. Pack a picnic and take your pick from one of London's splendid parks: Hyde Park is the largest and most famous park in central London. While it was once a prized hunting ground for Henry VIII, it is now beloved for its boating lake, rose garden and a large number of fountains, statues, and memorials, including The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk. It's also a popular spot for outdoor evening activities in the heat of summer. Other famed outdoor greenspace options include Kensington Gardens, once the private royal gardens of Kensington Palace, but now open to the public and renowned for its splendid landscape architecture; Kew Gardens, a UNESCO Heritage Site that’s home to a variety of botanic collections containing over 50,000 plants; and Hampstead Heath for fun outdoor activities such as swimming and bird-watching in north London.

"The parks be the lungs of London." – Charles Dickens

Best Outdoor Activities for Sports Fans

Peruse the city by cycle

A great and perhaps underrated outdoor activity to experience in London is cycling. While London features a network of Cycleways, dedicated cycle routes used to quickly access destinations throughout the city, there are also many scenic bike routes perfect for a low-key pedal for a few hours to drink in the sights. One of the busiest is the Thames Path National Trail, a 185-mile (298 km) walking and cycling path that follows the river from its source in the Cotswolds, through the city centre all the way to Woolwich in east London, a few miles from the sea. Another excellent cycling option is Lee Valley Park, which offers cycling enthusiasts a variety of beautiful paths throughout the 26-mile (42 km) park. Don’t miss the Santander Cycles rentals, an app-based rental service with bikes available at 800 docking stations throughout the city.

London offers many scenic bike routes perfect for a low-key pedal.

Dive into one of London’s many water-based activities

Boating is a popular activity London is famous for, with many canal boats, river cruises and serene boating lakes to choose from. With the meandering River Thames flowing directly through the centre of London, it’s no wonder that there are a huge variety of sightseeing, dinner, afternoon tea or speedboat cruises along the Thames, all offering excellent views of the city’s main landmarks along the riverbank. Hop on a narrowboat in west London’s charming Little Venice area, where the Grand Union Canal and Regent’s Canal converge in an area housing quaint cafes and picturesque homes. Seasonal pedal boat rentals are also available in the boating ponds at The Regent’s Park and Hyde Park. Tired after all that paddling? Mercure London Hyde Park Hotel is less than 10 minutes away on foot.

"The Thames is no ordinary waterway, it is the golden thread of our nation’s history." – Winston Churchill

Explore the many outdoor sport and fitness opportunities

From football pitches to tennis courts, and horseback riding to wild swimming, London has an activity for every sport and fitness enthusiast. The most outdoor-sport-friendly spot has got to be the sprawling expanse of Hyde Park. Set in the heart of London, Hyde Park is an outdoor-lover’s dream with its football pitches, tennis and padel courts, and bowling greens, plus two horse-riding arenas, an outdoor gym, a boating lake and a seasonal lido for wild swimming. Fans of outdoor swimming will love Hampstead Heath, which features a heated outdoor pool open 365 days a year, plus three natural bathing ponds that include separate ponds for men and women.

Whether you choose to incorporate a refreshing river cruise, a vigorous cycle or a storied walking tour into the outdoor activities of your London itinerary, chances are you’ll experience the UK capital in a whole new way. If all that fresh air and exercise has worn you out, check out our hotels set near many of London’s most popular outdoor activities.

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