An insider’s guide to a green weekend in London

This article is part of a Guide to London by FT Globetrotter

From the top of Primrose Hill in north London, you can look out over the swathes of trees that dot the cityscape to St Paul’s Cathedral and the Palace of Westminster. One of 13 protected vistas in London, this visual corridor shows that there is a surprising amount of green space for a city of nearly nine million people. More than 35,000 hectares of parks, gardens and woodland cover almost 40 percent of the British capital and are home to around 8 million trees and 14,000 species of plants and animals.

Thanks to London’s growing network of footpaths, cycle lanes and public transport, it’s relatively easy to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature in these green oases, but taking an eco-friendly break in the capital can be much more than that. These days, being eco-friendly isn’t about hugging trees or staying in expensive eco-hotels in remote places — it can also apply to a city break.

Geese in the Walthamstow Wetlands of east London, Europe’s largest urban wetland reserve © Clive Helm/Alamy

As local authorities work towards net zero, the domino effect of low-carbon policies is paving the way for eco-conscious visitors. Regenerative wetlands and associated green spaces help manage stormwater, air quality, and improve biodiversity, but also provide beautiful green havens.

The circular economy is booming in London. Innovative high street companies avoid waste and pollution by using materials that can be reused, recycled or composted. restaurants turn excess food into delicious dishes; Grocery markets sell novel jams and chutneys made from wobbly fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be discarded. Fashion stores repair, use and refine clothing, while transportation facilities such as bike rentals and carpooling encourage the concept of sharing rather than owning. Many hotels, restaurants, visitor attractions and other points of interest are also doing extensive sustainability work, installing low-carbon technologies to reduce their footprint to a minimum.

Here are some suggestions for an environmentally conscious city break in London.

Saturday

A bed in a room at the Inhabit Queen's Gardens hotel, with a piece of art on the wall behind it

Rooms at Hotel Inhabit Queen’s Gardens feature furniture and products from social enterprises © Jack Hobhouse

A plate of Yeo Benedict at the restaurant at Inhabit Queen's Gardens - smoked salmon and poached egg on a chia and oat English muffin, topped with vegan cashew hollandaise sauce.

Bayswater Hotel’s restaurant is operated by North Devon Health Retreat Yeotown. Breakfast could include Yeo Benedict: smoked salmon and poached egg on an English chia oat muffin, topped with vegan cashew hollandaise sauce © Ryan & Robert

Wake up in the city’s trendiest new green hotel at Inhabit Queen’s Gardens in Bayswater, just a few minutes’ walk from Paddington Train Station. It’s as socially conscious as it is environmentally sensitive: the meat-free kitchen is run by Yeotown (North Devon’s haven for a healthy lifestyle), the minibar is stocked by Social Supermarket, and the rooms are packed with nature-inspired hands-on artwork, including ceramics and a range of home textiles from dozens of social enterprises.

A memorial cross with a sculpture of an angel in Abney Park Cemetery, London

Abney Park is one of the garden cemeteries of the Magnificent Seven in London © Nathaniel Noir/Alamy

Start the day with an al fresco swim at one of London’s art deco or open water swimming spots (the closest is the Serpentine in Hyde Park, just a five-minute bike ride from Inhabit), then return for a cold-pressed juice to the hotel packed with nutrients and a well-deserved “Bowl of Goodness”. I recommend the Yeo Benedict: smoked salmon and poached egg (or tofu) on an English muffin with chia and oats, served with a vegan cashew hollandaise sauce.

Visitors at tables under trees at Dalston Curve Garden

Dalston Curve Garden is a communal green space on the site of a former railway line in East London © Alamy Stock Photo

A woman's hands shelling peas onto a plate at Towpath Cafe.  On the table are plates with dishes that the cafe offers

Walk down from Dalston Curve Garden to Regent’s Canal and enjoy no-frills, seasonal fare at Towpath Café © Joe Woodhouse

Spend the day making the most of the new Elizabeth Line service, linking Paddington to East London in under 15 minutes. Get off at Liverpool Street and take the Overground just past Stoke Newington; From the station it is only 200m to Abney Park, one of the garden cemeteries of London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ and also a nature reserve with vibrant forest life.

From here, it’s just a short bus hop to Dalston Curve Garden, a free-to-access community garden created along the old Eastern Curve railway line. Head to Towpath Cafe (near Whitmore Bridge on Regent’s Canal) for lunch for no-frills, seasonal dishes like garlic confit, goat’s curd and toast, or beetroot, rainbow chard, braised lentils, anchovies and soft-boiled eggs.

In the afternoon, catch a matinee performance at Dalston’s solar-powered Arcola Theatre, considered one of the great success stories of British theatre. It champions diversity and aspires to become the world’s first carbon neutral theater.

Customers at tables in the roof garden of The Culpeper Pub in east London

The Culpeper’s roof garden, where the Whitechapel pub/restaurant grows as much of its produce as possible © Marco Kesseler

Charlotte potatoes with seaweed and caramelized cream at Silo, a zero-waste restaurant in east London

Charlotte potatoes with seaweed and caramelized cream at Silo, a zero-waste restaurant in east London

For an aperitif with a view, head to the delightful third-floor roof garden at The Culpeper (near Aldgate East tube station), whose wines come from small artisan producers who work sustainably, organically and biodynamically, and where the garnish in your hand cocktails or mocktails are likely to be plucked from the garden where you are sitting. You can also eat here; Otherwise, go to Liverpool Street, which is just one stop from Stratford. Here you can walk through the Olympic Park (I recommend a detour via the animal-rich wetlands along the Lea River) to the renowned fine-dining zero-waste restaurant Silo.

Either walk back through Olympic Park to Stratford (or take the tube from Hackney Wick) to take the tube back to Inhabit Queen’s Gardens and stop for a nightcap in Victorian splendor at The Cleveland Arms on Chilworth Street, a cozy oak paneled pub in a beautifully restored Grade I listed building around the corner from the hotel.

Sunday

Willow trees sway above the Regent's Canal, with narrow gauge boats dotted along its sides
Start your Sunday with a walk or bike ride along Regent’s Canal © Lecart Photos/Alamy

The next day is all about the canals. They’re my favorite way to explore London on foot or by bike because they’re traffic-free and, since they were originally used as thoroughfares, criss-cross some of the most historic parts of the city. You can find one of the most scenic towpaths in Little Venice (where the Grand Union Canal meets Regents Canal) and walk or cycle just over 2 miles along Regent’s Canal, past Regent’s Park and London Zoo to Camden Lock . The route is part of the second leg of the Jubilee Greenway Walking Route, which connects all major 2012 Olympic Games sites (look for the Jubilee Greenway discs on the sidewalk along the route).

Visitors to Camden's Buck Street Market, which is made up of brightly painted former shipping containers

Camden’s Buck Street Market caters to the ‘conscious consumer’

Smoked flatbread with baba ganoush, falafel, chickpeas and sesame make up Bad Vegan at Buck Street Market, Camden, London, UK

The market’s sustainable food offerings include smoked flatbread with baba ganoush, falafel, chickpeas and sesame at Bad Vegan © Nathaniel Noir/Alamy (2)

There are countless places in Camden Lock for a coffee or lunch at Buck Street Market, where sustainable food brands (all of which have vegan or vegetarian options) are housed in colorful recycled shipping containers for the conscious consumer. There are also a variety of ethical fashion and retail outlets. If you want to walk further along the canal before lunch, head along Section 3 of the Jubilee Greenway to Angel, home of The Duke of Cambridge, Britain’s first organic pub, certified by the Soil Association in 1998. It’s a quiet oasis off the busy High Street, serving seasonal dishes and a selection of draft beers.

Finally, walking back along the canal, stop at Primrose Hill in the late afternoon, climb to the top for that magnificent view of the capital and watch the sunset on your green weekend.

Richard Hammond is a journalist and author of The Green Travelera guide to sustainable travel, responsible planning and conscious adventure

Do you have any tips for a green weekend in London? Share them in the comments

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