Dr. Oishimaya Sen Nag
London, a city famed for its rich and layered history and numerous cultural and historical attractions, also has some surprises for nature enthusiasts. If you are visiting this world-class destination and want to see a wilder and more naturally inclined side of London, here are eight destinations in and around the city that you must explore.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
A spectacular spread of botanical collections of over 50,000 living plants from the world over, housed in its impressive Victorian glasshouses, conservatories, and outdoor gardens, you just cannot miss visiting the Kew Gardens on your trip to London. Founded in 1759 and stocked over the centuries with plant specimens collected by researchers as they traveled across every remote corner of the globe, the Kew now holds the world’s most comprehensive plant collection, including many extremely rare and threatened species and the largest collection of orchids. Given its immense contribution to botanical research and its massive collection of plants, the Kew Gardens was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. Highlights of a visit to Kew include the Princess of Wales Conservatory, the Great Pagoda, the Palm House, the Temperate House, and the Treetop Walkway. Here you can spend your time marvelling at the unique plant specimens and impressive architecture and also acquire a great deal of knowledge about the world of plants. Also, do not miss the souvenir shop of the Kew Gardens for some lovely collections of nature-themed gifts to carry back home for friends and family.
If wildlife fascinates you, Richmond Park is the place to be. This park bursting with life, including large herds of deer, flocks of vibrant birds, and pretty wildflowers, offers one of the best outdoor experiences to London visitors. Trails through Richmond Park take you through scenic settings of open grasslands, rolling hills, and lush woodlands. This royal park traces its origins to 1625 when it was established as a hunting ground by Charles I, the king of England, and some of the trees from his era survive in the park even today.
After your tryst with nature, you can enjoy tea and delectable snacks at the Pembroke Lodge, an elegant mansion with lovely tearooms and landscaped gardens. Richmond Park is indeed the perfect outdoor escape in the ever-busy city.
Natural History Museum
Among the many fascinating museums in London, the one that most appeal to a wild heart is, of course, the Natural History Museum. Here, you can hone your knowledge about the natural history of species found across the world and apply the same in understanding wildlife when you visit wilderness destinations to watch these species live in action. And all that comes absolutely free! Except for certain exhibits and activities, you can tour the museum without paying a penny!
Over 85 million specimens are exhibited at this museum in its various sections, divided into collections like botany, zoology, palaeontology, entomology, and mineralogy. Be prepared for the jaw-dropping sight of gigantic skeletons of prehistoric dinosaurs and extant blue whales hanging from the ceilings of this cathedral-styled museum and the mesmerizing and mysterious-looking exhibits surrounding you on all sides, collected from the deepest depths of the sea to the furthest reaches of space known to humans. For those whose curiosity is even a level higher, try to book the Spirit Collection Tour, offered at a price of 25 pounds, for a behind-the-scenes tour of preserved specimens ranging from animals collected by Charles Darwin himself to giant and colossal squids to the newly-discovered Coelecanth, and much more. There are also free talks by scientists in the museum’s Attenborough Studio, whose schedule can be fetched from the museum website. These talks range across a variety of subjects related to natural history and are incredibly enlightening for those with a quest for knowledge.
Seven Sisters Country Park
If you are looking for some engaging outdoor activity, the Seven Sisters Country Park is the perfect place for you. The stunningly beautiful Seven Sisters are seven chalk cliffs in a row, formerly carved by ancient rivers and currently shaped by the mighty sea, with the highest cliff standing 253 feet above sea level. At the Seven Sisters, around a couple of hours away from London, there is a galore of activities to choose from, with the most popular being the hike across the Seven Sisters. There are also several shorter walking trails in the area, opportunities to kayak and paddleboard in the spectacular sea washing the shore below, and birdwatching or star-gazing as well. For those looking for a more leisurely time, there is always the option of picnicking in one of the most scenic sports in the country.
WWT – London Wetland Centre
One of the best places for a bird-watcher in London, and a serene location to unwind in the heart of nature, the London Wetland Centre definitely earns a spot on this list. Here, you will find lakes, ponds, marshes, gardens, and grasslands forming a mosaic serving as home to many species of birds, both residents and migratory, and other wildlife. Over 180 bird species have been recorded here, including kingfishers, bitterns, yellow wagtails, sand martins, and plenty of others. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) that manages the wetland area has installed several facilities, including boardwalks through the wetlands, benches for resting, and hides perfect for wildlife watching and photographing, to ensure visitors have the best wetland wildlife experience ever.
Isle Of Wight
The Isle of Wight, a beautiful island in the English Channel off the southern coast of England, makes the last, but definitely not the least, entry on this list. The island, around two hours from London, can be accessed by a scenic ferry or hovercraft ride across the sea. The drives and walks within the island offer you stunning views of the ocean on one side and lush English countryside landscape on the other. There are plenty of sightseeing opportunities on the island, including the must-see Needles landmark, one that can be reached by an unforgettable chairlift ride over the towering cliffs and down to the beach washed by the blue ocean below. Once at the beach, the Needles rock formation’s gorgeous sight can be enjoyed from afar or up close via a pleasure cruise starting at the beach. Besides this landmark, the Isle of Wight is dotted with many sun-bathed beaches of all kinds, plenty of recreational opportunities, and accommodation and dining options. It is perfect for a day out in nature or for a longer stay for a more immersive experience of the island.
So, if you are planning a visit to London and seeking an explore the region’s natural heritage, these are some of the closest places to this remarkable city to experience the same.