My 5 favourite day hikes from London
It’s Saturday morning, 7am. You pack the thermos of hot tea, a slice of banana bread and a sandwich you prepared the day before. On the train, you watch the landscape emerge from the train window, pulling out of concrete track lining into green tunnels, views of fields and rolling hills stretching out. You doze a little, settle into your seat, take out your book as you switch your phone on airplane mode before stashing it in your backpack. Today, it can wait.
The air is cool as you step onto the platform. You zip up your coat before scanning over the first page of your printed walk instructions. You make out the right direction across the car park and find the first footpath sign in front of a tree so big your arms couldn’t fit around it if you tried. You follow the narrow path. Your body starts to warm up as your steps becomes rhythmic, but not rushed. As you climb over your first field gate you hear the wind in the trees, birdsong. You watch clouds in the sky, scan the route for snacking spots, viewpoints, animal tracks and plants you recognise: mushrooms in autumn, bluebells in spring. Everything is connected and moving. You stop for elevensies, leaning your back against a smooth tree as you sit on its roots. The woods you are crossing are hundreds of years old, people have walked this very track for decades, maybe centuries. And here you are, now, fully a part of the ecosystem, breathing its air, stirring up leaves under your feet. Watched over by birds, trees and insects, watching over them. You may be going somewhere, but you’ve already arrived.
When I started out going on day hikes it was a revelation to me I could spend moments like this relly easily, without huge planning, pre-booking or even renting a car. In just a day you can reach an astonishing variety of landscapes from central London, and be back home by the evening. I’ve collected a list of my absolute favourite day hikes from London for you here, which are all reachable by public transport. Pack that thermos and off you go! :)
1. Hassocks to Lewes
Easily accessible from London and with only one big hill to climb, this walk has an astonishing amount of bang for its buck. It leads along the top of a ridge, offering gorgeous views over the South Downs, before leading through a pretty woodland and along a scenic waterway. The lunch pub is cosy and most inviting to rest your feet at while you enjoy a warm meal on a cool day. The walk ends in Lewes, one of the prettiest towns in Kent I’ve ever visited. Click here for the walk instructions!
2. The Seven Sisters
This walk is 7 hours long and feels like a proper full day out: your feet will definitely feel like they’ve done some work by the time you’re on the train back. But what this route provides in length it makes up for in beauty: this is one of the most beautiful coastal walks in the South East of the UK. As you make your way across clifftops of the Seven Sisters you’ll see beautiful white cliffs and look out over the English Channel. A final climb up Beachy Head leads to a greener section before walking the final stretch to Eastbourne along the beach boardwalk. A popular day walk for sure this one isn’t the remotest of day trips, but one of the most invigorating stretches of coastal walking from London. Click here for the walk instructions.
3. Salisbury to Amesbury
Out to the west, this walk shows a very different kind of landscape: wide open planes and a certain Neolithic rock formation that’s puzzled walkers for 15000 years. Stonehenge is an obvious highlight along this route, but you’ll come across a few other, lesser known valleys and landscapes with Neolitic stones. Walking instructions are here.
4. Faversham to Whitstable
This is one of the shorter UK day hikes I recommend at only 4 hours walking, making it a great intro walk for anyone who isn’t sure of their hiking abilities. Starting off in the quaint Kentish town of Faversham you walk along the coast towards Whitstable, where locally caught oysters and other seafood delights await as your reward. A fun fact about this hike is that the recommended lunch stop, The Sportsman, is in fact a Michelin-starred pub, which books up about 6 months in advance. When I walked this route with a friend in 2016 and turned up unknowingly and soaked to the bone, the bar staff were sweet enough to give us an hour at a table before it was booked, where we had enough time to eat a fabulous starter and glass of wine each while drying our rain coats by the fire. Here’s the route!
5. Henley to Pangbourne
Another walk so nice I did it twice, this route has a lovely combination of fields, woods, pretty villages and cute pubs. At 5 hours and 40 minutes you’ll definitely feel your legs on the train home, but it’s mostly even and makes a fabulous day trip out of town. PLUS I almost walked into Theresa May the second time I did it! I know, it was weird. Click here for the route instructions.