Travel Guides for Un-tourists


Riverside Ramble: Escape to the Countryside Without Leaving London

by CB Cowling

posted on January 17, 2019

Photo Courtesy: iStock

If all you see of London are the palaces of Mayfair and the sleek streets of the city, you’re missing out. Part of what makes the city so beloved and appealing is the villagey feel of many of its neighborhoods and surrounding areas, with none more picturesque than the postcard-perfect Richmond. With the winding Thames at its center and elegant Georgian terraces lining its leafy avenues and alleys, it already contains plenty of sights to draw the discerning daytripper. But it’s the location at the edge of the great Richmond Park that makes a visit so transportive: just a thirty-minute tube ride from central London, the village feels like it’s in the heart of the bucolic countryside, surrounded by open space and nature, with views back across London and out to the sweeping fields of Surrey. The best way to experience the area is on foot, with towpaths, quiet lanes, and hilly cobbled streets linking up to create the perfect circular itinerary. So lace up your walking shoes and escape to a quieter, slower version of city life.

Itinerary Details

8 Places
2 Hours

Photo Courtesy: ivycafetw9

Richmond is all about country walks and long riverside ambles, so set yourself up for the day with an indulgent breakfast. A quick stroll from the tube takes you along the pretty village green and into the middle of town, straight to the flower-strewn doors of the Ivy Richmond. This little sister to the Mayfair institution is a light-filled Art Nouveau palace of candy pastels, plush velvet banquettes, and mirrored fittings: there’s a reason it’s been clogging up Instagram feeds nonstop since it opened last year. There’s a nice blend of virtuous and luxurious on the menu, so you can pair jewel-like green juices of mint, avocado, and spinach with creamy lobster scrambled eggs or smoked salmon and watercress Eggs Benedict.

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Afternoon tea, tuna carpaccio, blackened cod, goat cheese salad, flourless cappuccino cake

Walking Distance

0.20 Miles

Photo Courtesy: iStock

After breakfast take a wander through the town’s picturesque cobbled alleys and lanes filled with posh boutiques, galleries, and historic pubs, then make your way down to the riverside. The 18th-century stone Richmond Bridge is the village’s heart and soul, and remains the oldest Thames bridge in London, and the perfect spot for a photo op. If the weather is fine and the river looks inviting, rent a vintage wooden row boat from Richmond Bridge Boathouses for a leisurely paddle, Wind in the Willows-style, past reedy banks, stately houses, and green meadows. Rentals are by the hour, so you can take as little or as much time as you fancy to explore the area.

Walking Distance

0.58 Miles

Photo Courtesy: @meltemkazaz

Once you’ve got your land legs back, continue your promenade along the river and duck into Terrace Gardens, a verdant hilly park, where a hidden fairytale cottage serves the perfect mid-morning cup of tea and lemon drizzle cake. Hollyhock Cafe looks right out of a storybook, complete with winding tree trunks holding up the eaves, a mossy roof hung with fairy lights, and its rustic terrace overlooking sweeping lawns to the river below. Offerings range from classic British comfort sweets to healthier vegan fare. Settle into a comfy chair and enjoy the view before you head on to the next stage of your walk.

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Popina tarts, jacket potatoes, vegetable and bean chili , vegetable lasagna, organic juices

Walking Distance

1.36 Miles

Photo Courtesy: Alex Jung

After refueling with a cuppa and some cake, wander back along the promenade, which passes quickly out of the town and suddenly gives way to lush, quiet countryside. Take a leisurely twenty minute walk along the riverside, where you’ll pass banks of green willow, pastoral meadows, and peacefully-grazing cows before reaching Ham House. This grand 17th-century manor house is one of the most complete and best preserved homes of its kind in Europe, with opulent rooms, furnishings, frescoes, and art collections open to visitors to browse (or quietly live out their BBC period piece fantasies). Make sure to leave a little time to explore the grounds: the beautiful formal gardens open out onto the “Wilderness” and its hedge mazes and winding tunnels of Hornbeam trees.

Walking Distance

0.87 Miles

Photo Courtesy: petershamnurseries

If you’ve wandered through enough stately halls and galleries for one day, head over to Petersham Nurseries. Continuing Richmond’s countryside theme, the lunch spot is set amidst a riot of greenery and flowers in what can only be described as the world’s-poshest garden center. Step into one of the Victorian glasshouses to find haute cuisine dining and one of the most photographed restaurant interiors in the city. Rustic wooden tables sit atop the earthen floor, while the glass ceiling is hung with chandeliers and climbing vines of fragrant jasmine. The menu offers seasonally-led Italian-inspired dishes made with homegrown produce and locally-sourced ingredients. Dishes can be pricey (they once held a Michelin star, after all) so if you’re not looking to splurge, step next door to the tea shop, where they offer simpler fare in a similarly-stunning setting.

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Lasagnette with wild mushrooms, pomegranate bellini, clementine sorbet, gorgonzola and pear, bramata polenta

Walking Distance

1.85 Miles

Photo Courtesy: @dimitar_hr

Leaving Petersham, you’re at the far northwestern edge of Richmond Park: a vast 2500 acres of wide open meadows, forests, and fields. The largest of the city’s Royal Parks, it’s home to herds of grazing red and fallow deer and is full of remarkable beauty all year round, from the lush greenery of spring to autumn colors and winter frost. Venture in the gates to explore just a small portion of this corner of the park, strolling the avenues of ancient oaks, wandering through woodland, and keeping an eye out for the park’s famous deer. Don’t miss the walk to King Henry’s Mound, where a break in the trees looks back to a perfect view of St Paul’s Cathedral in the distance. Legend has it Henry VIII stood on the spot to wait for the signal from the Tower of London when Anne Boleyn was executed.

Walking Distance

1.71 Miles

Photo Courtesy: tek.moirai

Should you ever tire of the park’s rural idyll, a quick 10 minute walk back up Richmond Hill brings you to a picture-perfect pub with the most stunning view in town — and that’s saying something in a place filled with famous panoramas. Grab a pint at the cozy, traditional Roebuck Pub and take it out front to sit on one of the benches at the top of the hill, hopefully just in time for a brilliant sunset. At your feet is a tableau straight out of a Turner painting, with sweeping views to the winding Thames below and beyond to the fields and forests of Surrey. It’s such a special spot that the view itself is protected by an act of Parliament.

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Mushroom wings, mezze platter, steak and red wine pie, kombucha

Walking Distance

0.46 Miles

Photo Courtesy: Bingham

As dusk falls, ramble straight down the stairs from the Roebuck and back towards town for dinner. In a few moments you’ll pass an elegant Georgian terrace house and its quietly understated entrance. Step inside to The Bingham, a discreet boutique hotel that fronts magnificently onto the river and offers a stylish cocktail bar and restaurant. In warmer seasons, take your Negroni outside to the glittering waterfront terrace and order from a menu that draws inspiration from the setting, with dishes like salt-baked beets and spiced monkfish with rock samphire. The tube back to central London is just ten minutes to the east, but should you find yourself unable to abandon the charms of Richmond quite yet, the hotel’s lodgings are a study in tasteful luxury; splash out for one of the river-facing rooms, with their painterly views, reclaimed antique furnishings, and deep copper roll-top baths. Stay much longer and you may start questioning whether you ever need return to the city at all.

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