While south London may not have as many of the city’s world-famous landmarks as the opposite side of the Thames, it boasts an immense variety of things to do and places to see including some of London’s most interesting and unusual hidden gems to visit.

With its countless green spaces, hilltop panoramas, ancient woodlands and impressive historical sites, it’s hardly possible to ever see it all. So I thought I’d start with a guide to my 13 favourite lesser-known hidden gems of South London to inspire you to explore more of this vast area. The guide covers everything south of the river, from Richmond in southwest London through the likes of Streatham and Crystal Palace all the way to the hills of Greenwich in the southeast.

 

Map Of South London’s Hidden Gems

Wandle Trail

 

Wandle Trail - Merton Abbey Mill

For a sense of peace and nature within London’s urban sprawl there are few better options than taking a relaxing tour along the Wandle Trail.

The 14-mile trail follows the river Wandle right from where it meets the Thames up in Wandsworth (an area named after the river) right across South London into Croydon. It’s a shared walking and cycling path that offers plenty of enjoyable spots on the way. My recommendation is getting your bike out and exploring the trail from Wandsworth downwards on a nice dry day (parts of the trail can get muddy) right through to Carshalton

One of my favourite stops is the Merton Abbey Mills, a former textile factory that’s now a nice selection of riverside eateries and a perfect, picturesque spot to refuel and enjoy a coffee or a pint.Further down South is a very pleasant Morden Hall Park, with its impressive rose gardens and a scattering of well-maintained ponds.

The trail is obviously very flat and so anyone can tackle it, and it makes for a great family day out for that reason. The sign-posting is a little dodgy in places and at times you might have to stop and work out how to rejoin the trail as it gets cut off by residential development in a couple spots. If you don’t feel like tracking back the same way, you could even take a train back from somewhere like Carshalton if you so prefer.

Nearest transport: The starting point in the north is near Wandsworth Town station, but you could start further down south from Earlsfield without missing the best bits further down south. In the southern end, you can get a train back at Carshalton or Morden if you don’t want to go all the way back.

Morden Hall Park

 

Morden Hall Park

Another highlight of the Wandle Trail above, Morden Hall Park is one of the nicest green spaces in London that proves there is more to Morden than somewhere you wake up after passing out on the Northern Line. 

The National Trust park is characterised by impressive rose gardens (with over 2,000 roses), an array of water features as well as more untamed open green spaces ideal for a sunny picnic. Apparently you can spot a variety of birds residing here including kingfishers, although I mostly spotted dogs. On top of all this there is also a decent coffee shop and a garden center.

Nearest transport: The infamous waking-up tube stop of Morden (last stop on the Northern Line), it’s just a few minutes walk from there. 

 

Victorian Dinosaurs in Crystal Palace

 

Crystal Palace Park Victorian Dinosaurs

At the bottom of Crystal Palace Park you will find mankind’s first dedication to dinosaurs. A relatively new discovery back in the Victorian days, the series of sculptures are impressive for the times they were made despite a few noticeable but excusable inaccuracies in the details. Not like they had Walking with Dinosaurs for reference back in the days. The sculptures were commissioned as part of the Great Exhibition back in 1851 when the Crystal Palace was an actual building and a marvel of architecture.

The dinosaurs are scattered along a pleasant lake and the area makes for a nice spot for a walk or even a picnic on the sunnier days, combined with a trip out to Crystal Palace. 

Nearest transport: The Dinosaurs are most easily reached by Overground, with Penge West and Crystal Palace the 2 nearby stations.

 

Brixton Windmill

 

Brixton Windmill

While Brixton has much to offer, you might be surprised to find an old-school windmill in the middle of its quiet residential streets. The listed windmill on Brixton Hill is a stark reminder that not so long ago the area was literally Surrey countryside. You can book a guided tour to climb up and see the windmill from the inside, just check the opening hours ahead of time.

You might want to come all this way for more than a windmill so I have another tip. Nearby you’ll find another hidden gems of sorts – a lively live music venue pub called Windmill Brixton. It’s a pleasant, relaxed sort of atmosphere and there are plenty of gigs usually by bands trying to break into the big time. So you might just stumble into the next big thing.

Nearest transport: The windmill can be found in a small park called Windmill Gardens – it’s a 15-minute walk up from Brixton station (Victoria Line) or 20 mins from Clapham Common (Northern Line).

 

Horniman Museum & Gardens

Much more than a museum, this Forest Hill venue offers a nice day out with a Sunday market, impressive gardens, great views of London skyline and a range of family-friendly activities including a small butterfly house and an aquarium. For the warmer days there are plenty of picnic tables and deckchairs available to soak in the outdoors, otherwise there’s a very decent on-site cafe. 

The main museum itself is free to visit and features a fascinating mixture of historical and biological exhibits (including some fairly comical taxidermy) that the wealthy Mr Horniman collected from across the world way back in the 19th Century.

For the butterfly house it’s best to book the tickets in advance. The museum is open daily from 10am to 5.30pm.

Nearest transport: Forest Hill overground, but it’s still a fair walk so worth looking at buses.

 

The Rookery Gardens, Streatham

 

The Rookery Gardens, Streatham

Easily Streatham’s best little gem, Rookery Gardens is a historic park that was once part of the “Streatham Spa”, a place where people would come to drink water from the local springs for the alleged healing properties of the local water. The well is still there but while you may not want to try the water nowadays, the Rookery is a beautiful, well-curated and quiet garden that transports you far from the urban surroundings.

While the Rookery Gardens are most impressive in full summer bloom, it’s a great place to enjoy all year around with a cascading water feature, a walled garden and plenty of benches – and it never feels busy. The Rookery Cafe is a good place near the entrance for refreshments, while there is also the Rookery Farmers Market run every 3rd Saturday of the month. And if you’re into your craft beers, Streatham’s own Inkspot Brewery is just behind the park, although visiting hours are sporadic so best to check and book in advance.

Nearest transport: Get off at Streatham Station (Thameslink / Southern trains) before a 15-minute walk up to the top of Streatham Hill. Entrance is next to The Rookery Cafe.

Battersea Flower Station

 

Battersea Flower Station & Garden Center

Judging from its entrance off the busy road, Battersea Flower Station looks like a small flower shop. But this appearance is deceiving – walking through the long plant-lined narrow path from the entrance all the way to the back feels like discovering a hidden new world.

You don’t need to be on the hunt for greenery to enjoy this little gem, but if you are this place has a great selection of plants, flowers and pottery. You’ll probably be tempted to take something home. The helpful staff are always on hand to recommend something.

Nearest transport: There is a bus stop right outside with buses to Clapham Junction, Vauxhall and Victoria amongst others. Otherwise it’s a 10-minute walk north from Clapham Junction.

 

Nunhead Cemetery

 

Nunhead Cemetery

You might wonder “Why would I go to a cemetery?”. And normally I’d agree, but you should make an exception for Nunhead Cemetery. One of London’s largest but lesser-known “Magnificent Seven”, it’s both a wildlife reserve and a cemetery full of elaborate Victorian-era mausoleums and graves, as well as a beautiful chapel. Abandoned for decades in the 1970’s, nature took charge and makes this probably the most interesting cemetery to visit in London with its old overgrown graves along the winding paths. For those interested in the famous people buried here, there are free monthly guided tours available (see dates here).

A vast woodland full of wildlife, it’s a wonderful and obviously peaceful place to explore for a walk or a run any time of the year.  Nunhead Cemetery is criss-crossed with walking paths which allows for plenty of exploring – with panoramic viewpoints of London opening up on the less wooded paths.

Nearest transport: Nunhead train station is just a few minutes walk from the north entrance. For overground trains you can go to Brockley – around 15 minutes’ walk away.

King Henry’s Mount, Richmond Park

 

King Henry's Mound, Richmond Park

The vast and beautiful Richmond Park is perhaps best known for deer herds and lycra-clad cyclist gangs, but the park is also home to a lesser-known historic vista. Situated on top of Richmond Hill, King Henry’s Mound is a historic protected viewpoint offering clear direct views all the way to St Paul’s Cathedral 10 miles away. Framed by trees and bushes either side, it’s an especially picturesque view of London’s skyline. Made all the more interesting by the fact no buildings can be built to obstruct the sight of St Paul’s dome.

A surprisingly free telescope on the site will help you zoom into distant central London, and on the clearest days you can apparently see as far as Windsor Castle in the other direction. For particularly beautiful views, come during golden hour or in the autumn months.

Nearest transport: Richmond train station + Bus route 65 which will land you to the park entrance near King Henry’s Mound. For cars, there is free parking near the mound. Or you can just take a lengthy but pleasant walk from the station.

 

Green Chain Walk

Green Chain Walk - Victorian Era Ruins in Dulwich Wood

If you’re after some serene & picturesque walks in nature without leaving London, I highly recommend the Green Chain Walk.

It’s a long 50-mile series of connected routes across southeast London taking you through some of London’s most tranquil highlights that include old forests, parks, hillview panoramas and cemeteries. There are 11 possible sections to choose from so if you’re unsure where to begin I recommend section 11 from Crystal Palace to Nunhead Cemetery. True to the name, the route takes you through a chain of serene greenery – including 5 or 6 parks, ancient hillside woodland and the aforementioned Horniman Museum & Gardens

Some of the stand out parts for me are the impressive London panoramas from One Tree Hill and the trails of Dulwich Wood / Sydenham Hill Wood. The latter are some of the only remaining bits of the ancient Great North Wood that once stretched all the way to Croydon.

All the routes with instructions can be found on the official TFL site. On the ground the routes are mostly well sign-posted so you’ll rarely have issues getting lost.

Nearest transport: Starting from Crystal Palace, take the train (London Bridge line) or London overground to Crystal Palace station. At the finish line you have Nunhead train station or alternatively Brockley for the Overground.

 

The Point , Greenwich

 

The Point Scenic Outlook, Greenwich, London

If you’re after the most stunning views of London skyline without the crowds, come to this little hilltop spot in Greenwich. The hills here are much steeper than the nearby Greenwich Park or Hampstead Heath so you get an impressively broad panoramic view of London’s horizon. And unlike London’s more famous scenic lookouts, this one is rarely busy. The viewpoint is also great for sunsets and catching a glimpse of New Year’s Eve fireworks – probably the only time the spot gets busy.

Nearest transport: Get off at Greenwich DLR / overground station, from where it’s a 10-minute walk up the hill. Be prepared for some steep climbing – but the views are worth it.

 

One Tree Hill, Honor Oak

 

One Tree Hill, Honour Oak

Another one for great views of central London from the southern hills. Confusingly there are hundreds of ancient trees up in this park, but it’s the Oak of Honour tree at the top of the hill that the local area derives its name from. The original oak tree once had Queen Elizabeth I rest for a picnic here back in the 17th century so this might explain where the name came from.

Nearest transport: The area can be reached by overground & trains to Honor Oak Park station, from where it’s only a few minutes walk up to the top with the view. The Oak of Honour is the one surrounded by metal railings so you’ll know this is THE oak.

 

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

 

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Fancy a walk under the river Thames in what was once a piece of Victorian-era engineering marvel? 

Connecting Greenwich to the Isle of Dogs, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel is a pedestrian walkway that only takes 5 minutes to walk across. It might not seem something extraordinary, but back in 1902 the tunnel was the cutting edge of engineering feats and a much bigger deal as a gateway connecting the two banks of the river.

A walk through Greenwich Foot Tunnel combines well with a day out in Greenwich / Cutty Sark, including a visit to the Royal Observatory or the Maritime Museum below.

Look out for the occasional rogue cyclist and keep in mind that the lifts seem to be out of order more often than not.

Nearest transport: Get the DLR to Cutty Sark – from there it’s a very short walk to the red domed entrance.

 


So there we have it, my favourite of London’s quirky hidden gem places for you to enjoy. I’m sure there are plenty more secret spots worth exploring in this huge and diverse city, and I’ll be updating the list as I discover them.

If you know of some lesser-known London spots that left an impression on you, I’d love to know. Let me know in the comments!

 

Looking for new London foodie adventures?
Check out my A to Z guide to London’s international cuisines

 

2 Comments

  • Stephanie
    Posted November 9, 2023

    I kind of don’t want to mention this place, because I live how hidden it is, but the abandoned cemetery in Barnes near Rocks Lane is an amazing thing to stumble upon.

    • Nikita
      Posted December 30, 2023

      Thanks for the tip Stephanie – I know what you mean about the mixed feelings of sharing your fave hidden spots.

      Will definitely check out the abandoned cemetery soon!

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