London is a wonderful, energetic place and easily ranks as number one my list of favorite large cities. Yet the very qualities that make London so enjoyable can grate on the nerves. Most parts are crowded, noisy, and stress inducing. If you need to get away from it all, here are four peaceful spots in or close to the center of town. Wander around enough and you’ll find more on your own.
Parts of the Thames Path: The Thames Path is a 184 mile National trail running the length of the River Thames. Most of it runs through beautiful countryside and historic villages, yet there are peaceful spots on the London section too. Avoid anywhere that has a shopping area right next to the river or is near an attraction such as the Tate Modern. Walk for a while and you’ll get into residential areas where the only company you’ll have are the occasional jogger and the seagulls. One of the attractions of the Thames is that it’s the largest open space you’ll see in central London. After the crush of Tottenham Court Road or Piccadilly Circus, it’s a profound relief to bring a lunch, sit down on a bench, and watch the boats go by as the sunlight plays on the water.
Churches: London is filled with historic, beautiful churches, and everyone is welcome to sit for a while and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. Nobody will bother you or expect you to be praying. Professionals often come on their lunch break and do sudoku. You can, of course, come to worship, and with the Anglican Church being so welcoming, you don’t have to be Anglican (or straight, or even a believer) to join in the services. Friends of The City Churches, an organization preserving churches in central London, has an informative website. My favorite guidebook is London: The City Churches by Nikolaus Pevsner.
Parks: Some of London’s many parks are more peaceful than others, but they all offer respite from the chaos that is London. Richmond Park or the Regent’s Park are good choices for their wide-open spaces. Richmond Park even has a herd of wild deer! Hyde Park is less peaceful but more central. St. James’s is a favorite for its beautiful lake alive with waterfowl, which turns into a magical sight in the golden light of evening.
Temple Yard and Gardens: The most peaceful place I’ve found is, strangely, right in the middle of The City, the bustling financial heart of London. The area around the old Templar church is owned by barristers, and they have a series of peaceful yards and gardens with shady trees, lush grass, sparkling fountains, and convenient benches. It never seems to be terribly busy, and everyone maintains a hushed silence, as if in unconscious respect of the one peaceful spot in this high-energy neighborhood.
Please keep these places peaceful! There’s a severe shortage of quiet spots in London, so come and be still.