Secret Gardens of London – A History Walk

When I visit London and ignore the speed and convenience of the underground in favour of a bus ride, I’m pleasantly surprised by just how green London is.

From the top deck you can spy at almost every turn a tree-lined square, a tiny strip of green or that tantalising perfect garden. 

Of course some of them are set aside for residents only (or those with royal duties) but there are plenty open to all, as long as you know where to look.

The City of London has dozens of hidden gardens and peaceful churchyards which provide a welcome reprieve from the hectic hustle and bustle of the Square Mile.

This is a walk we created to take in a few of our favourites. It’s a little over 2 miles and allows plenty of time to stop and stare.

All Hallows by the Tower

The church of All Hallows by the Tower, London © Katie ChanWikipedia
The church of All Hallows by the Tower, London © Katie Chan/Wikipedia

We start right by the Tower of London in the sunken garden of All Hallows. The church is the oldest in the City of London and one of the few to escape the Great Fire of 1666.

In fact as the blaze raged, Samuel Pepys crossed the road from his home in Seething Lane to climb the brick tower of All Hallows to watch the flames progress.

Nowadays the little garden is an oasis of greenery.​

St Dunstan’s in the East, London

The gardens at St Dunstan’s in the East

One of our favourites and open all week long. Just a stone’s throw from the Tower of London, it’s on a busy, office-lined street, the type tourists tend to avoid, but seek it out and you will find a piece of perfection amongst the nearby tower blocks and almost permanent building sites.

There was a church here in Saxon times then a Gothic structure was erected in 1100 which, like so much of the neighbourhood, was almost totally destroyed by the Great Fire of London (Pudding Lane is not far away).

The church of St Dunstans in the East
The church of St Dunstans in the East

Enter the saviour of the London skyline Sir Christopher Wren who redesigned the church with a soaring tower which still stands today.

Sadly the rest of the church was severely damaged in the Blitz but the site was converted to a garden which opened as a public space in the 1960s.

Climbing plants weave their way in and out of the stonework and there are magnificent trees – magnolia, fig and beech – providing dappled shade for all comers.

St Dunstans in the East, a popular spot for photographers and office workers
St Dunstans in the East, a popular spot for photographers and office workers

It can get very busy during weekday lunchtimes with office workers on a break and at weekends it’s the haunt of photographers and film location scouts, yet it remains eerily quiet with just the muted hum of traffic going by.

Postman’s Park, London

Postman's Park memorial garden, London © Iridescent/Wikipedia
Postman’s Park memorial garden, London © Iridescent/Wikipedia

Just a few minutes walk from St Paul’s Cathedral is a park which takes its name from workers at the the nearby Old General Post Office who used to eat their sandwiches there.

It holds one of the capital’s most touching memorials, a series of ceramic plaques dedicated to the memories of men and women who gave their lives to save others.

Tile in Postman's Park in the City of London commemorating Alice Ayres. Featured in the 2004 film, Closer. © Wikipedia
Tile in Postman’s Park in the City of London commemorating Alice Ayres. Featured in the 2004 film, Closer. © Wikipedia

It’s also famous as a key location in the award-winning film, Closer, starring Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Jude Law and Clive Owen. A key plot point of the film is the fact that the character Alice Ayres has fabricated her identity based on one of the plaques on the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice.

Inner Temple Gardens, London

Inner Temple Garden, London © David Jones/Wikipedia
Inner Temple Garden, London © David Jones/Wikipedia

Blink and you’ll miss these.

You have to be there on a weekday between 12.30 and 3pm to get into the garden around the four Inns of Court. But time it right and you’ll be able to relax in a peaceful three-acre garden with beautiful borders and sweeping lawns.

Victoria Embankment Gardens

Victoria Embankment Gardens London © Alexrk2/Wikipedia
Victoria Embankment Gardens London © Alexrk2/Wikipedia

Created in the 1870s on a patch of reclaimed land near Charing Cross, the gardens mark the changing face of the Thames.

York Water Gate was built in 1626 by Inigo Jones for George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham. If you look closely you can still see the Buckingham family coat of arms on the top of the gate. At the time of its construction it stood right on the riverside but is now some 150 metres from the waters edge.

More about London’s secret gardens

There are dozens more green spaces dotted around London. To find them all check out the City gardens guide here

You can also download a leaflet on city garden walks or find details of how to arrange a guided walk.

Visiting London and want to know how to get around using public transport? Check out the Visit London transport guide here.

Additional photographs are copyright their respective owners and reproduced here under Creative Commons License.


Where next?
Chateau du Rivau – a garden for all ages
Foxton Locks
7 unmissable things to do in Bath

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