Blessed with dozens of green spaces and waterways, including the mighty River Thames, London offers many excellent opportunities for putting those running shoes on and getting out to enjoy the city at a slightly breathless pace.
Some routes take you past the capital’s most famous sights. Others provide a look at London from a more local perspective. Here are seven of the best.
1. Westminster to Tower Bridge
From the tube station, follow the Embankment along the north side of the river. You’ll pass under several bridges and by impressive buildings, including St Paul’s Cathedral, before reaching the 950-year-old Tower of London. Cross Tower Bridge, follow the signs to not get lost around London Bridge and then you’re on the fully pedestrianized home stretch. Check off Shakespeare’s Globe (currently closed due to COVID-19), Tate Modern and the London Eye before heading over Westminster Bridge for the end.
Start/Finish: Westminster tube station
Why? Riverside loop that checks off iconic London sights
When? Avoid the crowds (this whole route is heavily touristed, especially the south side) by running early morning or in the evening.
Watch out for: Uneven cobblestones outside the Tower; construction closing sections of pavement between Westminster and Blackfriars bridge (you'll just need to cross from one side of the street to the other at points); and a not-obvious route under London Bridge.
2. St James’s Park to Hyde Park
Start in St James’s Park, a green space dating back centuries (the pelicans in the lake were introduced in 1664), before heading up The Mall, London’s main ceremonial thoroughfare, toward Buckingham Palace. After a quick bow/curtsy, enter Green Park – particularly beautiful in spring when it’s carpeted with daffodils – and head for its northwest corner where you run under the Wellington Arch (named after the Napoleon-defeating British duke) and into Hyde Park. Jog along the Serpentine lake towards another royal abode, Kensington Palace, and the end of the route.
Start/Finish: St James’s Park tube station/Queensway tube station
Distance: 6km (plenty of detours in Hyde Park for extra legwork)
Why? Enjoy the fresh air of three of London’s Royal Parks
When? Any time; on Sundays The Mall is closed to traffic
Watch out for: Traffic at the Wellington Arch roundabout
3. Up hill to Hampstead Heath
Get the hard part out of the way and head straight up Parliament Hill. Your reward is a famously spectacular panorama across the whole of London. Wind your way north along the paths and through woodland to Kenwood House, an 18th-century mansion free to visit and with a fine art collection. From here it’s a case of choosing your own path back to the train station – a suggested option is to cool down with a quick swim in one of the natural ponds that dot the heath (men’s, women’s and mixed available).
Start/Finish: Hampstead Heath overground station
Distance: 5km (many more paths to follow if the urge takes you)
Why? One of London’s best green spaces is a bit of wilderness in the city
When? Sunrise or sunset for views from Parliament Hill
Watch out for: Signs telling you where to go when you inevitably get lost
4. Locals’ London along the Thames
This route hugs the twists and turns of the Thames as it follows an almost rural path through some of London’s nicest neighborhoods. Cross the river from Putney Bridge station and head west – the trail is easy to follow as it keeps almost entirely to the water’s edge. Highlights en route include the stunning Harrods Furniture Depository, the historic Hammersmith Bridge, views into Kew Gardens, and Richmond Green, the site of a former royal palace where medieval jousts have been replaced by picnicking locals.
Start/Finish: Putney Bridge tube station/Richmond tube/train station
Why? For a taste of local life
When? Any time except after heavy rain (see next point)
Watch out for: Mud after heavy rain
5. Greenwich and the Thames
Greenwich makes the most of its Thames-side setting with sights including the Cutty Sark ship (once the fastest boat on water) and the stately Old Royal Naval College and its grounds. Run through the latter and follow the river around the Greenwich Peninsula, a former industrial area that still has signs of its former life.
That huge white dome? That’s the O2, one of London’s main music venues. Just beyond it, the river widens as it heads to the sea. The turning point of the run, the Thames Barrier, was designed to stop the city being flooded by high tides. Admire this feat of 80s’ engineering before retracing the route back to Greenwich.
Start/Finish: Cutty Sark DLR station
Why? Maritime history and a different take on the Thames
When? Any time during the day (unlit at night)
Watch out for: Cyclists and other runners on the narrow part of the path
6. Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill
From the tube station quickly cross awful Marylebone Road and enter the calming surrounds of Regent’s Park. Flower-filled gardens (most famous is Queen Mary’s Rose Garden) are highlights in the southern section of the park. Don’t worry if you hear the loud growling of a lion – London Zoo, the world’s oldest, occupies the northern half.
Exiting the park, Primrose Hill rises ahead. Once the scene of duels and boxing, it’s now where visitors enjoy views of the city from its highest point. Catch your breath and take a photo before heading back through the park to the tube station.
Start/Finish: Regent’s Park tube station
Distance: 5km (or more if the park’s delights make you detour)
Why? Short but scenic run with floral appeal
When? Join early morning joggers for a quieter experience
Watch out for: That hill – it’s quite steep
7. Along the Regent’s Canal
The Prince Regent (future George IV) made a lasting impression on London, having Regent’s Park built along with this eponymous canal. Dug two centuries ago to carry goods in and out of the capital, these days it’s a (mostly) pretty spot for a run. Follow the towpath from its start at Limehouse (where the canal connects to the Thames), past canal boats (around 10,000 people live this way in London), Victoria Park (a grand 19th-century green space built to benefit residents of the crowded East End), and hipster hotbeds such as Hackney’s Broadway Market, before it ducks into a tunnel and you sprint to the finish at Angel tube station.
Start/Finish: Limehouse DLR station/Angel tube station
Why? An alternative watery route
When? Daytime (unlit at night)
Watch out for: Cyclists on the narrow path
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This story was first published in November 2019 and lasted updated in December 2020.