Transport yourself to a state of chilled out bliss on a getaway in unexplored regions of the Capital and its surrounds. Our “Top 5 Staycation Cheats” offer a splash of culture (alongside atmospheric beauty) to help while away the weekends, or enforced annual leave, ahead of current restrictions being lifted.
RICHMOND PARK, RICHMOND
Image source: royalparks.org.uk
If a countryside break is what you’re craving then the acres of lush, undulating grassland and woods in this National Nature Reserve will certainly hit the spot. With its abundance of secluded, sheltered spots, pack a picnic and nestle for a few hours with something delicious, then take a snooze in the afternoon sun. The Isabella Plantation is arguably one of the highlights, with its bubbling streams and lush abundance of evergreen Japanese Kurume azaleas and rhododendrons; all the makings of a vast country estate right on the city’s doorstep. Take time to read some of the many information plaques, detailing the rich history of the area and famous historical figures who once trod those very same paths. The most famous residents though are, of course, the majestic red deer, often lounging where you least expect to find them.
Top tip: If you haven’t already, make sure to search ‘Fenton Richmond Park’ on YouTube to understand why you’re kindly asked to keep dogs under close control…
SHRI SWAMINARAYAN MANDIR, NEASDEN
Image source: tripadvisor.co.uk
Take a plunge into the Orient and dip your toes in divinity at the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. This exquisite architectural masterpiece embodies the intricate extravagance of Indian design, tucked away in Neasden, North London. The breath-taking ornamental gardens can be enjoyed in safety outdoors, or head inside to walk amongst the resident dedicated worshippers. Prepare to marvel at the flawlessly carved marble structure whilst absorbing the deeply peaceful spiritual atmosphere of the regular prayer services. We’d highly recommend you visit their permanent exhibition, “Understanding Hinduism” for that cultural immersion we’re all thirsting for right now, and a truer understanding of the beauty of the Hindu belief system.
Top tip: Time your visit for the late morning Arti Ceremony, daily at 11.45am. An ancient Hindu offering led with lit candles and musical prayer, it’s a profoundly awe-inspiring experience.
Pricing: Free admission, donations optional
Opening: Temporarily closed due to current lockdown restrictions, keep an eye on the website for details of reopening
HIGHGATE & HAMPSTEAD HEATH
Image source: tripadvisor.co.uk
Visit Highgate Village for a sample of rural life and celeb spotting among its many famous locals before pottering up to Hampstead Heath and take a refreshing dip in one of it’s three swimming ponds (reopening 29th March 2021) for a true taste of British summer. Afterwards, make sure to include a leisurely twirl around the Pergola, or towards Kennington House grounds for a picnic and where you will feel you’ve stepped straight into an Edwardian romantic novel. If a taste of history is what you’re after, tie in a final stroll around the gothic elegance of Highgate Cemetery.
Top tip: Visit the Pergola during wisteria season for an extra dash of whimsical magic.
Pricing: Hampstead Heath Mixed Pond; Adults £4, Concessions £2.40
KENSINGTON PARK ITALIAN RENAISSANCE GARDENS
Image source: gardenvisit.com
The Italian Renaissance Garden is the perfect spot to aim for after a lazy weekend morning stroll through Hyde Park, lending your day a touch of classical Italian romance, thanks to its numerous Carrara marble fountains. Close your eyes and take in the gentle gurgle of the water, and be transported to the magic of a beautiful Italian piazza.
Top tip: With Notting Hill just around the corner, drop into one of its numerous takeaway coffee shops before settling down and peacefully sipping on your morning cortado.
Image source: kentattractions.co.uk
Nestled beneath the lush woodlands of Chislehurst is an intricate network of man-made caves, once frequented by the Druids, Saxons and Romans. Previously used to house ammunition during World Wars I & II, they’re a historical goldmine. Make sure to take their ‘Lamplit Tour’ offering highlights such as the Druid Alter, Caves Church, and Haunted Pool. Definitely one to keep the kids entertained!
Reopening April 2021.
Pricing: £6, £4 under-60/under-16, free under-two.