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London’s most tranquil and peaceful places

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Stylist.co.uk contributer Gemma Seltzer finds the most tranquil haunts for Londoners seeking a little peace and quiet.

A car alarm blasts you awake. Near the tube station, buses wheeze. You shout over the yammering radio to order your latte. A girl on the platform drones into her mobile phone. London’s magnificent high energy is exciting and addictive, but the city can also be overwhelming.

So it makes tiny moments of quiet incredibly precious. Crossing a bridge as the sun is setting, a flock of birds overhead, an elegant window box.

Since 2011, I’ve been collecting peaceful places in London. It started with my online project Look up at the Sky For a year, I strolled along sections of the Thames and from the western banks at Hampton Court to the Thames Barrier in the east. I wrote about the experience of walking in the city, inviting artists and readers to contribute to the project and a London-wide Peaceful Places map.

Why did I do it? My diary was filled with meetings and phone calls, performances and launches. I loved being busy, but I was completely exhausted. I didn’t want to stop experiencing life in the city, but I wondered if slowing down might help me recharge and discover a new side of London.

It did and it also gave me a great list of tranquil and peaceful places to visit. Here are a few of my favourites.

Central

Garden Museum

Probably the most peaceful museum in London. Here you can enjoy the lovely Knot Garden, and discover all kinds of tools, paintings and documents relating to gardening. There’s usually a modest exhibition in the main building, which is the delightful former church of St. Mary at Lambeth.

Nearest tube: Westminster, Waterloo, Lambeth North or Vauxhall. Entrance on Lambeth Palace Road.

Opening hours: Sunday to Friday, 10.30am-5pm; Saturday 10.30am-4pm; fully accessible.

Price: Free

Website: gardenmuseum.org.uk

The Garden museum

Lindley Library London

Spend an hour or two in this lovely little library, set in the Royal Horticultural Society headquarters. Vases of blooming flowers are on the study tables, and bookshelves contain beautiful and rare volumes including early printed books on botanical art.

Nearest rail: Victoria, entrance on Vincent Square

Access: Monday to Friday, 10am – 5pm (excluding Bank Holidays)

Price: Free

Website: rhs.org.uk


Haberdashery department, Liberty

Admittedly not everyone’s idea of peaceful, but the timber beams and regal air of this old department store make browsing a dreamy experience. The haberdashery section is button-tastic, and with so many beautiful items in famous Liberty prints, you can lose yourself here for a while.

Nearest underground: Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus. Entrance on Regent’s Street.

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, 10am-8pm; Sunday, 12pm-6pm

Price: Free to peruse

Website: liberty.co.uk

Haberdashery Liberty

Shepherds

One entire wall of this handsome shop is lined with ornate hand-printed papers. Old iron machinery grandly displays decorative notepaper, journals and stationery. A series of exhibition cases show books created and bound by artists. Allow time to softly meander through.

Nearest rail: Victoria and Pimlico

Access: Monday - Friday: 10am - 6pm; Saturday: 10am-5pm; Fully accessible; Entrance on Gillingham Street

Price: Free

Website: bookbinding.co.uk


North

Camden Arts Centre

While Finchley Road is choked with traffic, you can slip into this gallery for a peaceful reprieve. Although not always quiet, the light-filled café is spacious and restful. Exhibitions are curated in vast white rooms, and the bookshop in the foyer is a great place to linger.

Nearest underground and rail: Finchley Road, Hampstead, and Finchley Road and Frognal. Entrance on Arkwright Road.

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am-6pm; Wednesday, 10am-9pm

Price: Free

Website: camdenartscentre.org

Camden book foyer

Camley Street Natural Park

What a find. Amongst the towering cranes and building sites behind King’s Cross station, lies this slice of green in the urban grey. Within its two acres, there are a couple of particularly good spots to stop and stare: the floating platform alongside the canal and a sweet pond-side bench.

Nearest underground: King’s Cross. Entrances on Camley Street

Opening hours: Winter 10am-4pm, all week. Summer 10am-5pm, all week. Fully accessible.

Price: Free

Website: wildlondon.org.uk

Camley Street national park

Heath Extension, Hampstead Heath

The hidden gem of Hampstead Heath is the open space on the northwest side: the Heath Extension. Originally farmland, the hawthorn hedgerows and rows of trees remind visitors of the old boundaries and divide the area into a series of separate green fields.

Nearest underground: Hampstead and Golders Green. Entrances on Hampstead Way and Wildwood Road.

Opening hours: Open at all times.

Price: Free

Website: cityoflondon.gov.uk


South

Brockwell Lido Café

Summer or winter, arrive early to take a poolside seat with a strong coffee and large sunglasses. The café does fill up quickly, particularly for weekend brunches, but a few minutes alone watching the swimmers glide underwater at this Art Deco Lido is very relaxing.

Nearest rail: Herne Hill. Entrance on Dulwich Road.

Opening hours: Sunday to Tuesday, 9am – 5:30pm; Wednesday to Saturday, 9am-11pm. 

Prices: Coffee from £2.40, lunch from £7.25, dinner from £10.50, cocktails from £7.50 

Website: thelidocafe.co.uk

Lido cafe

Nunhead Cemetery

With moss climbing up the gravestones, an avenue of lime trees and wild areas of overgrown bushes, London’s second largest Victorian cemetery is gloomy. Yet the stone monuments are impressive, there are an extraordinary number of armless angels, and it’s a beautiful, peaceful place.

Nearest rail: Nunhead. Entrance on Linden Grove.

Opening hours: 1 April to 3 October, Daily 8.30am-7pm; 4 October to 31 October, daily 8.30am-5pm; 1 November to 28 February, daily 8.30am-4pm; 1 March to 31 March, daily 8.30am-5pm.

Price: Free

Website: southwark.gov.uk


Dulwich Books

This bright and friendly shop has some lovely corners to loiter in, stand-alone shelves to lean on, and low shelves to crouch by. If bookshops could talk, this one would speak really softly and quietly. It’d invite you in, make sure you’re comfortable, and then leave you happily alone.

Nearest rail: West Dulwich. Entrance on Croxted Road.

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, 9.30am-5.30pm. 

Price: Free

Website: dulwichbooks.co.uk

Dulwich books

Sydenham Hill Woods

The last remaining section of the Great North Wood, with three entrances that each takes you down into ancient woodland: nine-hectares of oaks, hornbeams, bluebells and wild garlic. It’s a likely setting for a children’s story, because it’s silent, spooky and full of shadows - even in the daytime.  

Nearest rail: Sydenham Hill and Forest Hill. Entrances on Crescent Wood Road and Cox's Walk

Opening hours: Open at all times

Cost: Free

Website: wildlondon.org.uk  


East

The Monument to the Great Fire of London

Not the quietest spot, but if you’re one of the first or last of the day to ascend the 311 spiral steps, you can claim this place as your own. Here you can look out onto the city from the exact spot others stood hundreds of years ago.

Nearest underground: Monument. Entrance on Monument Street.

Opening hours: 9.30am-5pm – 5.30pm in summer

Price: Adults £3, concs £2, children £1.50

Website: themonument.info


Phytology 

On a previously abandoned patch of land, Feverwort, Goat’s Rue and other weeds are being grown. The Phytology project brings together artists and botanists to explore these wild urban plants. With an amphitheatre for fireside performances and a fascinating talks programme, this is an unusual and serene place.

Nearest tube: Bethnal Green. Entrance on Middleton Street

Opening hours: Friday and Saturday,10am-5pm (summer only) or by appointment. 

Price: free

Website: phytology.org.uk

Psytology

St. Dunstan-in-the-East church garden

Built around 1100, the original church suffered irreparable damage in the Great Fire of 1666 before being patched up by Sir Christopher Wren. The garden is overgrown, full of ferns and ornamental vines that climb the ruins. You can rest your eyes and ears here, and let thoughts settle.

Nearest underground: Monument and Tower Hill. Entrance on St Dunstan's Hill, off Lower Thames Street

Opening hours: Open throughout the year from 8am-dusk. 

Price: free

Website: cityoflondon.gov.uk


West

Hammerton Ferry

For a mere pound you can take this tiny ferry the width of the Thames and enjoy the wind in your hair. The trip is over before you’ve quite settled into your seat, but it offers a chance to take time out from rushing about on land.

Nearest rail: Richmond

Access: Winter and Spring, 10am-dusk (weekends only); Summer and Autumn, 10am-6pm

Price: £1

Website: hammertonsferry.com

Ferry

Kyoto Garden in Holland Park

A sign at the entrance of the garden asks visitors to respect its tranquility, so appreciating the quiet here is inevitable. Designed in the typical Japanese understated style, this is a place that really calms the senses. Plus it’s home to some strolling peacocks, glittering koi and a tumbling waterfall.

Nearest underground: Holland Park, Kensington High Street and Notting Hill Gate. Entrances include on Ilchester Place.

Access: Open daily from 7.30am until 30 minutes before dusk. 

Price: Free

Website: rbkc.gov.uk

Kyoto garden holland park

Silver Study Area, Victoria and Albert Museum

It’s often possible to find a place to pause here. I like the ceramics collection on the top floor, and the stained glass windows, too. Best of all is the seating within the silverware area. Being surrounded by all those elaborate shiny objects is quite joyful.

Nearest underground: South Kensington. Entrance on Cromwell Road

Opening times: Saturday to Thursday, 10am-5.45pm; Friday, 10am-10pm. 

Price: Free except special exhibitions

Website: vam.ac.uk

Silver gallery

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