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.
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.
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)
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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