• Tracy Tristram

Not just an urban jungle: Forests and country parks in London

Forests and country parks in London

The whole Covid-crazy nightmare the past two years has been a giant pain in the bottom in many ways, but on the bright side it's definitely forced us, more than ever before, into the great outdoors! So, if like us, you're looking for new family adventures outside to keep busy with outsioe of the urban jungle, then you need to know about these gorgeously green forests and country parks in London and its 'burbs.

Bedfords Park

Forests and country parks in London
Photography: Tracy Tristram, London for Kidz

You'll find us rambling around Bedfords Parks with our kids and dogs most weekends, and it never gets boring exploring the forest paths, feeding the deer, taking in the views of London and Kent and hanging out at the nature-inspired playground. You'll find 215 acres of historical, beautiful greenery, a lake, cows (watch out for the pats!) and a lovely visitor centre and café serving up decent coffee and bacon sarnies. Always a thumbs up from us for Bedfords.

Broxhill Road, Havering-atte-Bower, London Borough of Havering, RM4 1QH; www.essexwt.org.uk/nature-reserves/bedfords

Richmond Park

Forests and country parks in London
Photography: Unsplash

Richmond Park, one of London's eight Royal Parks, covers 2500 acres of greenery littered with wide open spaces, woodlands and wild deer roaming free. It has protected status as an important habitat for wildlife and is not only a National Nature Reserve, but is London's largest Site of Special Scientific Interest. On top of that you can also check out ancient trees, keep an eye out for a range of rare species including fungi, birds, beetles, bats, grasses and wildflowers and refuel at Pembroke Lodge tea rooms. There's also power kiting, bike-hire, horse riding and golf going on, but do check ahead as times and opening hours are all over the place at the mo.

Richmond-on-Thames; www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park

Trent Country Park

Forests and country parks in London
Photography: Trent Country Park

With its quintessential English country house, 413 acres of rolling meadows, bubbling brooks, lovely lakes and ancient woodland, and imposing historical site, Trent Park in North London is part of London's Green Belt. It's a former royal hunting ground, so there's plenty of wildlife to spot including Muntjac deer, rabbits, pheasants and lots more.

Trent Country Park, Enfield; www.trentcountrypark.com

Bushy Park

Forests and country parks in London
Photography: Unsplash

Connected to Hampton Court Palace by the Longford River, Bushy Park is famed for its gorgeous mix of waterways, gardens and grassland, plus its roaming herds of red and fallow deer. Don't forget to look out for the beautiful Diana Fountain at the end of the mile-long Chestnut Avenue, and make sure you visit the Pheasantry Café for a refuel pitstop.

Bushy Park, Hampton Court Rd, Hampton TW12 2EJ; www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/bushy-park

Hainault Forest Country Park

Forests and country parks in London
Photography: Tracy Tristram, London for Kidz

Chances are if we're not at Bedfords for our country walks, then you'll find us roaming around the 334 acres of Hainault Forest Country Park. When covid has totally finished ruining things, you'll come across not only a boating lake, but also Foxburrow Farm, which is free to get into and really rather lovely. There's also a decent café, acres upon acres of meadow and forest to explore and plenty of wildlife to spot. Happy days.

Hainault Forest Country Park, Hainault, IG7 4QN; www.redbridge.gov.uk

High Elms Country Park

Forests and country parks in London
Photography: Unsplash

Located on the ridge of the North Downs close to the Thames Basin, High Elms Country Park has 250 acres of pretty countryside to explore along with a 150 acre golf course. Originally the site of the county home of the Lubbock family, these days visitors to the estate can feast their eyes on gorgeous woodland, formal gardens and wildflower meadows.

High Elms Country Park, Shire Lane, Orpington BR6 7JH; www.bromley.gov.uk/nature_reserves

WWT London Wetland Centre

Forests and country parks in London
Photography: WWT London Wetland Centre

Okay, so not exactly a country park or a forest, but definitely worth a mention: did you know that London has its own wetlands? Discover a 105 acre oasis for wildlife, explore the scenic walkways and keep your eyes peeled for a huge variety of birds, water voles and amphibians over in South West London for a family day out everyone will love. You'll also find adventure playgrounds, zip wires, interactive games and climbing walls to keep your own small critters busy with.

WWT London Wetland Centre, Queen Elizabeth's Walk, Barnes, London, SW13 9WT; www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/london

Fryent Country Park

Forests and country parks in London
Photography: Unsplash

Fryent Country Park, together with Barn Hill Open Space, is a large park on the London/Middlesex border. Head on over to explore 250 acres of designated nature reserve, rolling fields, hills and woodlands in this pretty pocket of land that's also used for grazing ponies.

Fryent Country Park, Fryent Way, Kingsbury, London NW9; www.brent.gov.uk

Weald Country Park

Forests and country parks in London
Photography: Tracy Tristram, London for Kidz

We're pretty lucky to have family who live bordering the 520 acres of Weald Country Park, so we love getting over there, no matter the weather, for a roam around the meadows to feed the ducks, hang out in the playgrounds, check out the deer and get busy with the Stickman Trail.

Weald Country Park, Weald Road, South Weald, Brentwood CM14 5QS; www.explore-essex.com/places-to-go/find-whats-near-me/weald-country-park

Shorne Woods Country Park

Forests and country parks in London
Photography: Kerry O'Malley, London for Kidz

With its eco-friendly visitor centre and restaurant, fishing lakes, trim trail plus picnic and play areas – not to mention 292 acres of beautiful woodlands, wetlands and meadows to explore – Shorne Woods Country Park has everything you need for a day out in the fresh air of the Kent countryside (including lots of huge, muddy puddles right now, which our own intrepid mini reporter, Jacob, had rather a lot of fun trying out recently).

Shorne Woods Country Park, Brewers Road, Shorne, Gravesend DA12 3HX; www.kent.gov.uk/leisure-and-community

Morden Hall Park

Forests and country parks in London
Photography: National Trust

If you're south of the river then Morden Hall Park is a picturesque National Trust park located on the banks of the River Wandle in Morden. It's not as big as some of the other contenders in this guide, but there are still 50 hectares of parkland to explore and keep you busy with.

Morden Hall Park, Morden Hall Road, London SM4 5JD; www.nationaltrust.org.uk/morden-hall-park

Greenwich Park

Forests and country parks in London
Photography: Kerry O'Malley, London for Kidz

Greenwich Park is not only a former hunting park and one of the largest green spaces in south-east London, but it also happens to have some of the most spectacular views (especially at sunset) of the London skyline. Add to that excellent trees to climb, the Royal Observatory, playgrounds and 74 acres of open spaces to explore, and you've got yourself a top day out the whole fam will love.

Greenwich Park, Greenwich, London SE10 8QY; www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/greenwich-park

Epping Forest

Forests and country parks in London
Photography: Tracy Tristram, London for Kidz

Epping Forest is tree-mendously huge covering nearly 6,000 acres of ancient woodland between Epping in Essex and Forest Gate in Greater London. It's a former royal forest and lies on a ridge filled with woodland, grassland, rivers, bogs, ponds and plenty of wildlife, including ten different species of bat! There are also three dedicated Forest Centres dotted around the forest where you can pop in to find out more about the history of the forest, the critters and creatures who call Epping Forest their home, and the ancient buildings you can spot in the area.

Epping Forest, Essex and Greater London; www.eppingforestheritagetrust.org.uk/visitor-centre

River Lee Country Park

Forests and country parks in London
Photography: Lee Valley Park

River Lee Country Park stretches between Waltham Abbey in Essex and Broxbourne in Hertfordshire and covers an extensive 1,000 acres of adventure. Hire a bike, tackle the rapids at Lee Valley White Water Centre, enjoy a less white-knuckle kayak on the lake, or hire a canoe at Broxbourne Old Mill and Meadows if it's family activities you're after. Alternatively just enjoy the countryside, playgrounds and wildlife in the area!

River Lee Country Park, between Waltham Abbey and Broxbourne; www.visitleevalley.org.uk

Thorndon Country Park

Forests and country parks in London
Photography: Tracy Tristram, London for Kidz

Take a stroll in the deep, dark woods and go on a Gruffalo Trail over at Thorndon Country Park. A long-standing fave of the London for Kidz' mini reporters, this Essex country park covers 500 acres of ancient woodland, parkland, ponds, a marsh and meadow, and also has picnic areas, wheelchair and buggy-friendly footpaths, a shop and café, toilets and a visitor centre.

Thorndon Country Park, The Avenue, Warley, Brentwood CM13 3RZ; www.essexwt.org.uk/nature-reserves/thorndon

Like this story? Here are some more you might enjoy:

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London adventures for teens and tweens

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