Nature walks near London

The pace and breadth of modern London can make you forget that the south is home to beautiful green landscapes and plenty of wildlife. We'd recommend these three locations for nature walks, under two hours from London by train.

1. Elmley National Nature Reserve

Just 65km east of central London, the pristine Isle of Sheppey offers an escape to a different world from the capital. And the Elmley National Nature Reserve is the perfect place to see its rare and special wildlife. This area is an internationally-recognised wetland habitat for several species of breeding shorebirds. As well as home to saltwater marshes, hare, rare invertebrates, and diverse flora.

Walk 1.5km from the car park at Kingshill Farm, following the seawall to an open-air screen where you can spot rafting wildfowl and roosting wader. Then walk another 1.4km further on to the Wellmarsh Counterwall and South Fleet Hides. Walk around the ponds and shallow pools that can be filled with thousands of wading birds. Then walk 2.5km to the serene, remote Spitend Hide, which overlooks the Swale Estuary.

Getting there: The closest railway station to Elmley Nature Reserve is Swale, and it is 1h 22m from London Victoria to Swale. Kingshill Farm, where you start the walk, is about a 25m bus ride from Swale station.

2. Dulwich Wood and Horniman Nature Trail

Dulwich Wood, and the adjacent Sydenham Hill Wood, form the largest remaining part of the ancient Great North Wood. This oak woodland once swallowed up most of South London, covering all of Southwark and stretching all the way to Croydon. Today, it provides one of the absolute best London hiking trails for an urban nature escape. Especially in combination with the nearby Horniman Nature Trail.

The Horniman Nature Trail is the oldest nature trail in London. It occupies the original site of the Crystal Palace and South London Junction Railway, disused since 1954. Over that time it has become a crucial home to many plants, insects, birds and animals. You can walk the wild woodlands, pond and meadows, as well as visit the historic Horniman Museum.

Getting there: Neighbouring Sydenham Hill, also home to a remnant of the Great North Wood, is the closest train station to Dulwich Wood. Central London to Sydenham Hill takes around 15m by train, on services from London Blackfriars and London Victoria.

3. Haddington Hill

A short circular trail through the Wendover Woods takes you to the highest point in Buckinghamshire. However, to see a bit more, start your walk in the town of Wendover rather than the car park at the start of the 4.5km loop trail. This will take you through the beautiful Hale Valley, passing the Hale Valley vineyard before cutting up through lovely forest trails to the highest point of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

If you want to extend the hike, you can also climb nearby Coombe Hill. From back in Wendover, this will only add another 35 minutes or so to your walk. And you'll enjoy the peaceful countryside and great views in return.

Getting there: It takes just 42 minutes from London Marylebone to Wendover, with services running frequently throughout the day.

4. Colley Hill

Surrey offers some of the most spectacular hilly countryside you can find within spitting distance of London. And Colley Hill is an easily manageable, and extremely rewarding, option for day hikes from the city. Start walking from the Wray Lane car park, near Gratton Park, following the North Downs Way trail west.

The trail goes through woodlands and grasslands with beautiful wildflowers in summer. You'll also pass Reigate Fort and get superb views onto Box Hill and Leith Hill. Soak up gorgeous views over Surrey and the South Downs from the 220-metre summit of Colley Hill, then head back to the car park. It should take less than one hour up and down. So if you want a bit more exercise, the trail up nearby Reigate Hill also starts from the car park.

Getting there: Reigate is the closest station, just a 20-minute walk from Wray Lane car park. London to Reigate takes 42m from Blackfriars or Victoria.

Coastal walks near London

Castles, cliffs, and country parks galore. Hit the seaside for these sensational coastal walks from London.

5. South Downs Circular Walk

This wonderful 12.5km circular track covers the best of the East Sussex part of the South Downs. The Seven Sisters, Birling Gap, Belle Tout Lighthouse, Friston Forest, and the Cuckmere River are among the highlights it takes in. There are some moderate climbs and variation between the trails, but the South Downs Circular Walk is fairly manageable for all ages and abilities.

The walk starts at Birling Gap car park, then heads west along the South Downs Way National Trail. This traces the coast along to Cuckmere Haven, which has superb views of the Seven Sisters. You head north through the 700-acre Seven Sisters Country Park, then cut east through Friston Forest, home to deer, rare butterflies, and lovely shaded trails. You then head south through some East Dean countryside before returning to the car park. In total it should take 3-4 hours.

Getting there: The Birling Gap car park is just outside Eastbourne. It takes 1h 24m from London to Eastbourne by train, with services departing from London Bridge and Victoria.

6. Dover to Deal

This 15.5km walk takes in awesome clifftop views, a number of ancient castles, lovely patches of countryside, and the historic sites of famous Dover and lesser-known Deal. You start off by the famous Dover Docks and head towards England's largest castle, the magnificent Dover Castle. After climbing past the castle you head through White Cliffs Country Park then east to the Victorian South Foreland Lighthouse.

You then pass through the Pine Gardens towards St. Margaret's Bay, then drop down into Kingsdown and soon arrive at Walmer Castle. The final stretch lands you in charming Deal, where you can stroll along the pier on your way to the train station to head back to London. Depending on how many white-cliff photo-stops and side trails you take, total walking time should be around 4 hours.

Getting there: The main station in Dover is Dover Priory. It takes 1h 4m from London to Dover and 1h 22m on the return from Deal to London. You can do the walk in either direction.

And with that, you have our rundown on the best hikes near London. If you're keen on trying any of these treks from the capital, why not start your search for train tickets now?