Stoke Newington isn’t on the tube, but it’s worth making the short trip by train (from Liverpool Street) or bus to hang out in this former enclave for radicals and nonconformists, which still has an independent vibe. Stay on and around Church Street and you won’t go far wrong – it’s great for pubs, cafes and quirky shops, especially interiors and vintage fashion. Search for antique bargains at the Cobbled Yard on Bouverie Road (cobbled-yard.co.uk). Real-ale lovers should head to the Jolly Butchers (jollybutchers.co.uk) on the High Street, where there are at least seven ales on tap and three ciders. The all-organic farmers’ market at the other end of the High Street in front of St Paul’s Church sells scrumptious picnic fare (Saturdays, 10am-2.30pm, growingcommunities.org). Clissold Park is one of London’s prettiest, with lakes and a deer enclosure. West Reservoir (hackney.gov.uk/west-reservoir.htm) on Green Lanes offers sailing and kayaking; or go climbing at the Castle (castle-climbing.co.uk).
Villagey Highgate perches north-west of the City, offering fantastic views over London. Its buildings are largely Georgian, lending it a quaint, old-fashioned air, and it is surrounded by green spaces, with Hampstead Heath to the west, Waterlow Park to the south and the ancient Highgate Wood and Queen’s Wood to the north. Highgate Cemetery (highgate-cemetery.org) is an atmospheric place to wander and find Karl Marx’s grave, one of the most visited in the city. Highgate also has some lovely pubs, including The Flask (theflaskhighgate.com), brewpub The Bull (thebullhighgate.co.uk) and The Wrestlers (98 North Road). Highgate is on the Northern Line, but a more relaxing way to reach it is by strolling along the Parkland Walk (parkland-walk.org.uk), a railway line turned nature reserve, from Finsbury Park.
This leafy “village” is home to Dulwich Picture Gallery (dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk), England’s first public art gallery – during the Olympics you can see an Andy Warhol exhibition, including his Muhammad Ali prints. Dulwich Park (dulwichparkfriends.org.uk), opposite the gallery, has a boating lake and occasional outdoor film screenings over the summer (thelunacinema.com). From here you can stroll to Herne Hill and go for a swim at the art deco Brockwell Lido (fusion-lifestyle.com), which has a poolside cafe that opens for candlelit dinners from Tuesday to Saturday. In the other direction is the Horniman Museum (horniman.ac.uk) in Forest Hill. Its eccentric collection of objects is free to view and very family-friendly, and the museum gardens have spectacular views over London. East and North Dulwich stations are served by trains from London Bridge.
Well-heeled Chelsea is one of London’s best shopping areas – alight at Sloane Square and head down Kings Road for two miles of nonstop fashion, homewares, beauty and food. Nearby Sloane Street offers pricier designer fashion and jewellery. Stop off at the contemporary Saatchi Gallery (saatchi-gallery.co.uk) while you’re on Kings Road, then sample the speciality food at the market on Duke of York Square (Saturdays, 10am-4pm). If you tire of Chelsea’s elegant squares of period townhouses (average house price around ?1.5m), head to the river and stroll along the embankment, spying on the (equally rich) houseboat residents. Chelsea Physic Garden (66 Royal Hospital Road, chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk) is an antidote to all that consumerism – the walled garden was founded by apothecaries in the 17th century and is still a beautiful and peaceful haven today.
For wilder landscape than you’ll find in the rest of London’s parks, head to Richmond – its 2,500 acres of parkland feature free-range deer and ancient oaks. It is the largest urban park in Europe. In contrast to that relatively untamed landscape, Richmond’s centre is very genteel. Enjoy a glimpse of ye olde England on the village green, where you can watch a game of cricket while sipping a pint from The Prince’s Head (princeshead.co.uk) or The Cricketers (gkpubs.co.uk). Another lovely spot for a drink is The White Cross (thewhitecrossrichmond.com), right on the river. Check the tide times or you might not be able to leave – though there are worse places to be stranded. At Richmond Theatre (atgtickets.com), you can catch a show before it heads to the West End.