London is known for its cutting-edge culture and attractions, such as the London Eye, as well as for its many historical sites and theatre district, but there is another side to the city found in its wonderful hidden natural attractions. Scattered throughout the boroughs of London are parks, ponds, and green ways that date back centuries and which continue to draw visitors interested in taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Tucked away on the outskirts of Greater London, Virginia Water has provided a respite for city-weary visitors since the 18th century. Nestled near the royal town of Windsor, this picturesque lake has seen kings and queens swimming in its water since 1753 when it was created. The lake is the largest reservoir in England and is known not only for its beauty, but also for its biodiversity. As part of the Royal Landscape, Virginia Water is maintained by the The Crown Estate for the perpetual enjoyment of the visiting public.
Virginia Water Wick Road at Englefield Rd. Surrey, London England +01-75-386-0222 theroyallandscape.co.uk
The Valley Gardens
The Valley Gardens cover 250 acres along the northern shore of Virginia Water. One of the most diverse gardens in the world, the Valley Gardens combine hundreds of cultivated species with the naturally occurring species of the area. Visitors can walk among native species, such as chestnut and Scots pine trees, as well as azaleas, exotic oaks, sweet gum trees, and many types of imported maple trees. There are several trails to walk, which meander up and down rolling hills and along the water. Brochures are available at the Savill Building near the front of the garden to guide your tour.
The Valley Gardens Wick Rd. Englefield Green Surrey, London England +01-78-443-5544 theroyallandscape.co.uk
Shepperton, River Thames image by Vanessa Taylor from Fotolia.com
As one of the most visible natural attractions in London, the River Thames has both historic and natural importance to the area. With countless bridges passing over the river, it is easy for visitors to view the water, or perhaps to board a tourist barge for a tour of the sights. The river has been such an important part of life in London since ancient times that much of the city's architectural heritage has been built up within view of the water. The river has also inspired a unique activity called "mudlarking," a type of scavenging along the banks that often rewards its participants with Roman-era coins and other antiquities. To understand the impact that the river has had on the history of London, visit the Thames Barrier. This astounding metallic structure crosses a 523-meter wide stretch of river to protect the lower areas of the city from flooding. A small museum caters to the public with information about the construction and function of this amazing structure.
River Thames Barrier Unity Way Woolwich, London England +44-20-830-54188