Freelance travel writer and Policy Adviser for the UK government living in Brixton. View my blog www.my-big-fat-carbon-footprint.blogspot.com for ethical and budget travel inspiration
Published February 22nd 2013
Because walking is healthier than a dinner date
London: fast-paced and reckless, this city is not usually associated with romantic trysts and loved up couples. But for those of you who don't have the money or the inclination to jump across the channel to Paris, it is perfectly possible to 'do' romantic in London.
London has plenty of places to explore under the cover of darkness, hand in hand with your loved one. Whether you're after bright lights and paper lanterns, or silent discovery, choose one of these five walks to keep the Valentine's feel going year-round.
London Eye. Image by Diliff from Wikimedia Commons
South Bank This is the classic London stroll. The south bank was made with pedestrians in mind. Although it can feel congested during the daytime with the sheer volume of tourists, the evening brings with it a sense of leisure rather than purpose. Women enveloped in clouds of expensive perfume hang off the arms of suited men as they're whisked towards the doors of the National Theatre, and the London Eye prepares for its final revolutions of the day. Sweet sixteeners swing their legs on café stools making googly eyes at their dates while you watch the river traffic fly past.
The South Bank walk will take you through illuminated tunnels, past an abbey that suffered during the reformation, a replica of Francis Drake's the Golden Hind, The Tate Modern and finally Shakespeare's new Globe Theatre. At night-time, you might be able to hear muffled roars of laughter coming from inside the doughnut shaped building as you walk past. Outside, the man selling sweet roasted peanuts shakes his tray at you: "£2 a pot" he cries. "£2 a pot". Keep an eye out for the remains of the old Blackfriar's bridge, which stands eerily erect in the middle of the Thames. London's South Bank festival and the Christmas Markets herald popular (read crowded) food stalls and events which should either be embraced or avoided completely!
Pros: Lots of historic landmarks, easy terrain, lovely riverside walk Cons: Can be incredibly crowded.
Chinatown and Soho Paper lanterns float above the pedestrianised streets and dumplings are cooked and handed out to passers-by for pennies. This isn't so much of a walk, as an amble. Take diversions, choose a nice restaurant to eat in, enjoy the cooking-smells of Peking Duck and enjoy being in China, but in London. It's worth having a poke about in some of the oriental shops there too: whether your romantic walk is stimulated by the kimono baby-grow or the prospect of making a dish based around pak choi and noodles, walking around Chinatown is busy, loud, vibrant and fun. Not to mention dangerous if you're still harbouring your New Year's healthy eating resolutions.
Pros: Busy, brash, bright Cons: This is a walk more for harvesting shared experiences than sharing sweet-nothings
Albert Bridge. Image by Diliff from Wikimedia Commons
Chelsea Embankment No sites, no crowds, uneven paving slabs and a river. This romantic evening stroll was chosen for the peace and the architecture. Uber-fit runners jog past with their work backpacks strapped tightly to their bodies heading home from the city. The walk can begin anywhere from Vauxhall Bridge to Chelsea Bridge and then continues up to Albert Bridge and back through Battersea Park. This walk is one of my favourites because on one side of the river looms the enormous, disused Battersea Power station and on the other is the sedate Royal Chelsea Hospital. 19th century bachelor flats exude wealth and superb river views: the poverty of the borough of Lambeth now reduced, but still jarring with its flamboyant neighbour across the river.
Battersea Park boasts a pagoda, a pleasant walkway and a stunning view of gorgeous Grade II listed Albert Bridge. At night, 4000 bulbs illuminate the bridge. Nicknamed 'The Trembling Lady', Albert Bridge tends to vibrate when large numbers of heavy vehicles cross it. Note the sign on the entrance to the bridge: "All troops must break step when marching over this bridge".
Pros: Few crowds, different side of London, perfect for whispering sweet nothings to your partner Cons: The Chelsea Embankment can roar with coaches during rush-hour. Night-times and Sunday mornings are far more enjoyable.
St Paul's Cathedral. Image by Merlaysamuel from Wikimedia Commons
Into the City London is an ancient city. If it hadn't burned down in 1666 there is a good chance that the Gherkin wouldn't exist and instead there would be a warren of timber-framed houses and streets running with sludge and hay. The areas around Aldgate, Monument and far east of the Strand are the oldest parts of Central London. There, pubs squeeze into narrow gaps and mullioned bay windows overhang bustling meeting places below. Outside Monument tube station stands 'The Monument', a Roman Doric column commemorating the Great Fire of London. It's possible to ascend the column: last admission is at 17.30 during the summer.
Walking away from Monument you can, in the space of ten minutes happen upon Threadneedle Street, home to the Bank of England and the magnificent St Paul's cathedral at the same time. Leadenhall Market isn't far from Monument either: walk there to experience some architectural grandeur, and the sound of quiet chatter coming from the after-work bars and restaurants. Heading through Leadenhall Market brings you to the Gherkin, a glorious building to circumnavigate in the dark. The heart of the City of London, home to relentless traders and ambitious lawyers, it's likely that the Gherkin will still be lit up late at night. But the later you're walking around the city, the eerier and more ghostly it seems, as you spy ancient houses and 18th century churches peeking out from behind glamorous glass buildings and 1980's monstrosities.
Pros: Historically laden, potential for good bars and restaurants, quiet at night Cons: If you work in the city, you're essentially going back to work on a date