Weather in the United Kingdom is often portrayed as dreary, foggy, and wet but, especially in the summer, you can also expect sunshine, clear skies, and people outside enjoying themselves.
If you’re planning a vacation in London this summer, and want to move beyond Buckingham Palace, London Bridge, and the usual tourist trail and get outdoors – what are your options?
There’s actually a surprising amount of great outdoor adventures to be found in and around the British capital, and here are just a few that can inspire you to get off the tour bus and into the wild.
1. White water rafting in Waltham Cross
Lee Valley White Water Centre
Station Road, Waltham Cross, EN9 1AB
London is flat, with no mountains or even steep hills, so how can you white water raft there? The Lee Valley White Water Centre is the answer. Built for the 2012 Olympics, the center is now open to the public and offers white water rafting and kayaking experiences to individuals or groups. The center also offers lessons, if your skills are rusty or you’re new to the sport.
While Lea Valley uses artificial rapids, you can still expect the same experience and adrenalin hit of a natural run, and it’s still as difficult to control the raft as it is anywhere in the world.
2. Rocket boat the Thames River
The Thames Rocket
Boarding Gate One, London, SE1 7PB
The Thames River is the center point of the city and divides London in half. It’s an essential part of daily life and local identity – and also in local entertainment. If you want to see the city while experiencing something entirely different, we suggest getting into a rocket boat.
The Thames Rocket is a commercial operation that uses a fast speedboat to take you on a sightseeing tour of London from the river, at an impressive 30 knots.
The speed makes for a shorter ride than, say, your typical dinner cruise – but you’ll still get to see a lot of the city, with most landmarks up to Tower Bridge. A guide on the boat will point out the main points along the way.
3. Abseil down the Orbit
Arcel Ormittal Orbit
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, 5 Thornton St, London E20 2AD
The ArcelorMittal Orbit is a steel structure that was once the observation tower at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for the 2012 Olympics. It was given a new lease of life as an outdoor adventure playground and you can abseil down the outside of it.
It’s 380 feet high and has two ways to get down. One is a helter-skelter-style slide that provides a hands-free adrenalin rush. The other is an abseil platform where you can abseil down the height of the tower to the ground.
We would recommend both as they offer similar thrills in completely different ways. Both cost money, but both are unique experiences that are well worth trying if you’re in London.
4. Wakeboarding at Docklands
Royal Victoria Beach, London E16 1AG
London’s “inner city watersports oasis” provides opportunities for stand-up paddleboarding and wakeboarding. If you aren’t familiar with wakeboarding, it’s a cable-driven system that’s a lot like jet skiing, but generally within a lake – or old dock in this case. It’s a great way to enjoy the water without your own speedboat and is well worth checking out. And once you’ve got wakeboarding down, you can advance and do some hydro foiling.
Docklands is a short distance east of Downtown London but there’s a Tube line that takes you directly there. Note: the water can be a little cold but you’ll have a wetsuit and boots so you should be fine.
5. Hike the Epping Forest Oak Trail
Theydon Bois Underground Station
Coppice Row, Theydon Bois, Epping CM16 7EU
Epping Forest is one of 14 green spaces managed by the city and sits a short distance outside the city center. Easily accessible by Tube or bus, it’s a great place to escape the city and see some green.
The Oak Trail is 6.6 miles / 10.6 km long and should take 3-4 hours depending on your pace and how distracted you get. The trail, which includes a deer sanctuary, is set in ancient woodland and is usually firm underfoot and fairly easygoing. It takes in forest, grassland, and wildlife within a 6,000-acre woodland.
Note: Epping Forest can get busy but there’s plenty of space and the trail is well-marked so you shouldn’t get lost.
6. Into the trees in Battersea
Go Ape Battersea,
Battersea Park, London SW11 4NJ
Go Ape is a British chain of outdoor activity parks set in the trees. It uses high wires, treehouse-like structures, slides, poles, and more to provide an aerial assault course for people to try.
It’s not a military assault course, but rather a series of aerial challenges with rope ladders, zip wires, and swings. It’s very accessible and not as much hard work as it might sound. And it’s exceptionally popular with kids, which should tell you how accessible it is.
There are locations across the country that all provide a similar service but this one is in Battersea Park south of the River Thames near Chelsea.
Although outdoor activities won’t be the main draw in the Visit London travel brochures, there remains plenty to do outdoors in the UK capital and something for every ability. And most of these that require equipment will provide it so you don’t need to carry your hiking boots in your hold luggage. Note: remember to book in advance where necessary and avoid disappointment.
Have you visited London? Tried any outdoor activities? Have a story to tell? Share your experiences in the comments below.