One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since moving to London is that the city’s best bits are also its best kept secrets. The greatest pubs are always tucked away off the high street, and the coziest coffee shops are always slightly off the beaten path. It’s true of London’s neighborhoods, too. Some of the most beloved are also some of least obvious. Like Richmond.
Way at the end of the District Line in southwest London, Richmond is a little village unto itself. It sits on the banks of the Thames and is home to one of London’s largest parks. Most locals know it for its pretty high street and great riverside pubs, which are packed on sunny afternoons.
And that’s how I know it, too. I’ve spent days out in Richmond a handful of times since moving to London, and have always enjoyed the picturesque waterfront ambiance and wooded park. But I’ve only seen the neighborhood on the surface, and I know there must be more to it.
Today I’m there to seek out that something beyond the obvious. I exit the tube station and walk out onto the high street, but instead of passing by the chain shops and restaurants, I veer off onto the first little street I find.
As soon as I do, my theory that every good thing in London is hidden away is proven correct. Waterloo Place is a chocolate box of a pedestrianized lane, with little brick cottages and wild gardens overflowing with spring flowers. It’s so sweet that I want to wrap it up and take it home.
High on my good luck, I duck into the next little lane to see if it will yield the same result. Church Court is a narrow passage with a book shop, and it opens up onto a sunny courtyard with the pretty St Mary Magdalene Church in the middle.
On one side is a graveyard with stones so old they’ve lost their engravings, and on the other is a French restaurant called La Buvette with outdoor tables covered in red and white checked tablecloths. It’s tucked away behind a wall, and I feel like I’ve discovered something great as I peek into the terrace.
I try my luck a third time with a walk down tiny Brewers Lane, and am rewarded with everything from pint size bars to a gelateria and artisanal chocolate shop. And as with Church Court, this little walkway opens out onto something bigger: Richmond Green.
The wide expanse of grass is intersected by walkways, and the whole space is filled with families laughing and playing games. The green is lined by charming buildings, one of which has a very curious set of spectacles hanging from a vine arch outside.
Near it is yet another skinny alley, and I can’t resist a walk down. Paved Court is perhaps my best find yet, with a little William Curley chocolate shop right in the middle. I love his chocolates, and I can’t resist popping in to see all the decadent confections.
Back out on the high street, I head down to the Thames to explore the riverfront. The pub terraces are starting to fill up for the afternoon, and the waterfront promenade is bustling. Pink blossoms fill the trees along the path, and the river is full of all kinds of seafaring vessels. The larger ones advertise boat trips to Hampton Court Palace, while the little ones wait patiently for people to row them out onto the water.
I walk along the path towards Ham House, a 17th century stately home on the river, then hike up the hill in Terrace Field to take advantage of the spectacular views from the top.
Just down the road is Richmond Park, and no day out in Richmond is complete without a wander. I walk in, hoping to catch a glimpse of the park’s famous deer. They’ve been resident since 1529, and despite there being 650 of them, I have never seen one. Again my theory that the best things in London are the most hidden comes to mind.
I spend a couple of hours roaming the park, wandering up hills and down, passing by the Pen Ponds and looking longingly at all of the adorable dogs I would love to steal. I mean, pet. Pet. All the while, I keep my eyes open for deer.
Eventually I give up hope, consoling myself with the thought that if I have a perfect day out in Richmond, I will have no need to return again.
But just as I’m leaving, I spot something in the woods. I stop and watch, and suddenly a deer appears from behind a tree. Soon it’s joined by a second one, and I can hardly believe my luck.
The deer are every bit as beautiful as I imagined, and seeing them has made my day. But as I wander back down the hill and across the high street, I know that my sighting doesn’t mean the end of my exploration of Richmond. Given how many new places I’ve discovered just by getting slightly off the beaten path, I can only imagine how much more there is to see. And that’s the beauty of London; I will never be finished exploring, and the city will always reward me when I do.