Green Traveller's Guide to London
Updated: Feb 1
Rhiannon Batten provides a few tips for how to have a green eco escape in London
One of Europe’s busiest and best cities, London offers everything from iconic architecture and lush green parks to an eclectic and exciting mix of places to eat, drink and stay. World-renowned attractions such as the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye jostle for visitor’s attention with theatre, live music, street art, shopping and a range of acclaimed museums. For those looking for a bit more activity, options include walking tours, cycling, or boating and kayaking on the Thames. Food here is definitely a highlight, with everything from Michelin-starred restaurants to a diverse range of international street food and cafes.
Where to Stay
London's history spans millennia, and nowhere is this more evident than in its architecture. Centuries-old townhouses rub shoulders with sleek, modern creations; 1960s apartment blocks live happily alongside more salubrious addresses. And with so many quiet canalsides, lush gardens and endless green space, you'll sometimes find it hard to believe you're slap bang in one of the world's most populous cities. North to south, east to west, London is cosmopolitan to its core, and, as one of the most visited cities in the world, the accommodation scene is similarly diverse. Whether you're looking for a traditional B&B experience, a frills-free hotel that won't burst the budget, an all-out stay in a penthouse apartment or something a bit more unusual, London caters for all.
Below are some of our favourite, environmentally-sensitive places to stay in this lively, loveable city. If you're planning to stay near St Pancras International Railway Station, see: Hotels near St Pancras, including the Great Northern Hotel, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, or for a cheaper option, the Excelsior Hotel in Camden.
One Aldwych, London, England
One of the standout places to stay in London, this is a luxury hotel with an environmental conscience. Convenient for enjoying the shops and sights of Covent Garden and even has a sleek, chlorine-free swimming pool equipped with underwater music.
Handily located for the theatres, shops and restaurants of Covent Garden, this five-star, 105-room hotel has become one of the standout places to stay in the capital since it opened its gloriously re-imagined Edwardian surroundings to guests in 1998. Behind all the show, however, is a deep conscience. Holder of a gold grading from the Green Tourism Business Scheme and the Luxury Eco Certification Standard (LECS) from Sustainable Travel International, it recycles, uses low-flush drainage systems, follows a responsible sourcing policy in its kitchens and, best of all, has a sleek, chlorine-free swimming pool equipped with underwater music. onealdwych.com/
Apex Hotel London Wall, London, England
This four-star hotel has become a favourite among both green-minded tourists and business guests, with brightly furnished bedrooms and a restaurant serving locally-sourced fresh produce, a heat recovery system and energy-saving appliances.
It may only have opened in 2009 but this four-star hotel has already become a favourite among both green-minded tourists and business guests. Set in the city’s financial district but within easy reach of the Barbican and Spitalfields, it features 89 brightly furnished bedrooms and a restaurant that serves dishes made largely from locally sourced produce. Winning green points for initiatives such as a heat recovery system, water and energy saving appliances and a green roof, look out too for its new sister property, Apex Temple Court, just off Fleet Street. Equally environmentally sensitive, this features high-grade insulation, heat pumps, card readers that switch off electrical appliances and lights when rooms are not in use and a combined heat and power system designed to generate electricity with ‘waste’ heat energy. apexhotels.co.uk/
The Zetter, London, England
Voted one of the world's '50 coolest hotels' by Conde Nast Traveller, this Clerkenwell boutique hotel takes sustainability as seriously as style. Housed in a fully renovated Victorian warehouse, it is designed for maximum energy efficiency.
Both a member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association and a Green Tourism Business Scheme gold award holder, this Clerkenwell boutique hotel takes sustainability as seriously as style. Designed for maximum energy efficiency, its 59 bedrooms boast more eco friendly features than you could shake a hippy at. These include utilising a borehole beneath the building for drinking water, toilet flushing and to maintain a natural cooling system and bath products that contain no unnatural nasties. Bike hire and route maps are also available for guests. thezetter.com/
Beresford Terrace 2, London, England
A different kind of homestay, this provides guests with a hotel experience but in a private home, and also offers a pick-your-own vegetable garden. Experience London like a local, and with a much lower carbon footprint than staying in a hotel.
One of hundreds of chic London properties on OneFineStay’s books, at this two-bedroom apartment in Highbury the idea is to offer guests a hotel experience (think professional cleaning, beds made with posh linen sheets and personalised guides to the local area) but in a private home. A new spin on the homestay experience, as the apartments are only rented out when the owners are away, guests here experience London life like a local. It’s also a greener option, with a recent report by The Carbon Coach suggesting that the carbon footprint of the average homestay is 80% smaller than an energy-guzzling hotel stay. An added bonus for guests at Beresford Terrace is an immaculate, private, walled garden, with vegetable plots you can pick-your-own from. onefinestay.com/london/
Lancaster London, London, England
Overlooking Hyde Park, this 416-room, four-star hotel gets a lot of repeat guests thanks to high standards of service and dramatic views. Their environmental efforts are impressive - in particular housing half a million honey bees on the roof!
Overlooking Hyde Park, this 416-room, four-star hotel gets a lot of repeat guests thanks to high standards of service and dramatic views. The décor may not be as up-to-date as that at some of its competitors but there’s no questioning its eco credentials. Named AA Eco Hotel of the Year 2011-2012, awarded Gold by the Green Tourism Business Scheme, and the winner of several awards in recent years from the Considerate Hoteliers Association, not only does Lancaster London have an impressively comprehensive environmental responsibility policy but it has even installed half a million bees on its roof. Supplies allowing, the fruits of their labours are served in the hotel, and given as gifts to visiting honeymooners. royallancaster.com/
Where to Eat
Owned by a social enterprise, the Shoreditch Trust, this eco-friendly restaurant serves food that’s as easy on the eye as it is on the environment. Dishes such as mushroom and tarragon ravioli in a thyme and butter sauce and three-peppered rib eye steak with duck fat potatoes and garlic mushroom sauce are beautifully presented, and made with sustainably sourced and low-carbon principles in mind. All suppliers are asked to deliver their produce free of packaging, electricity comes from solar and hydro sources, water is bottled and purified on site and a wormery digests food waste on-site. The restaurant also offers training and employment to local people. waterhouserestaurant.co.uk/
Street Kitchen, London
Street food is one of the biggest eating trends in the capital at the moment. If you want to get on board there are plenty of four-wheeled fast-food outlets serving ethical and delicious street food. One of the best is Street Kitchen, which serves 100% British-sourced - and usually organic - dishes from a gleaming Airstream trailer in bio-plastic containers. Anyone for roasted Jerusalem artichokes with warm crushed potatoes, pickled red onions, Old Winchester cheese, mustard leaves and rosemary vinaigrette? thefoodinitiative.com/
The Duke of Cambridge, London
The UK’s first Soil Association-certified gastropub, Islington’s Duke of Cambridge, is also one of the most atmospheric places to eat in the capital. Pop in for a pint of organic Eco Warrior ale or take a seat at one of its stripped-down wooden tables to tuck into beer battered pollack with chips, mushy peas and tartar sauce or mussels in tomato, chorizo and ale sauce. Everything on the menu is organic, seasonal and ethically sourced, with meat from small farms that are big on animal welfare, MSC-certified fish and 80% of produce sourced from farmers in neighbouring counties. It also sources its electricity from wind and solar suppliers. dukeorganic.co.uk/
Local Attractions in London
Shopping in London
London is well known as a shopping destination. If you want to steer a more ethical course around the city’s tills, however, there are some great specialist stores. For underwear, knitwear, jewellery, stylish bamboo yoga gear and homeware, all with a sustainable angle, try Notting Hill’s In Bloom London (call first as it’s by appointment-only on some days). For food, shop the stalls at one of London’s farmers’ markets, stock up on groceries at BeUnpackaged, where you can take your own containers to fill up by weight, or head to Thornton’s Budgens in Crouch End. Here, on Fridays in season, its organic vegetable shelves are stocked with produce from a volunteer-run garden on the shop’s roof.
London Wetland Centre, London
Run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) the London Wetland Centre, in Barnes, southwest London, holds a gold award from the Green Tourism Business Scheme and is one of the best places in London to escape the urban grind. Within this 105-acre wildlife reserve are lakes, pools and gardens that are home to dragonflies, bats, frogs and over 200 species of birds; depending on the time of day, and year, you visit you might glimpse swifts, sand martins, wigeon, teal, pintails, lapwings, warblers or bitterns. The centre also runs free guided tours and a regular programme of family-friendly events. wwt.org.uk/
Green spaces in London
With 300 acres of carefully tended trees and plants, historic glasshouses and a treetop walkway to explore, it’s little wonder that the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is a UNESCO world heritage site. The holder of a gold award from the Green Tourism Business Scheme, Kew remains one of London’s prime green spaces. More recent on the scene is Thames Barrier Park, in East London, a 22-acre riverside redevelopment that opened a little over a decade ago, with picnic areas, flower meadows, lawns and great views of the Thames Barrier.
Mudchute City Farm, London
There are several city farms across the capital but Mudchute is the largest. Set on the Isle of Dogs, here visiting families can enjoy 32 acres of countryside carved out of what was once derelict land. Established as a park in the early 1970s, there are now over 200 animals on the site and it still operates very much as a community initiative. Volunteers form a large part of the workforce and its remit is as much about providing a recreational space for local people as it is with conservation and animal welfare. There’s also a café. Other city farms in London that are open to the public include Spitalfields and Hackney. mudchute.org/
The Crystal, London
The Crystal is a £30 million urban sustainability initiative, funded by Siemens, and the first big development of the city’s new Green Enterprise District. A showcase for sustainable urban design, it provides easily accessible information on renewable energy and low-carbon transport and infrastructure while also directly illustrating how greener building techniques can make better places to live and work in. Open to school groups, city planners and members of the public, the site also includes a visitor café and restaurant serving regionally sourced food. thecrystal.org/
Activities in London
Arcola Theatre, London
Known for its ambitious programming, which runs the literary spectrum from classic plays to works by upcoming young writers and European dramas, the Arcola Theatre draws a dedicated audience to its slightly offbeat location, a former paint factory in Hackney. Awarded a gold rating by the Green Tourism Business Scheme, it is on a mission to become the world’s first carbon-neutral theatre, it recycles old sets, has installed hydrogen fuel cell-powered lighting in its cafe/bar and campaigns for greater sustainability in the arts. arcolatheatre.com/
Walking tours in London
For a fresh – and low-carbon – insight into London, lace up some stout shoes and hit the city’s pavements with an expert guide to direct you. Urban Gentry runs a range of special interest walking tours for private groups across the capital, from fashion-focused tours to strolls around Sunday markets and hip neighbourhoods. Or, try one of Blue Badge guide Sophie Campbell’s personalised walking tours. These range from a slow pub crawl (think Slow Food but transferred to some of London’s most historic pubs) to more challenging urban treks.
Kayaking in London
The Thames is one of the great landmarks of London and though it’s easy enough to get a sense of this great waterway with a gentle stroll along one of its banks, if you’re looking for more adventure, see the city from a ducks’ eye view. One of the best-known local kayak operators is Kayaking London, which include a 2.5-hour trip that paddles past Big Ben at night. kayakinglondon.com/
Cycling in London
If you’re looking for a classic bike tour of London, you’ll need a classic bicycle, which is where Tally Ho! Cycle Tours comes in. Launched in 2011, the company takes visitors on guided tours of the city’s sights by vintage-style Pashley bicycles that have been equipped with traditional Brooks saddles. Choose from a classic 2.5-hour Central London ride, a 4.5-hour East Thames Amble or the Royal Loop, a 4-hour jaunt around the capital’s best-loved attractions that includes a pit-stop for tea and cakes at Soho’s Secret Tea Room, a deliciously quirky, 1940s-style cafe. tallyho.cc/
Drink and Draw in London
Meeting locals can be a hard task for any tourist, yet it’s often one of the highlights of a trip. If you don’t have London friends to show you their favourite neighbourhood bars, restaurants and markets, help is at hand from Frui. Although the company specialises in creative holidays, it also runs regular gatherings in London that are open to both locals and visitors. One of its most popular events is its Drink & Draw evening, where visitors spend a couple of hours meeting at a specified location for an informal drawing lesson before heading on to a pub afterwards to socialise. frui.co.uk/