London is a true modern city, with skyscrapers and monuments everywhere you turn. Glass-fronted office buildings soar into the sky alongside Victorian architecture that has been immortalised by Dickens. But if you know where to go, there are plenty of beautiful landscapes waiting to be shot within an hour’s journey. Follow these tips and see what a day trip can add to your portfolio!
Let’s start zero minutes away from London – right in the heart of the city itself. Yes, there are a few parks and open spaces inside the city, but places like Regents Park have been photographed so many times that it’s beyond a cliché. Highgate Wood might give you something completely different, not least because it will look a little different every time you visit.
Frame the trees and fallen branches littering the ground, in this tiny slice of wilderness that quickly isolates you even from the sound of cars on the road. Note the Blair Witch-esque displays of branches and cut wood leaning up into shelter-like shapes around some areas. These are changed around often and give a really spooky atmosphere to the woods.
A green and rolling landscape which is just an hour’s drive away, this area is understandably popular with hikers and cyclists. It’s a challenging route for fitness fans, but more importantly, it offers an ever-changing vista which offers a new shot every time you turn around. It is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and great for both distance views from the tops of hills or rolling landscape shots from the bottom of them.
The High Weald
Another Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the High Weald is the name given to an area of countryside in Kent, Sussex, and Surrey. It stretches over 1400 km and includes wooded areas, nature reserves, and rolling hills. Bluebells grow naturally in many areas and it has a real fairy tale vibe, as well as being considered one of the best-preserved medieval landscapes in Northern Europe.
The French poet Hillaire Belloc once said, “Unless a man understands the Weald, he cannot write about the beginnings of England”. Perhaps the same is true of someone who wishes to photograph it! There are some great oddities to find along the way, such as ancient roads and historic buildings dating back to the 17th century. Kent is known in particular for its oast houses, buildings with distinctive leaning, cone-shaped roofs which were used for drying hops. These make an interesting punctuation across the landscape. All of this is just 45 minutes from London.
South Downs is the newest of the UK’s National Parks, and stretches up as high as Godalming, allowing you to reach it in 55 minutes. Exploring further will require a longer trip, however. The area is made up of tranquil landscapes, pastoral scenes, quiet villages, and panoramas across an ancient landscape.
There’s plenty to enjoy here, and a thirsty photographer can also rely on being able to find a country pub with plenty of local brews on offer. You will certainly want to budget the full day for exploration, if not longer – expect views of green fields rolling before you, delineated by dark hedges and spots of trees, across a gently rolling terrain which stretches right to the horizon.
Yet another AONB which is just 50 minutes from London! The beechwoods here are a spot you can return to time and again as the seasons change. They turn different colours, and are carpeted with bluebells in the spring that make for really stunning shots.
The Chilterns have been largely farmland for centuries, with woodlands taking up the remaining space. That means more long vistas, split up by charming villages, chalk streams, and old farm cottages built with flint. If you’re interested in using a drone, take it up above the fields during golden hour and watch the colours of the sky transform the land below.
45 minutes from London, and perhaps easily combined with an exploration of the Weald, are the Downs. The landscape can be steeper here, and stretches right the way to the cliffs of Dover (though at a considerably longer drive).
Chalk valleys offer a secluded view with interesting grassland framed by ancient woodlands. More oast houses, isolated farms which seem to be dropped in the middle of nowhere, tiny lanes that twist and turn, churches, castles, and orchards are all to be found in this area. The wildlife is particular rich, with some unique species which cannot be found elsewhere, so this is fantastic for those who like to pair landscape studies with wildlife work.
St Albans has been around since the Roman times, when it was known as Verulamium, and as such has a rich history with plenty of archaeology to explore. The Cathedral is a big point of reference which stands slightly apart from the rest of the city, and can make for a fantastic central feature of any landscape shot. Walk a little further and you will find rolling pastoral scenes and wide rivers, often complete with woolly sheep. Hopefully on the land, not the water.
The best part is that this city is only 17 minutes from St Pancras by train. You can pop there and back for a quick exploration in your lunch break. Bring hiking shoes or be prepared to get the bus or a taxi if you come by public transport and want to find the countryside. Ruins such as the Roman Theatre might pique your interest a little closer to the high street.
Around 50 minutes from London you will come on Essex’s Southend. This boasts the longest pier in the world at 1.34 miles, which means if seascapes are your thing, you are spoilt. You can also look back towards the shore and capture a seaside scene, complete with all of the entrapments of the British seaside – amusements, a theme park, ice cream vans, and so on, plus plenty of people trying to sunbathe on the shore.
Thirty minutes out from London is the Surrey home of the Royal Horticultural Society. That means cultivated gardens stretching across 240 acres, complete with greenhouses, an arboretum, and plants from around the world.
It might not be the most natural of environments, given that everything was planted and grown by gardeners deliberately trying to create something that does not exist elsewhere. But does it matter? This area is so inspiring, with colour and shape and bloom everywhere. You will have to pay to get in, but it’s a good day out as well as a great place to shoot close-ups and wider views of flora.
One hour from London is a quaint British countryside town with ancient bridges over twisting rivers and leafy hills. One of the biggest draws here is the way that humans have lived in the area for so long that nature and manmade buildings can in some places appear completely intertwined and in harmony.
The Winchester College is the oldest school in Britain to have remained in continuous use. You may also appreciate the Winchester City Mill, which was restored by the National Trust to now be fully functional.
Wildcard: New Forest
Has this whetted your appetite for going a bit further? An hour and a half out, you will find the New Forest. This spectacular natural landscape is home to wild ponies, which only add to the charm of the landscape.
The heath, covered in heather, is also home to free-ranging cows and pigs, and some of the horses are used to tourists enough that they will come and eat from your hands. You can even find deer in the National Park.
Rivers and streams cross the landscape and the trees loom over it all. If you’re up for a hike, you can discover all kinds of amazing sights and vistas that are hidden to those who only stray around the edges.
Living, or staying, in London is no excuse for not getting out and seeing these beautiful landscapes. With just a short journey of less than an hour, these trips are convenient and rewarding. Your trip home will be a perfect time to start uploading shots to a laptop and editing them, or just going through them on the back of your camera to start making cuts!
Photo license links: Pixabay License