Located less than 10 miles southwest of Central London, Richmond is an easy day trip for anyone looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
I recently visited Richmond with Mr. SBC on our way to Helsinki to start our Baltic cruise. I lived in Richmond many years ago while I was a University student. When he said he wanted to stop over in London on the way, I knew I had to take him to Richmond!
Richmond has the perfect mix of well-tended public green spaces and fantastic shopping and dining, all in a compact area that’s very walkable.
We decided to stay the night, but Richmond is the perfect spot to visit if you only have time to take a day trip from London.
How to get to Richmond from Central London
Richmond is super-easy to get to on the Tube. Just take a District train (that’s the green line on the Underground maps), and make sure it’s marked Richmond. It’s the last stop on the line.
From Victoria Station, for example, it’s only about a 25-minute ride.
Once you arrive at Richmond Station, you’ll be right on the main shopping street where there are plenty of shops and restaurants to visit. From there, anything that you might like to do is an easy walk.
For those with mobility issues or heavy luggage, the bus stop is right outside the station, with many stops around town. a taxi stand is also right outside, and Uber is also available.
What is there to do in Richmond?
Richmond has a variety of outdoor attractions, including the famed Richmond Park and the beautiful and serene Terrace Gardens. Overlooking the Thames Valley, Richmond’s picturesque views have inspired many painters, so be sure to have your camera ready!
Richmond is also home to many upscale shops and specialty boutiques, and it also has a thriving restaurant and pub scene.
Interactive map of things to do in Richmond
Created by King Charles I in the 1600s as a deer park, Richmond Park is undeniably Richmond’s claim to fame. A national nature reserve, and the largest of London’s Royal Parks, it covers 2360 acres – nearly three times the size of New York’s Central Park!
Richmond Park is the home of several historic structures, including the White Lodge, the hunting lodge built by George II in 1730 that now houses the Royal Ballet School. Pembroke Lodge, the Georgian mansion that was once home to 19th century Prime Minister John Russell, is now used as a wedding and conference facility.
The park is open to the public at no charge.
How to get to Richmond Park
Richmond Park is easily accessible from Richmond Station on foot as well as by bus. Both the 371 bus (get off at the American University stop) and the 65 bus (get off at Nightingale Lane and walk up the hill) will get you close to the park gate. Be sure to take a bus that’s going toward Kingston.
If you’re walking, it’s a little over a mile, some of it uphill. Take a left out of the station and walk straight until you see the House of Fraser department store on your right. Bear to your left, and keep left at the fork in the road after the Odeon Theatre. Keep going straight up the hill (be sure to look to your right to catch a view of the Thames snaking through the valley below) until you see the RSPCA monument at the corner of Queen’s Rd. The park entrance is straight ahead from the monument.
Richmond Park walking trails
The pedestrian entrance on the left side of the gate will take you immediately to an open expanse of grassland, punctuated by stands of mature trees.
Walking trails criss-cross the landscape, making this a popular spot for dog walkers and wildlife-spotters. We didn’t see much wildlife on our short jaunt through this area of the park. However, I’ve seen the huge herds of deer that still make Richmond Park their home right in this location.
A walk through Pembroke Lodge Gardens
If you return to the Richmond Gate where you entered and cross the street inside the park, you can access the paths to walk through Pembroke Lodge Gardens. This easy and beautiful walk is about two miles each way on wide, flat pathways.
This walk is a great way to see some of the historic features of the park. Youll also have striking views of the Thames River Valley and possibly even St. Paul’s Cathedral if the weather is clear!
Follow the path that’s perpendicular to the roadway. There’s a map posted before you enter the path if you’d like to get your bearings.
Be sure to look for the black iron gate on your right. You’ll need to pass through it to access the path toward your first stop, Poet’s Corner. It’s not well-marked.
At Poet’s Corner you’ll find a bench dedicated to 18th-century Scottish poet James Thomson, best known for writing the lyrics to Rule Britannia! Thomson lived in Richmond for the last years of his life, and a black wooden memorial board dedicated to him is also nearby.
Another bench was donated to the corner by British musician Ian Dury’s family a couple of years after his death in 2000. Dury was a longtime frequent visitor to the park, and would take his children to play there when they were young.
The bench is fitted with solar panels and a music player. If you bring a headset, you can plug it into the bench and listen to Dury’s music. Don’t blame me if you have Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick stuck in your head for the rest of the day!
Also at Poet’s Corner is a pollinator garden of wildflowers, planted to support the park’s native pollinators including bees, moths, butterflies, lacewings, and hoverflies.
John Beer’s Laburnum Walk
If you’re looking for the perfect Instagram pic during your visit to Richmond Park, the gorgeous Laburnum Walk is where you’ll find it. Although early May is the best time to see it, when its yellow blossoms dangle overhead, even in the height of summer the Walk is an enchanting spot.
Named after John Beer, one of Pembroke Lodge Gardens’ former workers, this archway of laburnum trees is found on your way from Poet’s Corner to King Henry’s Mound.
King Henry’s Mound
King Henry’s Mound, the highest spot in Richmond Park, is most likely the site of a neolithic burial barrow. From its top, you’ll find a panoramic westward view of the Thames Valley including Runnymede (where King John sealed the Magna Carta in 1215), Windsor Castle and Windsor Great Park, and even Heathrow Airport.
But the most amazing view is seen by turning around and pointing the telescope through the keyhole cut into the holly hedges. Look through the metal archway for a tiny opening in the brush. On a clear day you can see St. Paul’s Cathedral, 10 miles away in central London.
The view of St. Paul’s is the most distant of eight protected vistas of the cathedral from various locations around London. Essentially, nothing can be built to block the view from any of the protected locations.
However, in 2016 a 42-story apartment tower was built in Stratford. This building doesn’t obstruct the cathedral itself, but its presence has definitely altered the once-perfect view of St. Paul’s from Richmond Park.
Why is it called King Henry’s Mound?
So why is an ancient burial ground named for a 16th-century king? Legend tells that Henry VIII stood on the mound waiting for a sign from St. Paul’s that Anne Boleyn’s execution had taken place so he could marry Jane Seymour.
This is most likely untrue, as Henry wasn’t in Richmond at the time of the execution. But Henry did have ties to the park as one of his favorite residences, Hampton Court Palace, is nearby. Richmond Park was one of Henry VIII’s favorite places to hunt.
The Cottage and the rose garden
Continuing along the path toward Pembroke Lodge, you’ll find a lovely rose garden next to a thatched-roof cottage. The cottage is privately owned and behind a tall fence, but you can glimpse a peek of its roof over the rose arbors in the garden.
Many people confuse this cottage with Thatched House Lodge, the residence of Princess Alexandra (cousin to the Queen), which is not actually thatched. Confusing, I know. That building is also located in the park, about a mile-and-a-half away.
Take a few minutes to walk through the garden’s brick pathways, or pause to rest a bit on one of the benches. Full of a multitude of colorful flowers along with the roses, this spot is a gorgeous example of a traditional English cottage garden.
The last stop on our ramble through Pembroke Lodge Gardens is of course Pembroke Lodge itself! In the 1750s, the Lodge was originally a one-room cottage, occupied by the mole-catcher. Molehills presented a hazard to hunters, so the molecatcher was employed to reduce their population.
Over the years, the humble cottage was expanded quite significantly. Now it’s a Grade II-listed Georgian mansion – quite the transformation!
Today Pembroke Lodge hosts wedding ceremonies and receptions. When we got to the Lodge we saw that a wedding reception was going on, so we didn’t feel comfortable poking around or taking photos.
They also offer The Butler’s Pantry, where self-service refreshments are on offer. Perfect if you’re a bit hungry during a ramble through the park.
The next must-see spot on your tour of Richmond is the Terrace Gardens. This is another place in Richmond that isn’t well-marked! I must have walked by the little entrance gate every day for at least a month when I lived in Richmond before I decided to investigate where it led.
The writer and politician Horace Walpole remarked after his 1790 visit to the gardens that it “is perfectly screened from human eyes, tho’ in the bosom of so populous a village: and you climb til at last, treading the houses under feet, you recover the Thames and all the world at a little distance. I am amazed that it is not more talked of”.
Centuries later, I could say the same thing.
Down a set of stairs is the beginning of a series of paths through the Terrace Gardens, which has been a public park since 1887. (The gardens are located down a steep slope, so neither this entrance nor the main entrance at the riverside is accessible to those with mobility challenges)
Created from the grounds of three eighteenth-century estates, Terrace Gardens includes informal and formal plantings, mature trees, and views of the River Thames.
From 2007 to 2009, the Borough invested £1m to refurbish the park, including new signage, repairs to features and furniture, and new plantings. They also cut back overgrown vegetation to restore the view of the river.
Don’t miss a peek at the historic Spring Well
Just off the path close to the Cardigan Gate entrance is the Spring Well. Formerly (and mistakenly) known as the Icehouse, the structure is now thought to be part of the Richmond Wells that date to 1696.
Richmond Wells was not only a place to obtain fresh water, but it was also an entertainment spot. Along with card games such as whist and ombre, the assembly house adjacent to the well also offered raffles to win jewelry and china, as well as dancing in the summer season. By the mid 18th century, the rowdy behavior at the Wells became such a nuisance to the local residents that the facility was demolished.
Not too far from the Spring Well is a picturesque greenhouse, known as The Glasshouse. The first glasshouse at this location is shown on a 1771 map, when this part of the park belonged to the Duchess of Montagu. Over the years, the glasshouse has been rebuilt many times: the present incarnation dates to 2007.
Inside the glasshouse are an array of plants donated by both Hampton Court Palace as well as the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
The Terrace Gardens grounds are the perfect spot for a picnic lunch on the grass, perhaps under the shade of one of the massive trees on the property. There are several supermarkets, including Waitrose and Whole Foods, close by Richmond Station to pick up provisions.
If you don’t feel like packing your own lunch, there’s a café on the park grounds. The adorable Hollyhock Café, which serves vegan and vegetarian fare, is housed in a quaint mossy-roofed cottage. The popular front porch features rustic tree trunk columns and twinkling fairy lights.
Richmond Bridge and the Riverside
Be sure to check out Richmond Bridge, fittingly located on Bridge Street, for some lovely views of the river.
From there you can stroll by the Riverside with its boathouses. If you’re lucky, you might see a boatbuilder at work.
Tip: If you’re planning a trip to London, consider getting The London Pass. It lets you into more than 80 of London’s top tours, attractions, and historic sites (and will save you tons of money).
Dining in Richmond
We weren’t focused much on dining on this day – we wanted to pack in as many other fun things to do as possible! We chose the two restaurants we ate at because they were super-close to the hotel and didn’t require reservations or dressing up.
If you’re looking for a more upscale dining experience in Richmond, you have several options. I’d definitely recommend choosing a restaurant with a river view! Jackson & Rye (for brunch) and the Bingham Riverhouse are both highly reviewed and are in gorgeous locations.
Gourmet Burger Kitchen
When we arrived in Richmond we were jet-lagged and starving for something substantial, ASAP! After dropping our bags at the hotel, we went back outside to try to find a restaurant where we could eat quickly. I wanted to get our tour of Richmond started!
The Gourmet Burger Kitchen was just a few doors down, so we chose that without looking up any reviews. We walked in and the place was completely empty except for the staff. That’s usually a very bad sign.
I then realized it was only 11 AM, they had just opened, and no one except two starving tourists would be wanting hamburgers so early in the day!
We downloaded the GBK app, as our server let us know that we could either do that or go up and order at the counter. I thought that was a bit strange and inconvenient for an otherwise full-service restaurant, but we went with it.
The menu had lots of choices – everything from lamb, chicken and beef to veggie and vegan options. They also had starters, so we chose the Falafel bites with spicy hummus for £3.95. I was about to gnaw my arm off.
We were able to customize our burgers on the app (I had the Avo Bacon and Mr. SBC had the Cheese and Bacon at £10.25 each), and our orders arrived promptly.
We were both very pleasantly surprised by how good the burgers were! GBK is a chain restaurant with locations throughout the UK, but our sandwiches tasted fresh and delicious.
Update: Richmond’s Gourmet Burger Kitchen has now moved to 31-35 Kew Road, right near Richmond Station.
Swagat Indian Cuisine
We had noticed Swagat Indian Cuisine on our walk back down from Richmond Park, and decided that we were both in the mood for Indian food.
We started with the Garlic Naan for £3.25. I ordered the King Prawn Bhuna (£14.25) and Mr. SBC had the Chicken Tikka Makhani (£10.00).
“Didn’t you want anything else with that?” queried our server, giving us a slightly funny look. Confused as to why he was concerned that a starter and two mains isn’t enough food for two not-very-large people, but not wanting him to upsell us at all, I said no.
Our main courses arrived, and there wasn’t any rice served with our dishes. Now we both love Indian food and have it all the time, all over the US. I’ve eaten in over a hundred Indian restaurants across the country. Main courses that are cooked in a sauce always come with rice. Apparently not here.
So I flagged our server down and asked for two sides of rice. When we got the bill I saw we were charged £4.25 each. For rice. Two tiny side dishes of plain, steamed white rice. That’s over $5 US. Each.
Hopefully, Indian restaurants in the US don’t catch on to this practice of not including rice with their main courses. They could make a killing charging big bucks for a teensy bit of rice that probably costs 10 cents and requires zero cooking skill. OK, rant over.
Despite my grumpiness about the rice, our meals were yummy and filling, and exactly what we needed after a long day of walking around town. We had hit 20,000 steps for the day, so we were both in the Clean Plate Club for dinner!
As we were only in town for a short time, I decided that we needed to do a mini pub crawl to visit three favorite old haunts from my university days. Only one, The Old Ship, hasn’t changed much after all these years. The other two are under new ownership and have been renamed and completely redesigned.
The one new-to-me design feature I noticed that seems to be a theme in Richmond is that the “bar” features in these pubs have been completely removed. I enjoy sitting at the bar when I travel, even if I’m just stopping for a meal. I like to chat with the bartender and other patrons. I’ve found I get the best recommendations from locals this way!
Sadly, the bars have all been blocked in and the bar seating removed, ostensibly to create more intimate seating arrangements. This trend definitely makes for a more upscale look and experience. But, it does remove a lot of the traditional pub feel and sense of community that I enjoyed during my time living in the UK.
The Lass O’Richmond Hill
The Lass O’Richmond Hill is located in the Queen’s Road, close to Richmond Park Gate and directly across from the University.
Back in MY day it was the Old Orleans, a somewhat dingy pub that catered to the student population. Kids would meander across the road when classes were done, then stumble back a few hundred feet to the dorms at closing time.
Then, the music was loud, the students were loud, and representatives from various distilleries were often on hand to promote their products to a willing audience.
So it was a complete shock to me, upon walking into the Lass O’Richmond Hill, exactly how much it has changed. To start, the dark, dingy interior has been updated with fresh paint, in shades of pale sage and white. Tables are set where there used to be space for milling patrons and a genteel, older clientele sat sipping cocktails and wine.
Granted, this was late July, so the students were on summer break. However, I can’t imagine that it would be as much of a student hangout anymore, after its makeover!
One thing that I must mention about this pub is in reference to its name. You may be familiar with the English ballad (often thought of as a folk song) The Lass of Richmond Hill? The Richmond Hill that song references is not the Richmond Hill where this pub is located.
That song is referencing Richmond in Yorkshire. However, Henry VII (Henry VIII’s much less-crazy dad) was Duke of Richmond and named THIS Richmond after that Richmond.
Our next stop was SO Bar, the former site of Magnum’s Wine Bar, where I worked as a bar back/chips runner/tidier-of-all-things so many years ago.
As we ambled down the tiny cobbled alleyway that is Brewers Lane, I pointed out to Mr. SBC where the pub was located. Popping into the entrance, I quickly retreated. “This isn’t it,” I told him. “This can’t be it. It looks nothing like the place.”
Continuing down the lane, (which isn’t very long), I realized that indeed, it was the right spot. Re-entering, we found ourselves in a warm, candlelit space where plush seats contrasted with the rustic brick walls. I looked around, puzzled.
Gone was the long wooden bar that I used to polish with Guinness draft on a rag (I kid you not). Gone were the elderly men, usually our only customers, crowded in a row at the end of the bar nursing their pints. Also gone was the heavy odor of fried food sinking down from the upstairs kitchen.
In its place was a lively, modern establishment. Young people were chatting in the cozy seating areas, sipping colorful cocktails.
We were led to a high-top table in the middle of the establishment, and I peered around, trying to reconcile the ghost of a long-gone time with what was here now.
I suddenly feel very old
A young man approached us with menus, and immediately asked with a smile, “Have you been here before?” Not expecting this question, I stammered, “Well, um, yes. But twenty-five years ago. I used to work here.”
“When it was Magnum’s?” he asked, obviously pleased. “Does it look different?”
We got into a bit of a chat about exactly what had changed, and I was surprised at his interest. Then I realized that he likely hadn’t even been born when I worked there. He was asking from a perspective of historical wonder.
Shaking off the idea that I’m becoming old enough to be a reference for young historians, I perused the drinks menu. I was impressed by the offerings: craft cocktails and premium liquors. The wine list was tiny and inexpensively priced (£5- £7 per glass), perhaps to shift the focus to what they’re great at: cocktails (and maybe also to move on from the location’s wine bar days).
Cocktails at SO Bar
I ordered a Basil Imbue, with rosemary vodka, St Germain, strawberry, basil, lime, maraschino, cranberry, and balsamic (£10). Mr. SBC had a Bramble, with Beefeater, creme de cassis, blackberry and lemon (£10)
As we visited on a Saturday around 5:30 PM, we had just missed the two-for-one happy hour that normally runs until 7. But if you want a bargain on a Saturday, be sure to get there early because happy hour is in effect from noon until five!
SO Bar also offers reusable metal straws (which you can keep!) for just 75p. If you’re ordering a taller drink and you forgot your own straw, definitely take them up on the offer! That’s a bargain, and it helps to keep dangerous plastic waste from injuring our marine life. Win-win.
I could have happily stayed at SO Bar for another cocktail, but I wanted to show Mr. SBC one last bar, a mainstay of Richmond, before we had dinner and called it a night. We had to get up at 3:30 AM to catch our Uber to the airport for our flight to Helsinki! This definitely had to be an early night.
Before we left for our next stop, though, we continued the short distance down the lane to get a view of Richmond Green. Another great picnic spot, Richmond Green often hosts local sporting events. Although jousting tournaments were once held here, today you’re more likely to see a lively game of cricket in action.
The Old Ship
As a student, I really didn’t hang out at The Old Ship very often. But, whenever someone came to visit, I’d always take them there because of its history and proximity to the busiest part of Richmond. It’s just an easy place to stop in for a pint, it’s close to everything, and it’s been there forever.
Of the three locations we visited in our mini pub crawl, The Old Ship had changed the least. In constant operation since 1735, The Old Ship is a Grade II listed public house.
With the most traditional pub feel of any of the establishments we visited, the Old Ship is decidedly unpretentious. The reasonable prices on the drinks menu definitely reflect that!
Although it was very crowded, we managed to snag seats in one of their wall nooks, and Mr. SBC got a pint for himself and a vodka tonic for me.
Eighties and nineties hits were playing on the sound system, helping me enjoy the feeling of going back in time. But our mini pub crawl had to come to an end, so we left our cozy nook to find some actual nourishment.
Shopping in Richmond
Richmond has its fair share of typical high street shops, but what I especially love about it is the abundance of tiny, independent boutiques and shops. If you’re walking up the hill to the Park, be sure to check out the storefronts on your way. Many of them are quaint and charming, and some are absolutely beautiful!
I was particularly taken with the stunning shop window of Bramble & Moss, a Victorian jewel-box of a building with a fanciful display of succulents and greenery.
If you’re in the mood for a browse, you’ll find everything from clothing stores to a cheesemonger’s to a yarn shop. Richmond also boasts a variety of cafés and bakeries.
Back down in the center of Richmond, you’ll find George Street and The Quadrant, where most of the chain stores are located. Here you can find pretty much anything you may have forgotten to pack! There are numerous men’s and women’s clothing stores, as well as department stores, drugstores and supermarkets.
Where to stay in Richmond
I gave myself a challenge when we decided, almost at the last minute, to do (a bit less than) 24 hours in Richmond. I was going to find inexpensive lodgings for our stay. In one of the priciest suburbs of London. Ha! But I do love a challenge, even if it’s self-directed.
Whenever I meet someone from the UK, it always comes up that I lived in Richmond for a time. Without fail, that person says something like, “Ooh, Richmond! Richmond Park and all that. So beautiful, there, isn’t it? Wish I could afford to live there!”
Richmond Park Hotel
We prefer historic properties over chains, so I chose the Richmond Park Hotel. I got a great deal through hotels.com (click here to check current rates). Mr. SBC and I enjoyed our short stay there, and the location was perfect. It’s not a fancy hotel by any means, but it’s clean and comfortable, and the staff were exceptionally kind. When I told them at check-in just how early we had to meet our pre-dawn Uber to the airport, they made us breakfast plates that night to enjoy before we left!
What else is nearby?
Spending more time in the city? Be sure to check out some of London’s hidden gems that most tourists don’t know about. If you’re able to stay in Richmond for more than a day, I have a couple of recommendations for things to do that are close by.
The famous Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is the largest, most diverse botanical garden in the world. Only a 30-minute walk from Kew Tube station, Kew Gardens is a must-see for anyone interested in horticulture.
Hampton Court Palace
Are you fascinated by Tudor history? Hampton Court Palace is just a half-hour away via the South Western Railway, or just over 20 minutes by car.
This magnificent palace was started in the early 1500s by Cardinal Wolsey, and became a favorite retreat for Henry VIII. Queen Victoria opened the palace to the public in 1838 so everyone could enjoy its formal gardens and extensive art collection.
Have you visited Richmond on a day trip from London? Do you find it as charming as I do? Let me know in the comments below!
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