Think accommodation in London and I bet camping doesn’t even enter your head. So it may come as a surprise to learn that there are several year-round camping options available within the London postcode. It’s probably less of a surprise that these are generally found on the outer fringes of the city. (And there’s even more choice available if you are prepared to venture out to the surrounding counties of Essex, Hertfordshire and Kent.)
While these camping sites may not be on the doorstep of London’s main tourist attractions, they compensate by being situated in some of the greenest and prettiest areas of the city and, crucially, by being very cheap in relation to typical London hotel prices. What’s more, you’ll get to see a side of London that most visitors, and even some Londoners, don’t see.
Here are four recommended campsites near the center of London:
Crystal Palace Parade, London SE19 1UF
+(44) (0)20 8778 7155
Situated next to the large Crystal Palace Park in southeast London, this leafy Caravan Club seems far removed from the hustle and bustle of London. But the location of this site means you really get the best of both worlds, as the centre of London is a simple bus ride away. Crystal Palace itself even has enough pubs, restaurants and independent shops to charm you away from the centre and give you a bit of a break from your hectic sightseeing schedule.
Facilities: Basic shop (there’s a large supermarket in Crystal Palace), sanitary facilities, washer/dryer facilities, phone booths, Wi-Fi, and BBQs allowed.
Costs: Prices vary with season. For two from May 1 is approximately $28 a night.
Getting into central London: The #3 bus from outside the campsite (and its equivalent night bus) will take you all the way to Oxford Circus in about an hour, with a route that helpfully stops at both Westminster and Piccadilly, or you can get off at Brixton to switch to a Tube. Trains from the local station go to London Victoria, London Bridge and fashionable spots like Shoreditch and Dalston, thanks to the East London line.
Picketts Lock Lane, London N9 0AS
+ (44) (0)20 8803 6900
To really get a sense of “England’s green and pleasant land” without venturing too far away from London, this campsite makes the most of the natural attractions of its setting in the picturesque 10,000 acre Lee Valley park. There are countless activities on offer in the Valley beyond the usual London sights, including walking trails, golf and horse riding. There’s even a cinema on the site.
If you’re (wisely) concerned that camping will leave you exposed to the unreliable British weather, you can book a “cocoon” instead of a tent: a wooden hut furnished two camp beds, a small table and all the benefits of heating and lighting, even including a kettle.
Facilities: Shop, sanitary facilities, washer/dryer and ironing facilities, phone booths.
Costs: Fees for public-travelling solo backpackers start at just under $14 a night, compared to around $20 a night for camping as part of a group.
Getting into central London: Edmonton Green Rail Station is a short bus ride away. From there you can get a connecting train to the Tube, or directly into Liverpool Street station.
Federation Road, London SE2 0LS
(+44) (0)20 8311 7708
While the Abbey Wood Caravan site is theoretically the closest option to the centre of London, it’s in a bit of a weird no-mans land geographically. While there not much to specifically recommend in the local area, the site itself is lovingly landscaped and well-maintained. Consistently favorable reviews describe it as a tranquil oasis in the city, home to green parakeets, as well as more typical British wildlife like foxes, owls and squirrels. The historical sites of scenic Greenwich are a 25-minute bus ride away.
Facilities: Basic shop, sanitary facilities, washer/dryer facilities, phone booths, Wi-Fi, although there is no electricity to the tent area. BBQs are allowed. The main gates are locked from 10pm each night but the site can still be accessed through a key pad code.
Costs: Prices vary with season. For two people from 6 May, approximately $42 a night.
Getting into central London: Trains from the nearby Abbey Wood station run to London Bridge and Charing Cross, taking about 30 minutes.
All over London and the UK, and beyond
Seeing an abundance of green space that could be put to better use, Campinmygarden.com is an online community that supports the use of members’ gardens as alternative campsites – a kind of “coach surfing” for campers. There are now hundreds of gardens over the UK and even some in Europe signed up to the site. You need to register to use the site before booking your spot, but there are garden spaces all over London – typically in more suburban areas – that are ready to receive a tent and an eager camper.
The site also operates a rating and reviewing system so you can weigh up your options before booking. Each location will be a unique experience, and that’s all part of the fun.
Facilities: Varies from place to place. Some hosts open up their house to you, making everything from their kitchen, to their Wi-Fi, to their washing machine available, while others provide the bare basics. The varying facilities are specified on individual listings.
Costs: With the hosts setting the price, these usually range from around $15 up to $40 a night.
Getting into Central London: The world – or London, at least – will be your Oyster (card). Most hosts will be ready to advise on possible transport options.