Walking in the UK | The 8 best hiking routes in the southeast of England

Home to the Surrey Hills, the South Down National Park, the famous London green belt and countless other areas of natural beauty, the southeast of England is home to some of the most stunning outdoor areas in the UK.

What’s special about the southeast of England?

The Southeast of England blends natural beauty with cultural heritage, making it a prime destination for walking, hiking, and outdoor enthusiasts. From the iconic white cliffs of Dover to the picturesque landscapes of the South Downs National Park, the region is full of trails, nature reserves, rolling hills, ancient woodlands, and charming little villages.

The London greenbelt

A lot of this natural beauty can be found in and around the London greenbelt, which serves as a buffer zone between the city, the suburbs, and the surrounding agricultural space.

The Metropolitan Green Belt is home to woodland, meadows, farmland, areas of outstanding beauty and rolling hills, making it an ideal destination for hiking and walking enthusiasts.

If you live in the city…

If you live in or around London, chances are you’ve visited Hyde Park, Battersea Park and Hampstead Heath. Take a look below to see some lesser-known spots for walking and hiking in the city:

Beaches to visit

The southeast of England is home to some of the best-kept coastline in the UK. Whether you’re planning a weekend away or a summer holiday with the family, the southeast coast has something for everyone.

1. Virginia Water Lake Loop

Known for its enchanting waterfall and lake, Virginia Water is a picturesque garden and park tucked away just south of Windsor.

This immersive and easy-to-navigate walk takes you through narrow walkways and lush woodland. You’ll pass the serene shore of the central lake and see the idyllic waterfall that the garden is famous for.

You can choose to enjoy the soothing sounds of the central waterway or take a look at the unique 100-foot Totem Pole that adds an exotic touch to the area.

The combination of well-maintained and manicured paths and well-placed viewpoints and signage makes this historical garden the ideal Sunday afternoon circular walk for families with young children.

2. Whitefield Moor

Nestled south-center inside The New Forest, Whitefield Moor is a rough and rugged area made up of marshland, waterways, and open plains.

Home to an array of wildlife, this section of The New Forest is perfect for ramblers with a keen interest in the natural world.

This five-mile walk is an opportunity to immerse yourself in everything that’s enchanting about The New Forest. Starting just west of Brockenhurst, you’ll pass grazing horses and the Ober Water stream which meanders gracefully through the moor.

If you’re planning to visit as a family, there’s plenty of opportunities to stop and picnic on one of the trail’s many open grassland stretches.

3. Bushy Park and Richmond Park

Perfect for day trippers looking to escape the city, Bushy and Richmond Park are the two biggest open park spaces in London.

Situated in the Borough of Richmond, these parks are both home to serene waterways, lakes, and wild deer that draw tourists from far and wide.

Bushy Park is home to a spectacular memorial fountain to Princess Diana which can be found at the center of the circular lake at the Hampton end of the park.

If you’re visiting Richmond Park in spring or summer, be sure to pay a trip to the luscious and colorful Isabella Plantation. If you’re after a view of the city, climbing King Henry’s Mound gives a wholly unique view of the London skyline.

Both parks are well mapped and signposted with various pathways and trails running through both, allowing you to tailor your walk or hike to suit you. Bushy Park is almost completely flat, making it more accessible for wheelchair users and people with mobility issues.

4. Tennyson Down Needles

Tennyson Down and the Needles are iconic landmarks located off the western tip of the Isle of Wight. The area is known for its stunning natural beauty, dramatic cliffs, and panoramic views of the coastline and surrounding waters.

This 4-mile hike starts in the National Trust car park at Totland Bay. From here, follow the Tennyson footpath down to the Tennyson monument. Tennyson once lived on the Isle of Wight during his time as Poet Laureate to Queen Victoria.

Next, face west and head down past the Highdown Cliffs and West High Down to visit the Needles at the southwest corner of the island. The walk then loops back around east, using an alternate footpath to take you back to the start point. On your way back, look left for a fantastic view of Alum Bay.

5. Box Hill Circular Walk

Box Hill is situated 20 miles south of London in the north-Surrey hills. Built on chalk and named after the ancient box woodland found in the surrounding area, Box Hill is an area of outstanding beauty which draws cyclists, hikers, and families from miles around.

The hill and surrounding area are managed by the National Trust who continues to preserve and conserve the area for future generations. They have mapped out and signposted large portions of this circular hike due to its popularity, making it easy to traverse and navigate.

The walk features a challenging ascent and a whistlestop tour of all the major views and landmarks that Box Hill has to offer. You’ll even visit the neighboring Norbury Park and walk a stretch alongside the thick and fast River Mole. Be on the lookout for local wildlife if you’re tackling Box Hill with young children as the Hill is home to deer, badgers, foxes, and woodpeckers.

6. Thorney Island loop

Thorney Island is a unique peninsula-style land-mass off the south coast of Chichester. This 9-mile walk is one of the more urban walks on our list. If you’re a fan of seaside strolls and great views out across Chichester Harbour, look no further.

This walk starts at Emsworth train station. From here, the Sussex Border Path will take you south down to the marina. Follow the signposted path along the coast of Logmere Point at the South tip of the island before returning to Emsworth.

For nature lovers, Thorney Island also boasts a nature reserve that’s home to an array of different birds, sandflats, mudflats, dunes, shingle, and saltmarsh. Be on the lookout for nesting oystercatchers and ringed plovers.

7. Friston Forest and Seven Sisters Circular

The Friston Forest and Seven Sisters Circular is a challenging 10-mile hike that fuses secluded woodland with grand views of the English Channel.

The trail meanders through the heart of Friston Forest at the foot of the South Downs National Park. Hikers are treated to a shaded haven abundant with ancient trees and vibrant wildflowers. Keep an eye on the forest floor while walking as you’ll likely spot squirrels playfully darting about the underbrush.

Midway through the hike you’ll enter the enchanting Cuckmere Haven. As you exit the forest, you’re greeted by a spectacular view of the Seven Sisters' cliff across the water. This tranquil river valley with its meandering waterways and lush wetlands is a perfect spot to rest and recharge while taking in the picturesque scenery around you.

8. Dover to Folkestone

The 7-mile Dover to Folkestone is one of the most popular advanced hiking routes in the southeast of England.

The trail blends natural beauty with historical landmarks and stunning coastal views. With an unrivalled panoramic view of the English Channel at your side, it’s easy to see why the route is so popular. On a clear day, you can even make out Boulogne.

The iconic White Cliffs of Dover are of course a highlight of the hike. These majestic chalk cliffs stand proudly over the coastline and offer a spectacular viewpoint when looking out across the Channel. For history enthusiasts, the trail also passes the Battle of Britain Memorial, which honors the pilots who died defending Britain during World War II.

The initial path to Folkestone also passes a Roman villa which was built during the initial occupation of Britain.

Last updated Friday 1 September 2023

First published on Thursday 31 August 2023