There’s plenty to see and do in SW19 all year round.
Most people associate Wimbledon with tennis, strawberries and cream. Or ecologically sound furry creatures called Wombles who allegedly live on the Common, making useful things out of litter.
Other things do happen in this lovely, affluent corner of South West London, however. Longer-term residents might tell you proudly about the local soccer team’s FA Cup win over Liverpool in 1988, a huge time of celebration that I remember fondly. Younger ones might remind you that ‘Tomb Raider’ heroine Lara Croft grew up in Wimbledon!
The lure of tennis
It’s fair to say, however, that most people come for the tennis – and I don’t just mean the championships. Even if they’re not picked out of the public ballot for tennis tickets, people still visit the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) at other times, just to see it and say they’ve been there. It’s worth visiting for the excellent museum and guided tours of the club, not to mention the shop where you can buy your purple and green towel or your strawberry and cream mug. (At the time of writing this post, visits to the AELTC outside the Championships are still severely restricted, but you can shop online).
I lived in Wimbledon for around 20 years on and off, the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere. I loved it. It’s a country village within a city. If you have time to step away from the well-trodden paths between the AELTC, the Village and the tube stations, there are other attractions well worth exploring. Here are some of my favourite things to do in Wimbledon, including some hidden gems.
NOTE: please check that these places and events are accessible before visiting. Coronavirus containment measures may lead to temporary closures or restrictions.
1. Stroll around Cannizaro Park
This place is easy to miss, being tucked away behind the 19th century Hotel du Vin country house hotel in West Side Common. I love Cannizaro Park because it feels like the countryside. You’d never know you were in London.
The park has various sections which are all completely different. Immediately behind the hotel are extensive lawned slopes, with plenty of shady places under trees. Families love to picnic here at weekends when the weather allows, and it’s a safe place for kids to play.
At the side of the hotel is a traditional English sunken garden, with attractive floral displays that change with the seasons. Not far away, a picturesque herb garden is cared for by a devoted group of park volunteers – the Friends of Cannizaro Park.
Next is a steep wooded section with twisting paths, leading you through a magical forest of mature trees and flowering shrubs. Eventually you end up at an Italian style walled garden, provided with picnic tables. Step through the wrought iron gates and you find yourself at the duck pond.
Beyond that is another, less densely wooded area which is full of bluebells and daffodils in spring, and colourful rhododendrons in early summer. A gap in a hedge leads to a rose garden. Eventually the path takes you back towards the hotel, where you can choose to have a coffee or a drink on the terrace surrounded by lavender hedges.
2. Enjoy a moment’s peace at the Buddhapadipa Temple
This is one of the more unusual things to do in Wimbledon. If you happen to get lost in the streets that lie to the north of the AELTC, you might find yourself in Calonne Road. It’s a perfectly normal suburban street of rather nice residential houses. But there’s a hidden gem here – a Buddhist temple, surrounded by beautiful gardens.
For years, I had no idea it was there. Strangely enough, I discovered it after a dispute with a noisy neighbour in the block of flats where I lived! He offered to take me there as a gesture of apology. I can’t think of a more appropriate place to make peace with someone, or with yourself .
Under normal conditions the public can visit between 10am and 5pm on weekdays, or between 10am and 4pm at weekends. However the temple has been closed during lockdowns so please check the Buddhapadipa Temple website for up-to-date information.
3. Spot the landmarks of central London
When you’re wandering around Wimbledon Village, you’re not really aware of being at the top of a high hill. So when you turn acorner and see a panoramic view of the London skyline, it’s a delightful surprise. The hoisted BBC cameras capture it well during their tennis coverage, but there are only certain places where you can see the views when on foot.
This photo was taken on Arthur Road, heading towards Wimbledon Park shops and tube station. Among the many famous buildings you can see on a clear day are Canary Wharf, the Gherkin, Battersea Power Station, the London Eye, the Shard and the Houses of Parliament.
4. Enjoy a beverage at the Hand in Hand pub
One of the best things to do in Wimbledon, especially on a sunny afternoon, is to visit one of the lovely village pubs. There’s the Rose and Crown, the Dog and Fox and the Fire Stables. Near Cannizaro Park there’s a picturesque pub called the Fox and Grapes. But my top favourite is the Hand in Hand, which is located in an area called Crooked Billet.
Crooked Billet is tucked into the corner of West Side Common and Southside Common. It has the appearance and ambience of a village green, with a row of pretty cottages and not one, but two, pubs right next to each other. (The other one, which happens to be called the Crooked Billet, is also well worth a visit, by the way).
My husband and I spent many a happy Sunday afternoon in the Hand in Hand. It’s a traditional pub with a friendly landlord, Andrew, and welcoming staff. Unlike the Crooked Billet next door they don’t play music, so if you want to have a conversation with your companions, it’s a lot easier to do so.
Like many pubs in Wimbledon, the Hand in Hand is pet-friendly. Well-behaved dogs can accompany their owners indoors. One day we even saw a horse tethered to a tree outside! (See things to do in Wimbledon no. 5!)
In summer you can sit outside on the green, while in winter there’s always a crackling fire going. It’s not unusual to spot one of the local resident celebrities in there. I won’t name them!
5. Go horse riding on the Common
The clip-clop of hooves is a regular sound through the Village streets. Horse riding is a favourite weekend activity for locals. Wimbledon Village Stables cater for all levels and ages. Pelican crossings in the nearby High Street even have special horse and rider signs on them! There are miles of tracks for riders to enjoy through the picturesque Wimbledon and Putney commons.
6. Enjoy the tennis-themed displays in local businesses
Around 40 local shops, pubs and other businesses get into the spirit of the Championships every year by competing for the best window displays. Some choose to keep it simple, whereas others go all-in. It’s fun to wander around the village, admire the displays and choose your favourite.
The competition is organized by Wimbledon Village Events. You can keep an eye on their Facebook Page for photos of the latest windows. Although the focus tends to be on the Village, businesses elsewhere in Wimbledon join in the fun too.
7. Discover Merton’s industrial history at Abbey Mills
All the things to do in Wimbledon that I’ve mentioned so far have been in the Village, which is unashamedly posh. If you prefer something a little more edgy, then head down to the southern neighbourhoods. One of those is Colliers Wood, which is a 10-minute drive or bus ride from downtown Wimbledon. The River Wandle flows through this area, and passes by another hidden gem – Merton Abbey Mills.
In its industrial heyday, the Wandle powered over 90 mills for industries including snuff, textiles and printing. This one at Merton Abbey Mills is still in full working order. It was used by Liberty’s, the famous west end store, who had their silk printing workshops on this site until the 1960s. William Morris was another famous name based in this area, which is rich in industrial history.
As well as visiting the water wheel, you can explore the many artisan craft shops and eateries now housed in the old print shops. At weekends there are market stalls and live events. We used to enjoy a delicious crepe at the Belgian Brasserie, watching the world go by before taking a walk for a kilometre or so along the river to another wonderful gem – Morden Hall Park. But that deserves another blog post all of its own!
Back to tennis…
If I’ve whetted your appetite to visit Wimbledon (if the prospect of getting tickets for future championships isn’t enough), you might like to know that public ballots now take place online. No more forms and stamped addressed envelopes! You can register for a My Wimbledon account and make sure that you receive an invitation to apply when the ballots open.
The AELTC constantly review pandemic requirements and respond accordingly when making arrangements for future championships. Meanwhile, their website is excellent and full of interactive content to keep fans happy and engaged with what’s going on at the club.
If you’re interested in the UK, you might enjoy my posts on South Thames gems, Northumberland, Barnard Castle, the Isle of Skye, the British Pullman, Steam railways of England, Narrowboating in Wales and Hogmanay in a Scottish castle.
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