Most people associate one thing with Twickenham. Rugby. The area in the London borough of Richmond-Upon-Thames is indeed the home of England rugby with thousands of fans converging on the area during rugby matches. But there’s more to the area than just rugby. As someone who lives local to area, I can attest to that and would recommend it to those interested in exploring a historical but less hectic aspect of greater London (on days there isn’t a match on anyway).
Twickenham was once a ‘country retreat’ for many rich politicians and aristocracy in the 18th century and as such is littered with a number of stately homes with large parks. Here are some of my picks for things to do in Twickenham which you could combine with a weekend of rugby or take a trip when it’s a little quieter.
1. Visit the Stadium
If you are a rugby fan then a visit to the stadium is must. Built on a former cabbage patch which was bought for just £5,500 in 1907, it is now the largest dedicated rugby union venue in the world. It seats 82,000 people. I have seen England play a few times there and it is a great event to witness (even better if England win!). There is always a great atmosphere and friendly crowds.
It can be difficult to get a ticket for international fixtures. Many are allocated to rugby clubs or sell out very quickly. If you register for an account on the RFU website, you can buy tickets when they are available. It is always worth enquiring at the ticket office for returns. Inevitably on match day you will see ticket touts about who you can purchase from at your own risk. Seeing the Rugby Sevens or one of the less popular matches is a more likely way to attend a match at late notice.
If you just want a nose around the grounds, you could do one of its stadium tours. They take you behind the scenes of the stadium. You can peek at the royal box and even visit the England dressing room. It is advised that tickets are bought in advance. You can combine the tour with a look around the Rugby Museum. There’s also a rugby store at the stadium to stock up on memorabilia.
Prices for Stadium tour and museum
Children: £12 (5-15)
Family ticket (2 adults, up to 3 children) £50
Family ticket (2 adults, up to 3 children) £25
* Under 5s go free but an insurance disclaimer must be signed prior to admittance as they are not covered by the stadium’s insurance.
2. Walk Along The River Thames
A short walk from Twickenham station and you come to the River Thames. Before you do, have a wander down Church Street, a cobbled road full of quirky independent shops which is often used in TV commercials (most notably at Christmas). St Mary’s church with its Medieval tower is just off Church Street and then you are at the river. There is an urban beach open all year around which is a favourite with my daughter. There is also an unusual sculpture garden along the river from the urban beach. If it is a fine day, you could have a picnic there.
I love walking (or jogging) along the Twickenham tow path. It’s incredibly picturesque. One direction takes you towards Richmond. You’ll wander past some of the 18th century houses which line the path. In the other direction you end up in Teddington. There’s a few pubs to stop off at along the path. The 17th century White Swan towards Richmond and The Anglers by Teddington Lock which has an outdoor playground. There’s a bridge at Teddington which takes you over the river to Ham. Yes, that’s a real place, and the location of 17th century Ham House. From Twickenham, you can get a boat over to the National Trust property.
3. Eel Pie Island
This small island in the River Thames is only accessible by footbridge. Henry VIII is said to have used it for discreet courting while it was a favourite with Charles Dickens. It was a popular holiday destination for Londoners after Eel Pie Island hotel opened in 1830.
The island was later the hub of British music as the ‘Eelpiland’ club opened in the 1960s with everyone from the Rolling Stones to The Who, David Bowie, Rod Stewart and Eric Clapton playing gigs there. Today it is home to artist’s studios, Twickenham rowing club and a small community of people. Twice a year the artist studios open their doors to the public. There are currently plans to open a museum nearby showcasing the fascinating history of the tiny island.
4. Strawberry Hill House
A quirky Gothic castle built by politician Horace Walpole in the 18th Century, Strawberry Hill is an impressive sight to see. Completed in 1776 it predated the Gothic revival and even in its day drew much attention from visitors. Walpole wanted a tour of Strawberry Hill to be a ‘theatrical experience’ and took inspiration from Gothic cathedrals and abbeys. Alongside sumptuous, bright interiors are gloomy stone stairwells while many items of Walpole’s antiquarian collection remain.
Strawberry Hill House opens to visitors in Spring 2017
Children under 16 free. Half price for National Trust members
Orleans House and gallery
Slightly set back from the River Thames, Orleans House was built by the architect John James in 1710 and was later named after Duc D’Orleans, the former King of France, Louis Philippe. He stayed there during his exile from 1813 to 15. It has an impressive Baroque Octagonal room, designed by the famous architect James Gibbs. It’s free to enter with a cafe in the stables and an art gallery as well. Art workshops are regularly held although you may need to book in advance.
Marble Hill House
Close to Orleans House are the grounds of Marble Hill House, a Palladian villa built in 1729 for King George II’s mistress, Henrietta Howard. She entertained famous friends such as Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift there. You can take a guided tour of the house which retains an 18th century look inside.
Marble Hill park is a wonderful space for everyone to enjoy and in the summer hosts music venues and various festivals. The house, along with the surrounding area, is getting a facelift over the next year or so. Not far from the park, another restoration project is ongoing, the home of the famous painter J.W. Turner.
Marble Hill House
Children – £4.20 (5-15)
Free for English Heritage members
Where to eat?
If you are visiting Marble Hill and Orleans Gallery, there are two pubs close by to enjoy some lunch and a drink. The Crown is a traditional style pub with a cozy interior complete with a log fire burning away. It serves good food although can get busy, especially at weekends, so book in advance. It has a children’s menu but limited highchairs. The Alba which is a short walk away and opposite Marble Hill Park is more family-friendly. Although the service can be a little hit and miss, the food (Italian) is good, particularly the pizzas made in a wood burning oven. It has a great selection of beers and wine. The pesto pasta is a favourite with my daughter. There’s outside space in both the pubs to enjoy when the weather is warm.
From central London, Twickenham is accessible by train from Waterloo station with South West trains.
By tube, you can get the district line to Richmond and then a train or bus from there or even walk. Marble Hill is around 10-15 minute walk from Richmond station
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