A visit to Virginia Water Lake in Surrey always makes a terrific day out with or without kids. It’s a popular attraction all year long, but is particularly great for a walk in autumn. At this time of year, the autumnal landscape is breathtaking, and the lake is slightly less busy.
In spring and summer, the landscaped gardens are awash with colour and the scenery is stunning. However, at peak times, it can get crowded.
A visit to Virginia Water Lake offers more than just a great walk. There is lots to see and do and the natural surroundings are spectacular. In this post, you can discover what to expect on your visit, including the top features and practical information for your visit.
A brief history of Virginia Water Lake
Virginia Water Lake has a long history associated with royals. It was first dammed and flooded in 1753, making it the largest man-made lake of its time. Since then, it has been a royal playground, for both George 3rd and Queen Victoria.
Nowadays Virginia Waters is one of the best outdoor places in Surrey for people of all ages. You will usually see families, joggers, dog-walkers and cyclists, going in both directions around the lake.
What can you expect to see?
Virginia Water Lake is extremely popular, as it always offers much more than just a walk. As well as spectacular scenery and nature, there are play areas and picnic spots. You’ll also find a number of unexpected features along the way.
If you start at the Virginia Water Visitor Centre and go clockwise, you’ll soon come to the ornamental waterfall. Originally built in the 1750’s, this 10-metre cascade is now one of the grandest remaining features at Virginia Water Lake.
Until recently children could climb on the surrounding rocks, but now admiring the waters from the viewpoint has to suffice.
The Roman ruins
The first surprise for people new to Virginia Water Lake is the Roman ruins, “The Temple of Augustus”.
In fact, they are not real Roman ruins but a replica. However, many of the stones for the folly were imported from Leptis Magna, a Roman city in present day Libya.
They wanted it to look as much like a genuine Roman relic as possible, in keeping with fashion at the time.
After walking the first side of the lake, you’ll cross the stone five-arch bridge. The bridge built between 1822 and 1827 and has remained relatively unchanged since.
You can stop for refreshments at this end of the lake. There is a take-away van and temporary outside seating area.
The Totem Pole at Virginia Water Lake
The second curiosity at Virginia Water Lake is the 100 ft totem pole, which is one of the best attractions for kids.
The government of British Columbia gave the totem pole to Queen Elizabeth II as a gift in 1958. They carved it from a single 600-year old log of Western Red Cedar. If you look up you’ll see carvings of birds, odd-looking men and animals such as a whale and sea otter.
There is a seating area around the totem pole and a circular pathway, which makes a popular runway for children.
Of course, you can also visit the totem pole without walking the full perimeter of the lake. To do this take a right turn at the Visitors Centre or park at Savill Garden and walk directly from there.
Nature and wildlife
The vistas at Virginia Water Lake are spectacular. As well as the stunning views of the water, there’s an abundance of ornamental shrubs and trees to admire. You’ll see a good selection of water birds and if you’re lucky (as we often are) you might spot deer.
Around the perimeter of the lake, ancient trees provide a wonderful, natural playground for children. And even better, the rhododendrons create hidden labyrinths, perfect for hide and seek or tree climbing.
Extend your walk
The Valley Gardens
The perimeter of the lake is about 4.5 miles. If you take a slight detour from this circular walk, you’ll reach the Valley Gardens.
Here, the changing landscape looks outstanding throughout the year. And it’s no wonder, as the Valley Gardens boasts trees and shrubs from all over the world and is managed by a team of experts.
Various pathways and trails lead you down into the Punch Bowl, which always looks spectacular.
In spring, the Punch Bowl is ablaze with pinks, purples and reds from its extensive collection of rhododendron, magnolia, and azaleas.
If you want early spring colour head to the Heather Gardens, where you’ll find a diverse selection of purple heathers. Alternatively, you’ll get one of the best collections of daffodils in Daffodil Valley.
By autumn, the palette changes to a rich mix of crimson, golds and russets.
The Savill Garden
A short walk from the totem pole at Virginia Water Lake will take you to The Savill Garden. Here you will find every horticulturalists’ dream, 35 acres of immaculate landscaped gardens.
There is an admission charge to enter Savill Gardens, but access to the restaurant or food counter is free.
Children's playground at Virginia Water
If you are visiting Virginia Water Lake with toddlers or younger children, look out for the a small playground on the path to Savill Garden. This has a wooden ship, swings and a sandpit.
For older children, there are plenty of good climbing trees behind the playground. In front of the playground, Obelisk Lawn provides one of the best picnic spots at Virginia Water Lake.
How to get to Virginia Water Lake
The easiest way to get to Virginia Water Lake is by car.
It is easily accessible from the M25, via the A30. It is also very close to Windsor (about 20 minutes from the town centre).
The nearest train station is Virginia Water Station, but the entrance to the lake is 2 miles away, so you would need to get a taxi.
Parking at Virginia Water Lake
There are two car parks for Virginia Water Lake and one for Savill Garden. The sat nav postcode for the main car park is GU25 4QF and for Savill Garden is TW20 0UJ.
All of the car parks can get very busy during the summer months, so it’s best to get there early. Details of charges and opening times can be found here.
Virginia Water Lake Opening Times
The car parks are open from 7.45am (or dawn if later) to 7pm (or dusk if earlier) throughout the year.
Entrance Fees to Virginia Water Lake
Admission to Virginia Water Lake and the Valley Gardens is free, though hourly parking charges apply.
However, there is an admission charge for Savill Garden. It is currently £13.50 for adults and £6.50 for children (5-15 yrs) in the summer. It is considerably cheaper during the winter months (from 1st November).
Top tip: If you purchase entrance to Savill Garden, you can get a refund on your parking ticket.
There are several eateries at Virginia Water Lake. The Pavillion at the Visitor Centre has been renovated and provides a selection of snacks and drinks. You’ll also find several snack vans and ice-cream vans (seasonal) around the park.
Picnicking is also a very popular choice, as there are so many great places to stop.
For more formal eating, you can head to The Savill Garden.
Alternatively after a great walk we stop at one of the many pubs surrounding the lake for a refreshing pint and family friendly meal. We can recommend the Wheatsheaf Hotel, The Bailiwick or The Belvedere Arms which are all accessible on foot from Virginia Water Lake.