Arguably one of the most charming boroughs in North London, the village feel of Hampstead is the perfect backdrop to a Richard Curtis romantic comedy. Think quaint streets and no less than 18 grade II listed buildings, enveloped by some of London’s finest greenery and only a short distance from the hectic city center. Get to know the area, a historic district of great literary tradition, with these top picks of things to do in Hampstead, London.
Walk on Hampstead Heath
One of London’s most popular green spaces, famous for its spectacular views of the capital’s skyline, Hampstead Heath is an expanse of beautiful countryside just a short drive from the city center. The Heath’s mosaic of habitats makes it a haven for all kinds of wildlife, acting as home to a number of priority species identified in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. There are lots of things to do on Hampstead Heath, such as taking advantage of it’s excellent sporting opportunities, from its athletics track to its swimming ponds, but nothing can beat a weekend stroll through the peaceful landscape.
Discreetly hidden off the Hampstead High Street is Flask Walk, a pedestrian alleyway full of quirky character. Along this small strip of shops, you can find a second-hand bookshop and designer store, a magical shop devoted to Mystical Fairies to impress the children, and a charming Victorian pub for the adults. Follow the alley all the way down to head in the direction of Hampstead Heath, and enjoy a stroll past the village’s prettiest houses, home to some of the rich and famous, including national treasure Jonathan Ross.
The Freud Museum was the home of Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, and his family when they escaped Austria following the Nazi annexation in 1938. It remained the family home until the death of Freud’s youngest daughter Anna in 1982, and now operates as a museum to explore the remarkable collection of antiquities and research resources in the field of psychoanalysis, including Freud’s entire personal library. Without a doubt, the most impressive feature of the house is Freud’s study, preserved as it was during his lifetime, its centerpiece the infamous psychoanalytic couch used by his patients.
Enjoy a taste of Parisian street food at this world famous crêperie, a takeaway stall that has become a landmark in North London. Since its permanent move to the area in 1980, it’s become famous with celebrities, locals, and international guidebooks. Expect long queues on summer days and weekends for the delicious crepes and galettes served in their specially designed cone wrappers. Use the queueing time to sift through the plethora of choices they offer, and trust us, they are well worth the wait.
Keats House in North London is the newly redisplayed home of the English Romantic poet, John Keats. Originally known as Wentworth Place, the Regency villa was home to the poet for the most productive years of his career. The London-born poet has one of the most exceptional careers of any English poet, which is why his legacy is kept alive through poetry programs and workshops. The Keats House Collection is comprised of original material including letters written by Keats, books in which Keats wrote some of his poetry, and the engagement ring given by Keats to his fiancée, Fanny Brawne. The collection also features new exhibits of his original manuscripts and artifacts, which recount the story of how the young poet found inspiration. With tons of free events throughout the summer, Keats House is great for a family fun day, encapsulating the beauty of Keats’ life and his world-famous poetry. Whether you watch a film about his eventful life in Hampstead, enjoy a guided walk around the grounds, or write your own poem, Keats House makes for a delightful, uncrowded day out in North London.
London may be without a sandy beach and crystal-blue sea to cool off in, but Hampstead’s open-air swimming ponds are the perfect substitute to escape the stuffy city heat. The UK’s only lifeguarded open-water swimming facilities that are open to the public all year long, the separated Ladies’ and Men’s Ponds, are fed by the headwater springs of the River Fleet and are located within the picturesque enclave of Hampstead Heath. If you’re going with a mixed group, make sure to head to the Mixed Pond or Lido at Parliament Hill.
Sitting prettily on the edge of Hampstead Heath, Kenwood House is one of North London’s hidden gems. First built around the 17th century, Kenwood was transformed into a neoclassical villa by the late 1700s, and is now open to the public for free. For art enthusiasts, the world-class art collection featuring works from Rembrandt to Vermeer and intricate interiors of the villa are well worth the visit. The surrounding grounds always exude an inviting buzz, with children’s activities to offer, acres of greenery to explore, and a cafe to relax in.
A popular haunt among London’s trendiest, alongside celebrities, the Gaucho grill offers a taste of sunny Argentina despite the dreary British weather. Using the typical outdoor asado cooking, a traditional South American barbecue, the beef from the Pampas of Argentina is of the finest quality and is cooked with complete authenticity. The higher price tag means this is a restaurant for special occasions, yet the mouth-watering steak and attentive service will leave you looking forward to your next visit.
With barbecue season well under way, The Hampstead Butcher is the go-to destination for all things meaty. The traditional British butcher offers premier meat cuts from a wide variety of free-range and ethically reared beef, pork, lamb, chickens, and game when in season, while their delicatessen and charcuterie display a delicious selection of exotic cheeses, wines and groceries to complete the meal. Meat lovers should sign up for the newsletter to take part in one of the butcher’s regular tastings and butchery classes.
The idyllic Spaniards Inn, located on the London outskirts of Hampstead Heath, binds charm to history. The literary greats often took solace within the walls of this 14th century establishment. The pub is forever preserved in Dickens’The Pickwick Papers and it is said Keats’ Ode To A Nightingale was composed within the confines of the Inn. Other Romantic visitors include the notorious Lord Byron. The great odes to British literature were perhaps inspired by the picturesque setting of the pub, something to consider as you enjoy one of their craft ales.