The nearby vast, open green spaces of Hampstead Heath are a major attraction for Londoners, but relatively few visitors know much about this wonderful remnant of countryside in the centre of London.
Hampstead is a district of great literary, artistic and thespian traditions, and former residents include Kingsley Amis, William Blake, John Constable, Ian Fleming, William Hogarth, John Keats, Anna Pavlova and Alfred Tennyson. Those traditions continue today, and Hampstead is the home of choice for many actors, musicians, writers and media personalities. The residents of Hampstead are acutely aware of the history of the neighbourhood they live in, and any changes in this area are subject to rigorous discussion, and often protest.
Belsize Park is in many ways a southward extension of Hampstead Village, and is made up of many similarly grand residential streets with the odd gem of a restaurant. This is also home to one of the largest and most famous hospitals in London, the Royal Free.
The western reaches of Highgate in the Dartmouth Park area, are inside the Hampstead district, and include the important tourist attraction of Highgate Cemetery, which houses the grave of Karl Marx among other notables.
Primrose Hill is a quiet, stately, residential area in the south of the district bordering Regent's Park. Due to the lack of through roads for traffic, this area seems miles away from the general rush and bustle of London, and forms something of an oasis of calm in what is a very central area.
West Hampstead is less grand, and was traditionally a blue collar housing neighbourhood. Inevitably though, gentrification from about 1990 onwards changed all that, and the area is now a favoured residential area by young professionals. Aside from some budget accommodation, there is little of interest for the visitor here though.
By tubeThe district is served by the following tube stations, in zones 2 or 3:
- Hampstead (Northern Line) – Zones 2+3
- Belsize Park (Northern Line) – Zone 2
- Chalk Farm (Northern Line) – Zone 2
- Golders Green (Northern Line) – Zone 3
- Swiss Cottage (Jubilee Line) – Zone 2
- Finchley Road (Jubilee Line and Metropolitan Line) – Zone 2
- West Hampstead (Jubilee Line and Overground) – Zone 2
- Hampstead Heath and Gospel Oak stations are on the London Overground line, and both are convenient stops for Hampstead Heath. Further west in the district, the Overground also stops at Finchley Rd & Frognal and West Hampstead. The area is serviced by tube stations Belsize Park and Hampstead on the Northern Line.
- West Hampstead is also on the main Thameslink Line, allowing easy access from the English Midlands and from Brighton in the south of the country.
- South Hampstead is on the London Euston to Watford main line with about 4 trains per hour stopping there.
- Finchley Rd is a major bus route through London. Bus numbers 13, 139 and 82 all originate in central London and pass along the length of Finchley Rd, allowing easy access to Swiss Cottage and West Hampstead.
- Hampstead and Belsize Park are less well served, with the only direct connection from central London being bus number 46, originating at Farringdon St.
- Night bus N5 is an excellent and convenient way to get to Hampstead, Belsize Park and Golders Green, after a night out in the West End. Originating in Trafalgar Square, this service makes its way north through King's Cross and Camden Town, before travelling through the district along Chalk Farm Rd, Haverstock Hill, Hampstead High St and North End Way. Runs approximately every 15 minutes from just after midnight until 6AM.
By roadThe best advice for any visitors wishing to drive into Hampstead is, don't. This is a largely residential area, and there is virtually no on-street parking available. Residents' only parking spaces are guarded very jealously. With the public transport links being very good, there is little need for any visitor to drive into the district.
If you do insist on driving, there is a public car park on the south eastern edge of Hampstead Heath accessed from East Heath Rd, and this is convenient for visiting the heath. The "easiest" (the term must be used relatively as all routes are congested) routes in from central London are:
- A41 north from Marylebone Rd at Baker St. The A41 becomes Finchley Rd in this district.
- A4200 (Eversholt St) north from Euston Station to Camden High St, and then the A502 which runs through the heart of the district as first Chalk Farm Rd, then Haverstock Hill and then Hampstead High St.
Coming from the north, the A41, A502 and A598 all connect to the district from the A406 North Circular Rd, and thus from the M1 motorway.
- Bus number 268 is a convenient, regular service that connects Golders Green, Hampstead, Belsize Park, Swiss Cottage and Finchley Rd in both directions. Stops are frequent in key areas such as Heath St, Hampstead High St, Haverstock Hill and Finchley Rd, and are not hard to find.
- Bus number 210 is a useful service for getting to Kenwood House, close to Highgate Cemetery and Waterlow Park, and any other area along the extent of Spaniard's Rd and Hampstead Lane. It runs from Golders Green Station south down North End Rd, turns east along Spaniard's Rd, and then runs the whole length of Hampstead Lane before terminating out of the district at Finsbury Park. The return route is identical in reverse.
Many of the key historical sights are in a cluster within a ten-minute walk of Hampstead tube station and therefore easily covered on foot. If you are planning a full day in the area, a morning visit to Hampstead Heath followed by lunch in Hampstead Village and then an exploration of the historical attractions makes for a good itinerary.
phone: +44 20 7435-6166address: 2 Willow Rd, NW3 1THA house designed by Erno Goldfinger in 1939 and regarded as an icon of modernist architecture. The contents are just as impressive as the house and include original works by Henry Moore and Max Ernst. Local lore has it that Hampstead resident of the time Ian Fleming objected so strongly to Goldfinger's modernist design that he named his famous Bond villain after him.
phone: +44 20 7431-0144address: New End Sq, NW3 1LTThis beautiful grade I listed Georgian building houses the Hampstead Museum, which has an interesting collection of exhibits on the history of the local area.
phone: +44 20 7472-5500address: Arkwright Rd, NW3 6DGA contemporary arts centre with exhibitions focused on exposing new talent. Housed in a lovely Victorian mansion.
phone: +44 20 7435-3471address: Hampstead Gr, NW3 6SPA magnificent old house dating from 1667 that is administered by the National Trust. It is most famous for its globally important collection of early keyboard instruments, and there is also a fine collection of art and porcelain. Frequently hosts recitals.
Letters sent to the Hampstead and Highgate Express as 1969 turned to 1970 related frightened locals' alleged encounters with evil. One man claimed to have seen a creature with glowing red eyes glaring at him through the bars of the cemetery gates, while another reported being knocked to the ground by something which glided from the wall and then vanished into thin air in the headlights of an approaching car.
Before long, two rival occultists - David Farrant and Seán Manchester - had got involved. Each trying to outdo the other with ever more extreme pronouncements, they claimed variously that black magic was being practised by a coven of devil-worshippers in the abandoned cemetery, that foxes had been found dead and drained of blood via slashed throats, and that one of the cemetery's mausolea contained the reanimated corpse of a "Vampyr King" of Wallachia. This culminated in a live television interview on Friday 13th March 1970, where Farrant lamented that the 'proper means' of disposing of a vampire (staking, beheading and burning the corpse) would now be "considered illegal".
Within two hours, a mob of hundreds of vampire hunters from all over London had broken into the cemetery, thwarting police attempts to keep them out. Manchester later claimed to have taken advantage of the commotion to break into a vault and spread garlic and holy water around. No trace of vampiric remains were found on the night of the hunt, but events turned grisly later that year when the burnt and beheaded body of a woman was discovered close to the 'vampire's vault'. Police suspected the body had been used in black magic, and they arrested and charged Farrant who was found lurking nearby armed with a crucifix and wooden stake. The case was dismissed in court, though Farrant was eventually jailed for damaging memorials and interfering with dead remains in Highgate Cemetery.
Today, Farrant and Manchester are free to continue embellishing their stories and stoking public fear. Although there have been no alleged vampire sightings since the mid-1970s, the pair's rivalry has become a full-blown feud and each claim the other is a charlatan.
phone: +44 20 7435-2002address: 20 Maresfield Gdns, NW3 5SXThe former home of Sigmund Freud. A wide range of exhibits, most famously including the psycho-analytic couch that all of his patients used. Freud was an avid collector of antiquities and there is a fine collection of Greek, Roman and Oriental pieces on show.
phone: +44 20 7794-5808address: Church Row, NW3 6UUThe church building is rather lovely but it is the graveyard that will most interest visitors. Notable personalities buried here include Sir John Constable (artist), Hugh Gaitskell (Labour Party leader and Chancellor of the Exchequer), Kay Kendall (actress) and several members of the du Maurier family. Tomb trails are available at the church. Visiting should be OK in daylight hours, but check ahead if you are making a special trip.
phone: +44 20 8340-1834address: Swain's Ln, N6 6JPTake a guided tour of the overgrown Western Cemetery which gives it a special beauty and charm, or visit the East Cemetery unaccompanied where you will find the grave of Karl Marx. There are at least 850 notable people buried at Highgate, from Douglas Adams and George Eliot, to Jean Simmons and Michael Faraday; high society Victorians wouldn't be seen dead anywhere else. It has been said that Highgate has the finest collection of Victorian funerary architecture in the country, and the cemetery certainly has more than its fair share of ghosts. There's even a resident vampire!
phone: +44 20 7332-3868address: Keats Gr, NW3 2RRThe poet John Keats lived here from 1818 to 1820 until he travelled to Rome where he died of tuberculosis, aged just 25. The house was restored in 2009 as a museum with period decor, furnishings and a collection of Keatsiana. Some events take place in the building next door within the grounds (Ten Keats Grove); the building also houses a volunteer-run public library, with a collection of books and periodicals, and free internet access.
Primrose Hilladdress: off Regent's Park Rd, NW1A large open grassed hill just to the north of Regent's Park. Offers a free panorama of Central London. The views are probably only bettered by those from Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath.
phone: +44 20 7974-8810address: Swain's Ln N6A secret jewel of a park. Beautiful landscaped grounds, hills, mature trees, lakes, a walled garden, visitor's centre, café, tennis courts, and children's playgrounds. Bequeathed to the public as a "garden for the gardenless" by Sir Sidney Waterlow in 1889. A visit here combines very well with Highgate Cemetery.
Hampstead HeathTotalling 320 hectares this is the largest green space in the inner districts of London.
Hampstead Heath, or just the Heath as locals call it, is not a park and has a very different character to the highly manicured Royal Parks in central London. This is a remnant of the great Middlesex Wood that has somehow survived as commonland as the metropolis grew around it, and in that sense it is very unique. Its proximity to, and ease of access from, densely populated urban areas of London, have ensured that Hampstead Heath has a special place in the hearts of Londoners.
The heath has much to offer to the visitor, but is generally not that well known as being a tourist attraction. If you are in the city and simply want some fresh air and calm natural surroundings, there is no better choice than jumping on the tube and coming for an early morning walk here. Both Hampstead and Belsize Park tube stations are about 10 minutes walk from the heath. The North London Line rail station Hampstead Heath is right on the south western tip of the heath.
Hampstead Heath is administered by the City of London Corporation, and it is worth visiting their website, where there are useful trail maps and other visitor information.
Cultural inspirationsLike so many other iconic landscapes, Hampstead Heath has inspired a great many works of art from all disciplines, with some of the more notable being:
- John Constable painted numerous landscapes both from sitting in the upper level of his house at nearby Well Walk, and from on the heath itself. As you take in the splendid vistas over the heath, it is not difficult to see how Constable was so inspired here.
- John Keats composed his great Ode to a Nightingale whilst sitting at the Spaniard's Inn and hearing the sound of a nightingale on the heath. The nightingales have sadly gone, but the heath still has a very healthy wild bird population.
- CS Lewis was inspired to write The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe whilst wandering Hampstead Heath on a snowy winter's day.
- In contemporary literature, Hampstead Heath is the setting for the village of Ham in Will Self's superb The Book of Dave.
- The cult movie Scenes of a Sexual Nature was shot entirely on Hampstead Heath.
OrientationHampstead Heath is a large space, and visitors may find it useful to compartmentalise the different sections.
- The main part of Hampstead Heath is bounded by Spaniards Rd and Hampstead Lane to the north, Highgate Rd to the east, the North London railway line to the south, and East Heath Rd and Spaniards Rd (again) to the east. A line of ponds runs along each side of the heath here: Highgate Ponds on the eastern side, Hampstead Ponds on the western side. The northern part of this section is occupied by Kenwood House, looked after by English Heritage and the only part of the heath not administered by the City of London Corporation. Parliament Hill forms the southern part of this section.
- West Heath is across Spaniards Rd and North End Rd from the main section, and includes Golder's Hill Park, The Pergola and The Hill Garden, as well as large tracts of mature oak, hornbeam and birch woodland.
- Sandy Heath is north-west of Spaniard's Rd and consists mostly of beautiful, mature oak woodland.
- The Hampstead Heath Extension is north of Sandy Heath bordering suburban Golders Green, and consists mostly of sports pitches. Older locals still call this area the "gunsite" as it was exactly that during World War II, and was not cleared until the 1960s.
Specific attractions on Hampstead Heath
The Bathing PondsThere are three notable outdoor bathing ponds on the heath. The Men's Pond and Women's Pond are both part of the line of small lakes on the eastern edge of the heath known as Highgate Ponds, and the Mixed Pond is part of Hampstead Ponds on the opposite side. Swimming hours are seasonal, complicated, age-dependent and change frequently, so it is worth checking before making a special trip.
address: North End Way, NW3A more formal tended area of the heath at its north-western extremity. Has as a small aviary and zoo that kids always enjoy.
address: N End Way, NW3A quite beautiful hidden garden on West Heath, which is little known even to many Londoners. It was originally part of the gardens of 19th century Inverforth House built by Viscount Leverhulme (the then owner of Lever Brothers, now Unilever). The gardens are now common land and part of Hampstead Heath, and the most impressive feature is a restored timber pergola, covered with various climbing plants including roses, honeysuckle, clematis, wisteria and various vines. The pergola offers two stunning views from its north-western point. You can look straight out and over the heath's canopy and see nothing but mature trees. Alternatively, you can look down and see the beautifully manicured herb garden and the length of the pergola stretching out before you. The adjacent Hill Garden offers a complete contrast to the wildness of the pergola. The garden is beautifully manicured and is a favourite haunt for artists. The bench by the ornamental fish pond here gives a stunning view of Hampstead Heath with the towers of urban London as the backdrop.
phone: +44 20 8348-1286address: Hampstead Ln, NW3 7JRA splendid Regency house with enormous gardens and woodlands. The gardens alone are worth the visit and are a superb example of 18th century landscaping. On show at the house is art by masters such as Rembrandt, Turner, Reynolds and Vermeer, and the gardens have a very notable sculpture by Henry Moore. A regular program of outdoor opera takes place here every summer. Movie buffs will recognise Kenwood from Mansfield Park among other famous films. Administered by English Heritage, separately from the rest of Hampstead Heath.
Parliament HillThis is a high part of the Heath with clear open vistas, and the views looking south over the city are quite wonderful. Highly recommended on a clear morning, when you can see from Canary Wharf in the east all the way to Battersea Power Station in the west.
phone: +44 870 066 4777address: 5 Hollybush Vale, NW3 6TXOne of London's most notable art house cinemas which offers a high quality experience. You pay for it, but the environment is very classy indeed. Has a sister cinema just down the hill in Belsize Park - The Everyman Belsize Park.
phone: +44 20 7722-9301address: Eton Ave, NW3 3EUA repertory theatre that is about as far removed from glitzy west end productions as you could imagine. Dedicated to exposing new writing talent. Harold Pinter gained some of his earliest experience here.
phone: +44 20 7435-3648address: 28 Heath St, NW3 6TESmall, intimate theatre known for edgy, high quality productions. Located above The Horseshoe pub.
Hampstead High St, Heath St, Rosslyn Hill and Haverstock Hill have a number of mid and upper market boutiques including Nicole Farhi, Gap, Karen Millen, Nine West, Kurt Geiger and Molton Brown.
The usual suspects among British high street retailers are well represented in the Finchley Rd and Swiss Cottage area.
phone: +44 20 7794-4006address: 193 Haverstock Hill, NW3 4QLA wonderful, old-style independent book shop which has a second branch up the hill at 51 South End Rd.
phone: +44 20 7833 0338address: Parliament Hill FieldsA regular farmer's market selling fresh organic produce every Saturday
phone: +44 20 7794-3297address: 12 Heath St, NW3 6TEMore than 30 antique dealers permanently occupy this small arcade and adjacent courtyard. Several genres represented including furniture, paintings, toys and textiles.
phone: +44 20 7794-8313address: 78 Hampstead High St, NW3 1REOn Saturdays, turns into a mini-market selling a variety of things, including a second hand book stall with a fantastic selection.
phone: +44 20 7435-0614address: 1–3 Flask Walk, NW3 1HJA rare and antiquarian bookshop with a special focus on the great literary characters who lived in Hampstead. Also carries a huge stock of more run-of-the-mill secondhand titles. An absolute must for booklovers.
Elsewhere in the district, Primrose Hill has its own eating sub-culture centre around some chic outlets on Gloucester Avenue, and London's oldest vegetarian restaurant nearby. The West Hampstead and Swiss Cottage area has some good local restaurants.
address: 77 Hampstead High St, NW3 1REA crepe stall in front of the King William IV pub. A wide variety of tasty sweet and savoury crepes for under a fiver. Queues can get long at the weekends. Been around a long time and passes the longevity test.
phone: +44 20 7794-6158address: 73 Heath St, NW3 6UGReally good value, no frills sushi restaurant.
Nautilusphone: +44 20 7435-2532address: 27-29 Fortune Green Rd, NW6 1DTA very well known fish and chip shop. The great British invention to either take away or eat in. Locals travel a long way to buy here.
Parliament Hill Caféphone: +44 20 7485-6606The only cafe actually on Hampstead Heath, and a nice place to stop for a drink or quick bite after exploring the heath.
phone: +44 20 7431-5958address: 1 Hampstead High St, NW3 1UNModern coffee shop chain just around the corner from Hampstead tube station. Serves decent coffee with cakes and savoury snacks at slightly lower prices than elsewhere in Hampstead Village. Part of a large chain.
phone: +44 20 7794-2184address: 32 Rosslyn Hill, NW3 1NHServes cheap and decent, if not terribly inspired, Italian food. Good value for this area. Also has a deli attached. Part of a large chain.
phone: +44 20 7372 1193address: 74 West End Ln, West Hampstead, NW6 2LXServes traditional Czech-Slovak dishes such as svíčková and guláš at reasonable prices, also has plenty of memorabilia on display as well as a small library of books.
phone: +44 20 7433-6811address: 32 Downshire Hill, NW3 1NTA gastro pub offering both homely dishes and some more ambitious options. Good location only one minute walk from Hampstead Heath. Has a large open garden with many tables which is lovely in the summer.
phone: +44 20 7372-4699address: 228 Belsize Rd, NW6 4BTEuropean cuisine.
phone: +44 20 7722-8028address: 4 Erskine Rd, NW3 3AJThe UK's oldest vegetarian restaurant which has been in operation since 1966. That says a lot about the quality of the food, and the presentation and service are also top notch.
phone: +44 20 7435-7814address: 45a S End Rd, NW3 2QBItalian bistro with an extensive menu of pizzas and grill items.
Goldfishphone: +44 20 7794-6666address: 82 Hampstead High St, NW3 1REAsian fusion eatery boasts a menu that is distinctly modern Chinese, with main courses such as wasabi prawns, mocha spare ribs and pan-fry roasted duck with special curry sauce and apple salsa.
phone: +44 20 7586-8569address: 130 Regent's Park Rd, NW1 8XLModern European cooking in the Primrose Hill district. Interesting set degustation menu for £60 per head.
This is not a district with any regular after hours nightlife, but it is not far down the hill to the neighbouring areas of Camden Town and King's Cross where there are many late bar and dance club options.
Hampstead Village and aroundAmong Hampstead's many pubs are a few traditional jewels, including:
phone: +44 20 7435-4580address: 14 Flask Walk, NW3 1HEThe name dates from the 18th and 19th centuries, when Hampstead was known as an area with many freshwater springs and people went there to take the waters. The current building has been a pub since 1874. Two bar rooms and a separate dining area.
phone: +44 20 7435-2892address: 22 Holly Mount, NW3 6SGBeen around since 1807 and an absolute traditional favorite. Two bar rooms with open fireplaces. Consistently rated as one of the best traditional pubs in the whole of London.
phone: +44 20 7435-5747address: 77 Hampstead High St, NW3 1RELondon's oldest established gay pub and a pleasant place for a drink whether you are gay or straight. Three bar rooms and a pleasant, if small, outdoor beer garden at the rear. Right in the heart of Hampstead village.
phone: +44 20 8905-5456address: N End Rd, NW3 7HEThis former farmhouse gained its first licence to sell liquor in 1721 and is the pub that gave rise to famous Victorian music hall song "Down at The Old Bull and Bush". Today it is a thriving pub and one which has modernised sympathetically. A great place to go for a drink and imagine the characters who have done likewise here over the past nearly 300 years.
phone: +44 20 8731-8406address: Spaniard's Rd, NW3 7JJBeen around since 1585 and has just claims to be one of the most famous pubs in London. Keats, Shelly and Byron all drank here and Dickens mentions it in Pickwick Papers. Local lore has it that Dick Turpin used the pub and that his ghost still does. These days it is a decent pub with a real countryside atmosphere.
phone: +44 20 7483-0409address: 90 Gloucester Ave, NW1 8HXLocal favourite with a lively bar downstairs and excellent restaurant on the first floor.
phone: +44 20 7483 2927address: 150 Gloucester Ave, NW1 8JAIntimate pub with a cozy inside bar and a very popular beer garden which gets packed in summer.
phone: +44 20 7722 0354address: 22 Chalcot Rd, NW1 8LLTraditional pub which offers a fine selection of beers and has a relatively broad food menu. Traditional jazz is played on Thursday nights. One of the more reasonably priced pubs in the area.
phone: +44 20 7483-1261address: 97 Haverstock Hill, NW3 4RLOld fashioned London pub which runs a regular program of themed nights including some quite eclectic musical themes. Saturday is comedy night and especially popular. Named after the notable Georgian journalist and writer whose home was formerly on this site,
phone: +44 20 7794-6476address: 195-197 Sumatra Rd, NW6 1PFTraditional B&B with 43 rooms ranging from singles to family suites. The cheapest rooms do not have private bathrooms.
phone: +44 20 7624-0079address: 72 Canfield Gdns, NW6 3EGBudget guest house with 15 rooms including family options. A five minute walk to the West Hampstead stations.
phone: +44 20 7794-3360address: 21 Belsize Pk, NW3 4DUBed and breakfast in an old converted Victorian building in Belsize Park. Quiet and reserved residential neighbourhood but easy access to Hampstead Village.
phone: +44 20 7435-8965address: 107-111 Heath St, NW3 6SSCharming boutique-type bed and breakfast accommodation above a restaurant and wine bar of the same name. Family owned and managed.
phone: +44 20 7794-4483address: 20 Frognal, NW3 6AGConverted townhouse within walking distance of Hampstead Village.
phone: +44 20 7483-8470address: 40 College Cres, NW3 5LBA high quality, multi award-winning hostel in a converted Victorian mansion. Has private rooms as well as a number of dorm options. Offers free WiFi, breakfast included in the price and nice touches such as serving free trade coffee only.
phone: +44 20 7722-2281address: 4 Adamson Rd, NW3 3HPConverted Victorian townhouse with 59 rooms. Two minute walk to Swiss Cottage tube station.
phone: +44 20 7974-6518address: Antrim Rd, NW3 4XNA small public library run by Camden Council which offers free public internet access. The queues are often long though.
Queen's Internet Cafephone: +44 20 7485-1558address: 191 Queen's Cres, NW5 4DSA rather quirky place which doubles as an internet cafe and a supplier of hair grooming products! Very friendly and a reliable, fast connection.
phone: +44 20 7974-6522address: 88 Avenue Rd, NW3 3HAA public library run by Camden Council which offers free WiFi and a limited number of desktop stations.
phone: 101address: 10-12A Holmes Road, NW5 3AE
phone: +44 20 7433-0000address: 100A Avenue Rd, NW3 3HFVery few London districts have their own proper local newspaper (as opposed to a free sheet), but it is no surprise that literary Hampstead does. A great source of local news, events and listings. Published each Thursday, and widely available at newsagents and other outlets throughout the district.
phone: +44 20 7794-0500address: 23 E Heath Rd, NW3 1DUOne of London's largest and most famous hospitals. Has a full A&E department.