The best things to see and do in Hampstead
You only need to visit Hampstead once to realise there’s a very good reason why celebrities, football players, the literary elite and movie stars make it their home. Packed with green spaces, this north London suburb has a unique village feel. Forget big tourist attractions: visiting Hampstead is all about wandering off the beaten track and lingering at cafés and in atmospheric pubs.
Start with the views
Head for Parliament Hill (a short walk from Belsize Park tube) for views to Crystal Palace to the south and Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium to the north. Alternatively, head up the hill from Kenwood House towards Hampstead Lane and identify central London buildings on the ever-changing skyline.
Hampstead’s green spaces
With nearly 800 acres of woods, meadow and heathland in Hampstead Heath, it is easy to imagine that you are in the countryside. From Hampstead Heath, head for the more manicured parkland of Kenwood House and watch the kite-flying on Parliament Hill. Then stroll across the Vale of Health to reach Golders Hill Park and the Hill Garden.
Outdoor swimming in Hampstead’s ponds
Hampstead Heath is well-known for its three swimming ponds (Men’s, Ladies’, Mixed) which have been popular with swimmers since Victorian times. The Men’s and Ladies’ ponds are open year-round (over-eights only) and although chilly, have loyal visitors who are happy to swim alongside the ducks.
Shopping in Hampstead
Familiar brand names – Reiss, Nicole Farhi, Hobbs and Jigsaw – line Hampstead’s attractive high street. There’s also an excellent branch of Waterstone’s books and several very enticing delis and food stores. For antiques and shops with a quirkier feel, head off the high street and along pedestrianised Flask Walk.
Step off Hampstead High Street
Continue along Flask Walk and into Well Walk, famous for its connections with John Keats and John Constable. This is also the site of the Chalybeate Well which was discovered in the mid 17thcentury. John Constable’s grave is in a quiet corner of nearby St John’s churchyard. Not far from Well Walk, Downshire Hill is one of Hampstead’s loveliest streets, gently sloping down to the Heath and lined with beautiful early 19th century Regency houses.
Returning to the High Street and crossing over Heath Street, climb the stone staircase of Holly Bush Steps and stroll along the narrow streets and lanes, admiring the pretty cottages.
Admiral’s Lodge and Mary Poppins
Continue to Hampstead Grove and the signs to Admiral’s Walk, famed for its connection with the film of Mary Poppins. The quarter-deck shaped roof of the Admiral’s House and its eccentric naval lieutenant resident was reputedly the inspiration for author P L Travers who lived in Hampstead. The much-loved film of Mary Poppins was created from his book. One of its memorable characters is Admiral Boom who repeatedly fires his cannon from the roof.
The High Street is lined with chain cafés and restaurants. The independent Crêperie takeaway stall has become a Hampstead landmark, selling crêpes and galettes for around 30 years. Wander off into the side streets for atmospheric pubs such as the Holly Bush or the Wells Tavern.
In Kenwood, pause in the lovely walled garden of the café at Kenwood House or in Parliament Hill Café for a quick cappuccino. At Golders Hill Park, the café is a great spot for a plate of pasta and an Italian ice-cream.
Museums in Hampstead
Much of the attraction of Hampstead is just wandering and exploring. Delve deeper to explore the fascinating history lying within its streets. These are Hampstead’s main museums:
For a greater insight into the history of Hampstead, start with Burgh House.
Fenton House is a 17th century merchant’s house, now owned by the National Trust. It is renowned for its extensive range of porcelain and early musical instruments and for its stunning garden.
The Freud Museum is the former home of Sigmund Freud and his family, housing his collection of antiques and his psychoanalytic couch.
The National Trust also owns 2 Willow Road, a 1939 modernist building designed by the influential architect Erno Goldfinger for his family, and home to a collection of important treasures and objets d’art.
Learn all about the life and works of the Romantic poet John Keats at Keats House, a museum and literary centre.
For art lovers, Kenwood House is home to a superb art collection, including Rembrandt’s self-portrait, and magnificent interiors.