What's it all about?
Hampstead Heath is London’s largest public open space, occupying a hilltop ridge to the north of the city. The heath is a thriving space beloved by Londoners, encompassing bathing ponds, meadows, nature reserves, landscaped gardens, woods, playgrounds, sports facilities and the English Heritage-run Kenwood House. Adjoining the heath are the well-established residential areas of Gospel Oak, Dartmouth Park, Highgate, Hampstead and Golders Green. Having been historically popular with artists, writers and actors, these areas nonetheless retain a bit of a bohemian air.
- The area first appeared in records from 986 as ‘Hemstede’, when Ethelred the Unready gifted one of his servants a parcel of land here.
- The panoramic views over London from Parliament Hill, in the south-east corner of Hampstead Heath, are protected by law.
- Hampstead Heath has over 25 ponds. Most of these are in two distinct chains: Highgate Ponds, which includes the men’s and ladies’ bathing ponds and a model boating pond, and Hampstead Ponds, which features a mixed-sex bathing facility.
- Known as ‘Billionaires’ Row’, The Bishops Avenue, running from Hampstead Heath to East Finchley and comprised of large detached gated properties, is thought to be one of the wealthiest streets in the world.
Architecture and property
Grand period properties have made Hampstead and Highgate particularly desirable and affluent, with houses overlooking the Heath itself commanding stratospheric prices. The cobbled Georgian streets of Highgate Village are also highly sought after. The area has some notable Modernist architecture, including Hungarian architect Ernö Goldfinger’s 1939 Willow Road, the Grade I-listed Isokon building on Lawn Road (designed by Wells Coates in 1934) and the Highpoint I and II¬ apartment blocks by Berthold Lubetkin.
There are fine examples of Victorian terraces, mansion blocks, contemporary apartments and social housing in the neighbourhoods that surround the Heath. To the north of the Heath, Hampstead Garden Suburb was created the early years of the 20th-century as a self-contained scheme to cater for all levels of society. Houses of all sizes were laid out in quiet, tree-lined streets, and surrounded by public gardens.
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Eating: La Cage Imaginaire on Highgate’s cobbled Flask Walk offers classic French cuisine, from frogs’ legs to beef bourguignon. On the Hampstead side, the atmospheric cellar restaurant 28 Church Row offers sharing plates with Spanish influences, and Jin Kichi is recognised as one of the best Japanese restaurants in London.
Drinking: The area is full of welcoming traditional-style pubs with wooden beams, large gardens and open fires. Chief among them is The Spaniards Inn, dating back to the 1585 – a one-time hangout of highwaymen and rumoured to be haunted. The Flask in Highgate West Hill is frequented by famous authors, playwrights and rockstars alike. Another classic is the Holly Bush, a cosy pub offering cask ales and comfort food. The Wells is a well-appointed bar and dining room that occupies a picturesque Georgian townhouse, serving a menu of high-end pub grub.
Culture: The 325-seater Hampstead Theatre stages productions of contemporary and classic plays, while Jacksons Lane, Upstairs at the Gatehouse and the Pentameters Theatre above the Horseshoe pub on Heath Street are all well-established fringe venues. The Freud Museum offers an insight into Sigmund Freud’s life and work, with his study, couch and library on view. Manuscripts, artefacts and personal effects relating to poet John Keats can be seen at Keats House museum and literary centre. The arthouse Everyman cinemas at Hampstead and Belsize Park offer an eclectic programme of movies.
Events: The grounds of Kenwood House regularly hosts classical and pop music concerts during the summer months.
- The house at 2 Willow Road, owned by the National Trust open to the public, is an example of the influential vision of architect Ernö Goldfinger’s work. It also houses his modern art collection and personal effects.
- Hampstead’s pedestrianised Flask Walk is lined with cafés, restaurants and stores selling antiques, flowers and gifts.
- Located at the Hampstead Parochial School, Hampstead Market runs every Saturday, offering a mix of fresh produce, artisan bakes and street food.
- Considered one of the area’s lesser known delights, The Hill Garden and Pergola is an attractive Edwardian pavilion and terraces overlooking the West Heath.
The Heath is the green space of choice for the neighbourhoods surrounding it, offering all the recreational, relaxing and sporting activities nearby residents may desire. Within Highgate’s attractive Waterlow Park is Highgate Cemetery, the final resting place of many famous names, including political theorist Karl Marx, scientist Michael Faraday, sci-fi author Douglas Adams and pop icon George Michael.
As the areas around Hampstead Heath have a high density of listed buildings and conservation areas – which residents tend to be very protective of – large-scale development is fairly unusual. New high-end flats and houses are gradually filling in any underused space.
Rail: Hampstead Heath and Gospel Oak stations are both on the London Overground network, offering links to Stratford in the east, Clapham Junction in the south and Richmond in the south-west.
Tube: Belsize Park, Highgate, Hampstead and Golders Green all have Northern line stops. From Hampstead, the journey time to Leicester Square or Moorgate is around 14 minutes.
Bus: The C2 bus route goes from the Heath, through Camden, and into central London at Oxford Circus. The 46 routes loops around from Paddington, through Hampstead, and into King’s Cross and Holborn. Many local bus routes cross this north London area, offering services to Camden, Swiss Cottage, Finsbury Park and Brent Cross shopping centre.
Road: The A1 route into central London can be picked up in the east of the area, while access to the North Circular orbital road and to the M1 motorway is straightforward.
Cycle: Hampstead Heath and its surrounding areas are perfect to explore by bike – just be prepared for a few hills.
The areas bordering Hampstead Heath offer a wide range of educational options, including a high number of independent and prep schools: Channing School, Devonshire House, Heathside, St Margaret’s and Highgate School to name a few. State primary schools include a good number of Catholic and Church of England options such as St Michael’s in Highgate Village, as well as Fitzjohn’s Primary School, which has attractive Victorian buildings, the small-scale Christ Church Primary School, and Highgate Primary, where teachers are referred to by their first names. Secondary state schools with strong reputations include Parliament Hill School for girls and William Ellis School for boys. The LaSWAP Sixth Form Consortium, drawing on resources from local schools La Sainte Union, William Ellis, Acland Burghley and Parliament Hill schools, provides collaborative sixth-form provision in the area.
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