As hidden gems go, Hampstead is a beauty. One of the wealthiest districts in London, Hampstead is the place for Saturday brunches filled with bottomless oysters and prosecco, for star spotting and indulging your designer tastes on Hampstead High Street. But Hampstead is also a place to settle in a coffee shop in a charming side street with the words of romantic poet John Keats by your side, for artisan markets and secret skittle alleys. It’s all possible in Hampstead. And in this ultimate Hampstead guide, we asked long time (45 years and counting!) Hampstead resident and London Walks expert David Tucker to reveal his favourite things to do in Hampstead. From arts and culture to stately homes, food and drink to shopping, we’ve got something for everyone in our 53 things to do in Hampstead guide.
The North London suburb’s standout focal point is its glorious green spaces – Hampstead Heath being the best known. This greenery transforms this fine suburb from ok to extraordinary.
It stands on the Northern Heights so you get amazing views over the City of London. Parliament Hill is a wonderful vantage point for panoramic views of the City skyline and beyond.
Then, of course, there’s the star factor. Famous faces, both past and present, have been drawn to Hampstead for good reason. There’s an extensive list including Boy George, H.G Wells, Kingsley Amis, John Constable, Ricky Gervais, Gerald DuMaurier and his daughter Daphne DuMaurier, Kenneth Clark, John Le Carre, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and Dame Judi Dench.
Hampstead is London’s Montmartre so La Crêperie de Hampstead is parfait to purchase a crepe to nibble as you stroll around Hampstead Heath.
With its cobbled streets and cafés tumbling out onto the pavement, Hampstead is a sidewalk eatery heaven. Head for Flask Walk and Perrin’s Court and take your pick of the plentiful cafés ready to serve you a leisurely lunch.
Is there anything more British than a pint at the local? The Holly Bush in Hampstead is a quintessential British pub, and haunt of the rich and famous! If you don’t fancy a pint, try the Sunday roast instead. For other iconic London pubs try the Spaniards Inn, or The Flask.
Forget the City of London with its fancy juice bars, the best juice in London can be found in the depths of Artichoke, a family run greengrocer in Hampstead.
Have a dinner you’ll never forget at La Buffala. Electric violinist Georgio Elia often performs on weekend nights in this classic old Italian restaurant in South Hampstead.
Try syrup pudding served with custard and accompanied by recorded jazz at Polly’s, the old neighbourhood South Hampstead cafe where time has stood still for decades. When you roly poly out into the 21st century you can walk it off on Hampstead Heath, which is directly across the street.
Very Hampstead, this. Every Saturday morning the Fish Cafe does a ‘bottomless oysters and prosecco’ brunch.
You can’t go to Hampstead without trying an all-natural, plant based artisan Noshy truffle. And with names like Giorgio, Elton, Pablo and Frieda, these ‘modern macaroons’ are both good to look at and good to eat.
For pure indulgence, visit Da Cheffone’s deli, and ask Gennaro from Napoli to prepare you the house speciality. Fresh ricotta in fresh cannoli, with a sprinkling of pistachio at one end and chocolate at the other end. Texture-wise, taste-wise, it’s sensational, unsurpassable and unforgettable. You’ll be giddy at the memory of it, let alone when it hits your buds.
For lunch on the go, ask Hana in Flask Walk to set you up with an order of take away sushi and, over the way, a gelato from Oddono’s.
A tiny yet beloved fringe theatre in Hampstead Village, The Pentameters Theatre sits above the Horseshoe Pub and hosts a range of music, poetry, comedy and open mic.
Reputed to be the world’s oldest (and most comfortable) arts cinema, the Everyman dates back to 1933.
Hampstead is a haven of art galleries, with Aeon, Catto, Clarenson, Gilden’s, Lahd, Maud & Mabe and Zebra One to name but 7. For art photography, try Korner.
If you like your art more immersive, try an art workshop at Cass Art Hampstead, an art materials supplier hosting regular workshops.
Originally named the Hampstead Arts Centre, the Camden Arts Centre is on the corner of Arkwright Avenue and Finchley Road and is the place for art and artists.
Directly across the Finchley Road from the Camden Arts Centre, JW3 is the only Jewish Community Centre of its kind in the UK, and a vibrant hub for Jewish arts, culture, learning and life where everyone is welcome. The Hampstead on either side of Finchley Road is very different from the historic heart of Hampstead. Had the campaign to save Hampstead Heath failed, what you see in this Finchley Road neighbourhood is what Hampstead Heath would look like today.
There’s often good stuff going on at the Keats Community Library, located next door to Keats House. Previous events include a talk by Paul Mendez about his book Rainbow Milk, and filmmaker Chris Atkins talked about his life behind bars memoir A Bit of a Stretch.
There are few places in London better for antiquing than Hampstead. Head for Hampstead Antique & Craft Emporium or to quirky Flask Walk.
Also known as the Arts, Crafts and Artisan Fair, the Sunday Artisan Market is your destination for all kinds of handcrafted items, including jewellery, clothing and artwork.
If you’ve never been on a treasure hunt for preloved books, this London village is the place to indulge as Hampsteadites are discerning readers. Try rare bookshop Keith Fawkes in Flask Walk, or the Oxfam shop for quality second hand books, yes an entire Oxfam shop just for books!
When the great and the good of Hampstead need to free up space in their wardrobe, Hampstead’s charity shops and used designer wear venues are the lucky recipients. Try Exclusivo Designer Second Hand Store in Flask Walk, Mary’s Living & Giving- Save the Children Shop in Oriel Place or the Shelter Boutique in South End Green (South Hampstead).
If new is more your thing, Hampstead has a plethora of independent boutiques. Start off on Hampstead High Street, and see where the day takes you!
One of the most famous things to do in Hampstead is surely taking a dip in one of Hampstead’s three swimming ponds, the men’s pond, the women’s pond or the mixed pond. Brace yourself, it’ll be chilly! For something slightly less wild but still outdoors, brave the Parliament Hill Lido.
Walk amongst the marble arches, pillars and exotic flowers at Hampstead Hill Gardens, built by Lord Leverhulme as a place for extravagant parties. We can’t promise you a party but we can promise wonderful views over the Heath.
Located in the landscaped surrounds of Golders Hill Park is a free zoo, home to rare birds and small mammals.
For the best views of London, it has to be Hampstead Heath. Make it even better by packing a picnic and enjoy the best seat in the house. David’s Hampstead picnic recommendations include bread from Gail’s, a piece of Caciocavallo cheese from Da Cheffone, and a punnet of strawberries and Hampstead honey from Artichoke.
The late summer is the ideal time for a spot of blackberry picking on the Heath. And as this one is season dependent, we’ll give you another- sledging! It doesn’t happen every winter of course, but when it does, the Heath is the place for all manner of snowy pursuits.
Keats Grove, Downshire Hill and South End Road are a delight in the Wisteria season. Take a stroll on the Heath, ending perhaps at Hampstead No. 1 pond to commune with the swans. Hampstead loves its swans. The death of ‘Hampstead love swan Mrs. Newbie’ was front page news for the local paper. In tribute to her, flowers were laid. Her widower, Wallace, is looking after the cygnets.
In one of the greenest, leafiest areas of London, you’ll surely be able to find a bower to relax with a book, such as David’s chapter on Hampstead in the London Walks book: London Walks, London Stories. He recommends a couple of good reading retreats at the beginning of the chapter. Otherwise, how about under the spreading branches of the wise old ‘mother tree’ behind the Horseshoe pub, right in the heart of the village.
On one of the Hampstead ponds. I mean, is there a better way to chill than sitting at the water’s edge, pole in hand, feeling the breeze, listening to the birds, looking out over the water?
Photograph Hampstead Heath, Hampstead Village, or both. You’d be mad not to. The celestial village – the pride of London- Hampstead is a visual feast from first to last. It’s no accident that Hampstead attracts people with highly developed visual sensibilities: artists, photographers, cinema directors.
One of the best known of Hampstead’s stately homes, Kenwood has an enviable art collection that includes works from Rembrandt, Vermeer, Turner and Constable. At Kenwood House, built in the Georgian and neoclassical style, you can wander the tranquil gardens and explore this neoclassical villa, first built in the 17th century.
Poet John Keats lived in Hampstead between December 1818 and August 1820, and it was at the beautiful Regency Keats House that he wrote ‘Ode to a Nightingale’. You can even view the original manuscript for the poem here.
Sigmund Freud was the founder of psychoanalysis. At the Freud Museum, his final home, you can visit Freud’s preserved study, complete with his psychoanalytic chair.
A National Trust property, Fenton House is a 17th century house with walled garden, complete with Georgian furniture. We’re reliably informed by David that this is the oldest grand house in Hampstead.
The subject of John Constable paintings when he lived nearby. Admiral’s House was named after a navy lieutenant who never achieved the status of Admiral at all. But that’s just the kind of weirdness you expect from British history.
Burgh House is home to the Hampstead Museum but it’s also where you can step back in time to when Hampstead was known for being a fashionable spa, known as Hampstead Wells. Over 5,000 objects are on display, charting Hampstead’s development over the years. Burgh House is also a community centre, with an active cultural programme, and has a great café too.
Visit the home of Ernö Goldfinger, said to be the inspiration for the James Bond villain and the architect of 2 Willow Road, one of the first modernist buildings acquired by the National Trust.
Explore and enjoy the surroundings (or sit if you prefer, there are benches) in the old parish churchyard, the setting for St. John’s Parish Church. It’s the oldest churchyard to survive unspoiled in the centre of Greater London.
While you’re there, be sure to pop into St. John’s. It’s very beautiful, very interesting and, yes, soothing. Get your timing right, and you could attend a service or one of their functions- there’s a lot going on at St John’s.
The old observatory is lovingly cared for by the Hampstead Scientific Society, and home to a 6” Cooke refracting telescope offering enticing views of London’s skies.
Back in the 1950s a national newspaper described Downshire Hill as the most beautiful street in England. It also boasts famous residents (past and present), a recent infamous murder, a very classy old pub and has Hampstead Heath on its doorstep, Downshire Hill’s got it all.
The Heath Street Baptist Chapel is a dog friendly community hub with a ton going on. Ewan the pastor has the place thrumming with talks, masterclasses, an Italian Sounds in London concert series, Morris dancing and more.
Every Sunday morning, funnily enough.
A quiet centre in the heart of Hampstead, Rosslyn Chapel often has events such as mindfulness and meditation. David recently attended author and broadcaster Simon Jenkins’ Glass in Hand Lecture here, talking about traumas in London’s history.
One for the summer months, and one which ties in nicely with a trip to the Camden Arts Centre or JW3, as Hampstead Cricket Club is just along Lymington Road from JW3. The Hampstead Cricket Club is part of the same complex as the Cumberland Lawn Tennis Club, where the Wimbledon superstars practise in the week before the big event.
For something a little different, how about a beekeeping course at the North London Beekeepers Apiary near Kenwood House. Just the ticket for finding out if it’s the hobby for you.
In an area as vibrant as Hampstead, often a simple walk can unearth the most delicious possibilities. David, for example, happened upon a pop up gallery featuring the work of the Camden Black Creatives during his weekly Hampstead recce. Caroline Chinakwe of the CBC did a podcast for London Walks, and they even opened their gallery early for our tour guests.
Close to Camden Arts Centre, JW3 and Hampstead Cricket Club, you can see the best and biggest flower pot, in a front garden on Crediton Hill, the Beverly Hills of that side of Finchley Road.
Rejoice in the traditional tavern game of London Skittles, also known as Old English Skittles, at the Freemasons Arms pub in Hampstead. The skittle alley is tucked away in the pub cellar. London Skittles is played with nine pins. Unlike other forms of alley skittles it is played not with a ball but a cheese, which is thrown (not rolled) at the pins. The well-appointed Freemasons Arms is at the Hampstead End of Downshire Hill.
The Ham & High is a class act, the best local newspaper in the country. Get a copy on a Thursday and head off to a café like Mani’s or the New York Cafe complete with garden space or Dandie, a cafe for dogs and humans. There’s no better way to get a feel for a place- and indeed get ideas/see what’s going on- – than perusing the local paper. The moniker Ham & High is of course short for Hampstead & Highgate.
And watch the fireworks from the summit at the top of Parliament Hill. There’s no crowd (in comparison with the mob down in central London), and it will be the best New Year’s Eve you’ll ever have. Word to the wise, when the London Walks New Year’s Eve Hampstead Walk comes back, go on it, because David and Mary (who guide it) know exactly where the sweet spot is to get the best view of the fireworks.
Double decker, ride up top, what’s not to like? You could take a bus to Belsize Park, known as Hampstead’s little sister. The 24 from Hampstead will take you to Camden High Street, Tottenham Court Road Station, Leicester Square Station, Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards Parade, Parliament Square, Westminster Abbey, Victoria Station and points beyond. The 46 gets you to St. John’s Wood, Little Venice and Paddington Station. Or, go the other way, Bart’s Hospital, just a stone’s throw away from St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Last but definitely not least in your Hampstead journey is a tour with London Walks. Sunday mornings at 10.30 am and Wednesday afternoons at 2pm. As the New York Times put it, it’s the best possible introduction to Hampstead.