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101 things to do in London: north London

Try our suggestions for things to do in north London, just a hop, skip and a jump over the Euston Road

© Adrian Snood

Grand buildings, hilly parks and some of the best pubs in London make the areas north of the river great places to explore. Here’s our selection of things to do in north London, from stumbling into some of London’s hidden gardens, to exploring an infamous London market and taking on one of our capital’s best stadium tours – there’s plenty of excellent reasons to jump on the Northern line.

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The best things to do in north London

Visit Karl Marx’s resting place

A stroll through a graveyard may seem like a fairly macabre way to spend an afternoon, but then again the chaotically overgrown Highgate Cemetery really is something special. While a visit to the West Cemetery requires booking in advance, entrance to the East Cemetery costs just £3 on the gate. It’s here you’ll find the final resting places of, among others, ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ author Douglas Adams, artist Patrick Caulfield (whose headstone spells out the word ‘DEAD’ in big letters) and father of socialism Karl Marx, whose tomb is modestly topped with a massive sculpture of his head.

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Dartmouth Park

Admire the roses in Regent's Park

Londoners’ nostrils have a pretty hard time of it, what with the traffic, the bin lorries and the lack of public loos. On balance, though, we really can’t complain, especially considering that we’ve got free and unticketed access to one of the country’s largest collection of roses in Regent’s Park. Queen Mary’s Gardens are home to around 12,000 roses of more than 85 varieties, including the unique Royal Parks rose. The fragrance is fantastic throughout the year, but visit in early June to see the blooms at their best.

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Regent's Park

Tour the UK's newest Grade II listed stadium

After just shy of a century at the old Highbury Stadium, Arsenal FC moved into the Emirates Stadium in 2006. This impressive 60,000-seater arena is open to tours throughout the week (aside from match days, obviously), during which visitors can check out the dressing rooms, dugout, pressroom and more. For diehard gooners, there’s the ‘Legends tour’, which costs £37.50 and is led by a former Arsenal hero. There’s also a dedicated Arsenal museum on site, which costs £7.50 on the door.

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Highbury

Brave the chilly waters of Hampstead Heath’s swimming ponds

Hampstead’s ladies’ and men’s ponds are the UK’s only places offering life-guarded open-water public swimming all year round. (There’s a mixed pond, too, but it’s members-only in winter.) Competent swimmers aged eight-plus are allowed in but remember there’s no shallow end – just jump in. In winter there’s ample health advice to make sure you’re up to splashing about in ice-cold water!

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Hampstead

See all sorts of puppets come to life at the charming Little Angel Theatre

Islington’s Little Angel Theatre presents its own shows and touring productions, runs education programmes and makes its own puppets in the workshop next door. Children and adults enter the worlds of fairy tales, comedy shows and drama and are completely drawn in by the expressive magic of this timeless art. There are children’s holiday workshops and marionette courses for grown-ups, too.

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Islington

Admire the city from the top of Primrose Hill

A postcard-worthy view of the city’s skyline isn’t the only reason to visit Primrose Hill – it’s surrounded by posh cafés and frequented by some of London’s friendliest dog walkers, making this well-kept annex of Regent’s Park a great place to people-watch. When the sun goes down, though, it really is all about that view, so pack a picnic, set your camera to ‘panorama’ and play ‘spot the landmark’ as London is bathed in an awesome orange light. 

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Primrose Hill

Experience late-night animal magic at London Zoo

A visit to London Zoo and its exotic inhabitants has been a must for animal-mad Londoners since it first opened to the public in 1847. Nowadays it offers extra special experiences for those who want to get that bit closer to the wildlife. Younger visitors (ages 7-11) can stay overnight in the zoo’s bug house thanks to the Bedbugs Sleepovers, which include a torchlit tour of the zoo after dark, games, storytelling and talks. Soon grown-ups will be able to have a really wild adventure, too; there are plans afoot to build a safari camp next to the lion enclosure.

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Regent's Park

Get lost in music at the Union Chapel

Islington’s nineteenth-century gothic revival church is always a glorious place to watch music, comedy or whatever else is on the bill, but tickets often take some forward planning. Daylight Music offers a chance to just drop in, listen to some wonderful music and soak up the venue’s lovely atmosphere, and all for free. The concerts take place most Saturday afternoons. Bring a little cash to buy some cake from the charity café.

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Canonbury

Climb aboard a book barge

You’ve already found that Stephen King you were missing and are just calmly flicking through the newest Nigel Slater when a duck glides past the window. So goes shopping at Word On the Water, a 1920s Dutch barge that serves as a floating bookshop. Prices are reasonable and the selection is excellent – the only issue is that it moves. Check the Word On the Water Facebook page before you set off to work out which bit of Regent’s Canal it’s moored at.

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Regent's Park

Find a gem at Princess May car boot sale

One of the trendiest places for bargain gear is a school playground in Stoke Newington. Every Saturday and Sunday sellers just roll up (no need to book a pitch) and spread out their wares. Keen shoppers look for vintage fashions, vinyl and anything stylishly retro. Gates open at 8am Saturdays and 7am Sundays.

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Stoke Newington

Play in the fountains in Granary Square

There’s plenty of highbrow, sophisticated fun to be had in the redeveloped Granary Square, which is home to University of the Arts London and some seriously posh restaurants. Of course, if you’d rather, you can just strip down to your swimmers and cool off in the fountains. There are over a thousand in total, blocked off into four rectangular grids, which squirt and splash in choreographed patterns from 8am until late. Each of the jets is individually lit, so visit after dark for a stunning light show.

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King's Cross

Watch the podium dancers at Cyberdog in Camden Stables Market

Teenagers may flock to Camden for stalls and shops crammed with goth essentials in 50 shades of black, but Cyberdog is a burst of colour with a space-age anti-retro philosophy. Its three-floor flagship store in the Stables Market is as much a club space as a boutique, with music pumping and wildly clad dancers gyrating on podiums to inspire your spending.

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Primrose Hill

See some x-rated artefacts at the Wellcome Collection

Medical research charity the Wellcome Trust created its free-to-visit gallery on the Euston Road to help foster a wider appreciation and understanding of medicine. Innovative exhibitions, talks and performance events reflect themes of medicine and the body in all kinds of creative ways, often through art. The permanent collections include an image library so you can see X-rays from over 100 years ago.

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Bloomsbury

Cosy up next to a real fire in a quaint old pub

Nothing beats sitting by an open fire drinking a good pint in a charming old pub (reading Dickens while you toast your toes, optional). On a cobbled street on the lanes above Hampstead village, the Holly Bush is one of the perfect spots for just that. The menu is reliably gastropub, but the low-beamed bar and the eighteenth century interiors are pleasingly far from contemporary.

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Hampstead

How many things have you done?

The 101 things to do in London checklist

Living in London, it's amazing how many things we never quite get around to doing. See how many of the entries on our 101 things to do in London list you've actually seen and done...

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By: Phoebe Trimingham

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