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 – there’s plenty of excellent reasons to jump on the Northern line.
RECOMMENDED: 101 things to do in London
The best things to do in north London
As long as street-food stallholders keep up the quality and flair of bringing good grub to our pavements, London foodies will happily forgo tablecloths and a roof. Check out our list of London’s top 50 street-food traders for something tasty near you, or just head straight to Kerb, which curates food markets in several places across town. Kerb Camden in West Yard is one of the best and it’s open seven days week, so you can satisfy your desire for a well-rolled burrito or a perfectly pickle-adorned taco whenever you feel the need.
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. Grown-ups can book their own sleepover adventure – staying at the Gir Lion Lodge rooms right next to the slumbering big cats. Yikes.
Yes, as in the old TV show that used to be presented by Richard O’Brien! (Only not with Richard O’Brien, obvs.) The rise in puzzle-oriented escape-game attractions around London has created a new kind of experience for mates who like something more challenging than a pub quiz machine, and we think this is the best: a lovingly recreated version of the TV show, complete with glass dome and all the physical, skill, mental and mystery challenges you’d expect. Even if your team loses, it’s a proper giggle.
From a boutique chip shop with a jukebox (Poppies) to Kerbisher & Malt, where you can see what’s frying tonight via CCTV, London holds its own when it comes to brilliance in batter – just check out our list of London’s best fish and chip shops. But if you fancy going out of your comfort zone, head for Hook in Camden. Sustainable fish is cooked to perfection and offered in classic but also more original forms: sea bass in a lime, mint and wasabi batter or cajun-spiced hake, for example. Even the sherry vinegar is a cut above.
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.
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.
The stalls and stores around Camden High Street and the Lock might not be quite so weirdly varied as they once were, but there’s still plenty of out-there fashions, music and curiosities to be had. Go browsing then revive yourself with an ice cream from Chin Chin Labs, where your choice from a small (but always delicious and inventive) menu of flavours is prepped and frozen in front of you using liquid nitrogen. We always knew that chemistry GCSE would come in handy one day.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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. For further alfresco pleasures, the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is a magical way to enjoy excellent drama from April to September.
The stadium may have been entirely rebuilt, but there’s still magic in the air when you get pitch-side at Wembley. Take the 75-minute tour and hear tales of sporting heroics with a few lesser-known asides along the way, provided by well-informed and enthusiastic guides. You can even see the England changing rooms and sit in the seat used by the England manager for press conferences. Despite rumours, it doesn’t have an ejector switch.
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.
How many things have you done?
Whether you’ve lived here all your life or you’ve just arrived at Heathrow, we're all spoilt for brilliant things to do in London. From picture-postcard attractions to hotspots in odd spots, by day and night, from art to wildlife, there are, in fact, many more than 101 things to do in London.