Grand buildings, hilly parks and leafy woods make north London a great place to explore, and there are many excellent reasons to cross the Euston Road.
Things to do in north London
The Magna Carta, works of Shakespeare and Dickens, copies of The Beano – they all have a home at the British Library. However, you can also see original manuscripts handwritten by some of the world’s greatest musical talents. See early drafts by John Lennon of ‘In My Life’, ‘She Said She Said’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ written on a piece of Lufthansa-headed paper.
ZSL London Zoo’s enclosure for its Sumatran tigers, Melati and Jae Jae, is especially designed to replicate the landscape of their natural habitat, with trees to climb and high feeding poles that allow them to hunt and eat as they might in the wild. If the zoo wanted to make them feel at home, it seems to have worked – visitors looking through the large glass windows can now see the couple’s triplet cubs, too.
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.
At its Chalk Farm store, General Eyewear is passionate about spectacles design from 1790 to 1995. Their collection of original frames reflects the timelessness of genuine style and if you have the money, they’ll make you a replica pair in acetate. Alternatively you can buy from their own ranges, including frames that rework English and Italian designs from the 1940s and ’50s.
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.
Why not refresh yourself with a genuinely local brew? The Camden Town Brewery makes lagers and pale ales at its base underneath Kentish Town West station and its wares can be sampled in bars all over town. However, its own bar is worth a visit (open Thursday to Saturday), with nosh supplied by guest street food stalls. They also run brewery tours Thursday and Saturday.
We’re not talking about a glorified fruit machine asking chart trivia here, this live session every other Monday night is an interrogation in sound. Officially known as the Rough Trade Shop Pop Quiz, it’s a good night’s entertainment, with rounds featuring pictures, music exerpts and general pop questions. There are drinks and record tokens for prizes.
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!
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.
If you’re looking for the most appropriately named room in all of London, this could be it. Having just emerged from a major renovation, Kenwood House – an eighteenth-century stately home located on Hampstead Heath – is looking smarter than ever, with special care shown to its most opulent bits, such as its sprawling library or ‘Great Room’. Visiting is free, as are the official Kenwood House iPhone and Android apps, with which visitors can take their own audio tour.