Alexandra Palace
Alexandra Palace

The best things to do in north London

Here are all the very best attractions, pubs, restaurants and things to do with our guide to north London

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It can sometimes be hard to know where to start with making your way around the sprawling metropolis that is London. Packed to the brim with exciting sights, sounds and tastes, the capital is a bit of a maze to navigate – and that’s where we come in.

We've put together a list of the very best things to do in north London, from the must-visit restaurants and stunning attractions to weird and wonderful things you’ll only find in this part of the city. Think swimming in Hampstead Heath’s lush ponds, partying at Ally Pally, gorging on Turkish food on Green Lanes and having a tipple in north London’s best bars. 

Still got some energy to check out more of London? Here’s our ultimate roundup of the 101 best things to do in the city, our pick of the best London attractions, and our guide to secret London.  

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in east London and west London

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The best things to do in north London

  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • Hampstead Heath
Swim in Hampstead Heath Ponds
Swim in Hampstead Heath Ponds

What is it? Bathing ponds in the middle of the wild green space of Hampstead Heath, where you can splash about any time of year from just £4.70 for an adult day ticket. 

Why go? With men’s, women’s and mixed ponds, there’s nowhere better – or more picturesque (the ponds are a short walk from Parliament Hill, with views over the city skyline) – to cool off on scorching London days. There’s even hot showers to rinse off in afterwards – if you’re at the Ladies’ Pond, anyway. Sorry, chaps. 

  • Things to do
  • Primrose Hill

What is it? A grassy hill on the northern side of Regent’s Park with stunning views over London.

Why go? The picture-postcard view of the capital’s skyline might be your top reason for visiting Primrose Hill – but it shouldn’t be the only one. This well-kept annexe of Regent’s Park is also surrounded by posh cafés and nice shops. Potter your way around them until the sun starts going down, at which point you’ll want to switch focus to that view. Pack a picnic, set your camera to ‘panoramic’ and play ‘spot the landmark’ as London is bathed in awesome orange light.

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  • Malaysian
  • Holloway Road
  • price 2 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

What is it? A marvellous, casual Malaysian joint on the Holloway Road Sambal Shiok is chef owner Mandy Yin’s enduring neighbourhood eatery, where soupy bowls of laksa noodles reign supreme, and crunchy sides of fried chicken and nutty gado gado salad are impossible to ignore. 

Why go? To experience the true meaning of comfort food and to try the laksa, obviously. It comes with tofu puffs, chicken, prawn, or can be made vegan. Ask for a serving of coconut milk on the side if you’re worried you won’t be able to take the heat.

  • Attractions
  • Cemeteries
  • Highgate
Visit the famous residents of Highgate Cemetery
Visit the famous residents of Highgate Cemetery

What is it? A magnificently gothic, overgrown, 53,000-grave cemetery (housing 170,000 deceased) in north London.

Why go? Spending your afternoon strolling through a graveyard might not seem like the cheeriest of activities, but the chaotically overgrown Highgate Cemetery really is something special. It was one of London’s seven great Victorian cemeteries but fell into disrepair. Today, you can go and witness it in all its crumbling glory and find the final resting places of, among others, ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ author Douglas Adams, poet Christina Rossetti and, of course, Karl Marx.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Regent’s Park

What is it? A Grade I-listed Royal Park which hosts the London Zoo, a boating lake and lush rose gardens. 

Why go? For the country’s largest collection of roses in Regent’s Park. Queen Mary’s Gardens are home to approximately 12,000 of the flower – including more than 85 different varieties, with the unique Royal Parks rose among them. They’re worth a visit year-round, but head down in early June to see the blooms at their very best.

  • Chinese
  • Walthamstow
  • price 1 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

What is it? A family-run gem serving up sensational Uyghur cuisine on Walthamstow’s main Hoe Street drag. This was one of the first places in London to serve the addictive Xinjiang flavours of northwest China, and is rightly the stuff of local legend.

Why go? To spy on all of London’s best chefs, who regularly rate Etles as one of their favourite low-key spots for a flavour-packed feast, and to chow down on the large plate chicken with hand pulled flat noodles, potatoes, garlic and ginger in pepper sauce.

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  • Things to do
  • Cultural centres
  • Alexandra Palace

What is it? Alexandra Palace, known to locals as Ally Pally, was built in the 1870s as an entertainment and educational venue and it’s proudly still doing that job today by, among other things, hosting an incredible firework display to mark Bonfire Night every November.

Why go? The better question is, what can’t you do at Ally Pally? It’s long served as a music venue, attracting big-name musicians. It’s home to a forest adventure ground, a skate park, a farmers’ market, an ice rink, a garden centre, a boating lake and a golf course. The palace’s ‘hidden’ theatre has also re-opened, having been closed to the public for the last 80 years. Look out for seasonal food festivals like StrEATlife, too, or crafting events and vintage expos if that’s more your bag. Alternatively, pack a picnic and simply soak up those sensational views of the city skyline in Alexandra Park, which make for a truly majestic background to the fireworks every November.

  • Pubs
  • Hampstead

What is it? A traditional eighteenth-century boozer right in the heart of Hampstead. 

Why go? Nothing beats sitting by an open fire drinking a decent pint in a charming old pub (reading Dickens while you toast your toes is optional). On a cobbled street above Hampstead village, The Holly Bush is a perfect spot for just that. The menu is reliably gastropub, but the low-beamed bar and eighteenth-century interiors are charmingly antiquated. A stomp around in crunchy autumn leaves on nearby Hampstead Heath followed by a warming tipple beside The Holly Bush’s roaring fire might just be the perfect London day out. 

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  • Contemporary European
  • Kentish Town
  • price 3 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

What is it? A pub-slash-restaurant where you’re surrounded by the hallowed sight of stained glass windows, saintly portraits and the heavenly smell of meat and fish being cooked over an open fire.

Why go? Brat alumni Ben Allen (head chef) and Ed Jennings (sous chef) run things here. Their food sits in the wheelhouse of modern British and European-inspired sharing plates. If you’re suffering from small plate fatigue, don’t be discouraged because The Parakeet didn’t come to play. The eats here shouldn't be taken lightly – this is rich, interesting food, elegantly presented. 

  • Attractions
  • Zoos and aquariums
  • Regent’s Park

What is it? London’s world-leading zoo, in Regent’s Park. These zoological gardens have been entertaining visitors of all ages since Queen Victoria was on the throne. 

Why go? 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. The 36-acre gardens have been designed to make animal encounters into an incredible experience. And the zoo offers extra special experiences for those who want to get that bit closer to the wildlife. Book a room in the zoo’s lodges and you’ll be drifting off to sleep within ‘roaring distance’ of the big cats in the park. This stay is designed for adults and kids alike – as long as the little ones are over the age of five.

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  • Things to do
  • Green Lanes

What is it? The lengthy thoroughfare of Green Lanes is home to one of London’s biggest Turkish communities. 

Why go? For the best Turkish food this side of Istanbul. Think amazing pastries, verdant vegetable shops, life-changing kebabs and thick coffee that will put your eyes on stalks. Green Lanes runs for six miles from Newington Green to Palmers Green, but you want to head to the stretch nearest Harringay Green Lanes station to soak up the atmosphere and feast on meze at Gökyüzü, Turkish meatballs at Köfteci Metin, hand-rolled-to-order gözlemes at Hala, and finish off with some sweet baklava at Antepliler.

  • Music
  • Music venues
  • Islington

What is it? A nineteenth-century gothic revival church in Islington with a packed programme of music, comedy and special events.

Why go? For the atmosphere and the architecture, as much as the entertainment. You’ll find old wooden pews flanked by impressive stonework, and a stage that’s backdropped by a beautiful rose window. If you want to go deeper into the church’s history, join a guided tour on the first Wednesday of every month and add some new knowledge to your arsenal.

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  • Sandwich shop
  • Finsbury Park
  • price 1 of 4

What is it? Max’s sells a small but perfectly formed selection of sandwiches, all conceived as complete meals. For instance, one combines ham hock, fried egg, piccalilli and, miraculously, thin shoestring potatoes. They are large. They are deeply complex and tasty. And they are very, very messy to eat. Top tip: try This Is How We Spring Roll (the only veggie option). Pickled veg, kimchi, mayo and spring rolls, all in fluffy focaccia. Heaven.

Why go? The magic ingredient is the personal touch that Max himself brings – literally, if you want it – to the table. You’ll leave happy. And messy. PS the cider served from a box on the back of the counter is strong and funky – the likes of which you don’t normally see outside of Devon. Order it – but be warned you'll want to cancel all tomorrow's plans afterwards.

 

  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs
  • Lisson Grove

What is it? A huge indoor antiques’ market in Marylebone that’s a total treasure trove for dedicated lovers of all things vintage.

Why go? This Marylebone antiques’ emporium is a precious London timewarp. The multi-storey art deco building is a maze of milliners, furniture sellers and lovable misfits flogging bronze sculptures. To top it off, it has a gorgeous rooftop space where you rest up with a coffee and admire your new vintage haul. 

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  • French
  • St John’s Wood

What is it? A deeply old-school London institution where time stands still. Oslo Court is a flashback to the early 1980s at the bottom of a block of fancy, Grade II-listed flats in St John’s Wood.

Why go? If the tyranny of small plates has got you down, Oslo Court will remind you how things used to be, with pink tablecloths, gregarious wait staff and French classics. Also, seize any and every opportunity to sing Happy Birthday to another table – there's usually a cheery 100th 'do going down. 

  • Music
  • Music venues
  • St John’s Wood

What is it? One of the world’s most famous recording studios, where The Beatles recorded nearly all of their songs. It has also been frequented by the likes of Pink Floyd, Aretha Franklin, Amy Winehouse, Oasis, Adele and many, many more stars. 

Why go? To re-create the iconic Beatles’ album cover at the Abbey Road crossing or just watch other people doing it as they annoy the drivers on the road trying to get past – a must-see. Abbey Road Studios is still a working recording facility, so it’s not open for tours, but there is a shop, and, of course, you can grab a snap of the graffitied wall from the outside (or add your own inscription for those who come after you). 

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  • Italian
  • Highbury
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? Highbury's star Italian: two floors of contemporary trattoria with a serious reputation for fresh pasta, charcoal grilling and wicked fruit tarts.

Why go? Ingredients are incredibly high quality and well sourced; from Puglian olive oil to Dorset lamb shank, expect simple dishes done very, very well. Pappardelle with beef shin ragù has been a staple since Trullo’s early days and remains a silky, substantial delight.

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Hampstead Heath

What is it? Stood on the edge of Hampstead Heath, this neoclassical villa features breathtaking interiors, landscaped gardens and a cosy café to refuel.

Why go? Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, very generously left the estate to the nation, along with a superb collection of 63 Old Master paintings, acquired during a four-year spending spree between 1887 and 1891. Make sure your visit includes a stop-in at the library or ‘Great Room’ – considered by many (the chief architect Robert Adams included) to be a masterpiece.

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  • Indian
  • Stoke Newington
  • price 1 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

What is it? A long-standing beacon of colourful Keralan cuisine on Stoke Newington’s main drag. This pink palace has been serving up sensational veggie curries and impressive dosas since the mid-1990s and it remains a bargain: not one dish is over a tenner.

Why go? Because these guys basically invented millennial pink long before millennial pink was a thing. Rasa doesn’t just have the finest south Indian food in town, but the sweetest decor.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Finsbury Park
Walk London’s longest nature reserve
Walk London’s longest nature reserve

What is it? This 4.5-mile green walkway follows the course of the abandoned railway line that once ran between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace. 

Why go? Walkers and cyclists can let off steam going through tunnels, past old train stations and under the mysterious Crouch End Spriggan. As London’s longest Local Nature Reserve, it supports a remarkable range of habitats and wildlife, so keep your eyes peeled for everything from pretty orchids to sleepy hedgehogs and even some muntjac deer. 

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  • Chinese
  • Angel
  • price 2 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

What is it? One of north London’s best restaurants, dedicated to an entirely plant-based menu that will have you questioning your commitments to the carnivore lifestyle.

Why go? The vegans are taking over. Come and worship at their church, where it’s mock-meat, tofu and beancurd galore. Sure, you can feel smug for doing a little less damage to the environment here, but that’s nothing if the food isn’t good. Luckily, Tofu Vegan specialises in the genuinely delicious Chinese cuisine.

  • Beer hall
  • Walthamstow

What is it? You’ve heard of the Bermondsey Beer Mile, but did you know about its plucky younger sibling, the Blackhorse Beer Mile? E17’s epic craft beer crawl launched in 2022, and takes in eight brewery taprooms dotted around Walthamstow’s Blackhorse Road. 

Why go? From Wild Card to Signature Brew, there are some genuinely top-class breweries on the route, plus banging roasts at Big Penny Social and top Scotch scran at Auld Hag’s Exale Brewery pop-up to soak up the booze along the way. There are all sorts of fun-filled happenings to keep you entertained on weekends, too, from live music and film screenings to DJ sets and speed-dating nights.

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  • Bakeries
  • Islington

What is it? Based on a little backstreet off the bustling roads of Islington, Pophams is a tiny bakery and café that serves light lunches, tangy sourdough and coffee, but their pastries – which combine modern and seasonal flavours with traditional bakes – are the stars of the show.

Why go? The lamination on the pastry at this viennoiserie would impress any patissier, or to put it another way, the cakes are hella tasty. The maple bacon croissant is something of a legend around these parts – an addictive combination of crispy bacon with a gooey maple-soaked danish. Get one – or several – ASAP. 

  • Thai
  • Highbury
  • price 2 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

What is it? The terrazzo-tiled Highbury trattoria that Chef Seb ‘Sebby’ Holmes took over from his step-dad and transformed into a zippy Thai eatery.

Why go? Holmes is under no illusions that his cooking is steeped in generations of family tradition. What it is, however, is a passionate display of technique and sheer ingenuity, without being nearly as wanky as that sounds. 

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  • Cocktail bars
  • Crouch End
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? A cosy, grown-up cocktail den from the team behind east London’s Bar Three.

Why go? The team behind Little Mercies are one of the best in the bar scene. They’re intent on shaking up old-fashioned perceptions of cocktails, as well as some mean drinks in the process. Their take on the pornstar martini is a clever reimagining with a sweet combo of passionfruit and vanilla vodkas with wine, verjus and pink passionfruit cordial poured straight from a wine bottle. You'll never want to go back to the original again. 

  • Cinemas
  • Independent
  • Angel
See a movie at one of the country’s oldest cinemas
See a movie at one of the country’s oldest cinemas

What is it? The Screen on the Green in Islington opened in 1913 and has been a single-screen cinema ever since.

Why go? It offers a mix of standard and premier seats (the latter being ‘luxurious sofas with footrests’), and there’s a bar at the back of the screen. Settling in for a mega-long movie? You can order delish dishes straight to your seat. Check out their event listings – directors regularly attend the cinema for introductions and Q&As.

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  • Turkish
  • Highbury
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

What is it? A Turkish-inspired north London hotspot with one of the city’s most recognisable chefs at the helm. FKA BAM is a charmingly infuriating rebrand of Black Axe Mangal and has been on the cutting edge of London cuisine since opening in 2015, combining a heavy metal aesthetic with hot and heavy grill cookery.

Why go? If you like a lot of rough and ready ambience with your dinner, this is the place for you. Tables are tightly packed, the music is loud and the food comes thick and fast. Oh, and there’s a new set menu every month, which means you always have an excuse to go back.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Hampstead

What is it? A local fave, this formal arts and crafts garden was created between 1910 and 1925 by Thomas Mawson for soap magnate Lord Leverhulme. Restored in the 1990s, it's a little-known part of Hampstead Heath.

Why go? In late spring, the raised pergola is festooned with wisteria, but great views of London are to be had at any time of year. Visit during the early evening, and you might see roosting long-eared bats – or just some stunning city vistas, if not.

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  • Contemporary European
  • Highbury
  • price 2 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

What is it? A follow-up to the highly acclaimed Primeur restaurant, serving modern European small plates.

Why go? The open kitchen serves a daily changing menu of fresh and in-season ingredients. And – guess what? – you can actually book. And you’ll need to because word is out. Top tip: their menus are written up daily and posted on their Instagram – check out what's on offer here.

  • Cinemas
  • Independent
  • Crouch End
Watch an indie flick at Crouch End ArtHouse
Watch an indie flick at Crouch End ArtHouse

What is it? Voted London’s best cinema by Time Out readers in 2014, this two-screen independent venue in a former Salvation Army Hall opened its doors in spring 2014 and quickly became a favourite with locals from Crouch End and the surrounding area.

Why go? The ArtHouse prides itself on being not just a cinema but also a venue offering music, comedy and theatre. Its programme leans towards independent and foreign movies, while the foyer area offers a welcoming bar and café serving an attractive selection of food and drink. 

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  • Nigerian
  • Tottenham
  • price 2 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

What is it? London’s first – and only – Nigerian tapas restaurant, no less. Run by brother-and-sister duo Emeka and Ifeyinwa, its London-via-Lagos twists on classic dishes, from jollof quinoa to plantain waffles, are extremely vegan-friendly (but there’s meat and fish on offer too). 

Why go? From its 2016 pop-ups to opening this Tottenham bricks-and-mortar in 2020, Chuku’s rise has been inspirational. Beyonce is also a fan, giving them a slice of her BeyGood Foundation grant, which pledged $1m to businesses close to the venues she played on her 2023 world tour. 

  • Sport and fitness
  • Stadiums
  • Tottenham

What is it? The Dare Skywalk, an adrenaline-pumping walk around the roof of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on a glass pathway 40 metres above the pitch. 

Why go? The sky-high experience offers incredible views over north London and a chance to take in the full majesty of the state-of-the-art 62,850-capacity stadium – which is a source of huge pride for local football fans (not least because it’s bigger than Arsenal’s!) – from a very different perspective. 

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  • CafĂ©s
  • Highbury
  • price 2 of 4
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

What is it? A trendy natural wine bar on Blackstock Road that has ingratiated itself with north London millennials thanks to its meme-heavy social media presence, streetwear-adjacent merch and regular collabs with other hip London food brands.

Why go? If you find wine chat intimidating, then this is the place for you. You don't need to pretend to know what you're talking about here – Top Cuvée is all about making natural wine more inclusive and accessible. Stop by for a few glasses and some small plates, and the friendly staff will be more than happy to talk you through the extensive wine list.

  • Attractions
  • Hertfordshire

What is it? There are a whole lot of Harry Potter locations in and around London, but the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Watford is the most magical. 

Why go? Locations like Diagon Alley were filmed here but you can’t beat the Warner Bros Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter to get up close with incredible props and sets from all eight of the HP films. Don’t miss the chance to fly on your very own broom. Or drink butterbeer. Or wander in the Forbidden Forest. Or pose in the Great Hall. Or window-shop on Diagon Alley. What are you waiting for? 

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  • Mexican
  • Stoke Newington
  • price 1 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

What is it? A small, unfancy set-up in the shell of an old Indian takeaway that serves up some of the best Mexican food in London.

Why go? If you’re looking for tasty food on a budget, you’ll be in heaven at Sonora Taquería. You’ll need more than one to fill you up, but most tacos are under a fiver, and will tickle your tastebuds like no other. We’d recommend the adobada taco – grilled and marinated pork tossed with nuggets of fragrant pineapple and a zippy habanero salsa.

More amazing things to do in London?

  • Things to do
101 things to do in London
101 things to do in London

Check out The DO List for London. It’s the ultimate city checklist put together by Time Out editors who really know and love London

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