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The best things to do in north London

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

Alexandra Palace
Alexandra Palace
By Lucy Lovell and Time Out editors |
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With so much vying for the attention of the culture-hungry visitor, it can sometimes be hard to know where to start with London. Crammed full of sights, sounds and tastes, the capital is a bit of a maze to navigate – and that’s where we come in.

This list compiles all 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, feasting on Turkish food on Green Lanes, wandering among the graves at Highgate Cemetery and drinking in north London’s best bars. 

If, after all this lot, you’ve still got the energy to explore more of London, check out our month-by-month guide to the best events in the city, our guide to the best London attractions, or explore another side to the city our guide to secret London.  

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

The best things to do in north London

1
Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds
Things to do, Walks and tours

Swim in Hampstead Heath Ponds

icon-location-pin Hampstead Heath

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 £2 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. Looking for a hot shower afterwards? You’ll only find them at the Ladies’ Pond. Sorry, chaps. 

2
primrose hill
andersphoto
Things to do

Admire the view from Primrose Hill

icon-location-pin 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. When the sun starts going down, it really is all about that view, so 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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3
Highgate Cemetery
Attractions, Cemeteries

Visit the famous residents of Highgate Cemetery

icon-location-pin Highgate

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

Why go? A stroll through a graveyard may seem like a  macabre way to spend an afternoon, 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. Find the final resting places of, among others, ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ author Douglas Adams, poet Christina Rossetti and, of course, Karl Marx.

4
The Avenue Garden, Regent's Park
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Smell the roses in Regent’s Park

icon-location-pin Regent’s Park

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

Why go? Here you'll find the country’s largest collection of roses in Regent’s Park. Queen Mary’s Gardens are home to around 12,000, 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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5
Ally Pally fireworks
Photograph: Paul Underhill
Things to do, Cultural centres

Watch the fireworks at Ally Pally

icon-location-pin Alexandra Palace

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

Why go? Well, 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. 

6
HollyBush  690edit.jpg
© Rob Greig
Bars and pubs, Pubs

Grab a seat by the fire at The Holly Bush

icon-location-pin 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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7
Heidi the Asiatic Lioness at ZSL London Zoo
Photograph: ZSL
Attractions, Zoos and aquariums

Have a sleepover with the lions at London Zoo

icon-location-pin 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. 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, too – staying at the Gir Lion Lodge rooms right next to the slumbering big cats. Yikes.

8
Gokyuzu
Things to do

Eat amazing Turkish food on Green Lanes

icon-location-pin 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.

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9
UnionChapel_Credit_AndrewFirth_press2012.jpg
© Andrew Firth
Music, Music venues

Go to a daylight gig at the Union Chapel

icon-location-pin 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. You’ll find old wooden pews flanked by impressive stonework, and a stage that’s backdropped by a beautiful rose window. Their regular event Daylight Music offers a chance to just drop in and listen to some wonderful sounds. The concerts take place most Saturday afternoons and visitors pay what they can to enter. 

10
Restaurants, Sandwich shop

Eat one of the best sandwiches of your life

icon-location-pin Finsbury Park

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 and cancel all tomorrow's plans.

 

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11
Alfies Antiques Market
Shopping, Markets and fairs

Hunt for treasures at Alfies Antique Market

icon-location-pin Marylebone

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. It also has a gorgeous rooftop space where you can have a coffee surrounded by your vintage haul. 

12
Abbey Road Studios
Photograph: berm_teerawat/Shutterstock.com
Music, Music venues

Pose outside Abbey Road Studios

icon-location-pin 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’s also played host to 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. 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 snap a pic of the graffitied wall from the outside.

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13
trullo_brittajaschinski.jpg
Britta Jaschinski
Restaurants, Italian

Fill up on fine Italian food at Trullo

icon-location-pin Highbury

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.

14
Kenwood House
Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

Soak up the history at Kenwood House

icon-location-pin 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 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. Be sure to pay a visit to the library or ‘Great Room’ – considered by many (the chief architect Robert Adams included) to be a masterpiece.

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15
The Parkland Walk
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Walk London’s longest nature reserve

icon-location-pin Finsbury Park

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. This is London’s longest Local Nature Reserve and supports a remarkable range of habitats and wildlife. Keep an eye out for orchids and hedgehogs, while a rare species of muntjac deer is spotted from time to time.

16
Pophams Bakery
@dearsafia
Restaurants, Bakeries

Eat perfect pastry at Pophams Bakery

icon-location-pin 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.

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17
Little Mercies
Bars and pubs, Cocktail bars

Prop up the bar at Little Mercies

icon-location-pin Crouch End and Hornsey

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. 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.

18
The Screen on the Green Cinema
Cinemas, Independent

See a movie at one of the country’s oldest cinemas

icon-location-pin Angel

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. Check out their event listings – directors regularly attend the cinema for introductions and Q&As.

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19
Five Miles, 2018
Dagmara Strach
Bars and pubs

Tap into the beer scene at Five Miles

icon-location-pin Tottenham

What is it? A Tottenham warehouse venue that can be all things to all people. Craft beer lovers dig the onsite brewery. Clubbers enjoy the intimate club space (think a few hundred ravers rather than a few thousand). The 4am licence doesn’t hurt either.

Why go? This is a hangout with an Alcons Audio soundsystem that makes you feel like the music is inside you, plus a ‘tap wall’ of such quality that you might start to consider beer one of your main food groups. Aside from the great beers made here, there are some wicked-strength cocktails on tap. Go on, you know you love a negroni – and at £6, who doesn’t?

20
Hampstead Hill Pergola
Photograph: Wei Huang/Shutterstock.com
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Peruse the pergola at Hampstead’s Hill Garden

icon-location-pin Hampstead

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

Why go? In late spring the raised, covered pergola – as long as Canary Wharf is tall – 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.

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21
westerns laundry
Restaurants, Contemporary European

Sample spectacular small plates at Westerns Laundry

icon-location-pin Highbury

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 it out here.

Time Out says
22
Shopping, Toys and games

Indulge your inner child at the Sylvanian Families Shop

icon-location-pin Highbury

What is it? Opened in 1993, the Sylvanian Families Shop has been delighting collectors from all over the world for two generations. It stocks a huge extended range of Sylvanians with more than 400 different products

Why go? The little fuzzy, flocked plastic creatures are adorable and reek of nostalgia, with an array of retro countryside settings, including manors, cabins, windmills and other fairly middle-class locations, to house more than 60 different animal families. 

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23
ArtHouse
Cinemas, Independent

Watch an indie flick at Crouch End ArtHouse

icon-location-pin Crouch End and Hornsey

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. 

24
Grow Tottenham, London
James Newmarch
Things to do, Cultural centres

Go clubbing in a Tottenham community garden

icon-location-pin Tottenham

What is it? Tottenham is the fertile new ground for nightlife in London, and Grow Tottenham is literally fertile: it’s a community garden as well as a club venue.

Why go? The space grew out of gardening projects run six years ago which needed a source of funding. Canny organisers ended up running parties to fuel their good deeds, which have since bloomed into some of the most cutting-edge raves in the city, with a regular 5am license. The money made from the bar means that the community garden can be open and staffed every day – so everyone’s a winner.   

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25
Visitors enjoy the Diagon Alley film set at the Making of Harry Potter tour at Warner Bros Studios
Photograph: Dave Catchpole
Attractions

Visit Hogwarts at the Harry Potter Studio Tour

icon-location-pin 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. Go!

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