The best things to do in north London
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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