They might not seem like obvious destinations for a day out in London, but the city’s cemeteries really are rather spectacular.
The historic places of rest are the permanent homes of some of London’s most famed residents, while the architecture is something to behold. Believe us – it’s not all morbid in the cemeteries of London; swap an afternoon in one of London’s parks for a peaceful wander through these grand and picturesque cemeteries.
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Opened in 1840, Abney Park is one of London’s Magnificent Seven – a ring of seven graveyards built around the capital in response to the booming population. They were encouraged by the government in the early eighteenth century in order to stop body-snatching, grave-overcrowding and other dodgy goings-on. Most fell into disrepair, but recent conservation efforts and community groups are shaking up the way Londoners use the spaces. Hence why you’ll find a lively events calendar at the stunning Abney Park, with gigs, wood- and stone-carving courses, and a forest school hosted in its lush wooded grounds.
Like many other Magnificent Seven cemeteries, Highgate fell into disrepair in 1970 which led to its new carers ‘The Friends of Highgate Cemetery’ taking over the day-to-day running of things, from 1975 up to the present day. Now you can go and witness Highgate Cemetery in all its crumbling glory. Several of its catacombs are Grade II-listed and there’s a number of famous remains within the cemetery's grounds, including poet Christina Rossetti and architect Sir Lawrence Weaver.
London’s largest and oldest public cemetery, Kensal Green is one of the capital’s Magnificent Seven Victorian graveyards located around the outskirts of the city. Famous residents include Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Lady Byron, but its 77 acres of grounds are also home to a wide array of interesting tombs – from giant mausoleums to three separate catacombs.
Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst and public health pioneer Dr John Snow are among the most notable residents at this grand Grade I-listed cemetery. One of London’s Magnificent Seven, this graveyard has 39 acres of peaceful open space to explore, plus a visitors’ centre and regular events, such as mindful walks, bulb-planting and kids’ storytelling.
It’s one of the least well-known and of London’s Magnificent Seven Victorian cemeteries, but Nunhead is well worth the pilgrimage to south-east London. Attend one of the woodland tree walks, head to an open-air concert in the derelict stone chapel, or tour the graves of famous poets at Nunhead.
Film festivals and bird-spotting take place in West Norwood cemetery, a Magnificent Seven graveyard brought back to life thanks to a recent backing from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Join a guided tour on the first Sunday of the month for impressive mausoleums and striking gothic revival architecture.
For an informative self-guided tour pick up the Tower Hamlets heritage trail and weave through beautiful monuments and fascinating stories of the people buried at this graveyard, one of London’s Magnificent Seven. Brave visitors can take part in spooky lantern-lit tours, or pitch in with some pumpkin-carving.
This small cemetery has been run by the same family since it was founded in 1875, and it still offers burials and cremations to Londoners. Its most well-known residents include Annie Chapman, the second victim of serial killer Jack the Ripper.
This historic east London burial ground was originally designed for political or religious rebels. It’s a place steeped in history, with a monument honouring ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ author John Bunyan, an obelisk honouring ‘Robinson Crusoe’ scribe Daniel Defoe, and the painter and poet William Blake.
Open since 1884, this council-run cemetery is still very much in use, frequented by people both visiting graves and looking for peace and quiet. Amongst the memorials, you’ll spot The Kray twins, the notorious East End gangsters depicted in Tom Hardy film ‘Legend’ and 1990 biopic ‘The Krays’.