Nestled between Hampstead Village and Highgate, the heath is a stunning, 320-hectare rolling swathe of woods, fields, ponds and meadows. With its combination of countryside, history, elegant architecture, boutique shops and cosy neighbourhood bistros and bars, Hampstead never fails to revive even the most languid of Londoners and visitors alike. Here are our favourite things to do, see, eat and drink once you amble your way north of the city.
The most obvious – and glorious – reason for making the trip just 6km up from Trafalgar Square is undeniably Hampstead Heath. With its rambling hills, ancient woodlands and rich wildlife, the Heath is an oasis of tranquility and natural beauty in the midst of this vibrant city. It is one of the most popular parks for walking, running, kite-flying, bird-watching, picnicking, or simply for taking in the astonishing views of the London skyline from Parliament Hill. Moreover, the three Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds set aside for swimmers on the Heath are natural, unheated, unchemical and shared with nature. There are two ponds on the Highgate side, one for men, one for the ladies, with the third mixed one closer to Hampstead and Belsize Park. The setting is gorgeous, the dedicated troupe of regulars friendly and fun, and the late-night opening at the mixed pond on Wednesdays (until 8.30 pm) in July is a London Summer event absolutely not to be overlooked.
To see how former Hampstonians once lived, head to 2 Willow Road, a Modernist terrace made up of three Hampstead houses that were originally designed and dwelt in by Hungarian architect Ernö Goldfinger. The concrete frame of the building houses a dizzying spiral staircase, the only single structure to intersect the otherwise open, spacious interior. Furniture designed by Goldfinger remains inside the house just as it was in 1939, alongside 20th century art works by Bridget Riley, Marcel Duchamp, Henry Moore and Max Ernst. With movable partitions and folding doors, the house was designed to be flexible,making it one of the most unusual residences that can be viewed and toured in London. Incidentally, as the construction of 2 Willow Road implied the destruction of some original fetching houses, local residents were none too enamoured with the idea – notably one Sir Ian Flemming, James Bond author, Hampstead resident and outspoken opposer, who named his villain Auric Goldfinger after the controversial architect in protest.
Not far away and hidden behind an unprepossessing little doorway, Zebra One Gallery is a little gem of a collection of artists, dealers and framers run by Gabrielle du Plooy. Established over forty years ago, the gallery focusses on modern masters and photography, with recent exhibitions featuring some of the worlds’ top photographers, such as Gered Mankovitz, Helmut Newton, Bob Carlos Clarke, Man Ray and Philip Townsend. The collections are free to view and a cosy little corner of rock and roll history to wander into and around.
When you need some refuelling, you won’t be stuck for options around Hampstead. The multi-award-winning Mimmo La Bufala sits just south of the Heath, sustaining walkers, cyclists, shoppers and those who appreciate the good life with their Neapolitan thin-based pizza, pasta, fish, meat and of course delicious Southern Italian wines and aperitivi. Portions are large, ingredients delicious, the inside cosy and the terrace outside breezy – what else could you realistically be looking for?
Another Hampstead institution and family-run restaurant for years is Jin Kichi on charming Heath Street. With an elegant façade, the dining room is in fact homely and welcoming, featuring as main event a robata grill encircled by counter seating. Expertly cooked Japanese dishes of chicken, beef, pork and vegetable skewers on the coals or grilled fish, yellowtail and salmon collar make for a quietly sensational meal. The sushi selection is just as excellent in quality and choice, perhaps paired with a bottle or 3 of Saké or some inventive shochu cocktails?
Who says pancakes are just for dessert? At La Crêperie de Hampstead it’s the starter, main and put all rolled into one delicious hand-held meal. Still cooking and serving out of the little white van the creators puttered up in over 30 years ago, the Crêperie serves pancakes, and only pancakes. You can devour them filled with savoury ham, egg and cheese, spinach and egg, or head straight for dessert with the classic banana and Nutella, but either way, devour them you must. There will always be a queue, because the Crêperie is deservedly well-loved and thus frequented, but this is fast-food to be eaten straight away on-the-go, so the lines move quickly and really only enhance the delayed gratification element.
To whet your whistles after all that walking and wolfing, Hampstead has no shortage of fantastic little pubs, bars and bistros to meet all your nighttime needs. One popular spot for sunnier days thanks to its terrace and spacious garden, is The Garden Gate gastropub. With seasonal specials and country manor decor, the Gate also does an impressive selection of local craft beers as well as barbecued burgers, sausages and other post-Heath ramble comfort fare.
Along similar lines is the beloved The Spaniard’s Inn, a country pub just off the Heath that has been serving up dishes and drinks since 1585. The dark panels, low wooden beams and welcoming back garden have attracted such London luminaries as Keats and Dickens, and the revamped menu and extensive beer list will have you doing the same time after time. Fish and Chips, Sunday Roasts, Bakewell tarts, all sit happily alongside more exotic additions such as chickpea harissa and parsley salads or white chocolate amaretti ice cream.
For a pick-me-back-up-before-I-pass-out caffeine fix, you could do a lot worse than a trip to Ginger and White. Serving pastries, muffins, mains such as frittatas and salads and full-on breakfasts, plus perfect Aussie coffees (they did in vent the Flat White, after all) and soothing teas, this family-run nook has been such a local success that they’ve even branched out to other areas of the capital, but it’s the original and best that you’ll want to seek out to soothe your senses up this way.
As the every hotel Piccadilly is perfectly located in the heart of central London with transport to every corner of the city, you’re only a short trip away from the natural and manmade wonders of this inimitable area – so be sure to catch our summer deals and take full advantage of everything Hampstead and every hotels have to offer!