For generations, Londoners have headed to Hampstead Heath to escape the dirt and noise of the city. A unique expanse of rus in urbe ("country in the city"), its 791 acres encompass a variety of wildlife as well as habitats: grassy meadows, woodland, scrub, wetlands, and some of Europe's most venerable oak forests. Be aware that, aside from the southern slope of Parliament Hill and Golders Hill Park, it is more like countryside than a park, with signs and facilities in short supply. Pick up a map at Kenwood House, or the Education Centre near the Lido off Gordon House Road, where you can also get details about the history of the Heath and the flora and fauna growing there. An excellent alfresco café near the Athletics Field serves Italian food.
Today the Heath is popular with walkers, dog walkers, and swimmers. It has inspired artists from John Constable, who painted views several times, to contemporary author Zadie Smith, to C.S. Lewis, whose The Lion, The Witch and
The Wardrobe was supposedly inspired by a walk through the Heath's winter landscape.
Coming onto the Heath from the South End Green entrance, walk east past a well-equipped children's adventure Playground and Paddling Pool, turn left, and head to the top of Parliament Hill. At 321 feet above sea level, it's one of the highest points in London. You'll find a stunning panorama over the city. On clear days you can see all the way to the South Downs, the hills beyond southern London.
If you keep heading east from the playground instead, you'll come to the Lido, an Olympic-size outdoor unheated swimming pool that gets packed on all-too-rare hot summer days.
At 321 feet above sea level, Parliament Hill is one of the highest points in London. On clear days you can see all the way to the South Downs, the hills beyond southern London.
Perfect for cooling off on a hot day, the Hampstead ponds have been refreshing Londoners for generations. You'll find the "Mens" and "Ladies" ponds to the northeast of Parliament Hill, with a “Mixed” pond closer to South End Green. A £2 donation is requested.
Golders Hill Park offers a good café, tennis courts, a duck pond, croquet lawn, and walled flower garden, plus a Butterfly House (open May–September) and a small zoo with inhabitants including lemurs, coatis, and rare birds.