Sometimes when I explore a new part of London it can take me a few visits to really get to know it and see its charm, whilst other times it only takes walking down one street to completely fall in love with a place. It only took wandering down a short stretch of Highgate High Street for me to know this was an area of London I could see myself living in, if only I could afford the house prices in one of London’s most beautiful and affluent suburbs.
So for those of you who, like me, might not be able to afford to be neighbours with the likes of Jude Law and Sting, but still want to visit London’s charming village neighbourhood, these are a few of the best things to do in Highgate…
7 Things to do in Highgate London:
EXPLORE HIGHGATE CEMETERY
It may sound a little morbid to start this list with a cemetery, but Highgate Cemetary is the capital’s most famous graveyard and therefore a visit to this iconic spot is definitely one of the most interesting things to do in Highgate.
The area which makes up the West Cemetery was opened in 1839 to accommodate London’s shortage of burial space. Due to its impressive Victorian architecture and beautiful views across London, the graveyard quickly became popular with London’s wealthy elite and just 20 years later the East Cemetery had to be opened.
Highgate Cemetery is now open for the public to visit and admire some of the finest funerary architecture in the country. There is a £4 admission fee to wander around the East Cemetery where famous names including Karl Marx are buried, while the impressive tombs, chapels, catacombs and mausoleum of the West Cemetery are available to visit by guided tour only (£12 and includes entrance to the East side).
TAKE A STROLL IN WATERLOW PARK
Waterlow Park is a beautiful 26-acre green space next to Highgate Cemetery. The park was given to Highgate by politician Sir Sydney Waterlow in 1889 as ‘a garden for the gardenless’ and is set on a hillside with panoramic views out over London, many large colourful trees (particularly in Autumn) and three ponds all fed by natural springs.
Waterlow Park is a popular place for local residents and families to take a stroll or go for a picnic or BBQ during the warmer summer months. The park is truly a hidden gem in Highgate and much more peaceful than many of London’s other large parks.
Built in 1582, Lauderdale House was originally the home of three-times Lord Mayor of London Sir Richard Martin. The refurbished building, which is set on the Eastern edge of Waterlow Park, is now an arts and education centre for the local community.
As well as being a beautiful private hire venue for events such as weddings and large parties, the centre runs a programme of performances, workshops, outreach projects and exhibitions throughout the year, including meditation, art classes, jazz concerts, classical music concerts and live theatre.
Lauderdale House cafe is also a lovely place to stop for some refreshments while exploring Waterlow Park and Highgate Village. The cafe serves tea and coffee, ice-creams, cake, hot meals and even beer and wine, which can be enjoyed in the bright indoor space or outside overlooking the house’s scenic gardens.
VISIT HIGHGATE LITERARY AND SCIENTIFIC INSTITUTION
The Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution was founded in 1839 to help people of all classes learn about the new developments and discoveries that were taking place in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. It has been an important part of Highgate’s varied cultural life ever since.
Today, the institution contains extensive archives and a library with over 27,000 collections, as well as hosting numerous art exhibitions, lectures, readings, courses, science group meetings, a film society, an opera circle and various social events throughout the year.
Membership to the institution costs £94 a year (with cheaper family and concession rates). However, if you’re just visiting for a day, the institution is still worth passing by. Visitors can use the library and special collections on a reference basis, and if you call in advance a member of staff will happily show you around the interesting grade II listed building.
Address: 11 South Grove, Highgate, London N6 6BS. Open Tuesday to Saturday.
ADMIRE THE HOUSES AND GO CELEBRITY SPOTTING
One of my favourite things to do in Highgate is to simply wander around and take in the stunning period architecture which dominates much of the area. The elegant Georgian homes and Victorian gothic houses poke through the leafy trees to give Highgate the charming (and somewhat luxurious) village feel that is is so well known for.
It’s no wonder that the houses of Highgate are so impressive, with many A-listers calling Highgate Village their home. Famous residents of this affluent suburb over the years have included TS Eliot, Samuel Coleridge, Peter Sellers and Sir John Betjeman, while the area is currently home to the likes of Jude Law, Jamie Oliver and Sting. In Highgate, it’s not uncommon to spot a famous face wandering down the street or enjoying a pint in their local watering hole.
HIT HIGHGATE HIGH STREET
The shops of Highgate High Street have the same charming village feel as the residential areas, with plenty of local independent shops and boutiques including Highgate Village Fruiterers, Highgate Bookshop, The Highgate Pantry, Brooksby Newsagents and Village Flowers (to name just a few). There are also several lovely local cafes and pubs, such as High Tea of Highgate, the Angel Inn and the Flask. A stroll down Highgate High Street is a must when visiting Highgate Village.
FUN FACT: When wandering down Highgate High Street, take a look down at and notice the double-tiered pavement (the extra step between the road and pathway). This is one of the only places in London where you’ll find this, with the reason being that when the road through Highgate was the main entry point into London from the North, the road would sometimes get flooded with waste from the animals being brought through and therefore the pathways needed extra protection for the people walking on them.
GRAB A DRINK AND SEE A SHOW AT THE GATEHOUSE
The Gatehouse is a lovely timber-framed gastropub sat on top of Highgate Hill with a long and interesting history which some believe dates as far back as 1337 (with a claimed licenced building on the site). In my opinion, it is one of the best pubs in Highgate.
The building was once positioned next to the tollgate leading through the Bishop of London’s park into the city, while also being used as a meeting house and courtroom over the years. The Gatehouse has also been an important part of Highgate’s artistic and literary scene, with Byron, Cruikshank and Dickens all using its services and the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution’s inaugural meeting taking place in the pub on 16th January 1839.
One of my personal favourite facts about the Gatehouse is that the borough boundary between Middlesex and London used to run straight through the building, and when the hall was used as a courtroom a rope had to be used to divide the sessions to stop prisoners from escaping to another authorities area. Even when the names and boroughs changed, the building continued to be split between Camden and Harringay which caused many issues with alcohol licences.
Eventually, in 1993 the boundary was moved so that the pub sits entirely in Camden. However, leave your car on the road on the Northern side of the pub and you’ll still be getting your ticket from Harringay council!
The gatehouse pub sits also below one of London’s leading fringe theatres, Upstairs at the Gatehouse. The Theatre has been run by members of the Highgate community John and Katie Plews for the last 20 years, with John also writing and directing several of the shows himself (if you get a chance to say hi to John, definitely do! He’s a lovely man with some fascinating stories).
Upstairs at the Gatehouse put on a varied programme of drama, musicals and fringe theatre productions all year round. Past productions have included Top Hat, Legally Blonde, Singin’ in the Rain and Avenue Q, as well as many others.
Just like the pub it sits within, the fringe theatre has plenty of interesting stories and facts of its own. To start with, Upstairs at the Gatehouse is officially London’s highest theatre, sitting at 446 ft above Sea Level! Patrons of the Theatre include Gorden Sumner (aka Sting) and Victoria Wood.
BONUS: Worked up an appetite with all that exploring?
Here are the best places to eat in Highgate London:
The Red Lion & Sun – A regular pub turned acclaimed gastropub which serves freshly cooked meals every day from noon to 10pm. The Red Lion & Sun serves a menu of rustic modern British pub food, with all of their meat coming from Phyllis and Lee Harper at Highgate Butchers and many other ingredients sourced locally. The pub is renowned for its tasty Sunday roasts and also has a great wine list to accompany your meal.
Address: 25 North Road, London N6 4BE
Côte Highgate – The Highgate branch of the popular nationwide French brasserie group. Delicious modern takes of French classics which can be enjoyed al fresco during the summer on the large outdoor patio.
Address: 2 Highgate High Street, London N6 5JL
Kiplings Indian Restaurant – Delicious traditional Indian food with a contemporary twist, set within an elegant dining room with a grand entrance and dimly lit chandeliers. The menu has a good selection of tasty traditional dishes from various regions of the country.
Address: 2 North Hill, Highgate Village, London N6 4PU
The Flask– A cosy local pub with snug alcoves, real fireplaces and a beer garden, known for being an apparent former haunt of Dick Turpin with a ghostly past. The gastropub has a good food offering of British pub classics as well as many more exotic options.
Address: 77 Highgate West Hill, Highgate, London N6 6BU
BONUS: Want to base yourself in Highgate?
Here are the best places to stay in Highgate London:
Being a primarily residential area on the outskirts of central London, there is not a huge offering of accommodation in Highgate itself. However, if you really want to stay in Highgate, here are a few options:
Tourian Hotel – Charming bed and breakfast with on-suite guestrooms inside of a 19th-century inn overlooking St Joseph’s Church. Located on top of a bar with a spacious dining area and beer garden.
Archway Apartment – Three homely apartments in Highgate which can sleep between 2 and 8 guests, with private bathrooms, free WiFi and access to a garden.