Strolling Around Hampstead

Strolling Around Hampstead photo

Did you know that within the boundaries of London, just 20 minutes from downtown London hotels, lies one of England's most picturesque villages, Hampstead, a perfectly preserved Georgian enclave atop a hill, with an elegant old world promenade, cobblestone lanes, pretty cottages, and unsurpassed views? This setting has been populated by such notables as painter John Constable, poet John Keats, writer D.H. Lawrence, pyschoanalyst Sigmund Freud, singers Sting and Boy George, and actors Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Dench, Emma Thompson, Rex Harrison, Peter O'Toole, Alan Bates, and Jeremy Irons. With the largest houses selling for up to $100 million, Hampstead is the sixth most expensive place to live in England.

As a village, Hampstead goes back to the 17th century when Trustees of the Well began advertising the medicinal qualities of its iron rich waters. It became a fashionable spa town, but competition from other London spas caused it to fall in popularity. However, expansion of the North London Railway in the 1860s and the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway in 1907 brought new life and with it the wealthy who built magnificent mansions.

Spending the day in Hampstead will not only give you a different perspective of London but refresh you as well. Begin your stroll at the Hampstead Tube Station.

Leaving the station, head up Hampstead High Street to Flask Walk, a pedestrian-only street with small shops, cafes, and a pub, the heart of Hampstead Village.

At the end of Flask Walk, turn left to Burgh House, a Queen Anne structure built in 1703, at one time the residence of the daughter and son-in-law of Rudyard Kipling, who often visited here. Inside you'll find the Hampstead Museum, with displays illustrating the area's local history. Stop at the buttery next door for a spot of tea and perhaps a scone or two.

Go back towards the tube station and head up Holly Bush to Holy Mount and the Holly Bush pub, built in the 1790s by portrait painter George Romney. Quench your thirst with a pint or a glass of Pimm's.

Continue up Holly Bush which then turns into Hampstead Grove. A bit further along you'll come to Fenton House, a classic, brick Georgian merchant's house built in 1693 and one of Hampstead's earliest, largest, and finest houses. Enter through beautiful wrought-iron gates to reach the red-brick house in a walled garden which combines formal borders and a sunken rose garden with a working kitchen garden and a 300-year-old apple orchard where you can purchase honey produced by the resident bee colony. Paneled rooms contain furniture, pictures, English, German, and French 18th-century porcelain and a fine collection of early keyboard musical instruments, including a 17th-century Flemish harpsichord on loan from the Queen.

From Fenton House, head out Heath Street to Spaniards Road and follow it to the Spaniards Inn. Reserve stopping here until after visiting Kenwood House further along on Hampstead Lane. Built as a gentleman's country home in the early 18th century on top of Hampstead Heath, Kenwood House is a gleaming white Georgian masterpiece. The mansion was originally built in 1616 and remodeled by Robert Adam, who designed much of the interior for William Murray, the judge who ruled it illegal to own slaves in England. Kenwood House contains old master and British paintings and 18th-century furniture belonging to Lord Iveagh who gave it to the nation in 1927.

By now you deserve a break, and what better place for a pint than the Spaniard's Inn, dating from 1565 and the 18th-century birthplace and later hangout of infamous highwayman Dick Turpin. Keats wrote "Ode to a Nightingale" in the beer garden.

It's a bit of a trek from the Spaniards to John Keats House, your next stop on the far eastern side of the Hampstead, so you might want to take a taxi. But if you decide to walk, you'll be rewarded with views of Hampstead Heath, London's largest and oldest parkland.

A neat white cozy two-story structure that less imposing than the houses around it, John Keats' House was the home of the poet from 1818 to 1820, when he left for Rome in the hope of alleviating his tuberculosis Although John Keats lived here for only two years before dying of tuberculosis at 25 in Rome in 1821, he wrote some of his most famous odes, including "Ode on a Grecian Urn" and "Ode to a Nightingale." His Regency house contains the manuscripts of his last sonnet, "Bright Star" and a portrait of him on his deathbed.

From John Keats House it's a pleasant walk up Parliament Hill, which includes a spectacular view of the London skyline from the viewing platform at the top. On a clear day you can see St. Paul's Cathedral and the hills of Kent south of the Thames from here.