It’s all about understatement in Britain. As an American in London, one of the first things I learned about fitting in is that self deprecation goes a lot farther than self aggrandizement, and what is unsaid is often more important than what’s stated aloud. This phenomenon extends beyond human interaction, revealing itself in the city’s neighborhoods as well. The best example of this is Hampstead, an unassuming little village in north London.

Door in Hampstead, London

Hampstead is one of London’s most beautiful neighborhoods, not because it has movie star looks—although plenty of movie stars live here—but because of its subtle charm.

Mansfield Place in Hampstead, London

There are no major landmarks here, no big tourist attractions. It’s just a quiet local corner of the city that happens to be lovely despite its lack of showing off.

Back Lane in Hampstead, London

I lived in Hampstead for years, never growing tired of exploring its narrow cobbled streets. I peeled back the layers of hedges and history to discover its colorful houses, traditional pubs, and voracious gardens. I wrote extensively about the neighborhood in my first years in the city, and today I’m back to rediscover its beauty.

Colorful buildings in Hampstead, London

The best place to start a day in Hampstead is on the high street, just outside the tube station. It’s full of high-end boutiques and little cafes, with small passageways leading off it like so many roads less traveled. Delis like Melrose and Morgan have great picnic supplies for summer feasts on Hampstead Heath, one of London’s best parks, and cafes like Gail’s and Ginger & White are the perfect spots for coffee and cake.

Melrose and Morgan in Hampstead, London

On the other side of the high street is Flask Walk, a short pedestrianized street overflowing with eclectic antiques, bright flowers, and restaurant tables. It’s so sweet I want to give it a hug.

House in Hampstead, London

But it’s only when I get off the high street that Hampstead’s charm fully reveals itself. Old stone staircases lead up to out-of-the-way pubs like the Holly Bush, making me feel like I’ve stumbled upon something nobody’s ever found before.

Holly Bush Pub in Hampstead, London

Just around the corner, the hidden facade of Fenton House, one of Hampstead’s many little museums, is tucked away down a tree-lined walk. Around it are thick walls with velvet red roses kissing their bricks, and homes with stately names like the Admiral’s House.

Fenton House in Hampstead, London

Tiny churches fill the interstices between brightly colored doors, and the grays of historic tombstones show their shades under overgrown vines in the local cemetery.

Doors in Hampstead, London

Down Well Walk, one of the neighborhood’s most beloved streets, are more pubs like The Wells, which has great picnic tables for sunny days, and places like the Buttery Cafe at Burgh House, which has pretty garden tables. Beyond them lies the wild terrain of Hampstead Heath, where expansive views of London reward those willing to climb Parliament Hill.

Tree in Hampstead Heath, London

But even the views are understated, the distance dwarfing the City’s skyscrapers and making St. Paul’s Cathedral look like a tiny toy. Because Hampstead knows how to do subtle, and that’s what makes it ridiculously amazing lovely.

24 comments on “Lady in Hampstead”

  1. Lovely pictures – it truly is serene idyll in the craziness that is London. Anyone who goes absolutely must visit the Hampstead creperie – the crepes are ambrosial!

  2. I’ve been to Hampstead quite a few times but seem to have missed all these little streets and hidden pubs! Definitely need to back and explore a bit.. 🙂 Looks lovely!

    Laura

  3. Hampstead was the first real neighborhood that I checked out in London after checking all the tourist sites off my list – on recommendation from a friend who used to live not far from there. I absolutely loved it! Lovely atmosphere, very distinct ‘small town’ ambiance, great food and SO MANY BAKERIES!

  4. We lived in Hampstead our first year in London – you have to go back for breakfast or lunch at Mani’s just down from Ginger & White – fantastic food & lovely folks. Love your blog – just discovered it.

  5. Hi, this is amazing. I am coming to London as a tourist for the very first time. I intend to live somewhere at West Hampstead. Not sure how different it will be compared with Hampstead, but I love the places you have posted above…probably will take the tube to visit this area 🙂 Thanks so much for the post!

  6. I love the Hampstead area. I’ve only walked around it for the first time last year and I thought it was marvelous. I agree that although there aren’t any tourist attractions there’s still loads to see – just the traditional British feel and it doesn’t even seem like the city! What a lovely place and a beautiful site x

  7. love the picture ,such a wonderful part of london, love the pagoda around the hill gardens.
    such a lovely place to go around any season, but more special in summer
    with so many great famous people living and lived around there too

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