I have a knack for exploring London neighborhoods on the coldest days of the year. It snowed when I roamed around Belsize Park, and my fingers nearly froze when I shot a video of Covent Garden. But London is so amazing that no amount of frostbite can discourage me from discovering new areas. To prove it, today I’m risking fingers and toes to find the loveliest things to do in Highgate.
Things to Do in Highgate, London
Up in north London, Highgate hugs the east side of Hampstead Heath and is known for its leafy streets, overabundance of good pubs, and Victorian cemetery. I used to go there from time to time when I lived in Hampstead, but I’ve been remiss since moving to central London.
Today I’m going to remedy that. Alighting at Highgate tube station, I turn the corner and head straight for one of my favorite spots: the forest.
Well, the wood. Highgate Wood has a magical quality to it, especially on days like today when the mist settles into the trees. It’s the perfect place to stretch my legs and fill my lungs with cleaner air after the tube journey. And as I meander along the paths I feel my pace slowing to village speed.
Because like many neighborhoods outside Zone 1, Highgate has a village feel.
I experience this as I walk past atmospheric pubs to get to Highgate High Street, where tearooms and bookshops rub shoulders with squares full of red phone boxes and historic chapels.
Around the corner, baskets of flowers and fruit adorn the sidewalk and all the colors turn my cold day into a warmer one.
Soon I find myself in Waterlow Park, a green space sloping down a hill dotted with ponds. Views of City skyscrapers lure me along as I make my way south to Swain’s Lane.
This skinny road leads to Highgate Cemetery, the most famous spot in the neighborhood. With its impressive Victorian headstones and hauntingly beautiful atmosphere, it’s London’s answer to Pere Lachaise in Paris.
The graves of Karl Marx, George Eliot, John Singleton Copley, and other notables draw visitors from all over the world. But what I like best about Highgate Cemetery are the green mosses and wild ivy that have colonized the gravestones. Walking around makes me want to re-read Audrey Niffenegger’s haunting novel Her Fearful Symmetry, which is set in and around here.
The cemetery is rivaled in attractiveness by what’s in the nearby streets. Off Swain’s Lane, long rows of white buildings with half-timbered facades beg to be photographed. And photography is probably one of the best things to do in Highgate, what with all the beauty here.
And the neighborhood saves the most beautiful bit for last. At the bottom of Swain’s Lane, Holly Village houses the most stunning group of homes in London. The Gothic entrance is straight out of a fairytale, and the houses inside remind me of woodcutters’ cottages from my childhood storybooks.
Every time I see this place I’m reminded why Highgate is worth a special trip.
By the time I’ve finished admiring Holly Village, my fingers are numb and my nose matches Rudolph’s in redness. But as I make my way to Archway tube station, I know it’s been worth braving the cold to explore Highgate. This north London neighborhood has so many secrets to reveal, and they’re all the more precious when I’ve had to fend off the chill to find them.
Have you been to the neighborhood? What do you think are the best things to do in Highgate?