Best Walks In North London: A Guide

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Leafy North London has some of the best walks in the capital.  And best of all, many are well-connected and easily accessible by public transport.

These are some of my favourite self-guided walks in London.  I hope you find some inspiration for your next walk.

Best Walks In North London #1 - Hampstead Heath

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Commonly referred to by locals as “the Heath”, it’s hard to believe that Hampstead Heath is in Zone 2.  This huge, open public space has something for everyone.  Woodland, hills, ponds, playgrounds, tennis courts, an open air lido, an athletics track, even a small zoo!  

The Heath is one of the largest green spaces in London, spreading over 320 hectares (790 acres), and is criss-crossed with countless walking paths.  Any list of the best walks in North London must surely feature this place!

Hampstead Heath is a walker’s paradise, and a perfect escape from London’s rush and bustle.  On a fine day, you’ll probably see more breeds of dog than you ever knew existed.  (Best dog walks in London, anyone?)

Parliament Hill

Parliament Hill is one of the highest spots in London, and has one of the best views of the capital.  From here you get a great perspective of the city, and it’s easy to pick out many famous London landmarks: St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, Westminster, the Gherkin, the Shard, and the other modern skyscrapers of the City and Canary Wharf.  On a sunny day it can get a little crowded, but it’s definitely worth it.

Kenwood House

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This former stately home was built in the 18th century and used to belong to the Earls of Mansfield.  Today, you can explore or relax in the beautiful landscaped gardens.  Or take in original paintings by Rembrandt and Turner in the art exhibition.  Or simply eat cake and drink tea in the cafe.

There’s also a picnic area, toilets, a shop, and a museum showing what the house would have looked like when it was first built.

In the summer, Kenwood hosts concerts and theatre performances.  There’s even an open air cinema called The Luna.

More information on Kenwood House can be found here.

Hampstead Heath Bathing Ponds

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Many of the ponds on the Heath date from the 17th and 18th centuries.  They were originally created to be reservoirs, to supply London with fresh water.

Today, there are three ponds on the Heath where you can swim.  One for men, one for women, and one mixed.  (Ducks are allowed in all three.) The mixed pond is closest to Hampstead Heath Overground station, and is open in summer months only.  The men’s and women’s ponds, on the Highgate side, are open year-round.  And yes, some people do actually swim here in winter…

Swimming costs £2 per adult, with costs going towards the upkeep of the ponds.  Currently, there is an honesty box-style system in place.  Wild swimming has become increasingly popular in London in recent years, with many people finding it helpful for both their physical and mental health.  It’s also great fun.

More information on the bathing ponds, including opening times, can be found here.

As well as the bathing ponds, there are many other ponds in and around the Heath.  Some of these allow fishing (with a permit), and others are dedicated wildlife reserves.  One is even dedicated to model boating!

Hampstead Pergola & Hill Gardens

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This is a real hidden gem.  Built in 1905 and later extended, this structure combines interesting architecture with beautifully landscaped gardens.  Tucked away from the main body of the Heath, it often feels like you have this place to yourself.  It’s a wonderful place to sit and read, or wander around.  You can even get married here.

This truly is one of my favourite places in London.  I love getting lost amongst the vines, colourful flowers, and a sense of peace and quiet so rare to find in the city. 

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Golders Hill Park

Bordering West Heath, Golders Hill Park is a more traditionally landscaped park between Hampstead and Golders Green.  There are duck ponds, beautiful flower gardens, tennis courts, a water garden, and a croquet lawn.  In the summer, on weekends you can enjoy live music on the bandstand.  

Next to the area for fallow deer, there is a small free zoo and a butterfly house.  Some of the many animals you can see include lemurs, South American coatis, donkeys, owls, ibis, even kookaburras.  Perfect for children (and adults young at heart!).

Unlike the rest of the Heath, Golders Hill Park is closed at night.  Dogs must also be kept on a lead here.

How To Get To Hampstead Heath

There are various ways to get to Hampstead Heath, depending on where you are coming from:

  • Gospel Oak (London Overground)
  • Hampstead Heath (London Overground)
  • Hampstead (Northern line)
  • Belsize Park (Northern line)
  • Highgate (Northern line)
  • Archway (Northern line)
  • Golders Green (Northern line)
  • various bus connections

Suggested walk

Take the Northern line (Edgware branch) to Hampstead.  From here it’s an easy five minute walk through Hampstead village to the Heath.  Exit the station, turn left, then left again onto Flask Walk.  Continue straight onto Well Walk, past the Wells Tavern, until you arrive at the Heath.

Walk down the wide, tree-lined path (known as Lime Avenue).  After a few minutes of descending gradually, the path will start to climb again until the trees start to thin out. 

Bear left, back into the trees and follow the path until you reach Kenwood House.  From here, continue along the path that runs past the front of the house.  The main path curves right, towards the small lake at the end of the lawn.  You will see what appears to be a white wooden bridge over the lake, but this is actually a “folly” (a fake flat structure, built for appearance only).  Continue into the trees.  

Listen out for tropical birdsong (really!).  You might even see some, up in the trees.  This area is a favourite of London’s feral parakeets.  Parakeets?  In London?  [READ about the (many) theories explaining why there are so many wild parakeets in London.]     

Once you emerge from the trees, continue straight until you see the bathing ponds on your left.  From here, you could turn left, towards Highgate village.  Highgate is one of my favourite parts of London.  It’s quiet and pretty, but still has lots to see and do.  Great pubs, beautiful old buildings, parks, and tons of independent shops and cafes.

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But instead, we’re going to bear slightly right and up the hill.  Head for the highest point you can see, and soon you’ll be at Parliament Hill.  Rest for a while, and take in some of the best views over London.  There is a metal sign showing some of the landmarks you can pick out from here.

As you face the metal sign (and the view over the city behind it), turn right and follow the paved path down into the trees.  Stay on this main path, which will eventually pass between two ponds.  The pond on your right is the “mixed bathing” pond (i.e. men and women can both swim here together).  Turn left, and follow the path past the other ponds, until you reach the road.  You are now at Hampstead Heath Overground station, and the end of the walk.

Happily however, you are also now right next to The Garden Gate.  This is (in my opinion) one of the best pubs in London.  [Link to best pubs in North London article.]. Reward yourself with a pint or four, and relax in the attractive garden.  They also do great food…

You can take the Overground from here.  It’s also a short walk (past the Royal Free hospital) to Belsize Park tube station (Northern Line).

Best Walks In North London #2 - The Parkland Walk

This two mile (3 km) walk between Finsbury Park and Highgate is one of my favourites.  It’s also rather unusual.  

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It follows the path of an old railway line that used to run between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace.  Called the North Eastern Railway, this line opened in 1873 and also connected Crouch End, Muswell Hill, and Stroud Green.  

Today, it’s a beautiful slice of greenery in the heart of North London.  It’s also London’s longest nature reserve, home to wildflowers, birds, squirrels, butterflies, hedgehogs, foxes, and bats.  If you’re lucky, you might even see a muntjac deer: a tiny, endangered species of deer originally from South-East Asia.

A favourite of many locals, this walk is a bit of an open secret.  At the weekends it’s popular with runners, walkers, cyclists, and dog walkers.

Parts of the walk are raised, embankments and former railway bridges over residential streets.  Others pass through cuttings, with steep banks thick with greenery on either side.

Crouch End Station And The Spriggan

About halfway along the walk, platforms rise on either side of the path.  From here you can see the ruins of an old station building.  These are the remains of Crouch End station.  Steps connect the platforms with the road above, Crouch End Hill.

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Nearby, in the alcoves underneath the brick railway arches, keep an eye out for the Spriggan.  A creature of Cornish folklore, this sculpture was created by Marilyn Collins.  

There are many theories about the Crouch End Spriggan:  A guardian of the ruins?  Defender against ghosts that haunt the path?  Or, a quirky advocate of permaculture, popular in the area?  It’s probably a bit of all three.

Another feature you will notice as you pass the crumbling brickwork either side of the path is the graffiti.  Whether you see this as a creative expression of art, or illegal vandalism, there’s no denying that it adds to the character of the old railway line.

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Continuing along the path, you will eventually come to two large tunnels into the hill.  These tunnels used to connect with the old Highgate station, but today are closed due to health & safety concerns.

The Batcave

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Yep, it’s official: there is a batcave in North London.  The abandoned tunnels at the end of the main section of the Parkland Walk are now a protected habitat for bats to roost.  It’s currently home to several species of bat, including long-eared and pipistrelle bats.  At sunset, you can sometimes see them swooping between the tunnels and Highgate Wood overhead.  It’s pretty cool.

From here, take the path on the left up out of the cutting.  Continue up the road, past The Boogaloo pub (which regularly hosts ridiculously fun swing dancing classes, by the way).  At the junction of Archway Road, you’ll see Highgate tube station on your right.

This is the end of the main section of the walk.    

Parkland Walk (North) Extension

If you fancy continuing on up to Alexandra Palace, follow Archway Road past Highgate station, and turn right onto Muswell Hill Road.

Follow this road, with Highgate Wood on your left and Queen’s Wood on your right.  At the junction with Cranley Gardens on the right hand side, follow the sign to Parkland Walk (North), down some steps until you re-join the old railway line.  

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There are some great views over London from this section of the path.  From here, it’s a short walk up to Alexandra Park and Alexandra Palace.

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How to get to the parkland walk

Take the Victoria line or the Piccadilly line (or the National Rail train from Kings Cross) to Finsbury Park.  

Leave the station through the main exit, and bear slightly left towards where the railway lines cross above the road.  To the right of this bridge, there is a little path that cuts through to the park itself.

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(If this entrance is closed off, instead walk past the Costa Coffee, and continue up Seven Sisters Road until you reach the main entrance to the park, on the left.)

Enter the park, bear slightly left and follow the main path, past some tennis courts.  Keep an eye out for a sign for the Capital Ring.  From this sign, turn left and cross the footbridge over the railway tracks.  (This is the East Coast Main Line, for any railway nerds out there ;-). )

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You are now at the start of the Parkland Walk “proper”.  From here, just follow the path (there’s only one!) and enjoy 🙂

For more information, check out the Friends of the Parkland Walk’s website:  https://www.parkland-walk.org.uk/.

Wait... There's More??

best-walks-in-north-london-capital-ring-parkland-walk

The Parkland Walk forms part of the Capital Ring walk.  Section 12, Highgate to Stoke Newington, to be exact.  This 78 mile (126km) circular walk around London takes in some great sights, and makes it easy to explore new parts of the city.  It also helpfully connects several of the best walks in North London.

[Coming soon:  guide to the best sections of the Capital Ring.]

Best Walks In North London #3 - Woodberry Wetlands To Stoke Newington

The Woodberry Wetlands Nature Reserve is an urban birdwatcher’s paradise.  The two reservoirs were built in 1833 to supply drinking water for the local area.  Today, they are home to countless ducks, geese, swans and other wetland birds.

There is a boardwalk, visitors’ centre and a cafe.  Walking trails take you around the reservoirs, past newly-restored reedbeds and hedges bursting with wildflowers.  It’s a perfect, and hugely accessible, escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

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This walk starts from Finsbury Park station (Victoria and Piccadilly lines, and National Rail).

Head up the right hand side of the park, until you reach the exit onto the Manor House junction.  There is a Piccadilly line tube station at Manor House, but the walk though the park is nicer.  🙂

Exit the park, cross over the junction, and continue along Woodberry Down road.  At the end of the road, turn right.  You will shortly arrive at Woodberry Wetlands.

Turn left and follow the signs along the New River Path.  On your left, there should be a series of new-build apartments.  On your right, the New River itself, with East Reservoir behind that.

At the bridge, turn right and cross over the river.  Then follow the path around the other side of East Reservoir.  

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Just past the Coal House Cafe, the path joins the road and re-crosses back over New River.  Turn left and follow the New River Path all the way until it joins the main road, Green Lanes.  Along the way, keep a look out for people kayaking and canoeing in the reservoir.

The path ends the other side of a narrow footbridge.  Once you’ve crossed that, bear right until you hit Green Lanes.  At the main road, turn left and continue until you reach Clissold Park. 

Clissold Park has a couple of lakes, sports fields, tennis courts, a paddling pool and free table tennis tables.  A fenced-off section of the park houses a herd of fallow deer, goats, and an aviary.  Clissold House, also inside the park, contains a cafe and a series of events rooms.

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Head towards the spire of St. Mary’s Church.  Exit the park, and turn left onto Church Street.

This street is home to several independent greengrocers, trendy cafes, music shops, second hand book shops, and pubs.  (The Red Lion is my favourite.)

You will shortly come to Abney Park Cemetery, on the left side of the road.  One of London’s “Magnificent Seven” garden cemeteries, this peaceful woodland park is also a nature reserve.

Take the main path through the park, past the gothic Abney Park Chapel.  Now disused, this chapel was built in 1840, and was the first non-denominational cemetery chapel in Europe.

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Follow the main path around to the right, and continue until you reach the exit.  Turn left and walk the short distance up Stamford Hill road.  Look out for Stoke Newington Overground station on your right, where this walk ends.  

From here, it’s a short ride to Liverpool Street station, where you can change to the Central, Circle, Metropolitan, or Hammersmith & City lines to take you on to wherever you’re going.

 

 

 

Have I missed any of your favourite walks?  Let me know your pick of the best walks in North London, in the comments below.

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