Hampstead Heath is one of London’s most popular green spaces. If you find yourself needing to escape to the countryside during a visit to the UK capital, it’s simply one of the best places you can go.
The 320-hectare area of gently rolling land adjoining Kenwood House features ponds and woodlands, as well as man-made features such as playgrounds, a training track and a zoo, meaning it’s ideal for spending the day exploring.
As the heath rises to 134m above sea level at its highest point, it affords unrivaled views of the Greater London area, meaning you’ll be able to see all those famous landmarks from a unique perspective.
Relax with a picnic, fly a kite, take a dip in an icy pond or just spend some time people-watching – Hampstead Heath is an ideal location for all these activities.
What’s more, as it’s only six kilometres from Trafalgar Square, it means you won’t have any problems getting there.
Hampstead Heath has a long history, with the first reference to its existence dating back to the time of Anglo-Saxon king Ethelred the Unready. It is also mentioned in the Domesday Book, where it is known as the ‘Manor of Hampstead’.
Plots of land were sold off for building over time, although the Heath remained mainly common land. The main part was acquired for the people by the Metropolitan Board of Works in the 19th century, and Parliament Hill, Golders Hill and Kenwood House were added later.
Things to do on Hampstead Heath
Visitors to Hampstead Heath are spoilt for choice when it comes to the activities available – there really is something for everyone.
As you wander through shady woods, over meadows and past ponds, you’ll be able to witness some of Hampstead Heath’s extraordinarily rich biodiversity.
The area is home to an array of different creatures that are native to the British Isles, including grass snakes, foxes, rabbits, slow worms, squirrels and frogs.
It is also home to more than 25 ponds, which attract a range of bird species, including common kingfishers, jackdaws, pipistrelles and Daubenton’s bats.
Some 23 species of butterfly, including breeding colonies of purple hairstreak, can be seen in the area, along with 17 species of dragonfly and damselfly.
A range of trees and plants are also present on the heath, including 800 identified veteran trees and 350 species of fungi.
Plant-lovers have the opportunity to discover varieties such as broad-leaved helleborine, lady fern, hard fern and lily of the valley (woodland); cowslip, black knapweed, oxeye daisy, devil’s-bit scabious and pignut (grassland); marsh marigold, purple loosetrife and water mint (wetland).
If you’re a sporting enthusiast, Hampstead Heath has it all – from golfing and bowling to rugby and tennis, there is something for everyone.
Rugby and football pitches can be booked between September and March, while tennis courts are available all year round.
Bowls, cricket and croquet facilities are also available, and keen cyclists who respect the needs of other visitors are welcome.
One of the most popular activities on Hampstead Heath is open-air swimming – it’s reputation as a venue for this pastime is highly regarded around the world.
The Ladies’ Pond, the Men’s Pond, the Mixed Pond and the Parliament Hill Lido are all available for people who fancy a dip. The Ladies’ and Men’s ponds are open throughout the year, uniquely for the UK.
Considered by many to be the focal point of Hampstead Heath, Parliament Hill is the best place to visit if you want to enjoy views of the capital.
The area is so-called because it was defended by troops who were loyal to Parliament during the English Civil War.
Legend has it that Guy Fawkes and Robert Catesby planned the watch the destruction of Parliament from here during the gunpowder plot of 1605.
The Houses of Parliament can still be seen from the hill, although the view has become obscured by newer buildings. Prominent landmarks such as Canary Wharf, the Gherkin, the Shard and St Paul’s Cathedral can all be seen from the summit.
Parliament Hill is a well known cross-country running venue and hosted the 2009 English National Championships. Walkers, runners and kite-flyers also frequent the area, which has featured in famous films such as The Wedding Date and Run Fatboy Run.
Situated at the northern edge of Hampstead Heath, Kenwood House is a former stately home that is now open to the public. Set within tranquil grounds, it is well known for its substantial collection of artwork.
The original house dates back to the 17th century and was bought by William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, in 1754, who commissioned Robert Adam to remodel it from 1764–1779.
Visitors have the opportunity to view a vast array of masterpieces from world-famous figures, including Rembrandt, Turner, Gainsborough and Vermeer.
Once you’ve enjoyed the paintings and architecture, you can take a stroll through the beautiful parkland in which the house is situated – paths meander through 112 acres of gardens designed by Sir Humphrey Repton.
Close to the house are a number of sculptures by renowned British sculptors Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, as well as Frenchman Eugene Dodeigne.
There are also ample opportunities for dining, with lunch available in the atmospheric surroundings of The Brew House Cafe. Meanwhile, The Steward’s Room features a take-away menu of soup, salads, sandwiches and cakes, together with hot and cold drinks.
Hampstead Heath is accessible via a range of public transport options. Regular overground trains run to Hampstead Heath station, which lies a short walk to the south.
Hampstead, Tufnell Park and Belsize Park underground stations, which are all served by the Northern Line, are all located close to the heath.
From Hampstead tube station, head south along Hampstead High Street before bearing left on to Flask Walk. Continue along here before turning right on to Willow Road, which will take you to the edge of the heath. This should take around ten minutes.
The following bus services also run to the heath:
- Golders Hill Park: 210, 268 (stop on North End Road)
- Heath Extension: H3 (stops on Wildwood Road and Hampstead Way)
- Kenwood: 210, H3 (stop on Hampstead Lane)
- Jack Straw’s Castle/Vale of Health/Sandy Heath/West Heath: 210,268 (stop at Jack Straw’s Castle)
- East Heath and the Hampstead Ponds: 24, 46,168 and C11 (stop at South End Green)
- Parliament Hill, Highgate Ponds and Athletics Track: 214, C2, C11 (stop at Highgate Road)
- Lido and Education Centre: C11 (stop at Gordon House Road)
- If you want to visit Kenwood House, Golders Green and Archway – both of which are served by the Northern Line – are the closest underground stations. Bus 210 will then take you to your destination.
- The house is open every day between 10.00 and 17.00. Entry is free.