Things to do in North London

Whereas West London can be busy and brash, North London is known for its more relaxed pace of life and understated class.

Little wonder that this is where many actors, politicians, academics and magnates choose to live.

Start your visit to North London in the 395-acre Regent's Park, taking in its Rose Gardens and Boating Lake. At the Park's northern boundary you will find the world-famous London Zoo, home to 750 different species.

Continue north to take in the 256-foot high Primrose Hill and then to the 440-foot high Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath. Highgate Cemetery, where Karl Marx and many other famous people are buried, is another relaxing place to visit.

North London offers a host of other interesting attractions.

  • Lord's, the home of cricket, is found in leafy St John's Wood.
  • Arsenal Football Club's Emirates Stadium is in Holloway.
  • The British Library, the largest in the world, is in King's Cross; its collection of rare books is unmissable.
  • Madame Tussaud's waxworks and the Planetarium are in Marylebone.

Here's our selection of the best 10 things to do in North London.

1. London Zoo

A tiger resting in London Zoo
A huge gorilla in London Zoo.
A lemur in London zoo

London Zoo, occupying the north-east corner of Regent’s Park, is the world’s oldest scientific zoo and is home to over 750 species.

Opened in 1828, the Zoo now occupies 36 acres, with the most popular enclosures including the Reptile House, Meet the Monkeys, Animal Adventure and the Snowdon Aviary.

Inhabitants include lions, monkeys, giraffes, camels, bearded pigs, great anteaters, pygmy hippopotami, blackfooted penguins, moon jellyfish, red-kneed bird-eating spiders, Burmese pythons (which appeared in the 2001 Harry Potter film, The Philosopher's Stone), Komodo dragons, and three western lowland gorillas (housed in the 6,000 square metre Gorilla Kingdom).

New additions

London Zoo’s most recent additions include the Giants of the Galapagos area, opened in 2009 to celebrate Darwin’s 200th birthday and home to five giant tortoises, and the Tiger Territory, opened in March 2013 and home to the Zoo’s two Sumatran tigers, Jae Jae and Melati.

Land of the Lions

The highlight of many trips is a visit to Land of the Lions. Home to the zoo's five Asiatic lions, this immersive exhibit is modelled on the Gir National Park (found in the Gujurat region of India).

Aside from the lions, you can climb into a rickshaw and explore a train station, guard hut and high street. You get great views of the lions from the overhead walkways, and you can get really close to the lions on the ground level.

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During the summer months, London Zoo also holds a series of Zoo Lates, evening for adults with street food stalls, pop-up bars, fairground rides and live music. Another option is to stay overnight in one of the zoo's nine Gir Lion Lodges.

London Zoo is North London's best attraction for children.

where? London Zoo, Regent's Park, North London NW1 4RY. Tel: 020 7722 3333. Closest tubes: Camden Town (Northern Line), Regent's Park (Bakerloo) and Baker Street (Jubilee, Bakerloo & Metropolitan). MAP

when? 10am to between 4pm to 6pm, depending on time of year. Not 25 Dec.

£$€¥ Prices change depending on the season, these are the price during Peak season: Adults: £35, Concessions: £31.50 Children (3 years+): £22.75. (Nov 2020) Be sure to check the website for detailed information, especially as ticket numbers are limited during the Covid epidemic.

Whilst expensive, London zoo has high running costs (the animals and buildings, many of which are listed) and operates as a conservation charity. We should stress that this is a full-day experience: even if you arrive at 10am, you probably won't see everything in one day.

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2. Regent's Park and Primrose Hill

The royal garden in Regents Park
The neoclassical Cornwall Terrace overlooking Regent's Park contains some of the world's most expensive property.
A white butterfly in Regent's Park

Bordering Paddington, Marylebone and St Pancreas, Regent's Park covers 395 acres of North London.

The Park, designed by John Nash in 1811, is bordered by the 4.3 kilometre Outer Circle road. Lined with stunning white stucco terraced houses such as those found on Cornwall Terrace, this street boasts some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

The Park's principal draw is Queen Mary's Rose Garden, named after the wife of George V, and containing 30,000 roses in total from 400 species together with the national collection of delphiniums and over 9,000 begonias.

Other attractions include

  • the Boating Lake (with rowing boats and pedaloes for hire between April and September) and adjacent Boathouse Cafe,
  • the Open Air Theatre (the only permanent outdoor theatre in Britain, putting on a range of shows in summer months),
  • the Bandstand (with free Sunday afternoon jazz concerts in summer),
  • three children's playgrounds, found at the south of Hanover Gardens and close to the Gloucester and Hanover Gates, and
  • a wide variety of sports pitches surrounding The Hub (a community sports centre and café with 360 degree views around the Park), along with 12 tennis courts.

Those with the energy to climb 256 feet to the top of Primrose Hill can enjoy views down to London Zoo and across the city to the Gherkin, Canary Wharf and the Millennium Dome.

The surrounding residential area is another attraction, with past and present residents including Kingsley Amis, Boris Johnson, Daniel Craig, Jude Law, Kate Moss, John Cleese and WB Yeats.

where? Regent's Park, Chester Road, North London. Closest tubes: Baker Street (Bakerloo, Metropolitan) or Regent's Park (Bakerloo). MAP

when? Regent's Park is open from 5am until dusk.

£$€¥ Free.

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3. Lord's Cricket Ground

An international match at Lord's cricket ground
The Old Father Time weathervane at Lord's cricket ground
A day night cricket match at Lord's cricket ground

Lord’s Cricket Ground, or just Lord’s, is the most famous cricket ground in the world and is affectionately known as the home of cricket.

This 32,000 capacity stadium is owned by the Marylebone Cricket Club (usually referred to as the MCC). It hosted its first match in 1818 and its first test match in July 1884 (when England beat Australia by an innings and 5 runs).

Middlesex County Cricket Club play their home matches at Lord's, with the ground hosting at least one test match and two one-day international matches each year, along with the finals of most of the domestic amateur and professional competitions.

The Pavilion

The ground is full of charm and character. Its impressive red-brick pavilion dates from 1889 and is home to the Long Room (lined with paintings of the game’s greats) and the players' dressing rooms.

Its stands are named after legends from bygone eras—Warner, Compton, Edrich—and are each different in design.

More things to see ...

Lord's other notable features include:

  • a nearly seven foot height difference across the ground, producing an unusual deviation in bounce;
  • the spaceship-like, JP Morgan Media Centre at the Pavilion End (which cost over £5 million and won the RIBA Stirling prize for architecture in 1999); and
  • Old Father Time (pictured), perhaps the most famous weathervane in the world.

The MCC Museum

The MCC Museum is another must-see attraction, being the oldest sports museum in the world and the permanent home of the most famous cricketing trophy, a 6 inch terracotta urn called The Ashes.

The Museum also displays kit belonging to some of the biggest names in the game, including WG Grace, Don Bradman, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. The MCC Museum is also the starting point for the popular Lord's Tour.

The best match ever?

Lords hosted the final of the cricket world cup in 2019, with favourites England taking on the hard-to-beat New Zealand.

The scores were tied after each side had had their 50 overs, meaning that the match went to a super-over (a bit like a football penalty shoot-out). Remarkably, the scores were also tied after the super-over (with each team hitting 15 runs). England were deemed to have won the match on a count-back of boundaries scored.

"Finals are often big anti-climaxes. This was anything but, with England snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Their win was down to belief, the cool head of their captain Owen Morgan, and some fantastic batting from Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler. But one can't help but feel sorry for the Black Caps."

where? Lord's Cricket Ground, St John's Wood, North London NW8 8QN. Closest tube: St John's Wood (Jubilee line). MAP

when? Open from 10am to 4.30pm on non-match days and during playing hours on match days.

£$€¥ Lord's Tours cost £25 for adults and £16 for children (from December 2020). Tickets to county matches cost around £15, with tickets for international matches starting at £50.

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4. Hampstead Heath

The view over the city from Hampstead Heath
The striking facade of Kenwood House (© T. Thielemans, CC-BY-SA-3.0)
Vermeer's Guitar Player

Hampstead Heath is a 790-acre area of parkland in North London’s Camden.

The Heath’s highest point is Parliament Hill, which at 440 feet above sea-level provides great views of the city’s tallest structures including the Gherkin, Tower 42, St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, the Shard and the BT Tower.

Attractions

The Heath offers a number of sports pitches, bowling greens, a croquet lawn, an athletics track, 18 ponds, animal and deer enclosures and, of course, the wonderful Kenwood House.

Three of the ponds are used for swimming year-round: one for men, the second for women, with a third mixed pond. A small charge applies to use them. And the water is chilly, even in summer!

Another great option is the stainless-steel lined Parliament Hill Lido.

The Heath is home to fauna including foxes, rabbits, frogs, swans, grass snakes, squirrels and kingfishers. And it hosts a number of sporting events and music concerts each year.

Kenwood House

Kenwood House is found on the northern boundary of the Heath. Built in the early 17th century, with substantial additions and alterations made in the 1700s, Kenwood was the stately home of the Earl of Mansfield for many years before being donated to the nation by Lord Iveagh in 1927.

The House’s architecture is striking, and the surrounding gardens impeccably maintained. But the must-see attraction is the small but exceedingly high quality collection of paintings, including

  • Rembrandt's Self-Portrait with Two Circles,
  • Vermeer’s The Guitar Player and
  • works by Frans Hals and Thomas Gainsborough.

Kenwood House was featured in the Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts film Love Actually.

where? Hampstead Heath, Hampstead, North London. Closest tubes: Hampstead, Golders Green and Highgate (all northern line).

when? 7.30am to dusk (but never earlier than 4.30pm). Kenwood House is open from 10am to 5pm, closed 24-25 Dec and 1 Jan. MAP

£$€¥ Free.

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5. Highgate Cemetery

Graves in Highgate Cemetery
Classical statuary in Highgate Cemetery
Tranquil woodlands provide a good place for reflection in Highgate Cemetery

North London’s Highgate Cemetery is 37 acres in size and is a great place to visit for historians and nature lovers alike.

Opened in 1839 as part of a plan to provide seven large cemeteries on the outskirts of central London, Highgate Cemetery soon became a fashionable place for burials.

There are now over 57,000 graves in the East and West parts of the Cemetery, set amongst large trees (the Circle of Lebanon area is home to the 40 metre Cedar of Lebanon), shrubbery and wild flowers.

"A top North London attraction, equivalent to Paris' Pere Lachaise cemetery."

Famous graves

The most famous person interred at Highgate is economist and philosopher Karl Marx, buried in 1883 in a grave purchased by Friedrich Engels.

Other famous graves include those of Henry Gray (author of Gray’s Anatomy), Herbert Spencer, George Eliot (the writer of works such as Middlemarch and The Mill on the Floss, buried next to her husband), Michael Faraday, Douglas Adams and Alexander Litvinenko, together with six Lord Mayors of London and over 50 Fellows of the Royal Society.

Visiting

Tourists can explore the East Cemetery on their own. The West Cemetery, with many of the most impressive architectural features, including the Chapel, Colonnade, Egyptian Avenue and Mausoleum of Julius Beer (a businessman and former owner of the Observer newspaper), is accessible only on organised tours.

Highgate Village

Finish off your visit by heading into Highgate Village via Waterlow Park. Visit its boutique shops, trendy cafes and bars and cosy pubs, taking in the hodgepodge of architectural styles as you go (everything from the Tudor period onwards).

where? Highgate Cemetery, Swain’s Lane, North London N6 6PJ. Closest tube: Archway (northern line). MAP

when? East Cemetery: 10am to 4pm (November to February) 10am to 5pm (March to October) last admission 30 minutes before closing. West Cemetery: Tours run every half hour from 10:30 - 3pm (4pm from March - October)

£$€¥ East Cemetery: Adults £4; Children go free. West Cemetery Tours (including entrance to the East Cemetery): Adults £12; Children £6. (Dec 2019)

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6. The British Library

The striking exterior of the British Library
The Gutenberg bible in the British library
The British library's copy of the Magna Carta

The British Library is the UK’s national library and the largest library in the world, holding over 150 million items on 625 kilometres of shelving.

As a legal deposit library, the British Library receives copies of all books produced in the UK and Ireland.

The library is located in a 14-floor, 112,000 square metre building found next to St Pancreas railway station; opened in 1997, this modern and user-friendly structure was the largest public project constructed in the UK in the last century.

Around 200 rare books and manuscripts are on permanent display in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery.

Highlights include:

  • the 1215 Magna Carta (pictured),
  • the Lindisfarne Gospels, the oldest surviving translation of the Gospels dating from the seventh century,
  • the Golden Haggadah, dating from 1320, one of the finest surviving Spanish Hebrew manuscripts,
  • Shakespeare’s First Folio**,** the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s works, published in 1623,
  • Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, including the illustrated Studies of Mechanics,
  • Captain Cook’s journal and Captain Scott’s diary,
  • the manuscript of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland,
  • Sultan Baybars' Qur'an (in seven volumes, handwritten in gold),
  • the Gutenberg Bible (the earliest book printed in Europe using movable type), and
  • original music scores penned by Mozart, Handel (including Messiah), Beethoven, Elgar and the Beatles.

where? The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB. Closest underground stations: Kings Cross/St Pancreas, Euston, Euston Square. MAP

when? The exhibition galleries are open 7 days a week. Mon-Sat: 9.30am to 6pm (late opening on Tues until 8pm; early closing on Sat at 5pm). Sun: 11am to 5pm.

£$€¥ Free.

"One of North London’s true undiscovered treasures."

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7. Madame Tussauds

Brad Pitt in London's Madame Tussauds
Robbie Williams in Madame Tussauds
Boris Becker in Madame Tussauds

Madame Tussauds is the world-famous wax museum, displaying spitting images of historical figures, film, pop and sports stars, politicians and members of the royal family.

Named after Marie Tussaud, who made her first waxwork (of Voltaire) in 1777, the museum is home to over 400 sculptures, has attracted over 500 million visitors, and has offshoots in cities around the world.

Crafting the waxworks

Each waxwork takes 20 skilled artists around four months to make, at a cost of £150,000. Celebrities lucky enough to be recreated are subjected to a 2-hour sitting session, with 500 measurements taken of their face and body.

The Celebs

Justin Timberlake is the museum’s most hugged sculpture, with Kylie Minogue being the most-kissed female.

Other waxworks include Brad Pitt, Leonardo de Caprio, George Clooney, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Indiana Jones, Usain Bolt, David Beckham, Sachin Tendulkar, the Queen, Princess Diana and Henry VIII.

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The Chamber of Horrors and Scream are great attractions for those with a firm constitution: victims of the French revolution, murderers and criminals are played by actors.

The result is so realistic that this part of the museum is closed to under-12s, pregnant women and those with heart conditions!

where? Madame Tussauds, Marylebone Road, North London NW1 5LR. Closest tube: Baker Street (Bakerloo, Circle, Jubilee, Metropolitan and Hammersmith & City lines). MAP

when? 9.30am to 5pm for most of the year. Closed 25 Dec. Check website for further details.

£$€¥ £29 for an adult online ticket (25% more if you buy at the museum). £24 for an online child's ticket. (Dec 2019)

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8. The Emirates Stadium

Pitchside at the Emirates Stadium
An Arsenal v Chelsea match at the Emirates Stadium

Founded in 1886, Arsenal is one of English football’s premier teams, having won the top division title 13 times and the FA cup on 10 occasions.

Managed by Unai Emery, Arsenal’s top players include Petr Cech, Aaron Ramsay, Mesut Ozil and Danny Welbeck. Arsenal’s home was Highbury stadium until May 2006, when it moved to the Emirates Stadium in North London's Holloway.

Arsenal’s new ground has a capacity of 60,361, making it the third largest stadium in England after Wembley and Old Trafford, and cost £470 million. The Emirates hosts about 30 home matches each season, a mixture of Premier and Champions League and FA Cup fixtures.

If the dates aren’t convenient or you can’t get a ticket, why not take a tour of the Emirates Stadium.

Tours take in the dressing room, pitch and directors box and end up in the stadium’s interesting museum, which displays memorabilia such as Michael Thomas’ 1989 boots and Alan Smith’s 1994 European Cup Winners Final shirt.

where? Emirates Stadium, North London N5 1BU. Closest tube: Arsenal (Piccadilly line). MAP

when? Tours are available seven days a week, from 10am to 5pm Sunday to Friday with Sunday until 4pm and Saturday from 9:30am - 6pm. Closed 25 Dec, 1 Jan and on match days. Check the website for further details

£$€¥ Tickets for matches start at £30. The adult price for the stadium tour and museum is £25; under-16s: £16. (Dec 2019)

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