Ruth Bloomfield’s guide to Hampstead: A tour of the cobbled alleyways and charming high street a stone’s throw from the Heath
Once prized for the healing waters drawn from its wells, Hampstead evolved into an upscale urban village refuge for left-leaning novelists, artists, actors, and thinkers. But its “trendy lefty” reputation has been almost completely eroded by the escalating cost of its sweet countryish cottages, elegant townhouses and modern trophy houses. The chattering classes have been priced out, and today Hampstead’s homes are far more likely to be owned by City bankers, international entrepreneurs and oligarchs.
But there is one thing about this rarefied spot which never seems to change. Hampstead is a magnet for the seriously famous, from Helena Bonham Carter to the late George Michael. Today’s batch of young stars who love Hampstead for the open space of the heath, the laid back atmosphere, and the beauty of its homes include pop star Harry Styles, Bridgerton actress Phoebe Dynevor, and Emilia Clarke, of Game of Thrones fame.
At first glance
Climb to the top of Parliament Hill and, on a clear day, you will be rewarded by a view of the whole of London spread out at your feet. This swathe of ancient heathland is one of London’s highest points, and Hampstead itself has long been considered one of its finest places to live.
On the walk back down to Hampstead village, it is not hard to imagine you are in the actual countryside, what with the greenery all around you, the quaint pubs, and the friendly dog-walking locals saying hello. The vibe in the centre of the village is more affluent market town than out-in-the-sticks, and is often busy with shoppers exploring its boutiques and cafés.
But the real charm of Hampstead village lies away from the High Street where you will find narrow, twisty streets of picture postcard cottages, impressive villas and townhouses, and cobbled alleyways like Flask Walk lined with independent shops, cafés and pubs.
James Diaper, head of sales at the Savills office in Hampstead sums up its appeal thus: “The heath, the heath, the heath. Sure there are other areas with beautiful parks but you can’t lose yourself in a park the way you can on the heath, and still
have central London so close by.”
Two things that Hampstead does particularly well are traditional pubs and cosy cafés. In the former category there is the wood panelled 18th century Holly Bush on Holly Mount, The Wells Tavern and The Flask, which has a lovely light conservatory dining room. Notable amongst cafés is the Coffee Cup, which has been serving coffee and pastries to hungry Hampsteadites for at least half a century. Newer arrivals to the area include Ginger & White, Le Pain Quotidien and Gail’s Bakery. For dinner the sushi and yakitori at Jin Kinchi are a real treat (you can sit by the grill and watch the chefs working), or contemporary seafood restaurant The Fish Café. Finally, 28 Church Row serves outstanding tapas in a cosy setting.
At 790 acres, Hampstead Heath is more than twice the size of Hyde Park and easily large enough to get a bit lost in. Its bathing ponds are hugely popular – hardy swimmers take to the water 365 days a year – and the lido at Parliament Hill Fields is packed on sunny days.
The heath is home to Kenwood House, a lovely 17th century mansion which is open to the public and has an impressive collection of Old Masters, including pieces by Vermeer and Rembrandt. Kenwood also hosts concerts in the summer.
Hampstead is also a good place to explore some of London’s smaller museums, notably Keats House, former home of the romantic poet, the Georgian beauty Fenton House, which has a stunning walled garden, and Burgh House, a Queen Anne mansion which hosts exhibitions and concerts.
Schools and shops
Hampstead is the nerve centre of north London’s clutch of high performing private schools and its state schools are top drawer.
For primary-age children the wide choice includes The Academy School and Hampstead Hill School (both independent) and Christ Church Primary (state). All three are rated “outstanding” by Ofsted. For older students The Academy School’s senior school is also rated “outstanding”, and parents also rate the all-through University College School.
South Hampstead High School and Channing School (both girls) are amongst the top-performing schools in the country, as is Highgate School which is co-ed and a pleasant school run walk across the heath.
Hampstead is home to a litany of fashion and interiors brands. You can update your wardrobe at Nicole Farhi – the designer and her husband, the playwright Sir David Hare are local residents – or at Hobbs’s first-ever branch, founded by Yoram and Marilyn Anselm, also locals, in 1981.
These British fashion stalwarts are joined by more contemporary names such as Reiss, Comptoir Des Cottoniers, Maje, and Whistles. On the home front there is Farrow & Ball and kitchen shops like Le Creuset or the Borough Kitchen Cook Shop & Cook School.
There are also some excellent independent galleries, notably the Catto Gallery, which has been selling artwork for more than three decades.
While the pandemic has been tough on prime central London, Hampstead has held its own. Jon Hughes, a director of Dexters, estimates that prices have increased by a solid, if not stellar, three to five per cent in the past year. Although the market is constrained by NW3’s high prices, Hughes says it hasn’t suffered, like prime central London, from the absence of overseas buyers over the past 18 months. This is because, while he estimates that around one in five homes in Hampstead goes to an overseas buyer, they tend to be looking for a main home, not an addition to an international portfolio. “They tend to be people who have lived in London for years and are very settled here,” says Hughes.
Since Covid-19 erupted, the busiest section of the Hampstead housing market has been in the £2m to £3m bracket, which would buy a three- to five bedroom family house. Hampstead also has trophy streets of “ambassadorial” homes – notably Redington Road, Greenaway Gardens, and Templewood Avenue – where houses sell for between £5m and £15m. There are also superstreets like Whitestone Lane, recently listed by property portal Mouseprice as one of the ten most expensive streets in Britain with an average price of £14.4m during the past decade.
Looking forward, Hughes believes that Hampstead is in a good place, “It’s still a very aspirational place to live, it has cachet, and that is unlikely to change.”
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