Walking around Highgate is like hunting for treasure. You discover Highgate’s secret gems around every corner of this picturesque and friendly London neighbourhood.
It’s enchanting, with fascinating history, stunning views, famous inns and taverns, unique architecture, independent shops and one of the best open-air attractions in London. It’s also home to well-known musicians, actors and media celebrities.
Today I’d like to share with you how to find 19 secret spots in Highgate that most tourists (and many Londoners) have never heard of. This walking tour is inspired by an itinerary planned by one of my favourite London guides, Richard Jones.
So put your comfy trainers on, pack your camera and let’s start exploring Highgate—one of the prettiest and most affluent London suburbs.
WALKING TIME: 2 h without a camera/4 h with a camera or if you need more time to pause for a pint in one of the historic hostelries 🙂
STARTING POINT: Highgate Tube Station
At Highgate tube station take the exit onto Archway Road. A long walk awaits you, so why not boost your energy levels at one of the most charming independent cafés in Highgate—The Food Room?
This charming café is all about detail: from the photogenic plates of food (the veggie English breakfast is my number one favourite!) to the pretty, rustic décor.
Once you have left the café, turn left and walk straight along Southwood Lane. Keep walking until you get to the point where Jackson’s Lane crosses Southwood Lane. Turn right into a pretty little path called Park Walk. You will pass Rose Cottage on your left. At the end of the path, turn left onto North Road.
- THE WRESTLERS
- THE HOUSE WHERE DICKENS STAYED IN 1832
- FIRE STATION FLATS
- HIGHGATE SCHOOL, CHAPEL AND ANGLICAN BURIAL GROUND
- THE GATEHOUSE
- POND SQUARE
- CHURCH HOUSE AND HIGHGATE SOCIETY
- HIGHGATE LITERARY AND SCIENTIFIC INSTITUTION
- MORETON HOUSE
- ST MICHAEL’S CHURCH
- THE FLASK
- HOUSE OF SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
- MERTON AND MILLFIELD LANE
- THE HOLLY LODGE ESTATE AND LONDON SKYLINE
- HOLLY VILLAGE
- HIGHGATE CEMETERY
- WATERLOW PARK
- THE WHITTINGTON STONE
You will find The Wrestlers on your left. According to the owners the pub has been on this site since 1547. With its fireplace and friendly atmosphere, it’s one of the most popular and cosy pubs in Highgate.
Step inside to look at the plaque of the oath and some antlers on the wall. These relate to the old and utterly bizarre Swearing on the Horns ceremony.
This ceremony dates back to 1623 and requires visitors to various pubs in Highgate to say a series of ridiculous and nonsensical statements and kiss a set of horns to become a Freeman of Highgate.
Even one of the greatest English poets, Lord Byron, took this oath and mentioned it in one of his poems.
If you too want to become a Freeman of Highgate you still can! The Wrestlers is one of the few hostelries that still continues the Swearing on the Horns ceremony.
THE HOUSE WHERE DICKENS STAYED IN 1832
At a short distance from the pub, you will see the house where Charles Dickens stayed in 1832. If you’re on the lookout for English Heritage blue plaques, this is the one in Highgate that you simply can’t miss.
FIRE STATION FLATS
Continue your walk along North Road. On your right you will see one of the most peculiar buildings in Highgate—Highgate Fire Station, which is now converted into flats.
HIGHGATE SCHOOL, CHAPEL AND ANGLICAN BURIAL GROUND
Further down North Road, on your left, you will see the Victorian buildings of Highgate School. The school was founded in the 16th century and is one of the UK’s leading independent schools. To the right of the school is a beautiful chapel and an Anglican burial ground.
Cross the road and head towards The Gatehouse at the corner of North Road and Hampstead Lane. This pub was renovated in mock Tudor style in 1905.
It took its name from the gatehouse that collected tolls from travellers heading out of London through the Bishop of London’s land.
Directly above the pub, in a refurbished auditorium, there is London Fringe Theatre with a vast programme of theatre productions and musicals.
Leave The Gatehouse and cross Highgate West Hill. Now pass through the bollards and walk down into Pond Square.
The name of Pond Square comes from the ponds that were originally in the centre of the square.
It’s a nice quiet place to relax unless you see the scary ghost of a chicken racing around (this has been reported more than once!). You can read about the ghostly chicken here.
CHURCH HOUSE AND HIGHGATE SOCIETY
Head toward the telephone box and cross the road. You will see the beautiful facade of Church House and the Highgate Society directly in front of you.
The Highgate Society is an organisation that fights to preserve and enhance the character of Highgate.
HIGHGATE LITERARY AND SCIENTIFIC INSTITUTION
You will see the elegant Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution next door. It’s a grade II listed building and one of the oldest such institutions in London. It was established in 1839 and offers a private subscription library with 25,000 books, a film society and art exhibition rooms.
Moreton House at South Grove N6 is one of the most admired houses in the area. It dates from 1715. It isn’t easy to find another house with such beautifully symmetrical windows in the façade and a charming portico with iconic columns!
One of the occupants of the house was Samuel Taylor Coleridge who moved there in an attempt to break his opium habit. He attracted many literary figures to Highgate, including Charles Lamb, John Keats, Robert Southey and William Wordsworth.
ST MICHAEL’S CHURCH
Continue your walk along South Grove and turn left into the courtyard of neo-gothic style St Michael’s Church. This church stands higher than any other church in London. It looks old but it opened relatively recently, in 1832.
If you go inside the church (note that you can only do this by appointment) pay attention to the slate slab in the central aisle. It was placed there in memory of Coleridge and his family.
Fun fact—’the church with the slender spire’ was mentioned by Dickens in David Copperfield.
Go back along South Grove and cross the road. On your right, you will find The Flask—a famous old pub with a rich history and an interesting rustic design.
The Flask was often visited by famous authors, playwrights, painters, musicians and…a ghost! As if the chicken ghost of Pond Square was not enough, the Flask is believed to be haunted too!
HOUSE OF SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
Cross Highgate West Hill and go onto the most prestigious and historic road—The Grove. It’s lined with 13 gorgeous brick houses, 11 of which are listed buildings.
Now pause outside the new Georgian style townhouse at no. 3. It’s the house Romantic poet Samuel Coleridge moved to in 1823, and where he spent his final years.
Unfortunately, you can’t see his room from the street. It’s on the second floor with windows at the back overlooking the beautiful woods of Hampstead Heath.
Over the centuries, his house became the home of many famous artists, novelists, musicians and celebrities. It is currently owned by top model Kate Moss.
Fun facts: house no. 2 was sold to Sting and no. 5 to George Michael.
The gigantic mansion behind the gates facing The Flask is Witanhurst, which means ‘Parliament on the Hill’ in Old English. Built initially for soap magnate Arthur Crossfield, it is the second largest mansion in London after Buckingham Palace.
It’s probably the most expensive house in the capital too (it’s estimated to be worth £300 million). It currently has 65 rooms including 25 bedrooms and a grand ballroom.
The mansion is reportedly owned today by the family of the Russian businessman Andrey Guryev. Unfortunately, you can only see it from a distance.
MERTON AND MILLFIELD LANE
Continue down Highgate West Hill, turn right along Merton Lane and then left along quiet Millfield Lane. The road is lined with exquisite houses and cottages. You will also find Highgate Ponds on the right with beautiful views over the Heath.
It’s very romantic and dreamy here especially at sunset.
THE HOLLY LODGE ESTATE AND LONDON SKYLINE
Continue straight on. Turn left onto Highgate West Hill, then turn right, through the iron gates, into Makepeace Avenue.
You’re now walking through the Holly Lodge Estate. It’s located on the site of the early 19th century villa where wealthy Baroness Burdett-Coutts lived and entertained the celebrities of Victorian society.
The avenues are very pretty here, lined with mock-Tudor houses. Turn right into Hillway and get ready for the most fabulous views over London. It’s the perfect spot to take photos of the London skyline.
Now turn into Bromwich Avenue and leave the Holly Lodge Estate via the gates to cross Swains Lane. You will see Holly Village on the other side. It consists of Victorian gothic cottages designed for Baroness Burdett-Coutts in 1865.
They are all beautifully grouped around a private garden and look as if they are straight out of a Tim Burton film. The grounds of the village are private and unfortunately you can’t venture past the elegant iron gates but you can admire them and take photos from outside.
With the village behind you, cross Chester Road and continue walking down Swains Lane. At some point you will reach the gate to Highgate Cemetery, one of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries in London.
You will have Highgate East Cemetery on your right and Highgate West Cemetery on your left. Both are worth visiting. You can find more information about Highgate Cemetery on my blog post here.
Once you’re back on Swains Lane, continue down the road and take the second gate on the right into Waterlow Park. The park is a real hidden gem of Highgate with its historic Lauderdale House, gardens, ponds and fantastic views over London!
THE WHITTINGTON STONE
Use the gate directly behind Lauderdale House onto Highgate Hill. Turn right and keep going. At the foot of Highgate Hill, you will find the 19th century Whittington Stone—a statue of a cat surrounded by an old fence.
The stone is believed to be on the very spot where Dick Whittington, returning home from London and discouraged after unsuccessfully attempting to make his fortune in the city, heard the Bow Bells ring: ‘Turn again Whittington, thrice Lord Mayor of London’.
Continue down the hill until you get to Archway Underground. This is where your walk around Highgate concludes.
If, like me, you count your steps and calories burned with StepsApp, I’m sure you met your fitness goal for the day!
Hopefully you also fell in love with Highgate and will return home with great memories and stunning photos of Highgate’s secret spots.