(work in progress)
There aren't too many places in London that you can swim in the open air, and the few open air swimming pools that still exist tend to be nestled in parts of suburbia not usually accessed by tourists.
One notable exception are the Ponds on Hampstead Heath, which have been used by locals for swimming since the mid 1800s. They actually begun life as a series of reservoirs fed by springs and damming of the Hampstead Brook back in the 1770s, but were replaced by other water sources, and have since become a mainstay of bohemian Hampstead culture.
There are three Ponds open to the pubic for swimming: the Mens, Ladies' and Mixed Ponds. Entrance at the time of writing (March 2011) was a modest £2 for adults and £1 for children. There are age limitations (no children under 8, and those under 16 require adult supervision) and also some dress codes - for example, nudity is allowed around the pond, but not in the water. The shy and retiring (who probably wouldn't dream of frequenting these ponds in a month of Sundays anyway) will be relieved to know that the modesty of bathers - particularly the Ladies' Pond - is preserved by a thick screen of vegetation around the Ponds.
The Ponds are open to swimmers every day of the year, but are obviously a much more attractive proposition in summer: on 16 March 2011, when I wrote this tip, the water temperature was a bracing 4˚C!
If you're looking to make a day of it, then I would suggest incorporating a plunge in the Ponds with a leisurely stroll around picturesque and privileged Hampstead village - long since home to the rich and famous, such as John Keats - and packed full of nice places to eat and drink. If you are lucky with your timing, you could finish off with an evening at one of the sunset concerts at Kenwood House. Those who still have energy to burn off or are eager to impress others with their athleticism (if not their common sense) could forego the lifts at Hampstead tube station and instead scurry down the 318 steps to the deepest station on the Underground system!
Hot summer nights in London sound nicer than they actually are: the city isn't really designed for heatwave conditions, and it can all get a little bit too humid and claustrophobic. On such nights, one of the nicest way to escape from the heat is to head off to one of the Saturday evening picnic concerts at Kenwood House on the edge of gorgeous Hampstead Heath (one of London's largest and most beautiful public spaces).
The programme of concerts was previously restricted to popular classics, but has expanded in recent years to include more contemporary acts (the 2010 programme, for example, included Blondie and Jamie Cullum) - see the website below for details.
The setting is gorgeous, with the audience sprawling over a lawn which sweeps down to a lake outside beautiful Kenwood House, a beautiful Georgian building reminiscent of an impossible elegant wedding cake. Everyone brings a picnic - some staggeringly elaborate - and some smart alecks even manage to theme their picnics with the music (I can recall a performance of the 1812 Overture in my varsity days where a group of Sloane Rangers and Hooray Henries were letting off champagne corks in time to the cannon fire!). One tip here: Kenwood is not all that close to public transport, so when you're packing your picnic, be mindful of the weight, and preferably pack it into a backpack or a bag with shoulder straps that is comfortable to carry.
The distance from public transport is really the only downside of the Kenwood concerts: see the website below for details on this. This shouldn't be too much of a problem provided that you're prepared for a bit of a walk, as the walk from bus stops/tube stations is lovely so long as you have left sufficient time: in fact, I'd go so far as to say that it is part of the experience. I wouldn't usually advocate walking on the Heath at night due to security concerns, but after a concert, it's rather romantic to watch the ribbons of people dissipating into the twilight (the more organised having brought their torches with them), and provided that you stick with the crowd, you'll be safe and shouldn't get lost.
Visit Kenwood House in London and discover world-famous art collections in fashionable Hampstead. Kenwood House has splendid interiors by Rembrant, Turner.
Opening Times Open daily 11.30 - 16.00
(Closed: 24-26 Dec, 1 Jan)
If you are spending any time in North west London and need a bit of open space and peace, then make sure you pay a visit to the heath. It covers a large area so is accessible from various places - Hampstead, Golders Green and Gospel Oak stations....
There's ponds for swimming in if you are feeling brave, a running track and sports facilities, kid's areas, a gay cruising area (more at night-time at the top end), Kenwood House, music events, cafes and most importantly a vast expanse of open space and countryside.
Hampstead Heath is only a few mile north of central London and it gives you a chance to relax and enjoy the countryside feel that it gives you.
You can even go for a swim in one of the outdoor ponds.
In the heath itself stands Kenwood House.
If you get yourself a picnic and a kite to fly then this place can be a pleasant change to the busy London life. You also get some great views of London from the top of the hill.
Hampstead Heath is one of London's biggest parks and located conveniently next to the beautiful borough of Hampstead. Hence, it's mostly the locals who are using this park. It's not so much a tourist attraction as it lacks the central location and proximity to London's better known sights, but it's a very nice place for a relaxing walk - or a swim in one of the bathing ponds (Ladies' Pond, Men's Pond, Mixed Bathing Pond). Hampstead Heath is located on and around Parliament Hill, one of the highest points of London, so prepare for some climbing.
Hampstead is another very loveable part of London. If you are rich enough, this is a great place to invest your money in a house with an outstanding view over London! Hampstead has always been a preferred place to live for the rich, mainly due to its location on a hill (180m) which makes the air fresher and better. Therefore, the streets are lined with mansions with manicured gardens; the borough is full of expensive cars and little boutiques selling high-quality fashion and several famous people have lived here: Sigmund Freud, Elias Canetti, Doris Lessing, Robert Louis Stevenson... Many Hampstead inhabitants seem to have a lot of time for a chat with neighbours and friends or for a cup of cafe latte in one of the borough's many street cafes. The pace of life seems to be a lot slower than in the rest of London.
All of this makes Hampstead a nice place for a walk: Take the tube to Hampstead and you'll find yourself amidst the beauty described. I'd recommend two directions: Up the hill towards Fenton House, a museum, and several other nice mansions, or down the hill and then left into Flask Walk and Well Walk which lead towards Hampstead Heath (see another tip) through an alley with some nice little shops and later old beautiful houses. For some more hustle and bustle, just stay on Hampstead High and check out the shops (especially the Olde Sweet Shoppe). By the way: Many of Hampstead's street names commemorate its time as a spa: Flask Walk tells of the little bottles in which healing waters were filled; Well Walk is named after one of the sources of this water.
The Heath is London's largest ancient parkland, covering 790 acres on one of the highest points in London. The Heath contains ponds, woodlands, a lido, playgrounds, three swimming pools, concert grounds and a training track, and it adjoins the stately home of Kenwood House and its grounds. South of the Heath is Parliament Hill, whose view over London is protected by law.
A beautiful small Regency villa in a tranquil street recently restored (2009) - this is the house the English poet John Keats lived in from 1818 to 1820. He wrote his famous poem "Ode to a nightingale" here and fell in live with the girl next door Fanny Brawne - the house was semi detached then and she lived in the other half. The house is open to the public ( see the website for details) and worth a visit. A museum dedicated to the poet but it should sell itself on atmosphere rather than the curios of the poet - a clock ticks away and in the quiet ( I was the only visitor) I could imagine a man sitting and writing poetry here. Do see the gardens and do walk around the back of the house to see the verandah - sit here in the sun if you can and think of past times.
Keats traveled to Rome from here tending a broken heart and was just 25 when he died there.
Only disabled friendly on the ground floor.
2 Willow Road must be the strangest title to give to an attraction on VT but this is a modernist house that is owned by the National Trust in Hampstead. Hampstead is mainly famous for its very desirable villa type properties or coattages but scattered around the village are a few more modern home and this is a very special one from 1939. It was designed by Modernist architect Ernö Goldfinger for himself and his family and on certain times through the week you can visit this house which 70 years on still looks modern today. It is
complete with original contents including furniture designed by Goldfinger and also on display the Goldfingers' collection of modern art, including works by Henry Moore, Max Ernst and Bridget Riley.
Well worth seeing - entry is £5.30 which is a little steep but you do get a guided tour and there is an audio visual show too - the website has more details. The guide was very informative.
Not suitable for disabled people as there are stairs through the house and also no toilet or parking facilities for anyone.
This beautiful country house is in care of the National Trust. Built in the 17th century, it is a museum since 1952. Fenton House has several collections on display, with the most notbale being the one of harpsichords and other old keyboard instruments. Sometimes, you can see someone playing on one of the old instruments or a conservator doing his work. Unfortunately, this was not the case on our visit, so we just went from room to room looking at all the items in the house. Most of them were beautiful, but many of the porcelain figures were too kitschy for me. In case of questions, there are always some guides around, some of them speak even German or other foreign languages. The view from Fenton house is really incredible – from some rooms you can look as far as to the “O2”.
The adjacent garden with the old apple trees can be visited too. On your visit, you’ll surely hear that the garden borders with the garden of Ridley Scott who also lives in this area.
Although Fenton House may not be worth a trip to Hampstead on its own, it is sure worth a detour when you combine it with other attractions in Hampstead. For example, there is a combination ticket with nearby 2 Willow Road (Goldfinger’s house). And even if you heard a slightly negative tone here and there – I really enjoyed the visit to Fenton House.
Many people only know the Goldfinger name from a James Bond Movie – and there is indeed a connection between this house and the evil James Bond character. The house was designed by Ernö Goldfinger, a hungarian-born architect, who built a lot of appartment blocks in London of the 1960s. His style was dubbed “functionalistic”, which means that a lot of effort was put in saving space while decoration of bare steel and concrete played only a small role or none at all. Goldfinger built his own house at 2 Willow Road (it was a larger building comprising also 1 and 3 Willow Road) in 1935 where he lived until his death in 1987. The building was seen as very modern for its time. When you visit the building, you’ll see that it resembles more a home of the 1960s than one from three decades earlier.
Today, the building is in care of the National Trust and can be visited. Guided tours (included in entry fee) through the house are available at 12:00, 01:00 pm an 02:00 pm, all of them starting with a video about Mr. Goldfinger and the house. Afterwards, you can explore the house on your own. Please arrive early or pre-anote as tours get full quickly. I would like to recommend the 02:00 pm tour. That enables you to get the information from the tour and have a closer look on your favourite rooms and items afterwards. A combination ticket with nearby Fenton House is available.
P.S.: Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond stories, lived in Willow Road too. He disliked Goldfinger’s architectural style and decided to name one of the most famous James Bond villains after him. Although Ernö Goldfinger was not amused by this, he decided not to sue Fleming…
A beautiful 17th century merchant's house situated right in the centre of Hampstead. There is an amazing collection of harpischords, porcelain and needlework. The walled garden, abundant with fruit and flowers in July, is sublime on a warm summer's afternoon with its 300 year old apple orchard!
The house belongs to the National Trust and some of the guides also speak German. Check out the views from the attic windows too.. from here you can see the O2 Arena! (Millenium Dome). Unfortunately no photography is permitted.
Check the website for ticket prices and opening times. A short walk away is the Erno Goldfinger modernist house - a total contrast to this one but well worth visiting if you are interested in architecture!
I visited this NT property, the home of the Hungarian born architect Erno Goldfinger in Hampstead on a fine Saturday afternoon with friends. The house was built in the 1930's in "modernist" style (which means that a lot of unpainted concrete and steel was used in the design). Goldfinger was the architect of many of the highly unpopular 1960's tower blocks around London which also incorporated the use of steel and concrete. There is a lot of information about Goldfinger and his work on the web so I won't go into anymore detail about that there.
Goldfinger and his wife Ursula lived here for 40 years with their three children, his mother and the nanny so it is very much a family home but the visitor can also see his studio, where he worked with architectural students. The house is quite different from many NT properties and well worth visiting although the garden isn't open to the public as it is quite small and situated between two neighbouring Goldfinger properties.
Guided tours are every hour until 3pm when the visitor can wander at will. Each tour starts with a 10 minute video presentation which helps give a good background to Goldfinger and his work. Tickets are £5.10 unless you have an NT membership card in which case it's free.
After visiting this property there is also the delightful Fenton House, also NT, a short walk away - it's worth combining the two if you are in the area.
Full details of opening times and ticket prices etc are on the National Trust website.
Hampstead is a north-western borough of London.
This is one of my favourite areas in this city. Here you can visit some houses belonged to famous people; as the poet Keats, Freud and others.