A walk on the sprawling Heath, just 4 miles (6.4km) from central London, is the perfect escape from the pressures of city life. Hampstead first became fashionable in the 18th century, when the discovery of spring water transformed the village into a Georgian spa town. There was no stopping the writers, poets and painters who were attracted by the green, open spaces and healthy aspect. This remains the case today, although the only spring water you'll find now is that produced by the large manufacturers and sold by the bottle in shops and pubs.
The end of an era
Hampstead has another claim to fame or, perhaps in this case, notoriety. The village was the scene of a murder that signalled the end of capital punishment in this country. The crime was committed by Ruth Ellis, who became the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Near the end of the walk, in a road called South Hill Park, is the Magdala Tavern. Ruth Ellis was a hostess at a nightclub in Soho. During this time she had a stormy relationship with a racing driver, David Blakely. When he ended the affair Ellis first caused a disturbance outside his Hampstead flat. Two days later, as he left the Magdala Tavern, she took a gun from her handbag and shot him – he was dead on arrival at hospital. The case aroused a lot of public interest and although a newspaper paid for two defence barristers at her trial at the Old Bailey, Ellis remained adamant that she intended to kill Blakely. With no doubts about her guilt, the jury took less than 30 minutes to agree on a verdict, and the rest is history.
Back to the spa
Aside from that episode, Hampstead remains pretty much untainted by modern life. There are plenty of opportunities for you to wander off into the wilder side of the Heath should you wish. Indeed, one of the delights of this area is in exploring the many pathways that criss-cross the grasslands and delve into woodland. If you use the directions as a base and decide to veer off the beaten track, you shouldn't have many problems finding your way back to the main paths.
Turn left outside Hampstead tube along Hampstead High Street and left into Flask Walk. Continue down the hill past Burgh House and Hampstead Museum, along Well Walk and past Wellside on the right. Cross East Heath Road and continue along the heath path.
Follow a tree-lined path that widens and passes a water tap, and at the path junction take the second left path shortly followed by the next middle path. Keep ahead and bear right at the next fork to enter West Field Gate, indicating one of the entrances to the 112 acres (45ha) maintained by English Heritage's Iveagh Bequest.
Turn left and then bear left as the path descends gently through woodland, then grassland. If you have a dog it should be on a lead now. Just before a white house turn right along a wide footpath and pass through a gate beyond, which is a Henry Moore sculpture. Turn left and keep on a path that sweeps to the right of Kenwood House along a wide terrace that overlooks grassland. The Spaniards Inn is about 0.25 miles (400m) from here.
After passing the tea room, take a left fork, signposted 'kitchen garden', to a pergola. Here are fine views over London, including Canary Wharf, the Shard and the London Eye. Next take a tarmac path to the right and go through a metal gate.
Turn left, downhill, passing to the left of a lake and keep ahead through woodland. Bear left at a meeting of paths to go through a metal gate. Continue along the main path, which later runs beside railings and swings left at a lake.
Continue to the right of the lake and keep to the main path past two more ponds. After the last one turn sharp right at a main path junction, along a tarmac path to the right of a hedgerow that climbs uphill. At the next junction follow the right-hand path to the top of Parliament Hill where there are more views across London, including this time, St Paul's Cathedral. Continue ahead downhill along a path through the trees and between two ponds before heading uphill again.
Follow the path as it curves left and then bear right at a path junction, along a path to East Heath Road. Cross over into Devonshire Hill (turn second left into Keats Grove to visit Keats House), and continue ahead, turning right at the crossroads into Rosslyn Hill. Keep ahead uphill to reach Hampstead tube.
Mainly well-trodden heathland tracks
Heath and woodland scenery and some impressive views across London
Keep on a lead near Kenwood House
OS Explorer 173 London North
Car park off East Heath Road
Highgate; Hampstead Heath
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Discover Greater London
Greater London is one of the world’s largest urban areas; 33 boroughs stretching north to Enfield, south to Croydon, east to Havering, west to Hillingdon and with central London at the heart of it all.
Greater London was officially created in 1965, but the boroughs themselves all have their own histories going back much further. Greenwich is home to the Prime Meridian, which all clocks on earth take their time from, while Hounslow contains Heathrow Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world. Greater London contains a multitude of parks and green spaces, from the six Royal Parks (including Richmond Park, Green Park, Hyde Park and Regent’s Park) and other huge open spaces like Hampstead Heath and Clapham Common; to smaller community spaces like Clissold Park in Stoke Newington and Burgess Park in Southwark.
The centre of London has its quiet spaces too, like Coram’s Field by Great Ormond Street, and Camley Street Natural Park, a stone’s throw from King’s Cross and St Pancras. One of the city’s most impressive features is the London Underground. Beginning in 1863 as the Metropolitan Railway, it took commuters into The City from the suburbs of Middlesex. It was the first underground railway in the world, and now consists of 11 lines, 270 stations, and 250 miles (402km) of track. It’s estimated that nearly five million journeys are taken every day, and there are nearly one and a half billion riders each year. At peak times, there are more than 543 trains whizzing around the Capital.