While writing this post Liam and Santiago have just turned 2, and we have been living in the same flat in Hampstead as before they were born
In fact I have been living in the same flat from when I arrived in London. Many people manage to find a place to live the day after they arrive in London…it took me 2 months before to settle on a place I liked, but then I haven’t moved. I thought Hampstead was amazing before having the kids, and I’m now even more convinced.
Let’s start by saying that I am a city girl, I love to walk occasionally in the countryside, but I love even more to walk in nice neighborhoods in the city…and Hampstead has everything!
The best part is that you feel you are living in a village but you are just 3/4 stops on the tube from the city centre. There are some little back streets that seem to be coming from a different century
But let’s dig deeper about the position:
-if you manage a house located between the tube stops Hampstead or Belsize Park (Northern line), and Swiss Cottage or Finchley Road (Jubilee line), you can get rid of your car and just walk or use public transport.
The Jubilee line will bring you to Oxford street in 3 stops for some shopping and the Northern line give you easy access to Soho and all the West End. If, like me, you struggle to bring 2 heavy twins down the station stairs in the pram, in Swiss Cottage you have several busses that you can easily catch to go directly to the city centre or to St.John’s wood where you can access the Jubilee line easily with the escalator (if you don’t feel confident with the pram on the escalator you can always ask the station workers to help)
HOT TIP: Hampstead heath station is a really useful overground station as it offers a great alternative to get to East London for example, and the best part is the station has a lift from street to platform!!!
You can engage in really nice walks from Hampstead. I love walking, and with my husband a few times before the boys arrived, we ventured on long city walks.
A beautiful walk to do just before sunset is to start at Camden market and follow the canal until Kings Cross station, a few times we continued from there up to the Shoreditch area. This isn’t the easiest walk to do with a pram (steps and uneven path) but definitely recommended if your kids are still young and in the carrier or a but older.
Another lovely walk I’m still doing with the pram is down to Oxford street… I love this walk because you have a mix of city views and park. From Hampstead go down towards the centre passing by Swiss Cottage to enter St.John’s Wood with its beautiful back streets. From there you enter The Regent’s Park and walk through it until Baker Street, where after crossing the busy ring road you enter the fascinating Marylebone and finish in the little St Christopher’s Place.
-another great advantage of Hampstead is the easy connection you have with 4 out of 5 of the London airports. London City takes me only 55 minutes door to door with public transport (Jubilee line and DLR; where excluding Swiss Cottage entrance all the other access are accessible). This is my favorite airport but unfortunately there are not many useful flights for me from there.
London Heathrow: taxis usually have an ok price of around £30, and usually don’t take more than an hour (but always allow yourself plenty of time because you never know with traffic) public transport is also great, 75 minutes (Jubilee line and Piccadilly line; again excluding the Swiss Cottage entrance all the other stations are accessible)
London Luton: amazing National Express bus directly from Finchley Road, near the O2 centre (last night coming back from Luton only took us 30 minutes). Taxi is usually around £45
London Stansted: again an amazing direct national express bus from Finchley Road near O2 centre, but much longer journey around 90 min
HOT TIP: with National Express, on the way to the airport, it is better to book your ticket online because there isn’t a ticket office in Finchley Road, and also if you book a seat the driver will ensure seats are available for the bus time you booked (this doesn’t seem to happen coming from the airport though). Kids under 3 years old don’t pay for a ticket but they must have one.
HOT TIP 2: you can buy National Express tickets on the Easybus website, and they are often on offer much cheaper than the National Express website, but this is only convenient if you are travelling without kids as Easybus is asking to pay a full fare ticket also for kids.
I highlight the airport connections because when we travel we try to make the journey as smooth and short as possible, so of course when there isn’t a big difference in price between different companies I will always choose based on the airport they use.
-Availability of an amazing variety of outdoor and indoor playgrounds within walking distance in all directions is another key point for me…there are so many!!!!
The one we are going to more often is Antrim Gardens, just below Belsize Park (I know it is Belsize Park, not Hampstead but I am taking for granted you are happy to walk more than 5 min). Antrim gardens has an age restriction, only kids under 6 should enter, it is big enough for L & S to run around and play, but it is small enough to be able to keep an eye on them even when running in different direction. As with all playgrounds I’ve seen in the UK there is a gate that is difficult for them to open, so the toddler escape committee can be foiled easily!
Just out of Hampstead heath on the car park and lake side, there is another great playground near the Freemason’s Arms; the boys particularly like the sanded area ( I like it a bit less, considering that when we arrive home I need to undress them immediately to avoid feeling we moved to the beach!!!)
In front of the Swiss Cottage library there is a very little playground with just a couple of swings and a slide, not much but perfect for that half an hour break after some shopping on Finchley Road. During the summer it is also lovely to play with the water fountains just in front of the library ( I know Italian mums will think I’m crazy!)
Another useful one is the playground just behind Finchley Road tube station, not really big, but great after Waitrose shopping
Moving a little bit further away we also like the Hampstead Heath playground (near the athletic track) where in summer there is an amazing paddling pool or lido. This is quite a big playground and really good but I like to go there only when there is someone with me, because it is for younger and older kids, and is always really busy.
Primrose hill also has a really great playground, with a big sand area, but again a little bit too big to control my under 2’s alone
There are many great outdoor playgrounds in London, but of course they start to be a little bit further away: I still enjoy walking to the one at the bottom of St. John’s Wood high street, St John’s Wood Church Grounds Playground, or even the one in Queens Park easily accessible from the Overground line getting on at Hampstead Heath overground station.
In winter the Swiss Cottage library has been one of our life savers, there is a big kids library, with books and some toys where the boys really enjoyed many afternoons or the Monday morning rhyme time…and two or three days a week you can pay to spend 45 min at the bouncy castle they build in the gym in the Leisure Centre next door.
A short walk to West Hampstead also offers a great indoor soft play at the Sheriff centre in a beautiful church ( for under 2’s is only £2.50 for an hour in a separated area)
-another thing I really value of living in Hampstead is the great variety of food on offer.
In Hampstead and Belsize Park there are many chain restaurants which are really family friendly like Franco Manca (great Italian pizzeria), Pizza Express, chez Bob, Patara, Cafe Rouge, Le Pain Quotidien, Starbucks, Cafe Nero and more, but there are also many great family owned restaurants from Italian to Japanese, Thai and Spanish.
One of our little gems is La Paletta dell’Artigiano, a small Italian coffee shop with few tables inside and outside where we often like to stop for an Italian no fuss lunch, (they share the kitchen with the sister restaurant L’artigiano) or just for a good espresso while the boys get a biscuit from the lovely staff there.
Again, we love to walk so it isn’t an issue for us to arrive to Primrose Hill just to add even more choice!
A new entry in Belsize Park has quickly moved high in our list of local favourites: Teta’s a Lebanese restaurant. I liked the food and also the fact that the small portions are a good option on the days you just want an “aperitivo” style break, having a chat with friends while drinking a glass and eating a bite!
Pubs are plenty too, my top favourite remains the Freemasons Arms (really close to Hampstead Heath on the lake side) where, although the food is not good, the garden is beautiful and kids can play without disturbing other guests.
I could speak about food for hours, but maybe if you are interested I can write a separate post
I think I covered the most important aspects that make me enjoy Hampstead so much, what do you think would you move here?