London - Highgate & Crouch End
Few areas of London support the old cliché that this is a city of villages like these adjacent residential districts. Both existed as rural settlements – Highgate as a hilltop village astride the Great North Road, Crouch End as a farming village – until the metropolis finally caught up with them via new rail routes in the 1890s. Even now, they feel distinct from the city’s hullaballoo. Locals moan about the influx of chains, yet Highgate remains a villagey, almost Home Counties-like corner of north London whose Georgian bone structure and proximity to Hampstead Heath attract a moneyed, conservative (small C) set. Crouch End is younger, buzzier, and cheaper, a gentrified small town stuffed with independent shops, cafés, young families and creative types. If it looks a little bit familiar, it's because it served as the set for local resident Simon Pegg’s zombie caper Shaun of the Dead.
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Independent and informal are the watchwords of dining and drinking in Highgate and Crouch End. Yes, the cafe mega-chains have colonised prime retail space on the high streets, but small characterful cafes like The Haberdashery or snug eateries like Bistro Aix or Banners' abound in Crouch End, while Highgate has some excellent gastropubs that cater to its smarter, moneyed residents; names like St John's Tavern, the Red Lion & Sun or the Bull & Last beside Hampstead Heath. Any of the latter are a good option for a quiet night's boozing; for rock 'n' roll attitude (and even the occasional big-name band playing a secret gig) head to The Boogaloo.
Who'd have thought Crouch End could be a shopping destination? Locals like to boast they can find everything they need here, and alongside the weekly shop, well-heeled locals enjoy a surprising number of independent boutiques brimming with unique finds. Upmarket bohemia is a particular speciality. Little Paris and Floral Hall antiques centre will delight Francophiles while opposite long-standing interiors outlet Of Special Interest specialises in charming painted antiques. Completing the interesting options on Park Street is Jealous Gallery. Highgate is notable for two niche outlets on Archway Road: come here for rare guitars and vintage children's books.
These gentrified residential areas are locals' London par excellence. While tourists crowd Camden, Highgate and Crouch End are left in peace by most visitors making them ideal places in which to sample the everyday life of the metropolis' villages; cafes, bars, a spot of shopping perhaps. Yet the two true sights of the area are genuine must-sees of any visit to London. Highgate Cemetery is arguably the finest Victorian graveyard in Britain and certainly the creepiest on its west side; the east boasts the more famous stiffs, notably Karl Marx. Combine it with lunch then a walk across bucolic Hampstead Heath to Kenwood House, a Georgian mansion of Old Masters and a splendid cafe for afternoon tea, and you have the perfect Highgate day. Other options for a stroll are Queens Wood and Parkland Walk.
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