London NW3 7JR
Remodelled for the Earl of Mansfield by Robert Adam in 1764-73, white-stuccoed Kenwood House rises like a wedding cake above the greenery of north Hampstead Heath. It's one of north London's cultural highlights and a perfect target for a walk across the Heath. The house reopened in 2013 following painstaking restoration: highlights of Adam’s grand interior include the entrance hall (which doubled up as a dining room) and the
over-the-top rococo Adam Library. There's also a top-class
collection of paintings, the bequest of Edward Cecil Guinness, the
brewing magnate and first Earl of Iveagh, who left the house to the
nation on his death in 1927. He had impeccable taste: the works include
one of Rembrandt’s most celebrated self-portraits and major paintings by
Vermeer, Gainsborough and Turner.
Delightful landscaped grounds feature azalea gardens, ancient trees and lake, and a Henry Moore sculpture (just inside the gate to the west), while there's a fabulous view, rivalling that from Parliament Hill, from the hilltop just to the east of the house. Not forgetting an excellent café.
In July and August, Kenwood hosts a series of eight Saturday night ‘picnic concerts’, with the lake providing a backdrop to the stage. These are a big money-earner, paying for the upkeep of Kenwood, but in truth the programming tends to be a bit cheesy, with MOR and popular classics (culminating in fireworks) the order of the day. Admission is quite steep but you can hear it (faintly) and see any fireworks by joining the crowds of free picnickers on the adjoining hill.