Magazine article Insight on the News

Hampstead Is Home Away from Home: Long Popular with Artists, Hampstead Village Is a Rustic Retreat from London's Bustle

Magazine article Insight on the News

Hampstead Is Home Away from Home: Long Popular with Artists, Hampstead Village Is a Rustic Retreat from London's Bustle

Article excerpt

My guidebook said that Hampstead Village is the best place in London to wear sunglasses, smoke Gauloises and contemplate love and death over a double espresso. Although I did none of the above, a two-week stay convinced me that Hampstead is the best place in London, period.

Only four miles north of central London, Hampstead is a perfectly preserved Georgian village, a peaceful respite from the noisy city. Tree-lined sidewalks wind along cobblestone lanes. Grand mansions and pretty cottages snuggle between posh shops, pubs, bohemian cafes, churches and international restaurants.

The leafy village on the hill overlooking London has been popular with the literati for centuries. Throughout the village, blue oval plaques on various houses will tell you which famous person lived there and when. Former and current residents make up a veritable Who's Who: Charles Dickens, Florence Nightingale, John Constable, William Blake, H.G. Wells, D.H. Lawrence, Henry Moore and Piet Mondrian are just a few of the past residents. More recent ones have included Rex Harrison, Peter O'Toole, Jim Henson, Emma Thompson, Jeremy Irons, Sting and Boy George.

The house at 20 Maresfield Gardens where Sigmund Freud lived, worked and died after his escape from Nazi-occupied Vienna in 1938 is a museum. It still feels lived-in, with Freud's original furniture and personal effects left just as they were in 1939. The heart of the museum is the study and library, where you can find the famous couch and large collection of art and strange toys that once belonged to the father of psychoanalysis.

The Keats House is worth a visit, too. The great Romantic poet John Keats loved his next-door neighbor Fanny Brawne, but he died of consumption before they could marry. After his death, their two lovely Regency cottages were combined into one house which now contains their relics, letters and various books and manuscripts. In the front yard, a small brass plaque identifies the plum tree that replaced the one under which Keats sat when he wrote "Ode to a Nightingale."

One of Hampstead's most colorful characters was the highwayman Dick Turpin, who would escape the law by disappearing on horseback into the wilds of Hampstead Heath. The 800-acre city park retains an amazing amount of wilderness and is one of the best-loved parks in all London, a city of truly spectacular parks. The views from Parliament Hill, the highest point in the city, are magnificent: From one of the many wooden benches scattered throughout the park, you can see the Parliament buildings, the Tower of London, Old Bailey and other landmarks. …

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