Want to live in walking distance of the beautiful, rugged Hampstead Heath, but ideally somewhere a little more exciting than Hampstead? Look no further than Kentish Town, a once shabby pocket of North West London now considered to be a hugely underrated hotspot for food and cocktail lovers in London, as well as home to pretty period houses and great transport links.
The recent additions of bars such as Ladies and Gentlemen (in an old Victorian toilet no less), as well as the continued existence of various excellent gastropubs and restaurants beloved by renowned food critics, have pushed up the profile of the area in the last decade, but there’s more to NW5 than just good dinner options.
The ideal halfway-house between the madness of Camden and the upmarket sobriety of Hampstead and Highgate, one of the best aspects of Kentish Town is that it’s truly an area with a real mix of people, from all walks of life - students from Central St Martins, just down the road at Kings Cross, professionals working in various industries, families enjoying the proximity to Hampstead Heath and decent schools, and even those who have been here so long they remember watching Nirvana play at the original Bull and Gate pub!
Previously known for low rents and a slighly scruffy atmosphere, the area has experienced an increasing amount of gentrification in recent years, and while the positives of this can be seen in the bars and restaurants that are making NW5 a foodie force to be reckoned with, it also means that rents have risen hugely and some local businesses are being threatened. However, there is a huge sense of community spirit and locals are rightfully very protective about trying to keep Kentish Town as independent and individual as possible, which can be seen by the high street which is still full of traditional shops.
On a map
Located in the Borough of Camden, Kentish Town sits to the north of Camden, south of Gospel Oak and east of Hampstead. It is in Zone 2, and has a postcode of NW5.
History of Kentish Town London
Up until the arrival of the railway in the 19th Century, Kentish Town ha a fairly quiet history. Originally a small settlement that was first recorded as Kentisston during the reign of King John in the early 1200s, it remained a small hamlet for hundreds of years until the Industrial Revolution arrived.
The area then became a huge thoroughfare for travel out of London to the North of England (the Bull and Last pub, below, was named so due to its function as the last pub on the road out of London) and a lot of housing was built for the newly-arrived railway and factory workers. It also had various famous residents during this time, most notably Karl Marx who lived on Grafton Terrace and is now buried up the road at the famous Highgate Cemetery.
Transport to Kentish Town London
Kentish Town offers excellent transport links via the Northern Line, Thameslink and National Rail trains, the Overground, and a variety of bus services. The Northern Line from Kentish Town Station takes just 11 minutes to reach Leicester Square and 14 minutes to reach Waterloo, while this same station also has rail services to St Pancras, Farringdon, Luton, and into Surrey.
There are two Overground stations in the area at Gospel Oak and Kentish Town West which are on the Richmond to Stratford Line giving speedy access to both South West London and East London, and there are many buses to and from Central London passing through the area too.
Cost of living in Kentish Town London
Due to the development of the area following the arrival of the railways, property in Kentish Town is largely made up of Victorian and Edwardian terraced housing, some of which is Grade II listed, or painted in pastel colours making for vibrant streets reminiscent of Notting Hill. There’s also a reasonable amount of ex-local authority blocks, as well as some 1960s Modernist buildings towards Tufnell Park and Caledonian Road. Towards Highgate it’s also possible to find small Victorian workers cottages on charming mews streets, similar to what can be found in some parts of Hampstead.
Prices in the area have risen rapidly in the last decade, with various estate agents now claiming that some properties are being sold for more than £1 million which was almost unheard of prior to 2010. Fortunately, its still significantly cheaper than nearby areas such as Camden, Belsize Park and Tufnell Park. As of 2015 the average rent for a two bedroom apartment in Kentish Town is £2050 per month, although similar properties can be found from around £1500.
Restaurants in Kentish Town London
Ready for some proper American Deep South diner food? Head straight to Joe’s Southern Kitchen, which opened in Kentish Town last year and has been hugely popular ever since for their fried chicken, grits, gooey cornbread and incredibly decadent desserts. Don’t forget to head downstairs to the Jailbird bar for a bourbon cocktail after!
Address: 34 King St, London WC2E 8JD
Phone: 020 7240 4008
Forget Pizza East - friendly, family-run Rossella is by far the best place to get a pizza in Kentish Town, and they're about half the price of this nearby neighbour too. Tuck in to a plate of bruschetta, a Rocca pizza with proscuitto and rocket followed by some homemade gelato, and you’ll be transported straight to Southern Italy. In the summer, the tables outside are a great place to enjoy an espresso and people-watch too.
Address: 103 Highgate Rd, London NW5 1TR
Phone: 020 7267 9797
An institution in North London, the Bull and Last is a proper country pub with stuffed animal heads on the walls and a dog-friendly policy that has somehow ended up in the heart of the city. The gastropub menu goes beyond the usual standard with the likes of truffle arancini and possibly the most delicious Sunday Roast you’ll find in London. Plus, we’re not naming names, but you may see a few famous faces at the weekly pub quiz…
Address: 168 Highgate Rd, London NW5 1QS
Phone: 020 7267 3641
A relatively new addition to the Kentish Town dining scene, Carrots and Daikon is a compact Vietnamese deli and cafe on the corner of Highgate Road. Serving up fresh, healthy Vietnamese Bahn Mi baguettes and traditional pho noodle soup, it’s the perfect place to pick up a flavoursome lunch or dinner. They also deliver if you’re feeling particularly lazy!
Address: 10 Highgate Road, Kentish Town, Greater London NW5 1NR
Phone: 020 7998 5859
Shops in Kentish Town London
This vast shop on Kentish Town Road has all the exotic and Mediterranean ingredients you could ask for under one roof, with everything from various types of flatbread to more than twenty forms of pasta. There are dedicated sections for foreign cuisine from all over the world, and the adjoining shop has a fresh deli offering cooked chickens, Turkish meats, homemade dips and much more.
Address: 186-192 Kentish Town Rd, London NW5 2AE, United Kingdom
Phone: 020 7267 1267
The craft beer revolution has made a big impact in Kentish Town and the surrounding areas (you’d be hard pressed to find a pub which doesn’t sell beer from the nearby Camden Town Brewery), but if you’re looking for something a little more unusual give Caps and Taps a try. This tiny shop specialises in boutique craft beers from around the world, so even dedicated fans are bound to find something they haven't tried yet.
Address: 130 Kentish Town Rd, Kentish Town, Greater London NW1 9QB
Embrace your crafty side at The London Bead Co., a deceptively small shop which expands like Aladdin’s Cave once you get inside. They’ve got all the materials you could need for a range of craft products, including wool, beads, and fabrics, and there are some great present ideas in there too.
Address: 339 Kentish Town Rd, London NW5 2TJ, United Kingdom
Phone: 020 7267 9403
Although now owned by Daunt Books, the previously independent Owl Bookshop has barely changed since the acquisition and still offers a brilliant selection of books from new blockbusters to historic tomes in this cosy shop on Kentish Town Road. Come in to pick up a novel and you’ll find yourself browsing for hours with their excellent recommendations.
Address: 207-209 Kentish Town Rd, London NW5 2JU
Phone: 020 7485 7793
Things to do in Kentish Town London
When those warm summer days do eventually arrive, Kentish Towners can often be found at this pretty Art Deco lido on Hampstead Heath, which dates back to 1938. It’s unheated so make sure you pick a particularly warm day if you’re sensitive to the cold, although there are some who brave it during the winter season from September to April so you’ll doubtlessly survive, even if it does feel a bit frosty!
Address: Hampstead Heath, London NW5 1NA
Phone: 020 7485 3873
While you may struggle to pronounce it, this lesser-known art gallery on Prince of Wales Road is certainly worth making a detour for. Housed in a former Methodist Chapel, the gallery is dedicated to showcasing the work of emerging artists and has various exhibitions throughout the year. They also hold regular events and have a shop full of interesting prints and unusual objects.
Address: 176 Prince of Wales Rd, London NW5 3PT
Phone: 020 7428 8940
Once an Art Deco cinema in the 1930s, The Forum became a concert venue in the 1980s and since then has seen a whole host of famous performers, from Van Morrison and the Velvet Underground during it’s first few years to indie band The Kooks and rapper The Game scheduled for 2016. After the Bull and Gate was transformed into a pub in 2015, it also became the main music venue in Kentish Town.
Address: 9-17 Highgate Rd, London NW5 1JY, United Kingdom
Phone: 020 7428 4099
Main image credit: Ewan Munro