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A Londoner's London

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By Carol Nahra
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hampstead

With a colorful history as a retreat for the cultured classes, Hampstead today is, well, still a retreat for the cultured classes. In the past, Londoners flocked to Hampstead to enjoy its spring waters, thought to have healing properties. Today, it is the village of choice for American and Continental expats and any Londoners who can afford the staggering rents.

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Perched high on a hill, it's a beautiful maze of historic streets set alongside the most fantastic of all parks: Hampstead Heath. It's also home to the Freud Museum, set in the house where the father of modern psychoanalysis and his family settled when they fled the Nazis. Today, it contains, among other things, his favorite couch.

BEST FOR: Romantic interludes and leisurely weekends.

MOST CHARMING FEATURE: The short walk up Church Row, a beautiful Georgian street, through the church's cemetery and up Holly Walk, which feels every bit like an English country lane.

PRETTIEST PARK: Beloved Hampstead Heath, 800 acres of every type of parkland imaginable: dense woodland, landscaped gardens, playing fields, duck ponds and hills made for kite-flying. The stunning Kenwood House, home to many period drama filmings, has a good cafe and abundant grounds for picnicking. In the summer, swimming in one of the three ponds is a must for an authentic Londoner experience, the ladies' bathing pond being my absolute favorite spot on a hot day.

COOLEST SHOP: A food shop since early Victorian times, Rosslyn Delicatessen (56 Rosslyn Hill) is popular among American expats craving Kraft macaroni and cheese, Miracle Whip and Mott's applesauce. But it also has a great range of U.K. treats, including Scottish shortbread, English biscuits, fudge and honey, as well as plenty of fare from Europe and beyond.

WHERE TO STAY: A short walk from the Hampstead Tube, Hampstead Village Guest House (2 Kemplay Rd., 011-44-20-7435-8679, http://www.hampsteadguesthouse.com) is a beautifully maintained, family-run guesthouse with nine rooms, many with antique wash basins and quirky features, free WiFi and loaner cellphones. Double rooms with private facilities cost about $190 a night, or pay $160 for a room with a shared bath. A full English breakfast costs an additional $14.

BEST GRUB: Giraffe (46 Rosslyn Hill), the original restaurant of this popular British chain, offers healthful and ethical world food for the masses. The menu includes burgers (Scottish beef burger, $18), Asian and Mexican food (spiced turkey enchiladas, $20), brunch (ranch-style egg tostadas, $14) and a good choice of sides, starters and smoothies.

BEST PUB: The Hollybush (22 Holly Mount), hands down. Tucked away off a walking path, this establishment has been a working pub for 200 years. Its tiny, dark and oft-crowded rooms evoke a bygone era, and its classic British food and drinks are belly-pleasing. It all feels very English, if you can ignore the American exchange students at the next table.

LOCAL CELEBS: Don't be surprised if you find yourself sharing the sidewalk with a face you've seen on the big or little screen: Russell Crowe, Peter O'Toole, Ricky Gervais, Jamie Oliver, Sienna Miller, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson have all called it home.

GETTING THERE: Hampstead tube station on the Northern line (Zone 2).

Islington

In the past 20 years, Islington has morphed from a drab, poor neighborhood into an exuberant playground for young Europeans and workers from the nearby financial center. Islington's main artery, Upper Street, bubbles with bars and restaurants as well as top-rate theaters and upscale shops.


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