Spending time in the UK capital can be expensive. So it’s always useful to find free things to do in London. If history, literature or great ideas from the past interest you, then a trip to a graveyard is an inexpensive way to get a cultural fix. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of famous graves in London, where poets, writers, thinkers and political trail-blazers were laid to rest. Here are some of the most visited graveyards in London, where you can pass an afternoon of rambling and reflection.
Of all the famous cemeteries in London, Highgate has to be number one. Highgate Cemetery London dates back to the 1800s. It’s a vast, labyrinthine place with around 45,000 graves. There are still some Highgate Cemetery burials today, with singer George Michael and writer Douglas Adams both being interred there recently. They’re in distinguished company. Visitors can see the graves of George Eliot, Christina Rossetti, Karl Marx, scientist Michael Faraday and former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko.
Highgate Cemetery opening hours are from 10am to 5pm during March to October, and 10am to 4pm the rest of the year. Admission is £4 for adults, with under-18s going free. It’s open every day except Christmas and Boxing Day. The public can wander freely on the East side, while the West side is for guided tours only. The Highgate Cemetery tour runs regularly at weekends, but it’s advisable to pre-book if you’re planning to visit during the week (and bear in mind that the tour doesn’t include George Michael’s grave, which is on private property inside the cemetery). Find out more on the Highgate Cemetery website.
Set in busy west London, Brompton Cemetery is the resting place of more than 200,000 people. It attracts over 700,000 visits a year. It’s more than just a graveyard. City planners designed the ‘garden cemetery’ in the 19th Century, as a leafy, 39-acre place of recreation. Women’s rights campaigner Emmeline Pankhurst, Victorian adventuress Elizabeth Le Blond and ground-breaking physician Dr John Snow are all buried in graves nestled in among the trees. The Cemetery’s Café North Lodge is inside a Grade II listed building. It offers breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner in the summer months.
Now managed by the Royal Parks, the cemetery is free to enter. Brompton Cemetery opening hours are from 7am to 4pm in Winter, with seasonal variations during the non-Winter months. See the Brompton Cemetery website for more information.
Like Highgate and Brompton, Nunhead is one of London’s Magnificent Seven Cemeteries, designed in the 1800s to ease the overcrowding of the capital’s inner city graveyards. The designers of the Magnificent Seven were inspired by Paris’s iconic Père Lachaise Cemetery. Most of the cemeteries were built during the reign of Queen Victoria II. These seven Victorian graveyards are arguably the best cemeteries in London.
Nunhead Cemetery, in south-east London, offers splendid views across the capital, with St Paul’s Cathedral and the London Eye both clearly visible. Quieter, and with far fewer visitors than either Highgate or Brompton Cemeteries, Nunhead is a place where visitors can meander through 52 acres of granite monuments, down paths past tangled undergrowth. Nunhead Cemetery is a Local Nature Reserve and Site of Metropolitan Importance for wildlife. Blackbirds, woodpeckers and tawny owls are common sights.
Nunhead Cemetery opens at 8.30am, and is free to enter. The closing time varies from 4pm to 7pm, depending on the time of year. You can find out more on the Southwark Council website.
There are plenty more interesting cemeteries to visit in London. Do tell me about your favourites in the comments below.
London (and, indeed, England) isn’t the only place where you can visit remarkable graves and cemeteries. If you want to travel further afield there’s a great feature here on the world’s most visited graveyards.
If you’d like to read more about things to do near London’s historic graveyards, these other posts might interest you:
This is a collaborative post. All views are my own.
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