An elegant Georgian
village in north London
(postcode N6), the highest point in the city, and abutting beautiful Hampstead Heath
. It is famous for its inhabitants both living and dead, including those now resident in Highgate Cemetery
. Best pubs include the Red Lion and Sun
, and Prince of Wales
Apart from the Heath and its attendant grand house Kenwood
, other nice green regions are Highgate Wood
and Waterlow Park
The meaning of the name seems obvious: it's the highest point, and there's a gate the Bishop of London made for the toll-road, long ago. But in fact the earliest recorded form of the name is Heighgate, that is hedge gate.
Now that girlotron has added to this and discussed a lot of the interesting points, I've expanded and rearranged mine by adding a few notes on buildings, mainly from Pevsner's guide to London. One of the oldest buildings is Cromwell House, at 104 Highgate High Street, an elegant red-brick building built 1637-8. This was owned by the da Costas family between 1675 and 1749, the first Jewish family to hold landed property in England since the Middle Ages. It is now the Ghanaian High Commission.
The Old Hall at 17 South Grove dates from 1691. It is on the site of an even earlier mansion, Arundel House, home of the Earl of Arundel. His guest Sir Francis Bacon died there in 1626, having taken cold from an ill-advised experiment with frozen food, going onto Hampstead Heath to collect snow to try to freeze a chicken with. Several local place names commemorate Bacon.
Nearby, the Flask pub is seventeenth-century, with exteriors remodelled to some extent a bit later, but soom rooms inside are well preserved. Also nearby are the finest houses in Highgate, numbers 1 to 6 The Grove, built c. 1688. One has plaques saying Samuel Taylor Coleridge and J.B. Priestley lived in it. These days film stars and rock musicians tend to occupy them, as no-one else can afford to. Across from those to the south is Witanhurst, a large building that's a prominent landmark when viewed from the Heath; that dates from 1913. These are all on the south side of the High Street, where there is a green space called Pond Square; however, the last pond disappeared in 1865.
Further north, Byron House at 13 North Road has no particular Byron connection, but A.E. Housman wrote A Shropshire Lad there, not in Shropshire. Beyond that there is a great modernist block of flats called Highpoint, designed by Berthold Lubetkin, worth the tourist's attention.
One of the most curious traditions about Highgate is the Swearing on the Horns that goes on in a number of the pubs, and has since at least the early 1600s: a mock or burlesque oath imposed upon travellers giving them permission to kick out pigs in gutters if they need somewhere to sleep.