To Hampstead on the Northern Line

Somehow I thought Hampstead would be a great distance from the center of London, but it turns out to be only an eleven-minute ride on the Northern Line from the underground station King’s Cross St. Pancras, with stops at Euston, Camden Town, Chalk Farm and Belsize Park.

Passengers (including some from VirtualTourist) in the Northern Line

By this time I already had an Oyster Card, a great invention that simplifies travel around London and makes it a lot less expensive. I bought my Oyster Card from a ticket machine at one of the underground stations, paying a £5 deposit and I believe £10 as credit for future travel.

Later I “topped up” the card at a ticket machine with an additional £10 credit. Before leaving London, I stopped by the London Transport ticket office at St Pancras and returned my Oyster card, for which they refunded my deposit and the remaining credit on the card.

To travel by underground, you simply “touch in” with your Oyster card on the yellow card reader at the start and “touch out” at the end of your journey to pay the right fare. This turns out to be much cheaper than if you had used a paper ticket.

“Mind the gap” between the train and the platform

Since Hampstead is only about three miles from King’s Cross St. Pancras, it would take less than half an hour to go there by bicycle, assuming you knew the way.

Unfortunately London’s self-service bike sharing scheme (‘scheme’ in the British sense of the word, of course) does not extend as far out as Hampstead. If you look at a map of the docking stations, you will see that the 750 cycle stations cover an oval-shaped area in central London which only extends north as far as Camden Town. The northernmost cycle station in Camden Town is at Castlehaven Road, which is about two miles southeast of Hampstead. So if you wanted to go to Hampstead by bicycle you would have to have your own bike or rent (sorry, hire) one from a bicycle shop.

Fortunately the tube connections are excellent, so we just took the Northern Line to Hampstead and started our walking tour from Hampstead High Street.

“Way out” to Hampstead High Street

These signs (which in the US would read “Exit”) always remind me of an American cartoon from the 1960s or 70s, showing a disappointed American hippie in the London Underground looking at a “Way Out” sign and thinking “What’s so way out about that?”

For those who are too young to get the joke, I should point out that in those days “way out” (like “far out”) meant unusual, unconventional, innovative, quirky, avant-garde — almost always with positive connotations. In the intervening decades these expressions seem to have acquired mainly negative connotations, insofar as they are used at all.

My photos in this post are from 2015. I revised the text in 2021.

See more posts on Hampstead (coming soon).
See more posts on urban transport.
See also: my post on the Santander (or whatever) Cycles in London.

10 thoughts on “To Hampstead on the Northern Line”

  1. Your Way Out joke reminded me of an (unrelated to Hampstead) pleasantry that occured to me some years ago in the National Gallery in London. They had the Leonardo Cartoon in its own little darkened walk-through room, with an entry and an exit. There was a standard light box with Exit on it, to make sure you went out the right way after viewing the Cartoon. I thought that instead of Exit, That’s All Folks! might have been more appropriate.

    1. Yes, it’s funny how the meaning of the word ‘cartoon’ has changed in the past two centuries. I recall being very surprised when I first learned that a painting I admired was originally intended as a ‘cartoon’ for a tapestry to be made at the Royal Gobelin Manufactory in Paris.

  2. As regards Hampstead, you’d have to be a pretty good cyclist – and have a very decent bicycle – to make the trip from central London. Once you get to Swiss Cottage, you face a formidably steep ascent up Fitzjohn’s Avenue to Hampstead Village. Mind you, if you had run out of steam you could always make it to the Freud Museum, which is not too far up the hill.

  3. The Oyster card sounds like a good deal. I haven’t been to London since 2007 and I mostly took taxis between buses. When I was there in 2002, I did take the Underground and the trains some.

    1. Paris has recently introduced a similar card (‘Navigo Easy’) and both cities are planning to phase out paper tickets entirely in the near future.

  4. If you had decided to cycle to Hampstead you would probably need thighs like Chris Hoy to get up that hill to the Heath. Mind you, going back would be a blast.

    1. Yes, I later realized that the difference in altitude was considerable. No wonder the bike-sharing scheme does not extend north as far as Hampstead.

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