We’ve checked out North London’s favourite family areas so you don’t have to. This is the second part of our concise guide to family-friendly neighbourhoods (have a look at our previous post too) and hopefully you’ll get a good idea of good places for families in North London. There’s a lot to be said for this part of town – it’s hilly, it’s (mostly) pretty, it feels a bit detached from manic city life. In parts of it, you practically feel that you’ve left London altogether, but you’re never too far from its hustle and bustle.
Spiritual home of cricket aficionados – Lord’s Cricket Ground has been here for 200 years – St John’s Wood is one of North London’s most upmarket neighbourhoods. Part of it’s popularity – leaving aside the fancy housing, proximity of Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill, and the exclusive boutiques – is the fact that it’s not that far North, really… actually, Bond Streets is only 4 minutes away on the Jubilee line, whilst travelling time to Canary Wharf is a mere 20 minutes. The area is popular with American families sending children to the nearby American School. It boasts an impressive number of private schools, which tend to be favoured by many residents. Among its ten private schools, the best-known are Arnold House, The Hall and St Christina’s. University College London, Francis Holland Regents Park and South Hampstead High School are not far away, and the UCL-sponsored UCL Academy is a new state secondary option. George Eliot and King Solomon are “outstanding” state comprehensives.
Home of the capital’s left-wing intelligentsia, this is a very central part of London with beautiful Georgian houses and squares as well as vast tracts of social housing. It’s a mixed area though, and the social segregation becomes very apparent when you look at schooling: state schools generally do not perform very well at all, with the exception of the Ofsted “outstanding”-rated Central Foundation School for Boys and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school for girls. Parents who can afford it send their kids to private schools further North, or in Central London, e.g. City of London and City of London Girl’s School. If you don’t mind the school commute, Islington has a lot going for it; it has a groovy urban feel and everything you may need or want along the Upper Street, including cafes and restaurants, theatres, cinemas, shops, boutiques and supermarkets. And when you tire of eating, drinking and shopping, you can walk it off along the canal, or on Highbury Fields.
Arty and bohemian, this is a popular destination for people looking for a sense of community and a slightly alternative (and cheaper) family neighbourhood. There are many independent shops and boutiques along the high street, several family-friendly pubs and an organic farmers market. There are also plenty of green spaces for the kids to play in, including Clissold Park and Stoke Newington Common. Watersports can be pursued in the West Reservoir, where the kids can use the indoor climbing facilities at the old pumping station. “Stokey” definitely has a particular charm about it. Jubilee Primary School is judged “outstanding” by Ofsted, whilst another popular primary school, Grasmere, is “good,” as are comprehensive schools Our Lady’s Convent RC and the mixed Stoke Newington School. Parents wishing to go private will need to commute to Hampstead, Belsize Park or Central London for private prep and senior schools.
A relatively small enclave of big Victorian houses, Tufnell Park is well-connected to central London. It’s been an area popular with left-leaning families for years, but now it also attracts media and city workers, as well as French families planning to send their children to the nearby College Francais Bilingue de Londres (in Kentish Town.) You can feel gentrification in the air, and the shops along Fortress Road and near the tube station reflect this. The area has a few “outstanding” state primary schools, such as Yerbury, Eleanor Palmer and Torriano Juniors – as always, competition for places is fierce, catchment areas small, and this is reflected in the prices for properties within them. Camden School for Girls (also judged “outstanding”) is a short distance away, and there are six “good” local comprehensives in the area. Parents tend to go to Hampstead and Highgate for private schooling.
It’s the archetypal North London village, home to many a celebrity – Sting and Kate Moss are among its most famous living residents, although the wonderfully atmospheric Highgate Cemetery is absolutely crammed with long-gone former residents. At first glance Highgate is a Georgian gem, but you can also find interesting Victorian, mock-Tudor and contemporary pockets. Families love it for the community spirit, the proximity of Hampstead Heath, and also because it is more affordable than Hampstead… once they’ve settled here, they rarely leave. Families are well-served in terms of education; two of North London most popular private schools taking children from ages 3/4 to 18 are based here: Highgate School (co-ed) and Channing School (girls.) There are two outstanding faith primary schools, St Joseph’s RC and St Michael’s CofE.
Muswell Hill does feel a bit off the beaten track – an Edwardian suburb of red-brick houses on a hill, with great views of London but no underground station (although several can be reached by bus.) The area has retained a special, village-like feel, with its many restaurants, cafes and its farmers’ market. It’s long been a family favourite, but it has been “discovered,” as they say, and properties to rent and buy are quite expensive. Many families do feel that it’s worth it; they’re attracted by the sense of community, leisure facilities – Alexandra Park is close by – and by the schools: there are several good state primary schools, including Catholic and Anglican ones; if you’re going private, there is Norfolk House, a co-ed prep-school – schools. Popular comprehensives are Alexandra Park and Fortismere, one of London’s most sought after state schools. (Make sure you check the catchment area, it is notoriously small and, as tends to be the case, you pay a hefty premium for houses within it.)
Crouch End is an arty area much loved by boho families, nestled in a valley between the various hills of North London. It’s a sort of Victorian/ Edwardian in-between area, slightly cheaper than Muswell Hill and much cheaper than Highgate, with its own identity and a thriving community. There are still old-fashioned butchers and bakers to be found, along with supermarkets, and shops that sell local produce, restaurants and bars. Overall, Crouch End is popular with young families, and the state primary school options they tend to go for are Coleridge Primary School, which was judged to be “outstanding” by Ofsted, as well as Rokesly and Weston Park primary schools, which were rated “good.” The best secondary school is Hornsey School for Girls (“good”) and Highgate’s excellent private schools are very close by.
It’s the last stop of both the Picadilly and Northern lines, and the junction at which London meets the countryside. If it feels suburban, it is because that’s exactly what it is – an affluent London suburb, which has long attracted families from more Central North London areas such as Islington or Crouch End. Life on the hill does not come cheap, though: there are multi-million pound gated mansions, and also only slightly more down-to-earth Victorian terraces. Bear in mind that any indoor or garden space you gain comes with added commuting time (traffic can be a nightmare round here, but the Overground at New Barnet gets you into East London quickly.) The high street lacks interesting independent shops, but there are a few lovely cafes and pubs, and green spaces such as Hadley Woods, Victoria Park, the Old Court House and Oak Hill Park. Barnet is a good area for schools: there are five state primary school judged to be “outstanding” by Ofsted, Queen Elizabeth’s, a boys’ grammar school, and Haberdasher’s Aske Schools for Girls and Boys are situated nearby.