For those who love their holidays with a little slice of history, perhaps on the more macabre side of things, why not discover the globally-recognised and wonderful world of London’s best cemeteries?
They make up some of the most underappreciated green, tranquil spaces in an otherwise busy and bustling capital, and can offer you a journey into the history of the city and beyond. So, for the ultimate afternoon of quiet reflection, learning and getting back to nature, you can’t go wrong with a visit to some of these eerie yet interesting haunts (excuse the pun).
We’ve listed eight of our favourites to get you inspired. Make a day of it with a great brunch London to fuel your exploration!
Arguably the most famous cemetery in the country, Highgate Cemetery has some of the finest funerary architecture you’ll find. It is a place of true peace and reflection and is home to an abundance of beautiful trees, memorials and wildlife. It is probably best known as the resting place of philosopher and sociologist Karl Marx, who is buried here alongside the likes of George Eliot and Crufts founder Charles Cruft. Singing sensation George Michael was also laid to rest here two years ago, although his grave is situated in a private plot which can’t be accessed by the general public. It’s one of the biggest cemeteries in the city, and you could easily spend hours here getting lost with nature and your own thoughts.
Kensal Green Cemetery
Inspired by the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, the All Souls Cemetery in Kensal Green was founded by the barrister George Frederick Carden. It first opened in 1833 and spans 72 acres of grounds, houses two conservation areas and an adjoining canal. The cemetery is home to over 33 species of bird and other British wildlife.
It has memorials varying from extensive mausolea housing the rich and famous to many distinctive smaller graves. There are also special areas dedicated to those who lost their lives very young. The Cemetery’s four chapels serve all faiths.
Make a day of it in West London with a meal at one of the top restaurants near Lancaster Gate.
Taking influence from the breathtaking St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, this cemetery features a domed chapel made from Bath stone. It is flanked by two curving colonnades and reached via a picturesque tree-lined avenue. It is home to over 35,000 monuments, 28 of which are now listed. The celebrated English children’s author Beatrix Potter once lived nearby and it is widely believed that she took the names of many of her beloved animal characters from tombstones found in the cemetery.
Bunhill Fields Cemetery
Bunhill Fields was once described as the ‘campo santoof the dissenters’. It derives its name from ‘Bone Hill’ – pretty chilling! The legend goes that the fields were used as a holding place for human remains after the closing of a closeby charnel house a few years before the cemetery was first established, back in 1665. Bunhill Fields was unusual in its time as, unlike Anglican Parish churchyards, it admitted anyone who could provide the funeral fees regardless of faith. So it’s no surprise that it gained fame as a burial ground for radicals and nonconformists. The cemetery also holds a Quaker graveyard with an estimated 12,000 increments. Famous people buried here include Daniel Defoe and William Blake.
Golders Green Crematorium
This North London gem is particularly important as it was the first crematorium to be opened in London, and one of the first in the whole of Britain. The Crematorium at Golders Green is distinctive, with its red brick Italianate design. While many of the famous people cremated here have had their ashes scattered elsewhere, there are numerous whose urns rest in the Columbarium. Those who were laid to rest here include Sigmund Freud, Bram Stoker, Rudyard Kipling and Sid James.
West Norwood Cemetery
West Norwood Cemetery gets its name from the Great North Wood where it was built. It is also referred to as ‘The Millionaire’s Cemetery’ thanks to the extravagance of its tombs and mausolea. If visiting this cemetery, you must check out the famous oak tree within, possibly dating as early as 1540, meaning it’s over 450 years old. Much-loved Victorian cookery writer Isabella Beeton is buried at Norwood, as are key names such as Sir Henry Tate, sugar tycoon and patron of the Tate Gallery, and Julius Baron van Reuter, the creator of news agency Reuters.
Sephardi Velho and Nuevo Jewish Cemetery
This cemetery truly is one of a kind. It’s encased in ancient-looking brick walls, meaning it looks a little out of place amongst its surroundings. It was originally set up by a society of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were fleeing religious persecution, and who eventually settled in Mile End, thus creating a community known as Sha’ar Hasamayim, which translates to ‘the Gate of Heaven’. Established in 1657, Sephardi Velho is especially well-known as it was the first Jewish cemetery opened with Oliver Cromwell’s permission. It was closed in 1737, but burials resumed in the nearby Sephardi Nuevo Jewish Cemetery. Worth mentioning in both are the flat tombstones of the Sephardi tradition – which is a symbol that everyone is equal in death.
Abney Park Cemetery
This large Victorian cemetery is found in the vibrant and fun north London neighbourhood of Stoke Newington, popular with artists, designers and general creative types. Over an incredible 200,000 people have been laid to rest in Abney Park Cemetery, from globally-recognised names including William Booth to unsung heroes, such as Betsi Cadwaladr, who served as a nurse alongside Florence Nightingale in the Crimea War. It also provides a green setting for outdoor theatre shows and popular children’s events throughout the year, so check out the cemetery’s website to find out what’s coming up.