This article is part of FT Globetrotter’s guide to London

Every year, on the morning of the first Saturday in September, a steady stream of several thousand well-dressed people make their way through the gates of Kenwood House gardens in north London, sparking intrigue among the park’s joggers and dog-walkers. Navigating their way around the grand 18th-century facade of the house itself, they head in the direction of the billowing flags and large white tents that have popped up in the sweeping grounds over the previous week. There is excitement and anticipation in the air as a queue forms outside the entrance to the site.

The festival site in Kenwood House Gardens © David Baird

This spectacle can only mean one thing: the annual arrival of the FTWeekend Festival, a fixture in the calendar for FT readers not only from London, but from across the globe too. Now in its eighth London edition, the festival has expanded to 10 stages, each representing a different section of the weekend paper, welcoming over 175 speakers across 72 sessions. The day runs from 10am until 7pm, and for the uninitiated, the line-up of unmissable talks, tastings and debates can seem a little overwhelming — an embarrassment of riches that requires precision and planning to navigate. This year’s festival includes a live podcast tent, cooking demonstrations, a pottery-making session, a sound bath and even an exclusive pre-festival tour of Kenwood House’s own Vermeer by historian Simon Schama (see below).

Whether you are an habitué or a festival first-timer, FT Globetrotter is here to help you plan and make the most of your day — as well as how to explore the stunning environs and the various eateries and hostelries around the vast expanse of Hampstead Heath.

Before you go

Historian Simon Schama and others at the FTWeekend Festival
Historian Simon Schama and others at the FTWeekend Festival

To save time frantically reading and getting your head around the printed programme issued on entrance to the festival, check it out here online beforehand and work out a plan of attack. Many festival-goers coming as a couple or a group divide and conquer — one person’s Portuguese wine tasting is another’s debate on the future of democratic capitalism. Alternatively, download the FT Edit app for iOS, which is the official companion guide for the event and will feature an interactive programme on the day plus lots more exclusive content in the week before the festival.

At 9.30am on the day, historian and FT contributor Simon Schama will be taking a small group of festival-goers into Kenwood House for an exclusive up-close discussion of its exquisite resident Vermeer, “The Guitar Player” and other Dutch masters in that room. Pass holders will be given the opportunity to snap up one of the 20 available tickets in the next two weeks. If you don’t get the golden ticket, don’t fear — Simon will be hosting an in-depth discussion on Vermeer and the frenzy around the Rijksmuseum show in the Arts tent at 11am.

Honey & Co’s sell-out stall at the festival
Honey & Co’s sell-out stall at the festival © David Baird

Another pro tip: FT Magazine food writers and restaurateurs Honey & Co’s food stall at the festival always sells out, with their unctuous chocolate babka flying off the table by midday. You do not want to find yourself stuck in a queue for cake and missing the live leader debate on the Big Ideas stage, where FT editor Roula Khalaf and other FT journalists decide the FT’s take on the issues of the day. This year you can secure yourself an entire babka (£15) or a nibble box for two (£40) including nuts, dips, crunchy crudités, pitta and peaches, by reserving in advance.

There will, of course, be a wide range of other types of food available at stalls on the day — not to mention cheese and chocolate tastings (see below) — so don’t despair if you don’t commit to the above: you will not go hungry.

If you are staying local, you might want to book your dinner reservation now at one of FT Globetrotter’s recommended haunts listed below.

Furry Friends

Pampered pooches are more than welcome
Pampered pooches are more than welcome © Mark Green

Well-behaved dogs are more than welcome at the festival. The most winning hound of the day will be celebrated on our social media platforms.

How to get there

The gates of the festival open at 10am. For those coming by Tube, there is a festival minibus transfer operating from outside Golders Green station on North End Road. Follow the linen suits! The festival is a five-minute ride away.

For those coming by car, there is some free parking on Hampstead Lane — but the aforementioned dog-walkers and joggers pounce on the spots early on, so it is worth pitching up an hour or so before the festival begins to claim your space and stretch your legs.

Early birds can head to Kenwood House’s Brew House café, which opens at 9am.

There is more info here on bus routes, taxis and parking.

Once through the festival gates . . . 

Pastel de nata pastries will be on offer to festival-goers on arrival
Pastel de nata pastries will be on offer to festival-goers on arrival © David Baird

After you have shown your pass and collected your festival goody bag and programme, you will be offered a free pastel de nata and a little coffee, courtesy of our sponsor Visit Portugal. You will also notice that other festival-goers have sat down to circle their programmes. But you won’t need to waste time doing that as you will already have a sense of where you want to head to first.

Now is the time to grab another coffee from one of the many vendors (Rosslyn is FT Globetrotter’s current favourite) and head to the Big Ideas stage for 10.15am’s brain sharpener with the one and only Tim Harford on “Why smart people believe silly things”.

Hogging versus grazing

The Big Ideas stage — the engine room of the festival
The Big Ideas stage — the engine room of the festival

At 11am, sessions kick off across all 10 stages. Festival-goers will be seen determinedly striding across the grass to bag a seat in their tent of choice. Those entirely committed to the session will sit up front, while others who prefer to graze on various sessions rather than commit will slide into a seat at the back, so they can slip out to another tent later on.

FT Globetrotter has noticed some hogging of seats going on in the Big Ideas stage — unsurprisingly, perhaps, as this is the festival engine room where FT journalists and an array of starry speakers answer the swingeing questions of the day. This committed lot know who they are and almost certainly cannot be deterred from their course of action. But those of more of a grazing nature should not be discouraged — a large screen outside the main stage will stream all talks live, and there will be plenty of deckchairs to lounge on.

Tasting and shaping

Tastings are a big part of the day
Tastings are a big part of the day © David Baird

While your companion is busy hogging in the Big Ideas tent, you may be of a more epicurean persuasion, keen not to miss out on the various tastings throughout the day. If you are organised, you can skip from a chocolate tasting with Pierre Marcolini to a Portuguese wine tasting with Master of Wine Julia Harding and FT drinks columnist Alice Lascelles to a lesson on how to eat cheese properly with Marcus Brigstocke or a rum-sipping masterclass, with just an hour between each of these to come to your senses and catch a talk or debate. You can even learn how to improve your palate along the way too.

As well as tastings, you can get your hands dirty too at a pottery workshop with Martha Freud, running throughout the day at the Fearlessly Pink tent.

For wordsmiths

Lexicographiles are in for a real treat: novelist Julian Barnes will be discussing the joy of the dictionary with Sarah Ogilvy on the Literature and Life stage; meanwhile, crossword fanatics can feast on a fiendish Saturday cryptic crossword live — with experts — on the House & Home stage.

Post-festival drinks and dinner

All good things must come to an end, and as the majestic trees of Kenwood cast long shadows across the site and the last few festival-goers wend their way towards the exit, thoughts will be inevitably drifting towards drinks and dinner. Many will return home, but for those wanting to make a night of it, FT Globetrotter has a few neighbourhood favourites to recommend.

The Bull & Last

The Bull & Last — a perfect place to repair to after the festival for drinks and dinner
The Bull & Last — a perfect place to repair to after the festival for drinks and dinner

Frequently voted among London’s top gastropubs (particularly noted for its blowout Sunday roast), the Bull & Last, a historic Heath-side inn with rooms, is one of the finest places to dine in the area. A 20-minute twilight walk from Kenwood House gardens across Hampstead Heath or a short taxi ride away, it is the perfect welcoming spot to repair to after a stimulating day out. My staples are the generous grazing fish board and, when in season, the English pea salad with pea fritters, goat’s curd and pink fir potatoes. I always leave room for one of their superb puddings.

Book well in advance. For those who want to try the Sunday lunch, the pub also has seven beautiful rooms upstairs named after historical local figures (Mansfield is after the 1st Earl of Mansfield, proprietor of Kenwood House and protector of Hampstead Heath, while Dido is after Dido Belle, who lived with her great-uncle, the above-mentioned Lord Mansfield, in Kenwood House).

The pub also does terrific picnic hampers to take on to the long grass across the road. 168 Highgate Road, London NW5 1QS (Website; Directions)

Jin Kichi

Neighbourhood favourite, Jin Kichi restaurant
Neighbourhood favourite, Jin Kichi restaurant © Keiko Oikawa

In the other direction, nestled in Hampstead Village is Jin Kichi, a Japanese restaurant that has twice made mention in the FT — recommended by Nikkei’s Joshua Ogawa in his article on the best Japanese restaurants in London, and also by supermodel Kate Moss in her guide to her favourite restaurants worldwide.

Even before these accolades, it was nigh-on impossible to get a Saturday-night table in this treasured local eatery, so book NOW. It has recently expanded in size, though, so more people have a chance to order one of its yakitori menus (Set A is my favourite), an umami explosion in the form of a platter of sizzling mini kebabs, or the killer grilled black cod marinated in white miso. 73 Heath Street, London NW3 6UG (Website; Directions)

The Holly Bush

The Holly Bush — FT Globetrotter’s favourite Hampstead Village pub
The Holly Bush — FT Globetrotter’s favourite Hampstead Village pub © Zoltan Csipke/Alamy

Tucked away behind Jin Kichi is The Holly Bush, FT Globetrotter’s favourite Hampstead Village pub. This higgledy-piggledy 18th-century building is full of cosy nooks to hole up in with a pint, and is popular with walkers after a tramp across the Heath. There is also a fulsome pubby menu on offer too. 22 Holly Mount, London NW3 6SG (Website; Directions)

The Southampton Arms

This lovely local, just down towards Kentish Town from the Bull & Last, prides itself on being an Ale and Cider House serving drinks only from small, independent breweries around the UK. Its spartan yet cool website says it all: “We don’t have a phone and we don’t take bookings, reserve seats, tables, areas or any of that caper.” Swing by for a glass of something refreshing with a fun crew of regulars. 139 Highgate Road, London NW5 1LE (Website; Directions)

Ponds and beyond

This is, of course, the topic of a whole other article, but it would be remiss of me not to mention one of the biggest draws to Hampstead Heath: the three glorious swimming ponds — supervised wild-swimming sanctuaries that are the pride of this corner of north-west London.

The wonderful Highgate Men’s bathing pond on Hampstead Heath
The wonderful Highgate Men’s bathing pond on Hampstead Heath © Getty Images

FT Globetrotter is reluctant to send possibly tipsy FT readers for a post-festival dip, but just down the path from Kenwood House is the divine women-only Kenwood Ladies’ Pond, and a little further on the Highgate Men’s Pond. In the other direction is the Hampstead Mixed Pond. For tickets, go to Eventbrite.

Swimming at either before the festival is eminently possible — particularly as you can just pitch up and pay at the gate before 11am — although it will ruin your hair.

Festival passes

For an exclusive £20-off discount to the FTWeekend Festival on September 2, click here, using the promo code FTGlobetrotter

Rebecca Rose is editor of FT Globetrotter and FTWeekend Festival editor

Share your FTWeekend Festival highlights in the comments below. And follow FT Globetrotter on Instagram at @FTGlobetrotter

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article