Highgate Cemetery is one of the most famous cemeteries in London. One of the Magnificent Seven and one of the world’s finest examples of a garden cemetery, it is one of the most fascinating places in Highgate.
Stroll the winding paths and stand among the ash trees to pay your last respects to your favorite author. Or simply visit to learn more about the cemetery on a guided tour.
It may not be the oldest cemetery in London. Still, it offers a spectacular setting and is one of London’s most unusual – and interesting – day trips. Discover more with this insider guide.
A cemetery is always a somber place, but Highgate is also a solemn place. You’ll recognize parts of it if you’ve seen Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dracula” or the more recent Diane Keaton film “Hampstead” – starring Brendan Gleeson as a man who lives in a hut in the cemetery, which is also the nearby park Hampstead Heath. Writers George Eliot and Douglas Adams, ’60s and ’70s punk icon Malcolm McLaren and painter Patrick Caulfield are among the many buried in East Cemetery.
Created in 1839, the foliage-covered West Cemetery is undoubtedly the most atmospheric section and well worth a visit. Shady paths lead past gloomy catacombs, magnificent pharaonic tombs, and the graves of famous people such as poet Christina Rossetti, scientist Michael Faraday, and poisoned Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko.
Why should you visit Highgate Cemetery?
Highgate Cemetery is the final resting place of many famous writers, musicians, philosophers, and wealthy people. In an eerie gothic setting, it has incredible architecture, mausoleums, and individual graves. In other words: Why wouldn’t you visit it?
Although both sides of the cemetery are now open to visitors with their own guided tours (in the past, you could only enter the Western Cemetery as part of a guided tour), there are still areas of the Western Cemetery that are not accessible and are best explored with a guide.
If you want to visit only one part of the cemetery (separate tickets are available for both), you should opt for the Western Cemetery, which contains the most impressive architectural elements of the Highgate Cemetery, including the Chapel, Colonnade, Egyptian Alley, Circle of Lebanon, Terraced Catacombs, and Julius Beer’s Mausoleum.
If you want to visit a specific tomb, contact the cemetery before making your reservation to arrange a customized tour.
Highgate Cemetery Tours
A guided tour of Highgate Cemetery is well worth the additional cost. Your guide will provide insight and knowledge about the history of this 19th-century cemetery.
You’ll need to purchase your ticket online in advance, as they are not sold at the cemetery.
Admission times help manage the number of visitors, but I recommend arriving 15 minutes early to avoid potential lines.
The West Cemetery Guided Tour tickets are £15 for adults and £8 for children. In addition to the Highgate West Cemetery tour, you can visit East Cemetery on the same day.
If your tour is in the last half of the day, I recommend visiting East Cemetery before your tour. The catacombs of Highgate Cemetery are only accessible during tours.
Are you or a family member deaf? On select weekends, you can book a Western Cemetery sign language tour. The British Sign Language interpreter provides a 70-minute interpretation in spoken English in addition to the guided tour.
The East Cemetery is more accessible to wheelchair users because the paths are mostly paved and have slight inclines. The West Cemetery is slightly less accessible due to steep paths and two flights of stairs, but it has a handicapped-accessible restroom.
Famous graves at Highgate Cemetery.
Of the famous graves in Highgate Cemetery, Karl Marx’s is probably the most famous. Learn more about these important figures and their gravesites below.
The eastern section of Highgate Cemetery is the final resting place of Karl Marx. Born in Trier, Germany, in 1818, Karl Marx studied law and philosophy to form his political philosophy of socialism, which has shaped the modern world.
You’ll notice that his tomb has a colossal bust. The carved head sits on a granite tombstone with the inscription “Workers of all countries unite.”
Charles was initially buried in his wife’s grave. The monument with his bust was placed in a more prominent location in 1956. This site is located in the East Cemetery and is not visited as part of guided tours, so you should seek it out on your own during your tour.
The funeral of British singer and songwriter George Michael at Highgate Cemetery West resulted in numerous fans flocking to his grave. The tiny 30-seat chapel hosted a private service with family and close friends in March 2017.
George’s final resting place is next to his mother in the family’s private plot in West Cemetery. A gray stone cross adorns the site, and white flower blossoms surround it.
If you would like to visit George Michael’s grave, you must make a request, as it was not visited during the guided tour.
The literary work of author George Eliot is covered in many high schools. It will be no surprise to these students that the author was a woman who wrote under a male pseudonym.
At the time, female authors could publish. Still, Evans wanted to escape the stereotype that women only wrote about lighthearted or romantic subjects. And so her works, which include Middlemarch, Silas Marner, and Daniel Deronda, were published under a male pseudonym.
The pseudonym and her real name – Mary Ann Evans – are on her tombstone.
She rests next to her extramarital partner George Henry Lewes, from whom she took the pseudonym. Evans chose Eliot’s last name because it sounded pleasant and was easy to pronounce. How fitting.
Despite a simple tombstone shaped like a pointed arch, Michael Faraday is one of the most influential people buried in the Western Cemetery. His research on electromagnetism and electrochemistry formed scientific foundations that are still valid today.
Although he enjoyed little formal education, Michael Faraday left an important legacy worth celebrating.
In his honor, the unit for the amount of charge stored in a capacitor is called a “farad.”
If you’re a fan of the six books in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, you may want to visit the grave of author Douglas Adams. The author, who died in 2001, was an English writer, radio drama comedian, and musician.
Adams was fond of the band Pink Floyd and shared the title of his biography with the name of the song “Wish you were here.”
Fans worldwide celebrate the author’s life on a day known as “Towel Day,” a humorous reference to Douglas’ work.
Julius Beer was a German-born English businessman who made his fortune on the London Stock Exchange. He owned The Observer newspaper from 1870 until he died in 1880.
Julius Beer’s mausoleum is one of the most spectacular in the Western Cemetery. The millionaire newspaper owner spent £5,000 to erect what was then the most impressive monument in the cemetery. The four walls consist of arches with intertwined glass windows.
Inside the structure is a sculpture of an angel comforting a child, representing his daughter Ada, who died at age 8. In addition to his daughter, Julius, his wife, brother, and son also find their final resting place in the Beer Mausoleum.
Malcolm McLaren’s tombstone reads, “Better a spectacular failure than a harmless success.” Malcolm was an English entrepreneur, artist, musician, and clothing designer.
He is best known for his work as a promoter and manager of the bands New York Dolls and Sex Pistols. His fans celebrate Malcolm’s contribution to the London music scene.
His final resting place is on the east side of Highgate Cemetery, where he died in 2010. On his tombstone is a bronze death mask under his initials.
Ironically, the ashes of political theorist Herbert Spencer lie almost directly across from Karl Marx in the East Cemetery. His theory of Social Darwinism is the antithesis of Marx’s socialist theory.
This man’s final resting place is marked by a modest rectangular granite headstone.
Herbert Spencer believed that the principles of evolution apply to human societies and the development of the human species over time. The phrase “survival of the fittest” refers to him.
The story of the Highgate Cemetery vampire
Just how haunted is Highgate Cemetery? Not surprisingly, the 19th-century cemetery is one of the most haunted places in London.
In the 1970s, a story emerged in the media about a vampire roaming the place, causing a stir among believers in the supernatural.
The story begins with the discovery of several animals found dead and drained of blood near the cemetery.
The news spread throughout the country, leading to two men, Allan Farrant, and Sean Manchester, vying to catch the culprit.
Allan Farrant vowed to end the vampire’s life. So he set out on the full moon evening to drive a wooden stake through the vampire’s heart.
Ironically, police caught Farrant that evening because he was on the fenced property for an unauthorized purpose.
Experts on supernatural phenomena at the time criticized Farrant for using a wooden stake and claimed it was just something out of Dracula.
Manchester’s bids were no more successful. Instead, he claimed to have found a suspicious corpse in one of the vaults. Still, he left it amid garlic and incense instead of driving a stake through its heart when one of his companions advised him not to.
Practical tips for visiting Highgate Cemetery.
The cemetery can be muddy, and some paths are steep, so wear sensible footwear. Except for assistance dogs, no animals are allowed in the cemetery.
You are welcome to take photos during your visit, but not when a funeral is in progress or family members are visiting their loved ones.
How to get to Highgate Cemetery
Due to limited street parking and restrictions on surrounding streets during the week, reaching the cemetery on foot, by bicycle, or by public transportation is advisable.
By bike: there is a bike rack outside the gates of West Cemetery and another further down the hill if it is complete.
By subway: get off at the Archway subway station. To reach Highgate Cemetery, walk or take bus 143, 210, or 217 to Waterlow Park and walk through the park to the entrance.
Street: Swain’s Lane is a one-way street that is traveled from the south. Please note that there is no on-site parking, but there is a small amount of handicapped parking in front of the entrance.
Bus: Get off at the C2 or C11 bus stop before walking north along Swain’s Lane to the entrance. Alternatively, you can take bus 143, 210, or 217 and get off at Waterlow Park stop before walking through the park to the Highgate Cemetery entrance.
My conclusion & recommendation
The guides for both the East and West Cemeteries are fantastic. I took the tour of the West Cemetery, and Liz, the guide that day, was brilliant. She provided great information about the cemetery, how the graves were built, and where the stones came from, and she offered insightful details about the lives of the famous residents. It is both fascinating and morbid to read the final inscriptions on the various memorial stones, and you leave the cemetery with a deep respect for the truly lived lives.
Highgate Cemetery is a must-see, a welcome, inexpensive, and somewhat different outing from London’s brilliant museums and art galleries. It is incredibly moving.