Visiting Highgate Cemetery was literally and figuratively the high point of my trip to London. Going to a cemetery isn’t high on many people’s list of things to do when they’re on holiday (especially if you’re Asian and superstitious), but I like cemeteries and Highgate promised to be quite a memorable experience.

Set into a steep hillside with commanding views of the London back in the day, Highgate Cemetery was opened in 1839 as a response to London’s rapid population growth, which brought with it numerous problems, including cholera. Highgate was one of seven cemeteries commissioned during that time to try to solve the problem of overwhelming demand for burial plots. Because of its location and landscaping, it was marketed as a premium good, so only posh people with money to spare could be buried there. However, the cemetery was largely forgotten and went into decline until it was rescued in the 1970s by a group of people who formed the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust.

Since then, the trust has put in a lot of effort to restore some of the more prominent graves in the cemetery while maintaining the site’s status as a nature reserve. This, of course, costs a lot to do, so visiting Highgate Cemetery involves a fee of £4 for adults to visit the East Cemetery, where Karl Marx and Douglas Adams are buried. To tour the West Cemetery, the fee is £12 and includes admission to the East Cemetery. The tour can’t be booked on weekends, so I highly recommend visiting on a weekday – it’s less crowded anyway. You can book the tour online here.

I turned up bright and early at 11am to tour the East Cemetery. To get there, I took the Tube to Archway, then caught a bus two stops to Waterlow Park. It was a pleasant stroll through the park to the entrance of the cemetery.

There were few other visitors when I arrived, so the pathways were peaceful and all one could hear was birds chirping in the trees.

There were few other visitors when I arrived, so the pathways were peaceful and all one could hear were birds chirping in the trees.

There are over 50,000 graves all told in Highgate Cemetery, and a good number of them are in the East Cemetery. Here are some of the more notable ones:

Douglas Adams' grave

Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I had trouble finding the grave because it was so nondescript – tucked into the side of a small knoll amid much more imposing gravestones. But Adams’ fans obviously have no trouble finding his headstone.

Malcolm Mclaren's grave

Malcolm Mclaren – the man who claimed to have invented punk. Interesting choice of quote.

Harry Thornton was a concert pianist who died of influenza in 1918. He is thought to have entertained troops during World War One.

Harry Thornton was a concert pianist who died of influenza in 1918. He is thought to have entertained troops during World War One.

Anna Mahler was the daughter of the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler. She was a successful stone and bronze sculptor.

Anna Mahler was the daughter of the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler. She was a successful stone and bronze sculptor and led a rather dramatic life, which included five marriages.

I took so many pictures at the East Cemetery, I could go on posting endlessly, but I will stop with this last one. This is the one grave that you cannot miss. Karl Marx’s grave is huge and imposing, and stands along one of the main paths near other graves of like-minded thinkers such as Hekmat Mansoor, who was an Iranian Marxist theorist and founder of the worker-communist movement. Marx’s original grave was somewhere deep in the bowels of the cemetery, but it was moved out to the main road, as it were, because so many people wanted to see it.

Larger than life and twice as natural.

Larger than life and twice as natural.

I spent nearly three hours just walking the winding paths and stopping to read inscriptions on gravestones. Before I knew it, it was time to visit the West Cemetery, which I shall write about in a future post. If you’ve got time to spare, visiting Highgate Cemetery should definitely be on your to-do list. It’s off the beaten path for most, but it’s well worth a visit.