Islington is one of London’s most diverse boroughs, with a significant area forming a central part of the City. It’s home to celebrities, green parks and white houses.
When I moved to London in 2014 Islington was the first place I called home, I spent days exploring the very depths of the area.
It’s a densely populated and beautiful borough; its pavements are rich in history, art and culture. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, there is a part of Islington guaranteed to sweep you off your feet.
by Lindsey Henderson;
Lindsey is a Northern girl living in London. Since moving to the big smoke in 2012, she’s spent every spare moment she has walking the length and breadth of the city, on the hunt for the most exciting parties, quirkiest side streets and the best cup of coffee she can get her mits on.;
What to see and do in Islington?
1. Get Your Head in the Game at Emirates Arsenal
Islington can’t be mentioned without referring to the Emirates stadium – the home of Arsenal Football Club. The stadium is huge and can be accessed via Holloway or Arsenal underground station.
It gets absolutely packed on match day, there really is no atmosphere like it, but thrill seekers should also visit when the games aren’t on for a browse in the shop and a tour.
If you do catch a game then head out before the last whistle blows to be interviewed by Arsenal Fan TV. Everyone deserves their five minutes of fame now don’t they?!
2. Barter With a Londoner at Islington’s Markets
Markets are all the rage here in London, especially Islington. Chapel Market is brilliant with a ‘no frills’ atmosphere and stalls selling all sorts of bits and bobs.
On a Sunday it holds London’s very first farmer’s market, which has been going for almost 20 years. Some of the vendors do take card but use the ATM outside Sainsbury’s if you need cash – it doesn’t charge.
Along the street, you’ll also find London’s oldest Pie and Mash shop which has been serving the public for over a century, they do tend to sell out just after lunch so get there early to avoid going hungry.
The Nags Head Market on Seven Sisters Road is open all week, but to get the best of the fruit and veg go early on a Monday and Wednesday to guarantee the real cream of the crop.
— Lindsey Henderson
3. Have a Groovy Afternoon in Exmouth Market
Exmouth Market is exactly where it’s at! It’s one of the trendiest streets in London, lined with cute shops and restaurants.
If it’s teaming down with rain, run for cover in the 70s themed Coin Laundry and play a vintage board game ‘till the Heavens close (be cheeky and ask them for a flying saucer, they’ll give you a few for free if you smile hard enough).
With its village-like atmosphere, you won’t believe your moments away from the busy Kings Cross – it’s just totally peace man!
4. Watch Contemporary Dance in London’s Second Oldest Theatre
Since 2005, Sadler’s Wells has been the home of contemporary dance in the Capital. The building was constructed in the late sixteen hundreds, making it the City’s second oldest theatre.
Today the theatre promotes, commissions and produces outstanding dance and has become a world leader in its field. It’s a real treat to see a performance here and be one of the 1,500 seated in the auditorium.
If you’re willing to risk it for a biscuit then standby tickets are available one hour before the performance for £17.50. Yep, you can thank me later for that tip!
— Lindsey Henderson
5. Follow the Limelight with a Night at the Theatre
Theatre in Islington is always a tough act to follow. The award-winning Almeida may be small but it holds an International reputation, with an incomparable intimacy inside the space.
If you get in early you should sneak on stage and see how the back wall curves to give the audience the illusion of being close to the action.
The Little Angel Theatre, which opened in 1961, is a traditional puppet theatre and provides entertainment for the whole family while the industrial looking Pleasance Theatre is a platform for new talent and comedy.
Lastly, there is the Victorian Kings Head pub in Islington, with a theatre on the first floor and live music downstairs at the end of the week. With this many theatres it looks like your night in Islington is all set!
6. Set the Camera Rolling at the Screen on the Green
This one-screened cinema is the epitome of retro, built wayyy back in 1913, it’s one of the oldest continuously running picture houses.
What it lacks in choice it makes up for in atmosphere and the front of the building is a sight for sore eyes, especially when light up at night.
Looking for tickets? They do sell out fast, I’d always book in advance – no one wants to call it a day before the opening credits are rolling.
7. Find Shopping Heaven at Angel
You’ll be able to shop in peace at Angel Central because it doesn’t attract too many crowds. The modern complex has high street shops, chain restaurants, the 02 Academy and Vue Cinema.
It’s the perfect gateway to the rest of the area, which is full of antique, charity and vintage shops. If you arrive here by tube then you’ll ride Europe’s third longest escalator at Angel Underground Station (it’s a whopping 60 meters long).
To get the full Angel experience find the galloping horse on Torrens street and the “Do What You Love”, “Love What You Do” walls just behind the station.
There are so many photo opportunities here it’s ridiculous – get the cameras charged and the smiles full!
8. Get Up to Allsorts on Upper Street
If you talk to any Islington-er they’ll tell you to get to Upper Street. Of course, there are trendy bars, fancy restaurants, cool furniture shops and clothing boutiques, but what you don’t want to miss is its history.
Visit the Grade II Business Design centre during the day (it’s important to see it in the light) and find the stain glass window with the old ‘Royal Agricultural Hall’ sign.
Next, pop into Angel Flowers and take a look at the burnt ceiling beams which were rescued from the fire of London.
Oh, and if you dare, ask the owner to see the mummified cat in the office, it’s real purrdy and I promise he won’t bite.
9. Find the Right Gift in Camden Passage
Nope, we’re not quite done with Angel yet, I still need to tell you about Camden Passage. This car-free cobbled street just off Upper Street is lined with some of London’s best antique, vintage and gift shops.
It’s a beautiful spot to have a nosey and if you’re looking for an unusual gift then there is no hard pass here, you’ll definitely find the perfect one, I’d put my money on it.
10. Get Hustling on Caledonian Road and Holloway Road
Two of the busiest streets in Islington may not be the most beautiful, but they do have an abundance of character.
The Caledonian Road (known to the locals as Cally Road) is a hustling and bustling mile and a half of shops, cafes and supermarkets, it even has an indoor pool.
There are many reasons why this road is so special: you can let your geek flag fly in the Meltdown eSports and gaming pub, make some arts and crafts in Drink, Shop, Do and see the prison for Women where suffragettes Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison were held.
Just North of Cally Road is the equally lively Holloway Road. Again, there are lots of things to see and do here, but I wouldn’t miss out on a trip inside the Coronet Pub, which was once a 1940s Savoy Cinema.
If you go make sure you walk all the way through to the back to get a proper view of the old architecture, it’s an absolute scene I promise you.
— Lindsey Henderson
11. Quench Your Learning Thirst at the Canal Museum
If you want to learn more about London’s waterways but don’t fancy taking a dip in the Thames (I don’t blame you), then visit one of Islington’s most beloved museum, the Canal Museum.
Just to whet your appetite even further: if you book a boat trip on their website your entrance to the museum will be free.
I know, It’s just too good to be true, right?!
12. Get Those Feet Moving with an Afternoon Walk
Walks along the river and strolls in the park may not be the most mind-bending entertainment, but they certainly have their appeal, especially in this beautiful borough.
The section of woodland crossing Crouch Hill is full of wildlife and there is the award-winning Culpeper Community Garden where you can bag a seat by the pond (just watch out for the garden gnomes and the spotted leopard lurking in the bushes).
Riverside paths alongside the newest river and Regent’s Canal are both sweet spots, but if the water is making you thirsty then the City Road Basin pubs can certainly help whet your whistle.
For something drier, the 4-mile walk from Highbury and Islington to Angel is full of green spaces and Highbury Fields is a great place to spend an hour.
Lookout for the diamond plaque at the old south end toilets - its where the first British gay rights demonstration was held in 1970.
— Lindsey Henderson
13. Check Out Some Birds in Clerkenwell
Clerkenwell is one of the most stunning areas in London, it’s entertaining enough just walking the cobbled streets and getting a sense of the olde worlde from the wonky buildings.
It was once the industrial hub of the city but it’s now been taken over by more creative industries. In the 1850s the south-western part was known as London’s Little Italy due to the migration of Italians moving over and settling here.
On your walk, look out for the ‘notes to strangers’ posters and a little birdie told me to keep an eye on the trees, there is an amazing birdhouse hotel which has got people tweeting.
14. Get Music to Your Ears in the Venues and Clubs
The Union Chapel is one of the best music venues in London, never mind Islington. The Grade 1 listed building is the perfect example of Gothic Architecture and worth taking a moment or two to explore, they’ll happily have you through the doors during the day.
The Garage and the Lexington Pub are good rock music venues and host loads of bands, but if drums, guitars and boys with long hair ain’t your thing then you can always spend the night in one of the dance music clubs: Egg, XOYO or Village Underground.
If you do hop by Village Underground don’t forget to stand on the opposite side of the road and look up at the roof, there are two lost tube carriages above the painted words “Adore and Endure Each Other”.
— Lindsey Henderson
15. Let the Kids Monkey Around in the Farms and Playgrounds
What better way to entertain the whole family than at Freightliners City Farm? Based on lower Holloway the kids will have loads of fun visiting the animals and walking around the gardens.
Next on the list has to be the Barnard Park Adventure Playground.
The kids will have hours of fun running around, swinging on bars and climbing on frames.
16. Get a Pass to the Past
If you’re into your British history then you’ll be thoroughly rewarded in Islington – it’s full of old landmarks and historical secrets, there is just no way the past will pass you by.
Its oldest tower, Canonbury Tower, may take some detective work to find (or just a quick look on Google maps) but it’ll be worth it in the end.
The oldest brick terraces in London are in Newington Green and England’s first theatre pub, the King’s Head, is on Upper Street and London’s first gastropub, The Eagle, can be found in Clerkenwell.
17. Find the Craic in Little Ireland
If you’re out and about in Islington it won’t be long until you hear someone with an Irish accent (unless you’ve got headphones on of course).
The borough has the second highest number of Irish people in the country (the first is the London Borough of Brent in case you were wondering).
It’ll be super easy to stumble upon an Irish pub too which means you’ll have to test out their Guinness – they’re always grand!
18. Set Your Inner Bookworm Free
Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller and Nick Hornby’s About A Boy are both set in Islington, so finding these locations will get your afternoon booked up.
The Harry Potter Order of the Phoenix headquarters are in a fictitious street in Islington and in the fifth film Harry lands in ‘Grimmauld Place’, which is actually Claremont Square in Clerkenwell.
19. Discover Space in the Skies Above Islington
Always wanted to make ET your best friend? Well, you’re in luck because Islington is the place this could happen. According to the locals, there have been loads of UFOs spotted in the skies above this part of the City.
At one point, the Ministry of Defence was so inundated with calls they had to issue a separate line, but it was eventually closed down to cut costs. Let’s just hope they come in peace.
20. Go Hunting Ghosts in Old Burial Grounds and Ancient Buildings
Unfortunately, it’s not just the skies that are creepy in Islington; the buildings have strange things going on too.
Allegedly, The Old Queens Head has two ghosts stalking its corridors: a woman who likes to sit at the bar and a little girl who chases people up the stairs (visit on the first Sunday of every month, it’s when the most paranormal activity happens).
The Metal Works nightclub is also famous for being haunted, many have reported seeing a Victorian couple lurking around. If you fancy tracking them down you can book a ghost hunting and paranormal activity event.
Farringdon station is believed to be haunted by Ann Taylor, she fills the tunnels with cries, and Charter House Square, which was an old burial ground during the plague, has loads of things going ‘Aaaaaaah’ in the night. To be honest, with this going on it’s a wonder why anyone would be brave enough to visit Islington at all!