INDEPENDENT ISLINGTON: AREA GUIDE
Islington’s independent heart beats loudly.
This is an area guide with a difference – giving you the inside track on the best way to experience this vibrant borough like a local. There’s so much on offer here that your time could be happily occupied without visiting a single big-chain business.
Rising rents and business rates mean conditions are tough for many traders – they need your support more than ever and, if our experience is anything to go by, the quality of the local offering here is phenomenal.
Life is so much tastier, more characterful and less magnolia when you choose local!
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Eddie Izzard, Frank Skinner, Russell Brand and Rob Delaney are just some of the names to have tested out new material here. And this is the place to come to see some of the nation’s newest talent. Gigs take place every night at the Camden head and at the Bill Murray on Queen’s Head St. This place is run by comedians dedicated to the local community - they run regular projects with care homes, schools and charities and courses for those interested in giving stand-up a try. Shows are mostly free, with a voluntary contribution.
THE UNION CHAPEL is one of London’s most beautiful, atmospheric venues – from ukulele orchestras and reggae choirs to classical concerts and film nights – this place caters for all tastes. The acoustics are wonderful, and the building is a fantastic example of Victorian Gothic architecture. The Margins Café serves food on gig days and nights and all the money they make helps the Chapel run The Margins Project, helping the homeless.
This 325-seat theatre started life in 1837 as a library, museum, laboratory and lecture theatre for Islington Literary and Scientific Society. It opened as a theatre in 1980. All Harold Pinter’s plays premiered here. This small theatre is a launch pad for some of the UK’s most talented directors and actors and the program is designed to inspire, provoke and entertain.
The woman behind this brilliant local business is full of fun, energy and knowledge. She is revolutionising the wine-tasting industry with fun and science-based classes which demonstrate how factors like music and other flavours can impact our taste buds. Headquarters is in Oakley Road or she can come to your house. Check the website for course dates.
Singing is literally good for your soul – studies show it reduces pain and improves breathing, speech and posture. It has been used since the dawn of time as a way of marking community life and bringing people together. We’ve had some very big, very fun nights in Lucky Voice. The rooms have touch-screen technology, access to over 9,000 songs, a prop box and a ‘Thirsty’ button for food and drink service.
From hip-hop, and flamenco to ballet and contemporary, the world’s most talented dancers and choreographers have been enthralling audiences here since the theatre’s construction in 1998. The venue, which replaced an earlier 17th century theatre of the same name, was built on the site of a well, constructed by Richard Sadler, which was said to offer water with health-giving properties. You can still look down the well today!
This distinctive building with an iconic neon sign is one of the oldest continually-running cinemas in the UK. It opened in Upper Street in 1913. Today, you can enjoy a drink, hot food and snacks from a comfy seat or sofa. Everyman, which runs this cinema, choose a fabulous line-up of films and it hosts special events like National Theatre Live.
FABULOUS OUTSIDE SPACES
Islington might have less green space than any other borough, but what they do have is brimming with wildlife, buzzing with community and full of beauty.
THE NEW RIVER WALK
This river may be man-made but the nature and wildlife that’s sprung up here is stunning. This short, tree-lined river walk from St Paul’s Road to Canonbury Road, has weeping willows, ducks, coots, moorhens and frequently herons. It’s very pretty and peaceful and there are benches dotted about so you can sit and take in the beauty. The New River was originally created to bring drinking water from the River Lea in Hertfordshire to the people of London.
This little garden is simply magical. It’s managed by green-fingered locals and includes a lawn, ponds, rose pergolas, ornamental beds, vegetable beds, seating and a wildlife area. It was rewarded a National Certificate of Distinction by RBS. Come here on a summer’s lunchtime and you might be lucky enough to catch the beautiful sounds of the Culpeper Choir rehearsing.
This 29-acre park is the largest open space in Islington. As well as open parkland and mature trees, there are tennis courts and Highbury Pool (an inside council-run swimming pool). Pack a picnic or head to the park’s central café. There’s a lovely children’s playground
This nature reserve features ponds, woodland and meadows and is teeming with plants, birds and butterflies. It’s accessed off Drayton Park or Gillespie Road. There’s an Ecology Centre and the reserve often has activities like pond-dipping and bat walks. Opening times: 8am till dusk, daily (but not when there are events at The Emirates Stadium).
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ISLINGTON FOR FOODIES
Run by siblings Marcel Gryzb and Oriona Robb, this modern restaurant on Upper Street serves small and large international plates with a strong focus on fresh fish. We love it here. The décor is beautiful (Oriona’s love of flowers is very evident!). There’s an open-kitchen and they’re open for lunch and dinner throughout the week.
Rated by Time Out as among London’s Top 50 Restaurants, Salut! on Essex Road, Islington is one of the most welcoming restaurants we’ve come across, it’s wonderful to be able to watch the chefs at work in their open kitchen, the food is beautifully well presented and delicious and it’s received well-deserved rave reviews. The food is modern European with a Nordic twist and also features several French dishes.
This Thai restaurant in Highbury Barn is run by published author and aspiring TV chef Sebby Holmes. “’Farang’ means ‘white foreigner’ – the food here is super fresh, super fragrant and super delicious. Giles Coren, wrote described this place as: “the perfect restaurant for me”. He added: “[it’s] Historic. Fiery, colourful, distinctive, lavishly seasoned, modern, bright, fun, filling, rare and unusual.”
We’ve been eating at this Thai restaurant on Upper Street for the past decade and it never disappoints. Their pretty garden twinkles with fairly lights, the prawn crackers are the proper spicy ones and there staff are fabulous.
It’s hard to believe that this beautiful Georgian pub in Thornhill Road was once surrounded by fields and farmland! In years gone by, regulars would enjoy a walk out of the city and into the countryside to visit this popular pub. This gem of a gastropub serves amazing roast lunches, including a whole roast sucking pig and it has the prettiest walled, wisteria covered garden.
(Pic via @kobo_cafe)
We love this little coffee shop. Its size makes it hard to spot but this bijou cafe is well worth a visit (it's on Upper St opposite the Business Design Centre!). Most of their products are glucose and lactose free and their lunches are homemade and delicious, with a focus on clean, organic and healthy eating. The coffee is really good too.
Local vegans tell us this place, which opened recently on Upper Street, serves some of the best food they’ve ever tasted. The menu is plant-based with plenty of raw and organic ingredients and there’s a strong focus on freshly-foraged wild food, full of nutrients.
Locals love this rustic Italian restaurant on Exmouth Market. It’s super cosy, with banquette style seating and the vibe is laid back. Popular dishes include delicious pastas, veal Milanese and deep-fried calamari.
(Credit: Charlie McKay)
The team behind Callooh Callay are behind this gorgeous bar. It was hailed Best Bar and Best New Venue in Islington in the Design My Night Awards 2016/17. We love the team who run it – their cocktails are wonderful and their brunches legendary!
Transport yourself to a sun-drenched Pacific island at Laki Kane. This Upper Street Bar was crowned by The Nudge as one of the 10 Best Bars in London. They serve exotic cocktails in ornate glasses - freshly prepared with artisanal rums and hand-made sugar cane syrups. You can even distil your own bottle of rum here!
THE CHAPEL BAR
Whether you’re looking for a place to pop into for a drink or two or a top-notch party venue where everything runs like clockwork, The Chapel Bar has it all. This brilliant bar has been lovingly restored. There’s also a terrace garden and a dance floor.
This pub in Essex Road is one of our favourite local boozers. It was built in around 1830 and is said to be haunted! This stunning, Listed Building, is a fun, welcoming pub and a great space to party.
LOCAL SHOPPING GEMS
Potter through CAMDEN PASSAGE and search through the various antique houses for treasures, collectibles and vintage costumes or head to Cross Street for gorgeous clothes shops and a fabulous deli.
Our favourite spot in N1 to pick up a gift is AFTER NOAH. This charming shop sells a mix of toys, vintage and antique homeware and furniture and more modern decorative items.
For kids’ gifts, we love MOLLY MEG on Essex Road. This stunning shop is packed with incredibly special presents to delight the little people in your life.
Hooray for the over-the-shoulder-bolder-holder! Whether you’re buying for yourself or a loved one, THE PANTRY UNDERWEAR in Camden Passage has undies that will make you feel super special and expert fitters too.