Islington Area Guide

It’s on the Monopoly Board and home to Harry Potter’s Order of the Phoenix’s Headquarters – plus the escalator at Angel tube is the third longest in Europe. There are multiple unusual features that have made Islington such a popular choice as a home for many London residents. This area has managed to retain a fine balance between the convenience of chain stores, a wealth of internationally renowned brands and local boutiques and neighbourhood coffee and brunch spots. It’s been the borough of choice for some very famous faces, as well as some infamous ones, and the local population is a mix of natives, City workers, families, young up and comers and creatives. It’s a true melting pot of London life and welcomes residents, old and new, with open arms (or wings if you’re standing outside the Angel Centre).

Islington – from slumlands to the borough of the £1 million house

If you opt to put down roots in Islington then you’re doing it one of the oldest and most historic spots in London. The London Borough of Islington may be less than 40 years old but the original area was referenced in the Domesday Book in the 11th century. Islington was once all agricultural land and the fields between Upper Street and Liverpool Road home to one of the largest farms in the area. Islington was the supplier of butter, cream and milk to the rest of the city at the time.

Big changes began in Islington during the reign of Victoria with industry replacing agriculture and Victorian terraces popping up everywhere. By the end of the 19th century Islington was taking a slide into social problems and slums, which would continue to dominate the local character until the Second World War. However, post-1945, regeneration and gentrification took over and Islington began to step back into desirability. Although in the 1960s you’d still have been stepping outside to get to your WC, today the homes here have all mod cons – and many of the houses are valued at £1+ million.

Essential/fascinating facts about Islington

  • Islington was home to former PM Tony Blair before he skipped off to Downing Street – he is still called the “Islington Man” by many in the British press.
  • Other famous Islington residents include Evelyn Waugh, Benjamin Britten, Lily Allen, James McAvoy, David Oyelowo and Kate Winslet.
  • As well as being the location for some key moments in Harry Potter, Islington has also been the setting for other cinematic and literary works, including About A Boy and Notes on a Scandal.
  • The first ever gastropub was opened in this borough – The Eagle in Clerkenwell - in 1991.

Zone 1 baby! (Transport and travel)

Islington is incredibly well networked in terms of transport connections – plus, much of London is walkable from here, including areas to the East such as Old Street and locations like Holborn and even Oxford Street.

Buses. There are 19 bus routes that wind their way through Islington in total, covering most of London’s key areas. If you’re heading south, for example, the 4 will take you straight down towards the river and over to Waterloo while the 43 is the bus for London Bridge. The 214 goes north to Highgate Village and the 30 goes east to west, from Hackney Downs to Baker Street.

Train. Thameslink’s Great Northern line connects Islington to Old Street and Moorgate Monday - Friday. Angel Islington is on the northern line of the London Underground, Bank branch. Angel is located in Zone 1 so it’s a super fast connection to central stations like Bank. At the other end of Upper Street you’ll find Highbury & Islington station, which is on both the Victoria Line and the Overground. This opens up connections to locations such as Oxford Circus, Walthamstow and Victoria via the tube and Clapham Junction and Shoreditch on the Overground.

Pedal power. The number of Boris Bikes in Islington reveals a lot about how much local residents here like to cycle. Routes from here to locations in the city are straight and flat, ideal for an early commute when you’re not quite awake (though we’d recommend the Underground if you’re a liability pre-coffee).

Taxis. It’s just over 2 miles from Angel Islington to a central location like Oxford Circus. Although the traffic in London can be backed up at peak times, on a clear day you’ll be able to do the journey in around 15 minutes.

Airports. If you’re going further afield you’ll have your pick of locations to fly from:

  • City Airport = 30 minutes by train
  • Gatwick = 50 minutes by train and tube
  • Heathrow = 1hr on the tube

Where to go to breathe fresh(ish) London air

Although Islington is often described as “leafy,” thanks to the many tree lined streets in this part of London, it’s actually pretty urban (Zone 1, guys). However, despite that there are still some awesome green spaces that have a lot of well-funded amenities for local residents.

Highbury Fields – the biggest of Islington’s parks and an impressive example of a local community space with everything, from sand pits to tennis and netball courts.

Paradise Park – located next to Freightliners Farm. Very popular choice with families.

Caledonian Park – we love the community orchard here. Many people also visit to see the grade II* listed Clock Tower built in 1853.

Barnard Park. Step free access, an adventure playground and an all weather full sized football pitch appeal to local residents, and beyond.

Rosemary Gardens. As well as basketball hoops and tennis courts, Rosemary Gardens has a toddler sandpit.

If you’re a keen rambler, Islington can actually be a great starting point for some pretty interesting walks. We’d recommend the New River Path, which runs from Islington to Hertford.

Taking care of the next generation (education etc)

There are 46 primary schools in Islington, as well as 6 secondary schools, 3 nursery schools and 45 other educational institutions, from independent schools to children’s centres. Local families have a very wide range of options, especially when it comes to primary education. The famous Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts is located in this part of London – Leona Lewis, Pixie Lott and Louise Redknapp are all alumni. Full details of the schools in the area can be found on the Islington council website.

Education is a priority for Islington – in 2019, the inaugural Islington Education Awards were launched by Islington Community of Schools to recognise those who are making a difference locally.

Sampling and snacking

Islington is famous – maybe even world famous – for the local culinary scene. Not only are there more exciting taste adventures popping up on a daily basis but Islington is renowned for having more restaurants than there are days of the year. It’s literally foodie heaven here, you’ll just never get bored at dinnertime. Upper Street also provides a very health mix of bars and pubs for Saturday night shots or Sunday Bloody Marys and tucked away in the less obvious parts of the borough are some of London’s hidden tipple spots.

Markets. Islington encompasses many market locations where you’ll find a lot to sample as you browse. Foodies head for Exmouth Market – if you’re not keen on the food stalls (which is unlikely) this location is also surrounded by restaurants and bars for further refreshment. Chapel Market also hosts a farmer’s market every Sunday between 10am and 2pm. Get your organics and sustainably sourced fruit and veg here.

Restaurants. One of the best ways to explore Islington’s restaurants is just to start walking and see where your nose takes you. Beyond Bread Bakery is a must visit for gluten free devotees looking for a weekend brunch and The Breakfast Club Cafe here is incredibly popular – arrive early to avoid the queues. The Elk in the woods is a typical Islington establishment with vintage inspired interiors, a memorable menu - including some of the best burgers in London - and delicately delicious cocktails. Fredericks is something of a local institution – if you’re going to live here you have to dine there at some point – as is Le Mercury, which does the best French onion soup in the city. Yotam Ottolenghi opened the first of his stores on Upper Street – the burnt aubergine yoghurt is to die for.

Drinking. If you’re looking for some rowdy action of a weekend then Upper Street provides, with bars and pubs of all descriptions. This part of London is also home to some of the capital’s best kept secrets in terms of drinking holes – 69 Colebrooke row – the ‘bar with no name’ – is squashed into a tiny backstreet but is home to exceptional mixologists. If you like a Gun ‘n’ Roses soundtrack to your gin it has to be Slim Jims Liquor Store and The Four Sisters does a fantastic negroni. In the summer, head for the The Canonbury, as it has a great backyard.

What to do when you clock out

You could potentially exhaust yourself in Islington once school or work is out. Everyone is catered for here, from culture vultures to hedonists or those looking for family orientated fun.

Theatre. The Almeida has built up a reputation for launching the careers of some of the creative industry’s finest new talents while the Pleasance Theatre is all about fringe production. The Hope and Anchor pub on Upper Street is one of the finest examples of pub theatre in the city and the famous Sadler's Wells is located in this borough too – one for dance enthusiasts.

Cinema. You have a great choice of screens if you’re a cinema-lover moving to Islington. The Screen on the Green is your classic hipster cinema and has a wide range of films, both current and vintage. The Vue in Angel Central and the ODEON in Holloway provide the full big screen, high tech experience with a schedule of up to the minute releases.

Art. Islington hosts a very diverse range of art galleries and show spaces, as well as frequent art pop ups. The James Freeman Gallery, Blundell Street Studios and Centre For Recent Drawing are all worth keeping a regular eye on.

Music. Islington has an 800-capacity o2 Academy, which hosts everything, from big drum n bass nights to live gigs. The Skala also falls within the boundaries of this borough, one of London’s must-visit institutions for music aficionados. You’ll also find a wealth of smaller clubs and venues offering everything, from chill out vibes to heavy metal from emerging bands.

Shopping. The boutiques and independent stores of Upper Street cater to every possible taste, from vintage finds to fashion brands like Whistles. Big names abound at the Angel Central shopping centre, such as H&M and Muji. Islington ticks all the boxes for supermarkets, including a Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose. If your shopping habits consist more of browsing markets then head for the Camden Passage antiques market for vintage candlesticks and delicately painted tea sets.

Families. Islington is a very family friendly borough, from the wealth of activities on offer to the range of restaurants and coffee shops that provide ‘babyccinos’ and a special child menus. There are also 12 adventure playgrounds to explore for children aged 6 – 13. A network of youth hubs and clubs are designed to inspire older kids, as well as keeping them busy.

This is the year you get fit/do a headstand/bench press 100

One of the big advantages of living in Islington is the access you’ll have to a wide range of council run fitness and wellness centres that provide activities at a serious discount. Cally Pool and Gym, Archway Leisure Centre and Ironmonger Row Baths are 3 of the 7 leisure centres to explore here. There are also many private fitness locations too, with regular gyms as well as classes from barrecore to boxing and yoga. There are even Reggae Aerobics classes to try if you’ve got the moves for it, as well as a regular boot camp on Highbury Fields.

Ear to the pavement

Given the swift pace of change in Islington, it’s always worth keeping an ear to the ground when it comes to what’s going on locally. We’d suggest:

  • Local blogs. There are a lot of people blogging about Islington so it’s easy to stay up to date – recommend the Angel Central blog, Islington Faces and Islington life.

  • Storeys Twitter (@storeys_london). As letting agents in Islington we frequently post about goings on in this part of London and the latest coffee heroes or pop up establishments. Head over to our Twitter and give us a follow if you want to stay up to date.

  • The Islington Gazette. News, sport, community and local people – you’ll find information on them all in this local publication.


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