Islington | A Local's Neighbourhood Guide
Today, we get to continue on with my guide to various neighbourhoods… but not written from my perspective! These area guides are written by people who live and love these little pockets of London. Today, we are headed Northeast to the hip area of Islington. You’ll get a good perspective of what makes this place unique from a former New Yorker-turned-Londoner. Erin Moore shares a bit of her life in London’s beloved neighbourhood of Islington.
1. TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD.
Our neighbourhood is a good mix of the practical and the frivolous. It’s very friendly and a little gritty, in a way that a former New Yorker can appreciate.
We live on Pentonville Road near Angel. On our side of Pentonville Road is Amwell Street, a lively and charming street of small shops where we run into our neighbors. Across Pentonville Road, we have Chapel Market, which is an old-fashioned street market with everything from produce and home goods 6 days/week to an organic farmers’ market on Sunday mornings. You can buy a school uniform, a wedding dress, the Sunday paper or a 10-foot ladder, no problem.
Around the corner, Upper Street has every chain store and restaurant you could wish for, including a huge Waterstone’s, along with some really wonderful independent businesses. For example, behind Angel lies Camden Passage, a tiny street lined with antique shops and an outdoor antique market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. There are some enticing little cafes (Austrian coffee house Kipferl and the Coffee Works Project); Paul A. Young, a first-rate chocolate shop; and the Camden Head (check out their beer garden).
2. ON A SCALE FROM 1-10, HOW CONNECTED WOULD YOU SAY WHERE YOU LIVE IS? WHAT ARE THE MAJOR LINES THAT RUN TO/FROM YOU?
I’d say Islington is a 9. At one end of Upper Street, Angel Station is on the Bank branch of the Northern Line. 19 bus lines connect through that one busy corner.
At the other end of Upper Street, Highbury & Islington Station has the Overground as well as the Victoria Line. Seven minutes to Oxford Circus from the furthest end of this neighbourhood is not bad!
But the real reason I give Islington such a high score is its proximity to King’s Cross/St. Pancras. Just half a mile or a couple of bus stops away, you have access to the Circle, Hammersmith and City, Northern and Metropolitan Underground lines, not to mention the Eurostar, Thameslink, East Midlands Trains and Southeastern.
If you don’t mind walking, you’ll find Islington surprisingly central. In about half an hour on foot, you can be at the South Bank, or the West End, or Shoreditch.
3. IN A DREAM WORLD, WHAT WOULD BE THE PERFECT STREET OR AREA TO LIVE IN WITHIN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD? WHY?
I enjoy living on the Pentonville Road because there’s never a dull moment. The downside, of course, is noise and pollution. There are a couple of streets, out of the fray and yet still close to Angel, that are appealing. Colebrooke Row has some of the loveliest Georgian houses around. Duncan Terrace has a ribbon of garden running through it. Noel Road is just as pretty and its gardens back onto the Regent’s Canal.
4. ON A SCALE FROM 1-10, HOW WOULD YOU SAY THE VALUE FOR SQUARE FOOTAGE IS? DO YOU PAY A PREMIUM FOR WHERE YOU LIVE OR WOULD YOU SAY IT IS A BETTER VALUE THAN OTHER AREAS IN LONDON?
Anyone living in London is paying a premium, but Islington is definitely in the mid-range of crazy. It is about 1,000 pounds per square foot, which makes it better value than West London (Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Camden and Hammersmith and Fulham are all more expensive), but worse value than East London (Hackney, Tower Hamlets) and most places south of the Thames (Wandsworth, Southwark, Richmond). Islington is more expensive than it was a few years ago, but with Google and other tech companies moving to King’s Cross and Old Street, and London’s centre of gravity shifting east over the past decade, it still seems like a good location/investment.
5. WHAT IS THE GENERAL VIBE OF THE NEIGHBOURHOOD? GIVE US THREE TYPES OF PEOPLE WE MIGHT SEE ON YOUR HIGH STREET.
On Upper Street you’ll see mums with prams, young City types on their way to work, and many chuggers and buskers: all ages, all races, all income levels. Many people living here are the second or third generation (or more) of their families to live in the neighbourhood, so there’s a community feeling.
Although Islington is a magnet for nightlife with clubs (like O2 Academy), pubs (the Castle and the Albion are two favorites for outdoor drinking), the Almeida Theatre and Sadler’s Wells, it is also casual enough to enjoy this place as a local and be spontaneous. You don’t have need reservations to get into most of the restaurants.
6. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO GET COFFEE IN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD?
There are countless great coffee shops—so many that it’s hard to keep up with the rate they open. I really like Saint Espresso. They happen to have the best brownies: sea salt caramel (gluten free but you would not guess if they didn’t tell you). Another favorite is Ground Control on Amwell Street. Further afield, Sunday is a beloved coffee/brunch spot. It’s been discovered, though--don’t say I didn’t warn you…
7. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO GET DINNER IN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD?
At the moment, I’m most into The Little Viet Kitchen, where the Vietnamese food is spicy, light, fresh and intense; Bellanger, an Alsatian/French brasserie owned by the same group at the Wolseley, the Delaunay and Fischer’s, but easier to walk into on a weekend; the Quality Chop House in Exmouth Market (try the mince on dripping toast); Moro and Berber and Q Shawarma Bar, other great places in Exmouth Market; and last but not least, for a romantic date, Trullo.
8. HOW WOULD YOU SPEND A SATURDAY IN ISLINGTON- AS A LOCAL?
Many Saturdays, my son and I start in Myddelton Square having a chat with our dog-walking neighbours . He plays at the playground. Then we spend the rest of the morning shopping, for family lunch or a dinner party or (usually) both. Here are some of the places we go…
We buy meat and bread from the Quality Chop House Shop and, if they have them, their addictive confit potatoes, and chicken liver pate.
On the way back toward Angel, it is fun to stop at Made in Little France, where they have 300 different French wines, including some on tap.
We love the charcuterie (and, weirdly, we discovered the most delicious pasta) at Coq Epicier. They also have a small selection of bread and pastries—the best at this end of Islington. The have regional French food and drink and they couldn’t be friendlier.
Fish comes from Moxon’s, just across Camden Passage, or Steve Hatt (Nigel Slater’s favourite fishmonger for a reason, but the queues can be hard for a 2-year-old to withstand).
We buy most of our fruit and vegetables from Chapel Green Fruit and Veg on Chapel Market. It is probably the place in the neighbourhood my kids are most excited to go because of how welcome they are. Often they are offered a banana or some friendly banter here. We all love it.
We might pick up lunch from Ottolenghi. I cannot walk past their window display without stopping, at least to look.
Or we stop at Udderlicious for ice cream. They let locals vote online for the flavours they want to try at the shop in the coming month, and even nominate new flavours. My favorite is the dark chocolate sea salt sorbet—you’d never know it is dairy-free.
A real treasure in the area is Belle Epoque Patisserie — one of the best pastry shops in London, for sure, and my pick for a celebration cake or leisurely tea with a friend. It is nearer the Highbury end of Upper Street. They have éclairs to swoon for, my son’s beloved mini chocolate madeleines, and really great bread.
Islington is an amazing place to be if you like to eat. We also have two great movie theaters, useful shopping (high end, low end and everything in between) and all the entertaining people watching you could ever want. We have good locally-owned hardware and cookware shops, drycleaners, and pharmacies as well as a giant Boots, and plenty of big gyms to choose from. Parking is easy. It is by far the most practical neighbourhood we have lived in since moving to London ten years ago.
9. HOW MUCH WOULD AN UBER TO OXFORD CIRCUS COST YOU? (APPROXIMATELY)
An Uber to Oxford Circus would cost 8-11 pounds from Angel.
10. WHAT’S THE BEST PLACE TO BE OUTDOORS IN ISLINGTON?
You can find patches of green in the form of pretty garden squares, most of them open to the public. Part of Islington skirts the edge of the Regents Canal. Its main park is Highbury Fields, about a mile (straight up Upper Street) from Angel Station. There are plenty of small playgrounds around Angel: in Myddleton Square, Barnard Park and Culpeper Park (with its sweet community garden and tadpole pond). If you head down to Granary Square, the newly developed area behind Kings Cross along the canal, there are jumping fountains, a playground, a terrific ice cream place called Ruby Violet, and Word on the Water (a bookshop on a barge).