Exploring Islington: London’s Second Smallest Borough Delivers In A Big Way

Located in northeast London, Islington is known for its period architecture and independent shops. (Joe Dunckley, Shutterstock)

Modern Islington began to take shape in the 1960s when families began to notice its convenient location, elegant Georgian and Victorian townhomes, and verdant garden squares. Today, the inner London suburb (about 1.5 miles north of St. Paul’s Cathedral) has become popular with young professionals and families, but it still has a significant working-class community. The area has a thriving shopping, restaurant and bar scene, lots to do, and is an easy commute to London’s main employment hubs. 

The Vibe

Islington has a posh-meets-street vibe that is trendy and creative. The heart of Islington buzzes with old-school street markets, quirky shops and lovely bars and cafes. Despite its affluence and the quiet of its residential streets, the area offers more diversity, grit and energy than other London suburbs. 

How to live like a local in Islington 

People travel from all over the world to watch Arsenal Football Club play at Emirates Stadium. (Vittorio Caramazza, Shutterstock)


Emirates Stadium, one of the largest in England, is home to the legendary Arsenal Football Club. A tour of the stadium takes you to the changing rooms, pitch and press box. The on-site Arsenal Museum displays team shirts, medals and other memorabilia. 

Prestigious theaters and performing arts groups are found throughout Islington. The present-day Sadler’s Wells Theatre is the sixth on the site and is known for its presentation of classic and contemporary ballet, flamenco, tango and hip-hop. The Almeida Theatre has an international reputation that attracts A-list performers to its productions. Charming Little Angel Theatre, a long-time London favorite, introduces kids of all ages to the magic of puppetry.

 The 19th-century Gothic Revival Union Chapel is a house of worship but its top-notch acoustics make it one of London’s most popular music venues. Everyone from Patti Smith to Elton John has played here. 

The Screen on the Green opened in 1913 and is one of the U.K.’s oldest cinemas. Admire the neon marquee, then step inside to watch an indie or first-run film in the single-screen theater.

A traditional street market, Chapel Market is open daily. (Chris Lawrence Travel, Shutterstock)


Charles Dickens described Islington’s Upper Street area as “amongst the noisiest and most disagreeable thoroughfares in London.” Today it’s home to some of the city’s best boutiques and independent retailers. Check out Wild Swans and Mint Velvet for women’s fashions; eccentric After Noah for vintage and contemporary furniture and traditional toys; and Upper Street Bookshop for less-than-mainstream reads as well as best sellers.

Camden Passage, built as an alley in 1767, is a pedestrian-only street and one of London’s best destinations for antiques shopping. On Wednesdays and Saturdays street traders sell vintage and retro clothing, secondhand books, and antiques and collectibles.

Find fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh pasta and free-range meat and poultry on Sundays at the Islington Farmers’ Market. Other popular markets include old-school Chapel Market, mainly food and household goods; Archway Market for groceries and specialty stalls; and the indoor Nag’s Head Market, a mix of small shops and second-hand stalls popular with locals.

Islington is home to many of London’s most renowned restaurants and pubs. (cktravels, Shutterstock)


Islington, home to restaurants both modern and traditional, is considered one of London’s best neighborhoods for dining.

Ottolenghi, opposite the Almeida Theatre, is a pre-performance favorite. Guests sit at mainly long, communal tables for Mediterranean-style breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Neighborhood favorite Trullo offers rustic Italian dishes on a menu that changes daily. Cozy Prawn on the Lawn, with seafood sourced from Devon and Cornwall, is open Tuesdays-Saturdays for casual lunches and dinners. For typical British fare, try the dog-friendly Camden Head Pub, established in 1849.

At 30 acres, Highbury Fields is the area’s largest green space. (Walking Camera, Shutterstock)


Highbury Fields, the area’s largest park and green space, has a fitness center, swimming pool and large playground. You can also book a tennis court, shoot hoops, cycle or jog through its 30 acres. Sign up for your own plot at Culpeper Community Garden, a little known city park and environmental project managed by and for locals. Freightliners City Farm, a free 2½-acre greenspace, is another escape from urban life where visitors and volunteers can meet the animals and work in the farmyard and gardens. 

A flat in Canonbury showcases the supply of Victorian homes found throughout Islington. (Chestertons)

Need To Know

Check out local online directories Find Your Islington and Islington Life for community news, events and things to do. 

Most local primary schools have “good” OFSTED (Office for Standards in Education) reports, but William Tyndale Primary School is rated “outstanding” as is North Bridge House, a consortium of six independent day schools. For older students City of London Academy Islington and all-girls Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School both get top marks from the school’s watchdog. Top private schools (coed Highgate School and all-girls South Hampstead High School) are a reasonable commute. 

 Islington’s rail stations are Highbury & Islington (Overground, Victoria Line); Canonbury (Overground); Essex Road (train station); and Angel (Underground, Northern Line). Local bus lines service areas across London.


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