12 HOURS IN ISLINGTON
The Borough of Islington covers a surprisingly large portion of central London, taking in many of the city’s most bustling, beautiful, and culturally interesting bits, not to mention more than its fair share of parks and gardens. It stretches from the northernmost edge of the historic Smithfields Market (just north of the historic Chancery Lane), west to Kings Cross, east to the bars and restaurants of Dalston, and north as far as Archway and Crouch Hill, the heartland of Arsenal football club. Within its limits it covers a miniature version of London as a whole, bringing together great nightspots, shopping districts, theatres, restaurants, a sports stadium and music venues, not to mention the beautiful Regents Canal, which gives the middle of the borough a lovely waterside atmosphere.
The best place to start exploring Islington is Angel. So-called after the 1903 Angel Hotel Building on the corner of Islington High Street and Pentonville Road, Angel today is a charming city centre unto itself, loved particularly for its huge selection of cafés, bars, and restaurants, along with some irresistible alleyways — notably Camden Passage — full of curiosity shops and antiques market stalls. At 9 a.m., breakfast is probably a good idea, so try Kipferl — an Austrian café with a wonderful mix of Tyrolean hams, rye bread, fruit, cinnamon, and Austrian bacon. If you prefer a more rustic woodland cabin feel, try the Elk in The Woods. Here you’ll be greeted with oak smoked bacon, vanilla pancakes, poached eggs, pickled beetroorts, and more. Both of these are on the aforementioned Camden Passage, and you’ll find this a great place to start exploring.
Kipferl, 20 Camden Passage, London N1 8ED. Phone: 020 7704 1555
The Elk In The Woods, 37-39 Camden Passage, London N1 8EA. Phone: 020 7226 3535
After breakfast, you can either take a stroll through the nearby shops of Camden Passage and beyond, or head east along the Regent’s Canal and see the city from what feels like a secret vantage, tucked away from the traffic, flanked by one of London’s historic waterways, and generally submerged in a more natural setting. You can follow the canal all the way to the edge of the borough, which conveniently ends at a pub — The Rosemary Branch, a charming Victorian ale-house which was formely a music hall — just across the water from the beautiful green expanse of Shoreditch Park. Theatre lovers might want to stop by the Almeida Theatre or Sadler’s Wells and pick up some tickets for an evening performance. Sadlers Wells is the number one place in London for dance performances, from ballet to flamenco, while the Almeida focuses on cutting edge drama from up and coming actors.
Camden Passage, London N1 8EA
The Rosemary Branch, 2 Shepperton Road, London N1 3DT. Phone: 020 7704 2730
Almeida Theatre, Almeida Street, London N1 1TA. Phone: 020 7359 4404
Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Rosebery Ave, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 4TN. Phone: 020 7863 8000
If you’re ready to eat at midday, you have an array of choices before you in Islington. Either stay in Angel to experience the famous creations of Ottolenghi — delicious North-African and Middle Eastern flavours, not to mention unbelievable cakes — or catch a bus a little way south into Clerkenwell and make for Exmouth Market. Clerkenwell is one of London’s ancient parishes, once famous for its watchmakers and a centre of activity thanks to the well from which it takes its name, which was rediscoverd in the 1920s. It has a historic, Victorian elegance, and Exmouth Market is one of its central thoroughfares, best known for its rich selection of restaurants and street food vendors, food boutiques, and hip cafes, not to mention delightful old pubs. Try Caravan for a huge range of modern cuisine, all day brunch, or just a coffee. After lunch, head over to St Luke’s Church for a lunchtime concert. The London Symphony Orchestra rehearse here, and entry is often free. Most begin between 12:30 and 1 p.m., so bear this in mind when you’re having lunch.
Ottolenghi, 287 Upper Street, London N1 2TZ. Phone: 020 7288 1454
Caravan, 11-13 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 4QD. Phone: 020 7833 8115
St Lukes, 161 Old Street, London EC1V 9NG. Phone: 020 7490 3939
If you’re a fan of literature, or find you can’t resist a historic cemetary, make a stop at Bunhill Fields, where famous poet and artist William Blake is buried. Or, if you feel like some live music, pay a visit to the Piano Works, a non-stop music venue where pianists play requests given to them by the audience, all day and night! At weekends, the music starts from 12 p.m., or 1 p.m. on Sundays.
Bunhill Fields, 38 City Road, London EC1Y 2BG. Phone: 020 7374 4127
Piano Works, 113-117 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3BX. Phone: 020 7278 1966
Around 3:30 p.m. you can take in one of the lesser-known museums or galleries of Islington. From Piano Works, you’re very close to The Charterhouse, a medieval priory that dates back to the 14th Century. It resisted Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, was a medieval school, and was even a burial place for victims of the Black Death. It’s extremely atmospheric, and the gardens are an ideal place to unwind if you have a spare hour. After it closes, head to Modern Art, a gallery that showcases up and coming modern artists.
Modern Art, 4-8 Helmet Row, London EC1V 3QJ. Phone: 020 7299 7950
The Charterhouse, Charterhouse Square, London, EC1M 6AN. Phone: 020 3818 8873
To start your evening, a trip to the secluded Nightjar is a must. An underground cocktail bar with a great speakeasy feel, it’s rich in atmosphere and magnificent décor and has a host of inventive cocktails. Be warned though – once you stop by, you’ll find it hard to leave. Of course, if you’ve made plans at the Barbican, Sadlers Wells, the Almeida or any of the other major arts venues in Islington, this would be a good time to head across to their respectives bars and cafés and grab a drink and a bite to eat before the show. The Slaughtered Lamb is a delightful gastro pub that’s nicely equidistant from the first two, but for the Almeida you’ll want to head back into Angel and grab something to eat at The King’s Head, another stunning historic pub decked with Victorian fittings and full of theatre memorabilia.
If you’re more of a music person, Islington is home to some of London’s biggest and best music venues. Islington Assembly Hall, Union Chapel, the O2 Academy, The Garage, XOYO, and The Lexington all hold live music events — they’re all large venues, with the exception of the Lexington, which is the place to go for smaller, more intimate gigs. Of this selection, the Union Chapel is the most majestic, so book a concert here for a truly special experience.
The Nightjar, 129 City Road, Hoxton, London EC1V 1JB. Phone: 020 7253 4101
The Kings Head Theatre Pub, 115 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 1QN. Phone: 020 7226 4443
The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 0DX. Phone: 020 7253 1516
XOYO, 32-37 Cowper Street, London EC2A 4AP. Phone: 020 7608 2878
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, London N1 2UN. Phone: 020 7226 1686
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, London N1 9JB. Phone: 020 7837 5371
O2 Academy Islington, 16 Parkfield Street, London N1 0PS. Phone: 020 7288 4400
The Garage, 20-22 Highbury Corner, Highbury East, London N5 1RD. Phone: 020 7619 6721
Islington Assembly Hall, Upper Street, London N1 2UD. Phone: 020 7527 8900
If you’ve gone to a concert or a performance, you may well be there until 10 or 11 p.m. But if you haven’t, or the show ends early, it’s a safe bet that by 9 p.m. you’ll want some food or drink. The best hubs for nightime eating and drinking in Islington are without a doubt Clerkenwell, Upper Street, and the area surrounding Old Street.
For great restaurants on Upper Street, try MEATliquor for an extensive burger menu (vegan and vegetarian options available), and Rök for delicious smoked and fermented dishes,drawing on historic Northern European cooking techniques. On Old Street, The Clove Club is a must for high-end, gourmet dining.
In Clerkenwell, the famous St John Restaurant serves traditional British fare done to perfection, although beware, it definitely errs on the side meaty, so vegetarians might prefer Mildreds, toward the north of Clerkenwell, which serves an incredible array of vegan food.
If you’ve already eaten your fill and just want to hit the bars, The New Rose on Essex Road is a lively pub with great ambience, while The Green in Clerkenwell is great for some cosy drinking in a relaxed setting.
The Clove Club, Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old Street, London EC1V 9LT. Phone: 020 7729 6496
St John, 26 St John Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1M 4AY. Phone: 020 7251 0848
Rök Islington, 149 Upper Street, London N1 1RA. Phone: 020 7686 8024
The Green, 29 Clerkenwell Green, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 0DU. Phone: 20 7490 1258
The New Rose, 84-86 Essex Road, London N1 8LU. Phone: 020 7226 1082
MEATliquor, 133B Upper Street, London N1 1QP. Phone: 020 3711 0104
- Feature photo by Juhi Pande
- Breakfast photo copyright grinchh - stock.adobe.com
- Regent's Canal photo by Mark Hogan from London, UK, USA (Islington TunnelUploaded by Snowmanradio) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- Caravan photo by Ewan Munro from London, UK (Caravan, Clerkenwell, EC1Uploaded by Oxyman) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- Bunhill Fields photo by Jim Linwood [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr
- Nightjar photo by Jerome Courtial (courtesy Nightjar)
- MEATliquor N1 photo courtesy MEATliquor