The Top 10 Things To Do In The Borough Of Islington

Continuing our series highlighting the very best of each borough.

This week, Liz Scaffer, editor of City Road Online, explores the borough of Islington. The following is a personal selection, and not intended as a definitive list. We welcome suggestions for alternatives in each category, and will add them to the article, wiki-style, as you suggest them.

Film: Screen on the Green
83 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 0NP

Image by M@.

Known for its red neon façade, jumble of couches, chairs and footstools, brilliantly stocked bar, giant jars of sweets and butter-drenched popcorn, the Everyman Screen on the Green has plenty of retro allure. This single-screen venue is one of London’s oldest continuously running cinemas (the current building was opened in 1913) and has a varied program that includes National Theatre Live screenings, film festivals, Q&A sessions and midnight screenings of cult classics. Simultaneously whimsical and edgy, this is a cinema with character aplenty.

Street: Camden Passage
Off Upper Street 

Image by Liz Schaffer.

Nestled behind the always-humming Upper Street you’ll find Camden Passage, a vintage treasure trove crammed with wheeled wooden stalls, cafes, independent boutiques and one of London’s oldest antique markets. First opened in the 1960s, the Camden Passage Antiques Market, trading on Saturdays, is a favourite haunt for antiques dealers, collectors, interior designers and clued-up locals. Some of the arcades and stalls have been in the same family for generations, making the street feel just a little frozen in time. A delightful, community-focused alternative to Portobello Road. While you’re there, try The Elk in the Woods, a unique gastropub decked up like an old-fashioned hunting lodge (no. 37-39), and the local branch of Paul A Young for some world-beating chocolates (no. 33). Meanwhile, Vintage clothes fans will want to check out Annie’s (no. 12), which has been selling glamourous outfits and accessories since 1978.

Comedy: Hen & Chickens Theatre Bar
109 Saint Paul’s Road, N1 2NA

A favourite haunt of Jack Whitehall, the cosy and inviting Hen & Chickens has plenty of theatrical sprit. Hosting London’s emerging talent alongside some of the biggest names in comedy – Russell Brand and Jimmy Carr have both taken to the stage here – all acts are affectionately referred to as ‘The Chicks’. This pub also features a superlative line-up of specialty beers, real ales, ciders, its own wine club, jukebox (oh yes) and food menu specially designed for pre-show grazing. Local art adorns the walls while leathery couches add character to the floor.

Beauty: The Chapel
394-396 St John Street, EC1V 4NJ

Opened in 2007 in an old pub, The Chapel is elegant, friendly and blissful. While this hairdressers has a somewhat unassuming frontage you’ll quickly find that its multi-level interior is light, spacious and rather cutting edge on the interior design front. The street-level salon has large open windows overlooking St John Street, silver-framed mirrors and one-to-one booths – all designed to create a personal, collaborative styling experience. Down a worn, flower-covered staircase you find the artistically lit basement where colouring and washing takes place. You pay here by the hour, rather than for a specific service, which just adds to the glamour of it all.

Outdoors: Walk Islington’s Waterways
Although the borough borders neither the Thames nor the Lea, it does have its own river. The New River is 400 years old this year, and was originally built to bring fresh water from Hertfordshire to London. While the more impressive stretches lie further north, the short sections between Canonbury Road and St Paul’s Road are a joy to discover. Likewise, the Regent’s Canal passes prominently through the borough. After a short stretch on the western fringes (passing Kings Place and Cally Road), it plunges into a tunnel beneath the hump of Upper Street, to re-emerge on Vincent Terrace. The central and eastern sections take in City Road Basin, and plenty of welcoming pubs including the Narrow Boat and Island Queen, stars of Londonist’s pub crawl of Angel.

Food: Ottolenghi
287 Upper Street, N1 2TZ

Ottolenghi offers up an exotic, flavor-rich experience. The chefs here are fueled by a fascination with experimentation, making food as exciting and seasonable as possible. With a strong Mediterranean focus, everything is made from scratch on the premises with the natural ingredients sourced from British and European sellers wherever possible. Largely made up of candle covered communal tables, all of which seem to overlook the buzzing kitchen, food here is made to be shared. Order up several plates and pass them round.

Performing Arts: Sadler’s Wells
Rosebery Avenue, EC1R 4TN 

Sadler’s Wells, which turns 330 years old this year, is home to some of the world’s premier dance companies, including Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and Christopher Wheeldon’s Morphoses. The theatre aims to bring the very best in UK and global dance to London audiences. Presenting everything from pop-culture infused ballet to flamenco, all works put on here cross boundaries between style, cultures and art forms, with the theatre believing that “dance is the art form of the moment”.

Pub: The Drapers Arms
44 Barnsbury Street, E1 1ER 

Most of the best pubs in the area are down the side streets away from Upper Street. Londonist’s poll on the best pubs in the area didn’t find many votes for The Drapers Arms, but this inviting pub is a local treasure. Housed within an elegant Georgian building of high ceilings, wooden floors, pastel walls, pea green bar and fire places aplenty, it’s easy to picture this light and airy venue’s previous life as a smoky, character-packed boozer. Spend an hour making your way through the delectable menu of pub favorites and you’ll quickly forget you’re in the middle of a bustling city.

Theatre: Pleasance Theatre
Carpenters Mews, North Road, N7 9EF 

First opening its London doors in 1995, the Pleasance Theatre is a dynamic Fringe launch pad that’s staged some of the most memorable productions and practitioners of the past decade, and regularly fills with comics, dancers, musicians and audiences keen to witness something original. Pleasance has remained true to its original mission of providing a platform for the talent of the future by holding regular ‘work in progress’ sessions and encouraging short runs – to give more performers time in the spotlight. The theatre itself is fascinating. Once a timber store for the London Omnibus Company — and a huge winch beside the entrance is testament to this — it’s now characterised by an intimate studio theatre, bar and attached pub. An ideal venue if you’re after a space that pushes boundaries and gives fresh talent the attention it deserves.

Coffee: Brill
27 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QL 

For lovers of music, coffee and bagels, Brill is blissful. You pass the time here perusing CD-lined shelves, art covered walls, a vibrant chalkboard boasting every imaginable brew of coffee and chatting to the friendly staff (who know a good music pun when they hear one). Brill has been in Clerkenwell, in different forms, for quite a while. Initially opening as a tiny music store, owner Jeremy Brill began to sell coffee during the mid-1990s when CD sales began to slide. The coffee meets music allure continued to grow and in 2011 Brill remerged as a CD-selling coffee bar with a penchant for expertly selected second hand vinyl. Easy to miss on street level, this intimate café is a local favourite.

Once again, this is intended as a starting point for discussion, and not a definitive list. Please add your own recommendations — particularly away from Upper Street — in the comments.

Other instalments in this series: BarnetBrentBromleythe City of LondonEalingEnfieldHammersmith and FulhamHaringeyHounslowLambethLewishamRedbridgeRoyal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea,Southwark, Tower HamletsWandsworthWaltham Forest, the City of Westminster and Newham.

See also: all Londonist articles mapped to boroughs.

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  • Joseph_Crawley

    Maison D’etre in Highbury and Islington is a quality café and the nearby Union Capel is one of the most plesent venues for music in London