The Fast Track to Becoming a Local in… Islington and Camden
If you’re moving to north London, you’ll already know that it holds some of London’s — and the UK’s — most famous attractions. Whether you’re more likely to be found at the British Museum or the Arsenal stadium, we expect you won’t need our help with those.
But London is made up of a collection of villages and everyone has their own places where they feel most at home. If you’re new to the area, or even just moving from one part of Camden or Islington to another, we’ll help you discover some of the places you might not have heard about. In an area that stretches from Clerkenwell in the south to the top of Hampstead Heath in the north, there are bound to be some that aren’t so familiar.
Exploring the Regent’s Canal is a brilliant way to find the parts of north London the locals love. The canal emerges near Angel from the Islington Tunnel. Enjoy a coffee or lunch overlooking the City Road Lock at Canal No.5. Further along, (technically just across the Hackney border) is the tiny, wonderful Towpath Cafe. It’s usually open from March to November, with fantastic fresh ingredients and famous toasted cheese sandwiches. When the shutters go up each year, it’s one of the first local signs of spring. (As is the return of Tina’s ice cream van to Highbury Fields.)
At the other end of the canal tunnel, you can explore one of north London’s fastest-changing neighbourhoods, King’s Cross. Once run-down and downright seedy, it’s revived with new shops, businesses and restaurants, and is soon to be home to Google’s London headquarters.
Granary Square (above) is the hub of the area, next to the Regent’s Canal. In summer, children love running through the fountains; there are more than a thousand jets of water, which spray with choreographed patterns and coloured lights. There are regular street food markets and great places to eat, such as the fabulous Dishoom and Caravan. The Lighterman pub looks out across the canal and the square.
There are some more quirky corners to discover too. The House of Illustration, founded by Sir Quentin Blake, hosts fascinating exhibitions on the art of illustration in all its forms. The Camley Street Natural Park is a small corner of wilderness in the heart of the city, and the skip garden shows what you can grow even in small urban spaces.
Further along the canal towpath, Camden Lock and Camden Market are better left to the crowds of tourists, but keep going and you’ll reach Primrose Hill. A staircase from the towpath brings you out onto Gloucester Avenue, right by Melrose and Morgan, a grocery and deli that will sell you hot food, a sandwich, or even a whole picnic to enjoy in the park. Just opposite is The Engineer gastropub, recently refurbished and an excellent place for a Sunday roast. Or try The Lansdowne, a short walk along the avenue. On Regent’s Park Road, the Greek restaurant Lemonia is always buzzing, family-friendly and welcoming.
Work up an appetite, or work off your lunch, by climbing to the top of Primrose Hill for one of London’s best views. Still need more exercise? One of the first places in London to popularise yoga, Triyoga, is now in a new home in Camden, a former piano warehouse.
North London’s one of the most densely populated places in the country, but even here you can find some great green spaces. Hampstead Heath is the greatest of all, whether you take in the view from Parliament Hill, or brave swimming in the Ponds. The Mixed Pond is summer-only, but the hardiest swimmers brave the Ladies’ and Mens’ Ponds all year — though you have to acclimatise. If you prefer clearer waters, try the Parliament Hill Lido, a glorious sixty-metre pool; though be warned, it’s not heated either!
Best of Camden and Islington
Best small museums
Weather not ideal for the outdoors? You could discover some of the smaller museums and galleries. At the top of Hampstead Heath, Kenwood House has treasures from Vermeer and Rembrandt (above) to Gainsborough and Reynolds. (And a lovely cafe, too.)
Best for arts and culture
Culture vultures are also spoilt for live entertainment. In north London’s small theatres, you’re likely to catch new plays — and often some big names — away from the West End. Among the best of them are Islington’s Almeida, the Hampstead Theatre in Swiss Cottage, and the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park.
For children, the magical Little Angel Theatre (below) hosts puppet shows all year round, as well as clubs and courses in puppetry for both adults and children.
Best for foodies
It’s a fabulous place for foodies too. Weekend farmers’ markets abound: try Parliament Hill on Saturdays or Chapel Market on Sundays. At weekday lunchtimes, Whitecross Street is bustling with street food trucks serving delicacies from around the world.
Many cuisines are to be found here: London’s oldest Italian deli, Terroni’s, opened in Clerkenwell, next to the Italian Church, in 1878, and still does a roaring trade. More recent arrivals include Austrian food at Kipferl in Camden Passage (which, just to confuse you, is in Islington) and Spanish and North African food and tapas at Moro and Morito on Exmouth Market.
Just off so-called Silicon Roundabout at Old Street, Ozone Coffee has its own roastery: watch the beans being prepared while you drink your flat white.
You’ll enjoy delicious cheeses at La Fromagerie in Highbury Park and at Pistachio and Pickle in Angel; at both, you can eat in as well as take away. Steve Hatt’s Fishmonger’s on the Essex Road is also an Islington landmark, though expect to queue on Saturday mornings.
Best local pubs
And if you’re exhausted by all this frantic activity, time for a pint. Locals the locals treasure include The Island Queen in Angel, The Albion, with a large pub garden for summer, and further north, The Holly Bush in Hampstead — with cosy fires in winter.
For something less traditional, try the experimental cocktails at 69 Colebrooke Row, created by mixologist Tony Conigliaro. They also run afternoon mixing masterclasses.
Cheers! And welcome to your new home…
What’s your favourite ‘insider knowledge’ about Islington, Camden and North London? What have we missed? Let us know in the comments…