Tips and inspiration for a Saturday afternoon in stylish Islington
A day out in Islington, specifically around Upper Street, is my top tip for whiling away a Saturday afternoon in London. Considering its location in zone 2, just one stop back from Kings Cross St Pancras on the Victoria Line, it’s conspicuous for its lack of tourists but, a day out in this lovely corner of North London beats a schlep around crowded Convent Garden or Leicester Square any day.
Upper Street is bookended by Angel tube station and Highbury & Islington (tube and Overground). For the day out I’m recommending, Angel is nearer but it’s a lovely 15-minute walk (or 5-minute bus journey) down from Highbury & Islington. In fact, I prefer this route despite the admittedly unglamorous start to your walk past chains like Pret, Wetherspoons and McDonald’s. Don’t be discouraged though and you’re soon rewarded with a glimpse of the clock tower of the Union Chapel across the busy road on your left-hand side.
The chapel was built in Gothic revival style in the late 19th century and is Grade I listed. It’s set back from the road with rows of Georgian terraces on either side and a tranquil strip of gardens, open to the public, in front.
Do this: Cafes, restaurants, shops
As you continue down Upper Street, you’ll pass a myriad of shops. There’s a wonderful mix of the old stalwarts that have clearly held on for years and the modern, gentrified face of Islington. There’s seemingly every cuisine under the sun catering to every taste and budget. There’s Turkish, French, American, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Italian, Spanish and, of course, English pub grub. You’re also never far from a bakery and coffee shops with a wide range of either chain or independent options. Fig and Olive is on the expensive side but worth it.
I’m going to recommend an incredibly cheap and delicious option for lunch later. Don’t fill yourself up too much before we get there!
Soon, on the left-hand side of the road, you’ll notice a large three-sided council estate built around a green square called Tyndale Mansions. It was built in 1925 and is a row of red brick terraced houses and flats, all still kept in beautiful condition. Next door is the imposing facade of Grade II listed Islington Town Hall. At the weekend, you’re likely to see a wedding and photos being taken on the stone steps leading up to the entrance.
Browse here: Aria One Six Eight on Barnsbury St
You’re now on the corner of Upper St and Barnsbury St with probably my favourite stretch of the road between here and St Mary’s church. This is where there’s a great mix of chain and independent restaurants and cafes including Ottolenghi, La Petite Auberge (a French bistro) and High Ground, a lovely wine and coffee shop. People-watching is at its best in this area, especially on a sunny day as you walk past all the outdoor tables.
On the corner of Barnsbury St is a shop I love to browse called Aria One Six Eight (ariashop.co.uk). They have gorgeous jewellery and homewares as do many of the shops on Upper St. There are also quite a few charity shops such as Shelter and Mary’s Living and Giving Shop for Save the Children with some great bargains to be found.
Eat here: Afghan Kitchen
Keep walking down Upper Street until, on your left and across from the famous Screen on the Green cinema, is Islington Green, a triangular park with lots of benches under the tall trees dotted across the space. On the other side of the park is another main road, also called Islington Green. Cross that road and follow it to the right looking out for a grey-tiled restaurant with a large glass window, Afghan Kitchen picked out in small tiles above the window. It’s a tiny, intimate no fuss restaurant with a few tables and the kitchen downstairs and another 6 tables upstairs.
The food is billed as ‘traditional Afghan home cooking’ and is absolutely wonderful and ridiculously cheap. My favourites are the lamb with potatoes, the fish stew and the lentil hall. There are several vegetarian options, with no main meal costing more than £7.50. It’s worth noting that the restaurant closes between 3.30 and 5.30 each day and is closed on Sundays.
Browse here: Vintage curios at Vintage Glassware
When you’re ready for more exploring, we’re going to turn right from the restaurant and right again where there’s a small curio shop, Vintage Glassware. It’s packed full of every type of glass for just about every drink you can think of. On tables outside, there are also piles of pristine vintage crockery sets.
Keep walking down the cobbled back street and you’ll come across a few independent traders with trestle tables piled high with bric a brac and more curios. There’s a vintage clothes stall and two costume jewellery stalls before the passage narrows and we’re back to the ubiquitous cafes, restaurants and shops on either side. Tables and chairs line the passageway, you’ll have to squeeze through on a busy day. Try the strudel at Kipferl when you’re hungry again, it’s one of London’s few Austrian restaurants and delicious.
Charlton Place Market
You’ll soon reach the Charlton Place Market - a small covered corner of the Passage open on Wednesday and Saturday. There are around 7 stalls here with a huge variety of old items to pick through. Everything from rugs to old photos to silver cutlery and jewellery. Leaving here and walking further down Camden passage you pass more, you guessed it, cafes and restaurants. There are also a few more homeware shops and delis as well as an ice cream shop.
Browse here: Pierrepoint Arcade and Antique Paper
Eventually, you’ll reach Pierrepoint Arcade on the left. This is another covered corner of the Passage and is very similar to the Antiques Market. Nine tables groan with an eclectic mix of comics, books, costume jewellery and antique bric-a-brac. The real area of interest for me is just behind the Arcade, along Pierrepoint Row, where a host of vintage and antique shops line an open-air quadrangle.
Antique Paper - a treasure trove of prints and maps
Make sure to browse Antique Paper, a small vintage treasure trove at the end of the Row. There are several boxes of prints on the trestle tables outside and a huge variety inside with maps ranging from UK counties to countries across the world as well as animals, botanicals and old adverts. I love the flora and fauna prints, many of which are originals from the late 1800s and reasonably priced at around £25.
Turning right after Antique Paper, there are another 10 or so antique and vintage shops crammed with everything from old framed paintings, batches of silver spoons, and costume jewellery to full sets of china and crockery. Allow plenty of time to browse and I promise you’ll find something unique and interesting for yourself or as a gift in amongst the dusty shelves.
Shop here: Magpie Vintage
Once you’ve finished your trawl here, we move back up to Camden Passage which continues for another short stretch. Here there’s a great vintage clothes shop, Magpie Vintage, that deserves a rifle through the rails. There are more specialist delis here including a lovely cheese shop with really helpful staff.
The final coffee shop of Camden Passage, Redemption Roasters, is on your left and you might need another sit down to mark the end of our day out in Islington. Before you head home, make sure to notice the row of elegant four-storey Georgian terraced townhouses, typical for this part of Islington.
If you still have energy and you want to see more of these types of houses, you could explore the streets behind the Passage such as Duncan Terrace and Colebrooke Row. If you’re ready to leave the area, head to Angel tube, just a few minutes walk down Upper Street or, if you are heading back to Highbury and Islington, cross Upper Street and take one of the buses heading back up the street. Any of the numbers 4, 19, 30 and 43 will take you up to bus stop Highbury Corner.
I hope you enjoy the area as much as I do. Let me know what you think once you’ve visited and of course, let me know what you bought!