Portrayed by Shakespeare as one of the most disreputable clusters of streets outside London’s city walls, today Islington is a fashionable London borough.
Just north of the city centre, it’s handy for both The City and St Pancras International station, and is particularly popular with young professionals. It is also crowded - the borough of Islington is the most densely populated local authority area in England, according to the 2011 census.
Once home to former prime minister Tony Blair, in the 1990s it became the spiritual home of New Labour. It now counts the Labour party’s current leader, the further left-leaning Jeremy Corbyn, among its residents. But despite the socialist connections, it’s an expensive place to live.
Victorian villas (with gardens)
House prices in Islington are 25 per cent higher than the London average, according to Foxtons estate agents. That said, during the past year they have risen at half the rate of prices in super-prime Chelsea and Kensington, which attract more foreign buyers. Sales in Islington have slowed significantly since their 2014-15 peak, partly because buyers have turned to the cheaper neighbouring boroughs of Haringey and Hackney.
The area’s prime residential asset is a wealth of period homes, whose original features have remained intact from one private owner to the next. Local conservation organisations, such as the Canonbury Society, promote the protection of the area’s Georgian terraced houses and Victorian villas, the most attractive of which have access to private gardens.
The stretch of Regent’s Canal between Islington and neighbouring Hoxton is on a popular route for east London’s many cycling commuters. Thankfully outside rush hours and at weekends the paved towpath is largely reclaimed by more sedate cyclists and walkers.
Since the canal closed as a trading route in the 1960s, this pocket of greenery has been through several transformations to become a leisure space. Cafés and brunch spots have sprouted up by the path, including the Instagram-famous Towpath café, near Whitmore Bridge. Continuing west past Angel towards King’s Cross, the London Canal Museum offers an interesting diversion.
Islington hosts three of London’s most successful fringe theatres: the King’s Head, which prides itself on being the first pub theatre founded in England since Shakespeare’s day, and has promoted emerging playwrights and LGBT theatre since opening in 1970; the Almeida, a studio-theatre of international repute; and the Pleasance, which hosts stand-up comedy.
On Rosebery Avenue, Sadler’s Wells is a world-famous venue for dance and physical theatre, promoting an eclectic range of classical and contemporary styles, as well as hosting Breakin’ Convention, an international hip hop festival, since 2004.
Islington has a history of pioneering education. In 1784, writer and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft opened an academy for girls on Newington Green. Today, William Tyndale school on Upper Street is a renowned primary school (for those who can secure a place), one of five primary and two secondary schools in the borough with a top inspection rating.
The area’s popularity with families is reflected in its wealth of child-friendly venues. Full of Beans café, near Arsenal, serves locally roasted coffee and provides a play area for the little ones. Movie-loving parents can enjoy new releases and cult film screenings at the proudly old-school Screen on the Green on Upper Street, which holds parent-and-baby screenings.
Clerkenwell, in the southern of the borough, was once known as London’s Little Italy after the community of Italian immigrants who settled there between 1860 and 1930. St Peter’s Italian Church on Clerkenwell Road still celebrates mass in Italian every Sunday, offering a gathering point for Italians in London, especially at Christmas and Easter.
Further north, in Canonbury Square, the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art cements the area’s Italian connection.
The cluster of restaurants on Upper Street reflects the area’s cosmopolitan character, with world cuisine venues such as Ottolenghi sharing centre stage with French brasserie Le Mercury and tapas bar La Farola.
Photographs: Alamy; Getty Images