Islington with Kids: Eat, Shop and Play!
Islington is one of the most family friendly neighbourhoods in London. Yes, I’m biased, having lived in Islington with kids for nearly 10 years. I just love the mix of family theatre venues, buggy-friendly cafes, sprawling parks and playgrounds, and cosmopolitan families.
I’ve wanted to do a hyperlocal guide for mums and dads in my hood for a while. This summer I was invited by Visit London to share my Top 10 Things to Do in Islington & Angel. From theatre and shopping, to our favourite foodie spots, it was such a fun list to pull together. So I decided to do a parent-friendly edition for the blog.
Here are my 50 (something) best spots to check out if you’re moving around Islington with kids. From After Noah to Zoo Nation, it’s truly an A to Z guide.
NB: I will be updating this list from time to time, so do check back!
Islington with Kids: Eat, Shop and Play!
Retro gadgets, vintage furnishings, odds and ends, and a broad selection of toys attract visitors to this old-fashioned toy shop on Upper Street. Expect to potter around in there for a while.
Buzzy mini shopping centre in the heart of Angel where you can waste time happily in Tiger Store or Paperchase, eat at Ed’s Gourmet Diner or
catch a Saturday/Sunday morning picture show at pocket money prices in Vue Cinema’s Kids Club.
Birthdays or anniversaries coming up? Or just want to treat yourself? Step into Angel Flowers and reemerge with something fragrant to freshen up that living space.
The UK’s largest art supply store spread across 3 floors, Cass Art Islington is their flagship shop. Great for picking up tools, tips and tricks. They offer regular in-house workshops for all ages and abilities, classes starting from ages 3 and up.
Brilliant area for browsing indie boutiques, arts and antiques. At the weekend, you’ll find market stalls with well-loved items at smile-inducing prices.
When you’re after an unusual birthday present, skip the chain stores and nip into Gill Wing Gits Shop towards Highbury. Sift through anything from mum and baby cosmetics to quirky lighting features and funny looking cuddly toys.
Float through this exquisitely curated children’s design store on Essex Rd and imagine your own home, perfectly formed with such furniture, toys and accessories. Oh, to dream.
Simply one of my fave shops to hang around in, admiring anything from window displays to sales racks. Their kids’ stuff is limited these days, but it’s still worth a nose around.
Sew Over It
The Sew Over It Islington branch (flagship store in Clapham) offers sewing classes, a sewing cafe, fabrics and prints, sewing patterns and kits for sale. An oasis for the DIY mama, and keep an eye out for occasional kid-friendly classes too.
The Islington Green branch continues to attract families thanks to its cosy atmosphere, large range of picture books and a fish tank just the right size for little hands and noses to press against.
Bemerton Children’s Centre
This place was a godsend for us when the boys were very little. The free and friendly Stay & Play for ages 0 to 5 was where early lessons were learned and lifelong friendships were formed. For brand new parents, Baby Massage classes are especially popular.
There’s everything from a toddler playgroup to holiday and after school clubs for bigger kids. Mark your calendar for their annual Halloween party for all ages.
Joining your local library is one of the smartest decisions you can make if you’re in Islington with kids. You’ll get access to amazing services run at West Library, South Library, North Library, Central Library and Lewis Carroll Library including music and film rentals, talks and workshops, and adorable singing and storytelling sessions with your baby.
Discover Islington’s rich and vibrant history at the borough’s flagship museum, take part in family workshops, messy play and storytelling for under 5s.
You’ll be lucky if you get a place at their hugely oversubscribed nursery, but Kate Greenaway’s Stay & Play is open to all with toddler bikes, cookery classes, sandpits and other fun for little ones.
We tried this activity when Jed was a baby and I still have a soft spot for the brilliant concept. Go salsa dancing with your baby or toddler in fun classes led by the lively Urska.
Little Highness Play Cafe
After the parent and baby cafe Full of Beans cafe closed this summer, it reopened as Little Highness Play Cafe, under the ownership of neighbouring Highness Cafe & Tea Rooms. Head there for homemade nosh, baby soft play and activities for kids, birthday parties and more to come on the menu.
Sing with Harriet in Exmouth Market
Mrs H and the Singalong Band are an Islington with Kids institution and beloved by most mums and dads in the know. Harriet and her band of professional troubadours have near-rock star status and her performances (held in the Church of our Holy Redeemer at Exmouth Market) knock the socks off the average family rhyme time session.
Sobell Leisure Centre
Ice skating, trampolining, tennis, swimming, gymnastics, soft play centre… if it gets your kids up and moving, then Sobell Leisure Centre has it covered. Also a great place to hire out for birthday parties.
St. Mary’s Neighbourhood and Community Centre
This welcoming space has a broad offering for Islington with Kids, from the very popular SparkySongs (puppets, music and magic for under 5s) and Little Kickers toddler football, to school holiday play schemes and youth club. Apply early if you fancy a spot in their Pre-School (ages 2 to 5).
Well-kept playground with a good variety of things to do for all ages including basketball, ping pong table and a fabulous tree house!
Sprawling park with (messy) football court, kids playground (with popular water sprinklers in summer), and an adventure playground that also operates as an after-school and holiday club (mostly FREE). The Barnard Park One O’Clock club space for ages 0 to 5 can be rented out for birthday parties at a decent price.
Tiny urban woodland that’s open infrequently (usually Tuesday afternoons and also Saturdays in summer). It’s a lovely area to picnic, treasure trail or spot wildlife including rare birds and the occasional fox!
Camley Street Natural Park
Gloriously wild place to explore in the heart of King’s Cross, with pond dipping, bird watching, wetlands and family friendly activities throughout the year. Pair your trip with a stop at the Skip Garden King’s Cross nearby.
Culpeper Community Garden
Our beloved secret garden in Angel, where you can look for frogs, sign up for your own patch (waiting list), take part in events from Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in the garden to their annual Halloween night.
One of London’s best city farms, popular with families and school groups, hosts chickens, pigs, sheep, birds, and a variety of events year-round. Stop for a delicious vegetarian lunch at the farm cafe.
A short stroll along the canal from Caledonian Rd, N1 leads to Granary Square, the hub of a revitalised King’s Cross, featuring restaurants, street food pop-ups, mini festivals and fairs, and those fantastic run-through fountains that light up at night.
Summertime in Highbury Fields calls for picnics, BBQs (yup, it’s barbecue friendly), and ice cream from Tina’s Ices van. Kids love the playground with large slides, sandpits and climbing zones and there’s swimming, tennis and football courts too. Highbury Fields Bandstand One-O’Clock Club is a lifesaver for parents of younger ones and the Oasis park cafe serves up treats and a cup of tea when you most need it.
Nothing beats counting ducks and swans along the canal for some escapism with your teeny urbanites. You can take tea on the Origami Cafe, browse at the Floating Bookstore, or hop a canal ride through Islington Tunnel to Camden, Little Venice or London Zoo.
Around the corner from Exmouth Market, this quirky green space offers good sports facilities, fun structures to climb and windy paths for little feet to wander along. Look out for the lavender garden!
FOOD & DRINK
While trendies love The Breakfast Club on Camden Passage, kids go nuts for fluffy American style pancakes at The Diner. But our top spot is Sunday cafe in Barnsbury, almost impossible to get into at the weekends, but worth a small wait if you pop in weekdays.
Cool crafting and nighttime hangout Drink Shop Do also offers a sweet afternoon tea with a kids’ menu. You can get scones and tea at Browns on Islington Green, sample tea tasting at Piacha tea rooms, or splash out on a decadent afternoon tea at St Pancras Renaissance Hotel.
Fish & Chips
Tuck into that British staple at Vintage Salt, posh fish and chips done right. A short stroll down Upper St and you’ll find the more familiar Sea Fish and on Essex Rd, Sutton and Sons adds homemade pickles to the mix.
After London went burger crazy, Islington continued the trend. If you want to get your chops around something meaty, go for Byron or Gourmet Burger Kitchen for a satisfying meal, quick and dirty burgers at Five Guys, or try street food legends Meat Liquor (Upper St) and Lucky Chip at Old Queens Head.
Euphorium Bakery launched in Islington and remains a beacon for foodies (and new mamas who can find a breastfeeding haven in the Upper Street inner room). For that cupcake craving, don’t snooze on Hummingbird Bakery. My sister is obsessed with their pumpkin loaf!
Look out for our Hot Chocolate Crawl coming up on the blog. We found one of our top hot chocs at Ottolenghi on Upper St. Serious cocoa lovers head to Paul A Young for that 85% fix.
Islington has an abundance of gastropubs with a child-friendly attitude. We can point you in the direction of The Albion’s gorgeous beer garden in summer, The Canonbury for its grassy lawn, The Crown for their weekly Mother & Baby club, The Draper’s Arms for hot chocolate and board games on a wet afternoon and The Regent for yummy pizzas (£5 lunchtime deal) and a FREE room to hire for birthdays.
You’ll find several lickable spots in Islington on our London Ice Cream Crawl. Our pick has to be Udderlicious, where the cones are large, the gelato is smooth and luscious and you might even get to name your own ice cream.
Wagamama (in N1 Centre) is a best-loved chain for parents, with highchairs and slurpy noodles. We also recommend delicious steaming bowls of Pho (Vietnamese soup noodles) at Pho House in Highbury. Or healthy sized chicken strips and noodles on the Kids Menu at Banana Tree in Angel.
Exmouth Market is a food lover’s haven, especially on a Thursday when the street food stalls and trucks kick into gear. You can also grab a bite on Chapel Market at lunch time and don’t miss the Farmer’s Market on Sundays.
ARTS & CULTURE
Arsenal Emirates Stadium Tour
Junior Gunners get a tour for free; but whether you’re a club member or just a passing fan, you’ll enjoy snooping inside one of London’s most impressive stadiums.
Everyman Cinema: Screen on the Green
Deep, cosy seating (book early for two-seater sofas) and a serving bar add to the allure at Everyman’s luxury cinema chain. Mums and dads with bubbas under 1 hook up for Parent & Baby Cinema screenings here on Wednesday mornings.
Classy venue with a surprisingly relaxed attitude to the munchkins running to and fro, Kings Place sits on the canal and hosts a variety of musical and cultural event. Come for the annual Kings Place Festival in September where there’s family concerts, free arts workshops and boat rides.
Little Angel Theatre
An unmissable destination for young and old visiting Islington, the home of puppetry in London holds family friendly shows (babies welcome Sunday mornings), puppet making workshops and a great big party in the garden every year.
London Canal Museum
Discover the history of ice cream making, learn more about the canals and book a boat ride from the museum and back.
Leading artists and educators host monthly Sunday family arts and crafts workshops (ages 5+, younger ones welcome) at an affordable price (typically £7 per family). Early booking recommended.
Catch the latest acts, usually fresh from its sister venue at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Pleasance Theatre usually has something charming on for little ones — Christmas 2016’s production was The Cat in the Hat.
The world famous venue has a spectacular line-up of ballet, dance and family theatre every year. Look out for the Breakin’ Convention hip hop shows, The Snowman at Christmas, and Family Weekend specials during school holidays.
Young Actor’s Theatre
We’re a luvvie bunch in Islington, maybe that’s linked to having two of the biggest performing arts schools (Sylvia Young and Anna Scher) in the hood. If you’d like to dip a toe into this world, try affordable acting, singing, dancing and other classes at YAT for kids as young as 3.
Hot dance company Zoo Nation puts on blistering shows of hip hop and contemporary dance theatre, such as Into the Hoods, Groove on Down the Road and Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Start your little B-boys and girls locking and spinning young with Zoo Nation dance classes (sessions for ages 5 to 8 and ages 8+).