For centuries, North Londoners preferred to consign the seamier side of life to south of the river and today there is still a slight sense of superiority emanating from these parts. The gracious hilltop settings of Hampstead and Highgate do have some justification for this, however, having long been popular places to live and boasting a high count of famed former residents, as well as lots of greenery and attractive streets that retain a sense of the villages they once were. Closer to central London, Islington is a vibrant area popular for its range of cultural, eating and shopping opportunities, while Camden remains a distinctively alternative hub of the young and trendy.
Islington symbolises the new-style gentrification of London’s Georgian and Victorian dwellings; a popular stereotype portrays it as the happy hunting ground of the liberal-minded middle-class. A fitting cultural icon here is the Almeida Theatre in Almeida Street, one of London’s most innovative small theatres. At the southern end of Islington, on Rosebery Avenue, leading down to Holborn, stands Sadler’s Wells, a theatre built in 1683 and renovated as a stylish, cutting-edge space that is London’s principal dance venue. The crossroads at the heart of Islington’s shopping district, the Angel, is named after a long-gone coaching inn. Close by, towards the shops and restaurants that line Upper Street, is the busy Chapel Market.
Nearby Camden Passage is a treasure trove of antique shops, ranging from simple stalls to grand shops.
Classic terraces can be found in squares such as Canonbury Square, where authors George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh once lived. The Estorick Collection is at Number 39a and features a fine collection of Italian Futurist and figurative art. Just north of the intersection of Holloway Road and Upper Street lies Highbury Fields, a relaxed local green. This area is most associated with football; Holloway Road leads to the enormous Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal football club.
Resolutely alternative and grungy, Camden has quite a different atmosphere, and is frequented by a largely young and trendy crowd. Camden Market is the big draw for visitors. The main market (Camden High Street) has cheap clothes, while Camden Lock Market (off Chalk Farm Road) concentrates on crafts. The quality of goods has fallen as the crowds have risen. A nice way to view Camden Lock is along the Regent’s Canal. Canalboats can be taken from here to London Zoo. This 8.5-mile (14km) stretch of water running from Paddington in west London to Limehouse in Docklands was dug in the early 19th century.
Hampstead has long been a desirable address, historically popular with many artists and writers. Poet John Keats (1795–1821) wrote much of his work, including Ode to a Nightingale, during the two years he lived in Hampstead. Keats House contains memorabilia, including facsimiles of his letters.
The 3-sq-mile (8-sq-km) Hampstead Heath is the main ‘green lung’, leading down to Parliament Hill, which gives splendid views across London, as does the 110-acre (45-hectare) Primrose Hill overlooking Regent’s Park to the south. History-laden pubs include the Spaniards Inn and the Holly Bush. Tucked away among the quiet, countrified lanes is Burgh House, which has a fine music room, library and an award-winning garden. One of London’s finest Queen Anne-style houses, it doubles as Hampstead Museum, with a display on the landscape painter John Constable (1776–1837). Sigmund Freud, fleeing the Nazis in 1938, moved to Maresfield Gardens with his daughter Anna. The Freud Museum preserves the house as they left it. Kenwood House was remodelled in 1764–79 by Robert Adam and overlooks Hampstead Heath. Its rooms showcase the Iveagh Bequest, a major collection with works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Reynolds, Turner and Gainsborough.
This pleasant hill-top suburb built round a pretty square, contains London’s grandest cemetary, consecrated in 1839, where 300 famous people are buried. Besides its catacombs and impressive memorials, the main attraction is the stern bust of Karl Marx, who was buried here in 1883.