One of north London’s great green spaces, Finsbury Park in the London Borough of Haringey, cuts a bold and leafy swathe through a buzzy urban area, its paths lined with long avenues of trees. Opened in 1869, the park has been restored to high Victorian glory, with historical flower beds and an American garden planted with rhododendrons and azaleas.
The current tranquility belies Finsbury Park’s vibrant and at timed troubled past: suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst spoke here during the first world war, Oswald Moseley clashed with anti-fascist demonstrators in the park in the 1930s, and it was planted with allotments by hungry Londoners in the second world war.
You’ll find basketball and tennis courts and even a baseball ground here, but the park is a place of performance as well as leisure. In the 1940s the London Philharmonic and Ballet Rambert graced the open-air theatre, while in the 1990s and 2000s the Sex Pistols, the Wailers and Bob Dylan brought Finsbury Park to a standstill. Today the July Wireless festival showcases acts such as Kanye West and Outkast.
Small but cutting edge, the Furtherfield Gallery, housed in a red brick pavilion, explores the intersection between art and technology.
Walk lovers should make a beeline for the western edge of Finsbury Park, where the Parkland Walk shoots over to Highgate along the course of the former Great Northern Railway. Look out for a contemporary metal sculpture of a green man in a tall brick railway arch, as you follow the leafy corridor through cuttings and across embankments to the deep greenery of Queen’s Wood and Highgate Wood.
Islington Ecology Centre and Gillespie Park
South of the main station sits the area’s version of New York’s High Line: a skinny wild flower-edged strip running along the railway line to Gillespie Park. It’s one of Islington’s ‘hidden gems’. Till the 1960s this was a yard and sidings for the Great Northern Railway, but today the reclaimed land is a rustic delight – you’ll even see a stile or two. The grassland, woodland and lily ponds support damselflies, a variety of moths and butterflies, birds including song thrushes and grey herons and flowers such as red campions, field scabious, purple toadflax and ragwort.
The timber eco centre at the heart of Gillespie Park, topped by a wind turbine, is the council’s first carbon neutral building. And on Sundays a community café at the centre provides a perfect inner-city escape.