So, quick multiple choice question, have you ever felt ________?
A) unimpressed by the Mona Lisa
B) blinded by Times Square
C) bored waiting for the guard to change at Buckingham Palace
D) frustrated staging a Leaning Tower picture
If you saw through this ruse and answered “E) All of the above”, have I got the place for you!
Camden Market is one of London’s trendiest and most eclectic neighborhoods. If you’re looking to stray a little from the beaten path and take the pulse of Britain’s youth culture, this area of north London is the spot. Located on the Northern Line, the late Amy Winehouse’s seat of power is technically several markets that cover a big portion of Camden Town, each with its own distinct personality and draw. Camden’s weekend market entices both natives and not with a mix of wonder, vitality, and let’s not forget really, really good stall food.
Fair warning: if you’re more Elton John than Sex Pistols, Downton Abbey rather than Skins, you might prefer a visit to Portobello Market instead. However, if you’re searching for vibrant neighborhoods with a cool backstory and countless hidden gems, look no further!
As it is with most worthwhile places, Camden Town is a little out of the way from central London, but still easily accessible via the Tube or Bus. Once you get out of the tube station, take a right and walk up Camden High Street a couple of blocks until you reach the canal and Camden Lock Market. You’ll pass Inverness Street Market on the left, the birthplace of Camden Market, which started as a place for produce stalls – now you can buy Manchester United jerseys there.
Don’t let yourself be confused by the big green off-brand clothing stall complex titled “The Camden Market”. There is no legal or formal distinction for Camden Market, but this should technically be called Buck Street Market. Though it does have some decent pieces of inexpensive apparel, the real Camden Market it is not.
Once you hit the Lock, the bulk of the market is on your left and consists of the Camden Lock Market and the Stables Market. I’m not going to provide you with a route to follow for two reasons. The first is that the best way to experience Camden is to allow yourself to get lost in the maze of food stalls, clothing vendors, bars, and crazy rave stores. The second is that since that’s the only way I’ve done Camden, I wouldn’t be able to give you directions. This whole area is about letting loose, so relax and wander!
If you’re planning a trip to Camden, I recommend that you fast for it. The Camden Lock Market and the outdoor parts of the Stables Market have a huge swath of food stalls, though my preference lies with the ones in the Camden Lock.
These aren’t your average, or rather, your below-average food carts. These are a testament to how tasty fast food can be, and even the pickiest of eaters can find something they’ll like, whether it be the best cookie I’ve ever tasted at Cupcakes and SHHHT (it also wins my award for best name for a bakery), or octopus tentacles on a skewer. The variety of different cuisines here is staggering and you’ll find signature foods from exotic locales such as Ethiopia, Romania, and Philadelphia. If you’re having trouble deciding, it’s understandable, you’re only human, just take a tour and sample everything! To be honest with you, with such ubiquitously delicious food, this might make your choice even harder, so maybe go for another round of samples just to be sure.
The Stables Market, as its name indicates, is a massive repurposed stable whose horses used to tow distribution vans and barges along the canal. Now it’s a vast array of clothes, furniture, textiles, and other crafts. Much like the food stalls, the diversity is mind-boggling, and whether you like heavy metal, paisley prints, or 20th century antiques, there are some great deals to be had.
The real trick to shopping in this area is determining what is cookie-cutter and what’s not. Some of the items you’ll see here are truly unique to that specific stall tucked away in the corner of the stable, like in Lost ‘n’ Found, but odds are that the T-shirt that made you giggle exists at five other places in ten different colors. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to haggle with stall vendors over clothes and kitschy things. The nicer an item, the less likely the seller will be price-flexible, but you’d be surprised how much you can save by saying the magic words – “But that other guy over there *point in any direction* is selling that for half.”
A special mention has to be made for Cyberdog. I have never been to an electronic music rave, but if I was, this is where I’d shop. Without a doubt the most insane store I’ve ever entered, Cyberdog is more of a quirky experience than a shop you’ll buy things from. House music blares from speakers in this neon-lit ode to electronic music and the sartorial trend it began. It probably won’t be too fun for parents, stay clear away if you’re prone to headaches or migraines, but your adolescent or young-adult kids will know what I’m talking about. If your sons are spending longer than ten minutes in there, however, you might have to go in and drag them away from the cage-dancers suspended from the ceiling.
Camden’s nightlife is one of the best in London. Things get calmer as the day comes to an end, tourists head back to their hotels and leave behind some of the best places to go out in favor of Picadilly Circus and Soho. There are some fantastic venues here for live music, including ex-horse hospital now bar / art gallery Proud and the Hawley Arms Pub, Amy Winehouse’s old watering hole. The Roundhouse and Electric Ballroom both have a deep-rooted relationship with up and coming rock legends – U2, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Clash to name a few – so it’s definitely worth checking out their performance schedules if you’re looking for the next big rock group.
If you’ve been there and done that with London’s major attractions, or even if you haven’t, head to Camden Market on a Saturday or Sunday to get a real taste of what it’s like being a Londoner. I’ll be there, scouring the Stables Market, trying to find a jacket I saw last summer.
Olivier Willems is a native Londoner with a hint of Parisian flair who is helping to add a touch of reckless youth to the London Perfect Blog. Rain or shine, he knows where the hottest spots are around London and Paris. For more savvy travel tips, email him at [email protected].
(Image Credit: Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace by Gabriel Villena, Camden Lock Market Hall by Steve Haslam, Not the real Camden Market by Robert Lamb, Goat Curry by Ceridwen, Stables Market by Kim Traynor, Statue at the Stables by Mike Peel, Hawley Arms by Ewan Munro)