Camden Town - whacky, Bohemian and lots of fun
Camden is an inner northern district of London.
For half a century, Camden Town has been the centre of alternative culture in London, be it punk, goth, hippie or emo. The area is home to large markets selling an extremely wide range of products from glowing t-shirts to digeridoos, mostly from independent stalls. With some of the capital's most varied cuisine, great live music and an anything goes attitude, Camden is one of the most vibrant and interesting of all London districts.
Two main London railway stations are located in the south of the district, King's Cross and St. Pancras International (so close together, they are virtually one). A number of important main roads also converge at this point.
Virtually the whole of Camden was traditionally a working class, inner-city area with large estates of run-down public housing and some very seedy areas indeed. Inevitably though given its convenient inner London location, considerable gentrification has occurred across the district.
The district is served well by the following tube stations:
- Camden Town (Northern line). Note that due to the popularity of the market, this becomes an exit only station on Sundays 1PM-5:30PM. Use Mornington Crescent or Chalk Farm for leaving on Sundays before 5:30PM.
- Mornington Crescent (Northern line),
- Chalk Farm (Northern line).
- Kentish Town (Northern line)
- King's Cross/St. Pancras (Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria lines).
- Euston (Victoria and Northern lines).
Eurostar  from Paris, Brussels and Lille to St. Pancras International.
From Scotland, north east England including York, Peterborough and Stevenage to Kings Cross.
- The British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB (tube: Kings Cross, St Pancras), ☎ +44 20 7412 7332 ([email protected]), . M, W-F 9:30AM-6PM, Tu 9:30AM-8PM, Sa 9:30AM-5PM, Su 11AM-5PM. The official book depository of the United Kingdom, the British Library holds a copy of every book ever printed here, and a wide variety of periodicals. No less than 150 million items catalogued and there is an unimaginable 625 km of shelving! Visitors may not enter the museum itself, but there is a very good exhibition chronicling the history of the written and printed word, collecting some of the museum's best known exhibits, including two of the original manuscripts of the Magna Carta and Leonardo Da Vinci's notebook. In the central atrium stands The King's Library (the library of King George III) surrounded by a glass wall, so visitors can watch librarians retrieving books for readers. Tours of the library building run Mo, We, Fr, Sa and Su and cost £6. Call to book.
- Camley Street Natural Park, 12 Camley St N1C 4PW (tube: King's Cross St Pancras), ☎ +44 20 7833 2311 ([email protected]), . Daily 10AM-5PM. A small 2 acre nature reserve amid the industrial wasteland just north of King's Cross Station. This lovely little park gives visitors interested in nature the opportunity to learn about the work of the London Wildlife Trust who administer this plus 26 other reserves in London. This is the only one in the centre of the city though.
- The Canal Museum, 12/13 New Wharf Rd N1 9RT (tube: King's Cross), ☎ +44 20 7713 0836, . Tu-Su 10AM-4.30PM. Exhibits explaining the history of the canal. Housed in a former ice warehouse. £3 adults, £1.50 children.
- The Jewish Museum, 129-131 Albert Street NW1 7NB, (tube: Camnden Town), ☎ +44 20 7284 1997 ([email protected]), . Recently renovated and with modern extension. Exhibtions on the long history of the Jewish community in London. Surprisingly well laid out and interesting.
The gothic splendour of St Pancras Station with The British Library in the foreground
- Regent's Canal, (tube: Kings Cross St Pancras). You can walk or cycle along the canal through east London all the way to the Thames (3 hr). The St. Pancras lock is directly north of St Pancras station. Regents Canal was once a lifeline for trade and industry in London with narrowboats and barges ferrying goods to and from North London. The canal winds its way from the Grand Union Canal near Paddington in West London, past Regents Park, Camden, Islington and Mile End to Limehouse, where it meets the Thames. From Camden Lock you can walk upstream along the canal to The Regents Park and on to London Zoo. It is a great way to approach the Zoo and a good way to avoid the traffic. Downstream of Camden is less pretty but still an interesting walk, taking you through the Islington Tunnel (one of the longest tunnels in the British canal system) and out in to East London. Whichever way you go along the path, watch out for cyclists!
- St. Pancras International Rail Station. Marvelous Gothic architecture, used in the Harry Potter films.
There are several nice walks along the canal, but the main focus of Camden are the shops, restaurants and nightlife.
- Camden Town Audio Tour, . Download the audio tour and take to the streets with Camdenite celebrity Robert Elms and explore Camden Town, an area known for being different.
- Shaw Theatre, 100-110 Euston Rd, NW1 2AJ (tube: Euston), ☎ +44 20 7387 6864, . Theatre named after George Bernard Shaw and famous for showing high quality, non-mainstream productions. Adjacent to the British Library
Markets galore at Camden Town
Camden Town Markets
You will find several great markets , one for clothes, one for food, and one for all manner of things, from throws to second hand books, food from a hundred different cultures and a lot more.
- The Lock Market, (E of Chalk Farm Rd, by Camden Lock). Sa Su 9AM-6PM. Many stores mainly focused around music and clothing.
- The Stables Market, (The main entrance is next to the railway bridge across Chalk Farm Road, just past the canal). Some shops open all week, but most stalls only Sa Su 9AM-6PM. This is the largest of Camden's market areas, featuring hundreds of stalls selling everything from African art to beds to fetish clothing to antiques. This is probably the best place in London for interesting clothes, including vintage, goth, cyber and general club-wear. Do not miss The Black Rose and Cyberdog, two institutions in the alternative scene in London. Go early to avoid the crowds.
- The Canal Market, (In the large building beside the entrance to the Stables). Sa Su 9AM-6PM. Three floors of arts and crafts, including jewellery, paintings, candles, figurines and much more. A great place for gifts and souvenirs.
- Inverness Street Market, (Across Chalk Farm Rd from Camden tube station). This is a small market selling a range of common goods such as fruit and vegetables, cheap clothes and other bits and bobs.
- The Camden/Buck Street Market. A great spot for cheap knock-offs of expensive goods such as Doc Martens. Great for t-shirts and women's clothes, not so hot for men. Also lots of fake designer handbags.
In addition to the markets, there are a large number of interesting shops dotted all around the area.
Take a long slow wander down Chalk Farm Road (it will need to be slow, the sheer number of people makes walking quickly impossible!), checking out the amazing collection of boots and leather that dominate it. Of special note are:
- Amsterdam of London. Probably the finest purveyor of curious things in London.
- Resurrection Records, . The home of alternative music in North London.
Other shops include:
- Official Doc Martens Boot Co., Kentish Town Rd (tube: Camden Town). Selling Doc Martens since the 60s. The proprietor is always happy to talk and has some fun tales about the strange requests he has had from famous people.
- Rokit, High Street, . A proud up shoot that took its roots from Camden market and now has four high street stores across London.
Camden has some of the most varied cuisine in all of London.
A key part of Camden's food scene are the many stalls offering quick and tasty food from every country possible. Quality varies, but generally it is good and cheap. Stalls tend to be located in and around the Lock and Stables markets, but they appear everywhere. A perennial favourite has been the donut and cake stall located next to the bridge, as have the many Chinese and Thai stalls nearby.
Camden also contains a large number of more formal restaurants, many of which are relatively inexpensive and open after the stalls have closed.
- Belgo, 72 Chalk Farm Road NW1 8AN (tube: Chalk Farm), ☎ +44 20 72670718, . Tasty moules frites without taking the EuroStar, with deluxe decor. The beer menu is intense, and one can catch a good bargain with their "Full Moon Specials".
- Caponata and The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street NW1 7NL (tube: Mornington Crescent), ☎ +44 20 7387 5959, . Caponata is a Sicillian restaurant and the Forge arts venue is attached next door. Has a formal restaurant plus a casual bar serving light bites.
- The Camden Brasserie, 9-11 Jamestown Road NW1 7BW (tube: Camden Town), ☎ +44 20 7482 2114 ([email protected]), . Serving grilled steaks and fish here since the 1980s. Has a loyal local clientele.
- Chop Chop Noodle Bar, Euston Rd (Opposite the main entrance to King's Cross Station (adjacent to St Pancras Station)). Selection of the usual Chinese/oriental dishes to either eat in (even if you have only got half an hour you can be in and out with time to spare) or takeaway (they give you a plastic fork with your takeaway without even being asked). Very filling with big portions. Quality is not great but you can not argue with the prices. Licensed and drinks are certainly no worse than what you would pay in any London pub. £3.50.
- St. Pancras International Station, Pancras Rd, . Every day. A selection of cafes at the station. Convenient for a quick bite.
- Strada, 40-42 Parkway, N1 7AH (tube: Camden Town), ☎ +44 20 7428 9653. Good value pizza, pasta and risottos. One of the better Italian chain restaurants in London. Shame most of their produce in not freshly prepared, it comes frozen in a packet
Camden has a great nightlife, with lots of cool bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants.
Pubs, bars and cafes
- The Big Chill, Pentonville Rd.
- Devonshire Arms, . The dress code is strictly alternative and the pub has got a late night license for Fridays and Saturdays. DJs every night and some gigs. The artwork on the walls was produced by Robin, the barman.
- The Dublin Castle, Parkway. A bit rowdy and often quite packed, this pub and music venue has played a pivotal role in British music. It is well known for producing Madness and helping a great many other groups along their path to glory. Worth a stop, just for the atmosphere.
- The Edinboro Castle, (Just off the end of Parkway to the left). A more refined side of Camden, this pub is part of a chain in North London attempting to apply a little class. It has a fine selection of beer and cider, including a selection of Belgian beers both bottled and draught. The food is always good and the staff always friendly. There is a large, semi-covered outdoor seating area with heaters.
- The Good Mixer, Inverness St (Off Camden Road). M-Sa til midnight, Su til 11PM. A nice pub where the likes of Blur and Pulp and a load of other Britpop bands from the 90's used to drink. Prices are reasonable, there are two pool tables, and the general atmosphere is laid back and friendly.
- Jazz Café. Food, drink, and music (jazz, soul, blues).
- The Misty Moon, (tube: Chalk Farm). A fairly average pub.
- The World's End, (tube: Camden Town). Local landmark and a good meeting point. It is large, with two separate bars and a lot of seating. Food is served at the weekend, though is not of the best quality.
Clubs and music venues
- Scala, 275 Pentonville Rd, King's Cross, ☎ +44 20 7833 2022, . Alternative music venue
- Egg, 200 York Way, King's Cross, .
- Electric Ballroom, . F 10:30PM-3AM. The Ballroom hosts a number of different club nights. It is a big place with three separate dance floors and a large bar area, though despite the large size tends to get very hot in the summer months. . Features a rock floor and an industrial/goth/rock/techno floor.
- The Underworld, (Beneath the World's End), . F Sa. It is a great spot to go and catch alternative bands: goth, metal, electronica, rock, punk and many others are found here. Friday night is also a regular club night, attracting large numbers from the young alternative crowd and more "studenty" than the Saturday.
- The Barfly, 49 Chalk Farm Rd, . One of the best gig venues in North London, the Barfly plays host to a wide range of music, concentrating on rock and pop.
- YHA London St. Pancras, 79-81 Euston Rd, ☎ +44 870 7706044 ([email protected]), . Dormitory from £21.95, including breakfast.
- Corner House Hotel, 201 Camden Rd NW1 9AA (tube: Kentish Town), ☎ +44 20 7424 9509 ([email protected]), . In a lovely old Victorian building about 10 minutes or an easy bus ride away from the main part of Camden town. Have single, double and family rooms available. £85.
- Holiday Inn Camden Lock, 30 Jamestown Road NW1 7BY (500 metres from Camden Town tube), . A modern hotel with 130 rooms beside the canal at Camden Lock. From £105.
- Premier Travel Inn King's Cross, 26-30 York Way N1 9AA, (tube: King's Cross), . A modern, clean, reasonably priced hotel. From about £70.
Camden has long had strong associations with drugs, in particular cannabis and magic mushrooms. Even during daylight, you are likely to be offered weed or hashish. These dealers will usually accept no for an answer. Remember that these drugs are still illegal, streetside dealers are not to be trusted and often just steal your money if you look interested. Also, there are many undercover police around to catch you. Until 2007, it was possible to freely obtain magic mushrooms due a loophole that permitted the sale of fresh goods. This loophole has now closed and possession is taken seriously by the police.
Walking around Camden at night is generally fine, but gangs of youths can seem threatening, and best avoided if alone. Take a taxi if you are feeling insecure.
Fake goods are found in abundance in Camden. Most of the time its fairly obvious (Bolex watches, etc.), but be careful when purchasing - refunds are not common. Fake DVDs are mostly terrible quality.
- Catch the Eurostar for Paris, Lille or Bruxelles.
- Buses and tube trains leave the station for access to all areas of London.
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