Camden Town - whacky, Bohemian and lots of fun
Camden is an inner northern district of London. Its heart lies in Camden Town, a neighbourhood known for its market and the colourful nightlife, although the borough itself stretches south well into Central London bordering with London/Soho at Oxford Street encompassing parts of the upmarket residential districts of Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury.
In addition, Camden is home to three of the most important railway stations in London: King's cross, St. Pancras and Euston.
For half a century Camden Town, the centre of Camden, 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.
The area has its origins in the early 19th century as a suburbian town on the road leading north from London. Later, it developed as a service centre around the railways, canals and other transportation. 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. Nevertheless, a friendly community atmosphere remains in the area which has in recent years bred such different people as singer Amy Winehouse and Labour party leader Ed Miliband.
It's important to note that the district of Camden, as defined here, is actually larger than Camden Town and smaller than the London Borough of Camden. This is done for the sake of usefulness: the former is a rather small historic area and the latter simply an administrative unit, but don't be surprised by seeing contradictory uses of the term "Camden". As the term is used here, the Camden district roughly corresponds with the northern half of the Metropolitan Borough of St. Pancras, which existed until 1965.
Three of the main London railway stations are located in the south of the district. They are all along Euston Road, which is a part of the ring road around inner London. King's Cross and St. Pancras International are just across the street from each other (they're served by a single tube station), and slightly further to the west is Euston. A number of important main roads also converge in or around Camden.
For the traveller, it may be useful to divide the district of Camden into four areas. In the centre is Camden Town, with Camden High Street and Chalk Farm Road as its main thoroughfare. The Northern Line underground runs through this area and it's where most locations of interest are to be found. To the southwest of Camden Town is Euston, with its epynomous railway station but little else apart from office blocks and council housing. To the southeast is a area known as King's Cross, which contains both the King's Cross and St. Pancras International railway stations. The King's Cross area used to be known for prostitution, drugs and crime, but today most of the area is being redeveloped and has become a lot more up-market. Finally, northeast of Camden Town is Kentish Town, linked to the rest of Camden by Kentish Town Road which branches out from Camden High Street. This is an interesting area, in some ways Camden Town's smaller sibling, it's more quiet than it's neighbour to the south but has many of the same characteristics.
The district is served by the following tube stations, listed from south to north
- Euston (Victoria and Northern lines).
- King's Cross/St. Pancras (Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria lines).
- Mornington Crescent (Northern line, Charing Cross branch only)
- 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.
- Chalk Farm (Northern line).
- Kentish Town (Northern line)
Camden is very easily reached by bus from almost anywhere else in North or Inner London.
- Both King's Cross and Euston are large and important bus stops, with buses arriving from all over the city.
- Camden High Street and Chalk Farm Road form an important bus route running through the Camden Town area. A number of buses converge on the Mornington Crescent, Camden Town and Chalk Farm tube stations, connecting central London with the boroughs further north.
- Kentish Town is connected to some of the buses that run through the High Street, but also has separate bus connections to East London boroughs.
- Night bus N5 travels between the stations of the Northern Line and thus serves much of Camden during the night.
Camden is connected to the London Overground by two stations on the North London Line and one on the Watford DC Line. This is most useful if arriving in Camden from either East or West London, as most other options from those areas require going in to the centre and then back out to Camden.
- Camden Road (North London Line)
- Kentish Town West (North London Line)
- Euston (Watford DC Line)
London’s three large railway terminals to the North - Euston, St. Pancras and King’s Cross - are all located in the borough with easy connections from other parts of London and the northern suburbs.
- Euston  is the London terminus of the West Coast Main Line with intercity services to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow. It is within easy walking distance of Camden Town itself, or you can catch an onward tube via Northern Line.
- St. Pancras International  is the terminus of the Midland Main Line (services from Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield) and the High Speed One line to Continental Europe.
- King’s Cross[] serves the East Coast Main Line with intercity services to Cambridge, Leeds, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh, as well as outer suburban services to the northern commuter belt.
- The British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB (tube: Kings Cross, St Pancras), ☎ +44 20 7412 7332 ([email protected]), . M, W-F 09:30-18:00, Tu 09:30-18:00, Sa 09:30-17:00, Su 11:00-17:00. 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]), . 10:00-17:00 daily. 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 10:00-16:30. Exhibits explaining the history of the canal. Housed in a former ice warehouse. £3, £1.50 children.
- The Jewish Museum, 129-131 Albert St NW1 7NB (tube: Camden Town), ☎ +44 20 7284 1997 ([email protected]), . Recently renovated and with modern extension. Exhibitions 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.
- St. Pancras Old Church and cemetary, by Pancras Rd (behind the St. Pancras railway station). Hidden away behind the railway station is what is believed to be one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in England. There has been a church on the site since at least around the year 314. The current church is mostly a 19th century structure, but it contains some traces of an older Norman structure. Surrounding the church is a cemetary, today transformed into a public park which contains a memorial to Mary Wollstonecraft who was originally buried there before her remains were moved to Bournemouth.
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
The markets in Camden Town are why most people come to Camden. Several markets are packed into the area between Camden Town and Chalk Farm tube stations, and in the weekend it can be difficult to distinguish one from another. Sadly, with increased tourism, the markets have become more commercial and less unique than they once were. However it is still possible to find some great things to buy - clothes, art, books, records - simply by persisting through the most commercial bits and going on through to the more interesting parts deeper inside the markets.
- The Lock Market, (by Camden Lock). Sa Su 09:00-18:00. Many stores mainly focused around music and clothing. This is the market most people mean when they talk about the "Camden Market".
- The Stables Market, (next to the railway bridge across Chalk Farm Road, just past the Lock Market). Some shops open all week, but most stalls only Sa Su 09:00-18:00. 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.
- Camden Lock Village. The three-story market that stood here burned down in 2008. It has reopened since, but the area just contains a number of small stalls. The owners are currently trying to get planning permission for re-development.
- 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 Inverness Street Market is the smallest market in Camden, but it's the original local market in Camden predating the others by decades.
- The Buck Street Market. Best avoided, but note that this is the first market you see turning right out of the tube station and it has a big sign declaring it "The Camden Market". Sells only the typical funny T-Shirts, knock-off designer boots, keyrings etc. that you can find in practically every city in the world.
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. they do sell most of stuff that make you smoking time more enjoyable ( mostly for weed and hash smokers)
- 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 St, . 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 Rd 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 St NW1 7NL (tube: Mornington Cres), ☎ +44 20 7387 5959, . Caponata is a Sicilian 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 Rd 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 Stn (adjacent to St Pancras Stn)). 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). Note that the restaurant is takeaway only after 10pm. 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 Pkwy, 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
- 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, Pkwy. 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 Pkwy 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 High Street). M-Sa til midnight, Su til 23:00. A nice pub where the likes of Blur and Pulp and a load of other Britpop bands from the '90s used to drink. Prices are reasonable, there are two pool tables, and the general atmosphere is laid back and friendly.
- Hawley Arms, 2 Castlehaven Rd. Tucked away in a side street close to the Stables Market, this two-story pub has a small garden and a roof terrace. There are sometimes concerts upstairs. A favorite of the late Amy Winehouse.
- Jazz Café. Food, drink, and music (jazz, soul, blues). Every Saturday the place turns into a great 80s club, with "I love the 80s".
- The Misty Moon, (tube: Chalk Farm). A fairly average pub.
- The Prince Arthur, . A nice pub away close to Euston station.
- 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.
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 22:30-03:00. The Ballroom hosts a number of different club nights. It is a big venue with two separate dance floors and four bars. 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.
- Camden Inn Hostel, 55-57 Bayham St NW1 0AA, ☎ +44 20 7388 8900 ([email protected]), . checkin: 11:00; checkout: 10:00. Part of the Smart Backpackers chain of hostels, on the street next to Camden High Street. Dormitories £15-20.
- St Christopher's Camden, 50 Camden High St NW1 0LT, ☎ +44 20 7388 1012 ([email protected]), . checkin: 14:00; checkout: 10:00. On the corner of Camden High St and Plender St, which is home to a small morning market. Belushi's bar on the ground floor. Dormitory from £12 which includes breakfast and WiFi.
- YHA London St. Pancras, 79-81 Euston Rd, ☎ +44 870 7706044 ([email protected]), . Dormitory from £21.95, including breakfast.
- Ibis London Euston St Pancras, 3 Cardington Street, NW1 2LW, ☎ (+44)207/3887777, . Basic and functional rooms from the ubiquitous French budget hotel chain - this is the most central of all their London branches. £80 p/n (advance book) £110 p/n (flexible).
- Camden Lock Hotel, 89 Chalk Farm Rd NW1 8AR (tube: Chalk Farm), ☎ +44 20 7267 3912 ([email protected]), . Good value, family-owned and run hotel five minutes walk from the main markets. Note that there is no lift. £79.
- 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 Rd NW1 7BY (tube: Camden Town), . A modern hotel with 130 rooms beside the canal at Camden Lock. From £150.
- 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.
Walking around Camden at night is generally fine, but gangs of youths can seem threatening, and best avoided if alone. At night walking on well lit streets, such as Camden High Street, is a good idea but 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.
Somers Town, the area south of Camden High Street is known in the area for high drug use and youth violence. The estates (housing projects) to the north of Camden have some unsavoury characters hanging around but should pose no threat unless your looking for trouble.
Three very good parks are within walking distance of Camden:
- Regent's Park lies along Camden's western edge, a beautiful planned garden where you can get away from the fast pace of London life.
- Primrose Hill, immediately to the north of Regent's Park, is easily within walking distance of Camden and has the best views over London.
- Hampstead Heath is less than 3km away from the heart of Camden Town, or just a few tube stops away.
For shopping, Tottenham Court Road with its famed electronics stores lies south out of Camden, close to Euston. At the other end of Tottenham Court Road is Oxford Street.
Looking further afield, from St Pancras International you can catch the Eurostar for Paris, Lille or Bruxelles.
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