A guide to London’s Bohemian hotspot: On arriving in Camden Town, see how many flyers for piercing and tattoo studios you are handed on the walk up to the market – at least twenty. That’s a lot of body modification for one town. But there is far more to Camden Town than studded belts and tie dye scarves (although if that’s what your dark little heart seeks you won’t be disappointed).
Camden Town – Searching for hidden treasures
Camden Town is full of tacky goods that wouldn’t look out of place in a pound store. Chain Reaction is a haven for fans of kitsch, although you may struggle trying to find anything you actually need – Elvis ashtrays, 50s pin-up wallets and ‘grow your own man’ kits are part of the cheap and kitsch cornucopia it offers. Next door is The Ark, full of fancy dress costumes and over-the-top hand-made gothic dresses and shoes. The clothes are made by Diva, a company that has designed outfits for Girls Aloud and Hope. Walking up the high street, and particularly in the market which is open every day until around 5pm, you may feel a tremendous sense of déjà-vu as you will find dozens of identical tutus, hats, wristbands and badges; it is easy to get confused in the market place itself as each stall tends to look the same. This is great if you are looking for a good price cute dresses, bold jewellery and quirky shoes and want to haggle, but the more discerning shopper needs to explore a little further.
On Camden High Street you will see a few familiar names – there is an Office, Offspring and Foot Locker (yes, lots of shoes) and, perhaps less familiar, Echoo, offering some beautiful dresses for affordable prices, and Punkyfish, perfect for those of you in need of a luminous pink skirt.
Once you hit Camden Lock you’re surrounded by another selection of stalls, a little more arty and unusual than Camden Market, and you will be met with the smell of incense and Chinese food. Fans of the film ‘Happy Go Lucky’ should recognise the area. Thea’s Vintage Clothing has a big selection of hats, shoes and silk scarves and is fairly representative of the Lock and the Stables Market, where most shops cater for those with a very definite style. Gothic, futuristic and retro clothing are at the heart of Camden’s fashion scene. In the Stables Market you will find slightly more eclectic stalls such as Camden Mirrors, an eerie little room of mirrors for sale, and a second hand instrument shop where you can buy a saxophone for £40.
Penny Burdett Designer Knitwear is in a little part of Camden Lock called The Upper Walkway and is a breath of fresh air in a town full of quirky accessories and PVC dresses. It’s a one of a kind shop where owner Penny creates stunning, unique clothing from her workshop right in the middle of the store. Prices vary, with the most expensive piece costing £200. Nearby in The Middle Yard is Celtic Dawn, a shop selling rare jewellery and crafts adorned with intricate designs including a stunning sapphire glass with pewter grail for £98. It’s certainly worth a look.
Even the fussiest eater will be able to find a restaurant or café to suit them in Camden. On Parkway you will find every cuisine imaginable, from Vietnamese and Lebanese to Italian and Irish (the latter, unsurprisingly, is a pub but does offer a decent menu). For lunch try The NW1, a Thai restaurant where you can get a satisfying starter and main course for just £5. Walking up Parkway, as is the case with many of the side roads in the area, you may forget you are in Camden as it lacks the vibrant, quirky character of the high street – there is even an Odeon Cinema on the corner. It should not be missed though, especially if you are looking for a barber or nail salon – there are at least 10. At the end of the road is the Green Note, which incorporates a vegetarian café and a live music venue.
Where to eat
Vegetarians should have no problem finding food establishments to accommodate them. Camden is a very health conscious town where vegan stalls, alternative medicine shops and herbal teas abound. No trip to Camden is complete without a visit to The InSpiral Lounge, a beautiful venue billing itself as a showcase for some of the finest in visionary cuisine, electronica and beats, multimedia, performance, healthy living and conscious beauty. There is a wonderful, chilled atmosphere and you can order a tempeh steak with vegan mayonnaise followed by marzipan truffles and an Organic Orgasm vodka cocktail while enjoying a wonderful view of the canal.
Chalk Farm Road, behind the Lock, is often overlooked as it is a little out of the way, but is worth checking out if only for Camden interiors, a lovely, if expensive, furniture shop full of ornate mirrors and picture frames. Next door is Foggs Restaurant, promising delicious food from around the world, only open in the evenings, and further still is Inhabition, a funky café with posters covering the walls and ceiling – get a Roman Coffee for £2.20 or Amaretto Steamer for £3.30.
Music in Camden
Music runs through the veins of Camden – most bars and some restaurants have a television screen on the wall showing MTV and many establishments have speakers blaring outside to lure you in. Walking from the station towards the market you are bombarded by band t-shirts and club promoters who are happy to talk to you about Camden’s musical history for hours.
Although a side road mostly taken up by fruit and vegetable stalls, Inverness Street has a real continental feel and is full to the brim with music and atmosphere. Bar Gansa offers flamenco every Monday at 8:30pm, Solo Bar brings you live acts every week and ‘Out on the Floor’ is one of many record stores selling merchandise as well as rare vinyl.
Nights out in Camden
If you have any energy left and are looking for a night out, there is more variety in Camden than you might expect.