As a rebellious teenager dipping my toes into the weird and wonderful world of the alternative subculture, Camden Town (London, UK)
was a kind of Mecca. Well known as the home of London’s alternative scene, Camden has become something of a pilgrimage for punks, goths, hippies, emos and rockers alike. Living within the walls of middle class suburbia, we’d often make a break for freedom and venture into the city in search it’s infamous rock n’ roll culture. Ten years later I found myself living in the city, just on the edge of the town that had drawn me in so many years ago.
By day, Camden is a bustling town with equal measures of camera-happy tourists, punk rockers and hippies wandering through its busy streets. Most famous for its markets, the avid shopper can find here anything and everything here from Doc Martins and neon raver suits to handmade incense, vintage clothing and antiques. By night the town is home to one of London’s busiest live music scenes and a vibrant nightlife.
The Journey Into Camden
When in London, travelling into Camden Town is done most accessibly by tube on the Northern Line branch. Stepping out into the station will give you the first hints of colourful characters and charismatic eccentricity as you resurface above ground to the bustle of the streets outside. A few steps out and, as anywhere in the capital, you’ll find plenty of trendy chain coffee shops, all packed with the standard packs of exhausted tourists and hipsters sipping their fancy double-shot-soy-hazelnut-latte-extra-foam, but don’t be lured into believing this is no more than another stop on London’s tourist trail. It’s true, gentrification has taken place throughout the city, and most certainly Camden town has changed over the years. However, this is a town with a strong grip on its roots and residents who are not willing to let it go just yet.
Camden is a borough of London, situated in the north west of the city, close to Kings Cross, Euston and Hampstead Heath. The markets that brought the town it’s recognition remain, the oldest spanning a century, although their current formats have been gradually expanding since the 70’s. Although now increasingly commercial, the markets are still a huge part of the town and are a popular spot for tourists visiting the city. In the past 6 months the has been a gradual closure of the Camden Lock market (one of 6 on the street) whilst the land is handed over to developers who plan to regenerate the area, evoking mixed feelings from residents. At present, all that is clear is that what was once a vibrant market full of life is now a muddy building site surrounded by great barriers the spirit of the town has tried so hard to break down. Despite it’s current conflicts, there are many things Camden Town has to offer to take you just outside the realm of tourist and into something a little deeper.
Just opposite the stables market is one of my favourite hideouts – ‘My Village Cafe’, a vegetarian cafe and restaurant with a welcoming homely feel, great healthy food and amazing coffee. Although on the high street, it’s the perfect place to escape the madness for a while, read a book or strike up a conversation. A little further down, on the lock bridge itself is another vegan restaurant ‘inSpiral’. Although small, inSpiral is well known for its conscious organic & vegan offerings, and is usually filled with a whole host of interesting characters, from health conscious hipster to the more eccentric. By night the cafe often has live music – usually in the form of acoustic bands, with DJ sets on the weekends. Be sure to check out posters in the window to find out what’s coming up – they have a pretty strict booking policy so artists are usually top quality!
If you like live music, Camden plays host to one of London’s busiest scenes not only for rock music, but gives a home to creative types from all over the capital. Every night you can wander down the high street and find anything and everything from intimate open mic sessions (check out The Green Note, The Abbey Tavern & The Elephants Head), buzzing local gigs (check out Barfly, The Monarch & Our Black Heart) and stop offs of more well-known artists on tour (The Underworld, Roundhouse & Electric Ballroom).
For those seeking a more authentic side to Camden, there are afew great rock bars still alive and kicking (usually pretty loudly!). The Devonshire Arms, just off the Main Street is one of my favourite haunts – drop by for a whisky and some old-school tunes any night of the week and you’ll be greeted by a friendly crowd of leather jackets, tattoos and true rock & rollers. Another worthwhile stop is Our Black Heart, and of course the famous Worlds End. If you’re in town on the weekend, you’ll see flocks reassembling towards the clubs by 11pm (unfortunately Camden isn’t an all-night kind of place, with most clubs closing down by 3am, so it’s worth getting in there relatively early). Friday nights are generally for the younger crowd, heading to the rock nights at The Underworld, Electric Ballroom and The Barfly. If that’s not your vibe, more mainstream offerings can be found at The Monarch or Proud Camden. Another of my favourites is Joes, a dive bar open late every night, providing an endless source of tequila shots and a dance floor of classic blues, soul and rock n’ roll.
After a long night on the town, drag your tired feet to one of the streets falafel stands (the best kind of pick me up before a venture home across the city), or take a ride on one of London’s night busses to see some stunning views of the city at night and eavesdrop the nights events of your fellow passengers!
If you have just one day in Camden, spend an afternoon wandering through the markets, take a walk up to Primrose Hill for the sunset and some amazing views over the city, check out a rock bar or two and have a dance at one of the towns late night offerings.
Just a final note; please party responsibly!