A Guide to the Many Markets of Camden Town
Musical memories, local craft beer, and gorgeous Goths all await in the sprawling streets of Camden.
Camden Town has become synonymous with counter-culture, alternative clothing retail, music, entertainment and street food. It has a distinct feel to it: some mixture of the attitude of the numerous tattoo artists working in a multitude of parlours, the entrepreneurial drive of the many stall owners and the resilient nature of the remnants of the punk scene all come together in such a way as to negate the potentially ‘touristy’ feel a destination of popularity is oft to accumulate. Of all the marketplaces in London, Camden is perhaps the most labyrinthine with tunnels sprawling underground in veritable treasure-troves, running along canals and twisting off into mis-happenly shaped squares (oblongs or rhombuses are perhaps better terms). This is reflective of its complex transformation as an area from an early 19th century industrial canal district to a diverse hub of multicultural eclectica via the survival of damning fires along the journey. From early morning brunch locations right through to the evening entertainment, Camden has enough liveliness throughout the day to mark it out as location that demands an entire day to enjoy all it has to offer.
There are six market areas that make up the entirety of Camden Town, with each having a different specialisation and feel to it.
The Main Streets are to be found upon immediate venture from the tube station and unites the rest of the off-shooting markets. Running along the main high street, it is packed with restaurants, shops, pubs, and small indoor markets which trail off into the side-streets. Goth shops are mainly situated here: so if you feel like picking up some serious platform boots or some pleather trousers, this is the place to search. The Electric Ballroom is open on Sundays and is a remarkable indoor vintage clothing trade centre. Most of the major music venues are also here: Jazz Café, Dingwalls, Barfly Club, and Underworld cater to all musical tastes after-hours with the famous Roundhouse just a short walk away. All pubs in the area are good (a rarity in any London location), filled as they are with local eccentrics (a word to the wise: the punk scene is far more friendly than you’d initially think and is an endless resource of upcoming events), but in particular, the Hawley Arms is a local favourite. Having been Amy Winehouse’s daily hang, there is a friendly atmosphere of local creative types who spend their evenings smoking on the roof terrace, giving it a unique atmosphere of musical darkness.
The Camden Lock Village has recently been renovated after a fire in 2008 to offer visitors a more open layout and the joy of benches consisting of converted motorcycles to enjoy street food upon with a calming view of the lock. Consisting of 500 individual shop-units, there is a fantastic pancake and waffle stall, cheap yet stylish T-shirts emblazoned with pop-culture references, lacy accessories, a drum store and a glass engraver. Remarkably, this is the smallest market region of the Camden markets and not to be confused with the Camden Lock Market.
The lively sprawl of markets we know today all started with Camden Lock Market in 1975 and has the widest range of occult oddities, bookstores, and cult film stores in the region. At the weekends, it is filled with food stalls from all over the world (the Japanese barbeque octopus dough balls are probably the best in London) and the rest of the stores remain thriving during weekdays. Inside the Market Hall lies pop-up palmistry stalls, jangling sparkly jewellery, and hand-crafted native items from an array of exotic locations. In particular, film-lovers will adore Pyschotronic which stocks unusual movies and memorabilia from the 1930s to today, and Black Gull Books will delight and thrill those with an interest in second-hand books.
Camden Stables Market runs adjacent to Camden Lock and is the largest, most beautifully decorated and most easy to get lost in out of all of the markets. As the name reveals, the Stables were home to the horses which used to pull the barges along the canals, as well as Horse Hospital where they were treated for injuries (which has since been converted into Proud nightclub which has kept its original features, making it a beautifully unusual club location for alternative night-owls and bar-flies). Befittingly, its past has been honoured with the installation of charming life-sized horse statues scattered amongst the alleyways, reaching deep into the catacombs. Cyberdog is one of the most exciting shops in the area, catering exclusively to cyberpunks and easily spotted from far away due to its monolithic cyborg statue who guards its entrance, as well as its dancers and blasting techno music. Huge numbers of permanent street food stores huddle together under its archways engulfing visitors with tempting scents from all over the world. The deep bowls of the Stables house a circle of antique stores perfect for those looking to decorate their house with baroque mirrors, 1920s Louis Vuitton luggage cases, and hat stands. For those wanting to re-invent their look, Pepi’s Hairdressers is an award-winning Spanish salon who offers styles and colours limited only by your imagination (though they also do excellent conventional hairstyles.
Camden Buck Street Market is one of the off-shoots markets along the high street and is a condensed capital of intimate fashion stalls. Somehow 200 stalls have managed to fit into this small space, allowing visitors to squeeze between pashminas, pocket watches and fancily coloured umbrellas. It’s evocative of childhood sensations of rummaging around bargain bins in seaside towns, but with pop-Goth twist. Any fans of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ are guaranteed to find a memento of the dark childhood favourite here.
Iverness Street is the closest thing you’ll find to a conventional market in Camden Town. The singular market street is home to small yet popular selection of fruit and vegetable stalls which have been the main suppliers of groceries to the surrounding area since the 1900s. Although a few clothing and souvenir shops have crept onto the street from surrounding areas, this is really the reserve of continental bars and restaurants open until the wee hours of the morning. Keep a keen eye out for pubs on this street, second only to the high street in its selection of great places to down a pint and converse with locals.