Stepping out in London: Camden Market

A trip to Camden Market, one of my favourites in London.

One thing I love about London is the diverse range of markets to be found within its limits. The city is awash in markets suiting every taste, personality, and budget.  This is wholly detrimental to a reformed shopaholic like myself, but I love the amount of choice that is essentially at one’s fingertips.

For example, are you looking for a market with quaint cafes, tidy pastel-coloured houses as a backdrop, and stores shifting slightly higher end brick-a-brack and vintage clothing?  If so, make your way to Notting Hill Market.

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Looking for  a super edgy, ultra hipster market where the people watching is equally as good as the bargain hunting?  Then head on over to Brick Lane’s market.

Looking for a market that not only has mouth-watering eats but is well-placed for sightseeing? Then you must check out Borough Market (right next to London Bridge) or Greenwich Market (just down the hill from the Greenwich Prime Meridian).

See? There really is something for everyone.

This, then, brings me to the subject of today’s post: Camden Market. One of my favourite places to while away a Saturday afternoon, Camden is not prim, or hipster, or particularly close to any major tourist attraction (actually, I take that back — it’s a 10-minute walk from Primrose Hill, which according to this website has “one of North West London’s most cherished views”) .  Anyway, what Camden is is grubby and goth.  You can feel this as soon as you alight at Camden Town tube station.

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As you pass through the turnstile you’ll probably happen upon a decrepit-looking starving artist type banging out a Nirvana song on his battered guitar. The throngs of eclectically dressed young people crowded around him will make it difficult to exit the station. When you finally manage to detach yourself from the critical mass, you’ll cross the street, only to be confronted by more crowds and a bevy of tattoo parlours, all in a row. Then, you’ll notice the buildings: covered in gargoyles and dressed with large signs that scream ominous titles like “Dark Angel” and “Black Widow”.

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Camden, at first meeting, may be a lot to handle — at a glance it’s all rock n’ roll and inappropriate S&M costumes hanging in store windows.  And that’ s why I like it, really.  It has personality and is visually stimulating.  I always make it a point to bring visitors here because it’s so different from squeaky clean throughfares like Covent Garden. That’s not to say that the market isn’t gentrified, of course (a Starbucks and Aldo shoe outlet hold court on the main strip right alongside the tattoo parlours, after all).  But there is a marked difference between Camden and Covent Garden or Notting Hill.  A trip to Cyberdog, the futuristic clothing store deep within the market whose shopping experience is akin to a night at a rave, clearly demonstrates this difference.

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The market sits on the Camden Lock, which, on a nice day, is prime backdrop for a picnic (if you can find a spot on the ground to park your behind), and  lately, the food offerings at the market have become stellar.  There is seemingly food for all taste buds and preferences, from Brazilian to vegan to dirt cheap Chinese takeaway.

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But what of the actual buys?  In my humble opinion, you come to Camden more for the overall vibe than for the shopping. The market is a dizzying labyrinth of stores that sell everything under the sun, but I’ve found the quality questionable.  However, don’t take my word for it — go and see for yourself.

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Camden market is crowded and haphazard-looking, garish and bright, and an easy way to become acquainted with London’s darker side.  Will you add it to your list?

Have you ever been to any of London’s markets?  Which one is your favourite? 

 

18 Comments

  • Melissa says:

    This is my absolute favorite market in London! I actually find the shopping good while the food questionable. The food area closest to the lock is best for quality while the other side with all the Chinese takeaway is a bit iffy. The fresh orange juice stand at the front of the lock near the high street is amazing.

    Like all markets you have to dig for a gem but I’ve found countless presents for friends/family here and friends of mine seem to find really nice leather bags so I think it is a decent shopping destination if you want something a bit different. Camden with all of its markets together make it the best in the city. Also, while there are elements of edge here I think it is too touristy and cleaned up to really be that now but I agree it is a bit more grubby than Covent Garden.

    • Oneika says:

      Was totally thinking of you when I wrote this! Agreed that Camden is super touristy — hence the crowds! But I can totally see why. I also agree with you about the Chinese takeaway (it’s only 4 quid and looks kind of smarmy) but the range and diversity of food stuffs closest to the lock is pretty amazing when you think about it. I can’t attest to how good much of it tastes, but it smells heavenly!

      Funny that you mention the leather purses, because I have gone and taken a look a few times and found them way too expensive for the quality. That said, I tend to stay away from buying leather goods in London in general because they are extremely over-priced. That’s why I always stock up when I go to Italy… 😉 As for the other offerings, I’ve gone clothes shopping in the market and same thing: really poorly made clothes that you could find for cheaper in Spitalfields or Petticoat Lane Market. I think that if you’re looking for quirky kind of stuff like silk-screened t-shirts with crazy logos on them or theme/gag gifts Camden is good, but maintain that if you’re looking for nice clothing (fine knits, sweaters, dresses) or good leather shoes/belts that you’re better off going elsewhere.

      • Melissa says:

        I’ve looked as well and can’t seemed to work out where they are finding these bags either! I must return with them and find what stalls they are going to. Fair enough on the quality point but I don’t think any of the markets with clothes are really up to par, I’d definitely just go to a regular shop on the high street. Keep the London posts coming 🙂

  • Monica says:

    I agree, Camden is the kind of place you go for a stroll and for the delicious food rather than actually buying anything. It’s still my favourite market in London but I barely ever buy anything while I’m there.

  • SnarkyNomad says:

    Those food markets are spectacular for trying a million little things. Though sometimes you fill up on something and you pass by food all day and have no room for it…

  • Sarah says:

    I’ve been to London so many times, but never have I made it to Camden market! I will definitely make this a priority for my next visit! Looks like a fun and vibrant place to spend a few hours!

  • Aubrey says:

    I had a fun time wandering the market last fall and totally agree about the shopping being a bit iffy. It’s definitely more about the experience than actually buying anything. The most promising food seemed to be found in one little square near the bridge, where it felt a little less mass produced and more quality focused. The crowds were kind of overwhelming even on a rainy, windy day at the end of October!

  • I love Borough, Notting Hill and Camden markets best. Ohh the food at Borough market is just incredible. I have never been to Brick Lane’s market, but would love to check it out actually.

  • Alison Chino says:

    I have never been to Camden Market, but all the pictures really make me want to go! I went to Brick Lane last week and I fell head over heels! Now I want to see all the London markets. Next trip! 🙂

  • Ryan says:

    Love a good market, seems like that one is flooded with people and opportunities for some pretty nifty buys. I think the market is the very best place to get to know a city.

  • Marsha says:

    I have been to London three times and never been to Camden Market. Mmmm I’m not sure why I never ventured there before but I will definitely check it out next time. It looks very interesting.

  • I loved Camden Market when I went there! Found a great bubble tea place, and my friend Dom and me got about three lunches at Camden Lock Market – Japanese, Mexican, and Chinese. It’s one of my favourite places in London.

    As for other posts, I read a post by Amanda at Farsickness where she was extolling the virtues of Netil Market. Sounds like it’s worth checking out!

  • I lived in London for 10 years. Yes, Camden is colourful and pretty interesting, but for the last couple of year it has become a tourist circus. It’s not anything like it used to be. You don’t really have that edgy, quirky feeling anymore. I remember when I first came to London I was on the train heading there with at least 10 people with piercings, purpule hair, goths, etc. Nowadays there are a couple of punks around, who (sadly) for £5 will allow you to take a photo of them.
    If you want something different go to Brick Lane Sunday Market – and hurry up, this one is turning into a circus as well.

  • I love Camden Market – have you tried out Chin Chin Labs ice cream at Camden Lock Market?? My favourite market though is Brockley, which I only discovered recently and is relatively less crowded than some of the others – if you love hot food and fresh food to take home and you haven’t already tried it, I would highly recommend!

  • I love the markets at Brick Lane on Sundays. It used to be better when as well as the official markets, there were people setting up their own makeshift stalls on the side of the road up and down Brick Lane, you used to get a REAL bargain there, but the police started issuing fines for doing that. But it’s still really good (well, at least last time I was there it was) with lots of different sections in warehouses up and down the lane. Crafts, food, clothes, and even a separate hall dedicated entirely to vintage clothing stalls.

    But to be honest, all of London’s markets are unique in their own way. If there is one thing Londoners do well, it’s a market.

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