Camden Market is one of London’s, and possibly Britain’s, most colorful places. Packed with stalls selling beautiful, unusual, obscure, and at times absurd items, Camden market is a ‘must see’ for anyone planning a visit to England’s capital city.
If you’ve never been to Camden Market before you’ll likely be a little taken aback as you emerge from Camden Town tube station. On any given day you’ll find yourself being swept like driftwood into a throng of people who might look like they’ve just stepped out of the Rocky Horror Picture show.
As the tide carries you toward the lock you’ll catch the smell of incense that will tangle and fade with the strains of music escaping from the various shops selling shoes that are meant to be worn but not necessarily walked in, jewelry that could wound, and clothing that has no real practical purpose. But keep walking. You’re still in the tourist trap area and haven’t reached the good stuff yet.
Yes, I know the entire market could be considered a tourist trap these days, but if you ask me the High Street is a soulless fraud that wears Camden’s reputation like a disguise. However, if you’re there on a weekend the Electric Ballroom market is worth a look-in. It was the first London Ballroom to have electric lights, hence it’s name.
The first true market space you’ll come to will be on your right as you head toward the lock. Buck Street Market has some fun stuff, but don’t get carried away, in my opinion this is still not the ‘real’ Camden. It’s mainly just stalls selling a lot of the same T shirts and clothes which might be cool, but really, how cool can a T shirt be?
As you reach the heavily studded metal bridge that crosses Regent’s Canal you’ll see the Canal market to your right. It was recently heavily damaged by fire on the eve of my last visit here, but it’s being rebuilt so maybe when you visit it’ll be open once more, if so check it out.
Cross the road here and walk into Camden Lock Market, a mixture of indoor and outdoor stalls selling an array of goods from around the world. Now you’re in the heart of Camden Market. This is the most craft based of the markets and it will likely be teeming with shoppers and tourists moving slowly through the maze of merchandise like icebreaker ships making their way through the arctic seas.
If you’re feeling hungry you can grab a bite to eat from one of the food stalls, then maybe try to find a place to sit by the lock where you can bask in the sun and people watch. On sunny days you’re sure to be entertained.
Moving through the Lock Market you’ll eventually find your way to the historic Stables Market, very close to the blue bridge that crosses the road and reads ‘Camden Lock.’ The market was built in the one time Midland Railway stables and horse hospital for the horses that pulled barges along the canal.
This ever increasing market is rammed full of traders and it will take you an age to explore. You’ll find a variety of stalls and small shops selling a wide range of antiques and furniture, arts, crafts, and clothing.
There is talk of the local authorities allowing chain stores and outlets like Starbucks to occupy an extension to this market, but to do so would be nothing short of a catastrophe. Camden Market has built its reputation on the back of the small independent traders who bring their own unique character and personality to the area. There is simply no way that a big brand like Starbucks or HMV could ever achieve or even mimic the flavor of these small traders, and frankly, to allow them an opportunity to try would be scandalous.
As you leave the Stables market and old Horse Hospital to make your way back toward the lock and the underground station, stay on the right side of the road because you’ve got one last market to see. A traditional street market for over 100 years, Inverness Street Market still has a fair few ‘fruit’n'veg’ stalls, though unsurprisingly they’re outnumbered by the more typical kind of stalls you would expect to see in Camden.
And that’s it, you’re done. Your Camden experience is over and in all likelihood it’s taken far more of your time than you expected. If you need a little rest before you once more take on the tube you could stop in at the Worlds End pub just over the road from the tube station.
Whatever happens, I’m sure you’ll be glad you came here, if not for what you bought, instead for that stories you will have collected along the way.