London Street Guides: Camden

By Charlotte Santry

Camden Town in north London can be grubby, edgy, serene, swanky, hedonistic – or all the above – but there’s so much going on it’s easy to be led astray. Just ask my 84-year-old grandmother, who met me for lunch at the lock clutching a flyer for a goth tattoo parlour.

On any given stroll down the Camden High Street you’ll encounter swarthy emos, wannabe rock gods swaggering penguin-style in low-slung skinny jeans, mohawked punks and tourists, masses of them. They’re tempted by the busy market stalls and alternative culture that the neighbourhood embodies.

However, keeping a quieter profile are the rows of pastel-coloured terraced houses, waterside cafes and low-key food haunts, which attract an older, more well-heeled crowd.

So here are some suggestions for how to get the best out of Camden depending on your stage of life or state of mind, hopefully helping to avoid any age-inappropriate tats, unwanted piercings or other potential mishaps.

Kid

“I want to go to the park! Mummy, take me to the park!”

Ok kiddo, how about a picnic in Regents Park, with its 166 acres of shady walkways, open green spaces, a rose garden, boating lake, numerous cafes, and zoo, just a stone’s throw away from the hustle and bustle of Camden High Street?

“Waaa, I need a wee-wee!”

There are loos in the kids’ playgrounds but you’ll be told to hop it unless you’re accompanying an actual human child. If not, pop into The Dublin Castle, which takes a pleasingly laid-back approach to people using its facilities but also serves spirits and mixers for a reasonable €3.20.

“Look, a doggy!”

Spot prairie dogs skulking in their pens at London Zoo – for free – by taking the canal path, which runs alongside stretches of the zoo, from Camden Lock to Little Venice. Passing posh mansions and dinky houseboats on the way, you’ll also see the zoo’s giant aviary and possibly even hear the roars of big cats.

Teen

“That sounds LAME. I just want to get wasted and snog boys.”

One Saturday night each month, former theatre-turned-nightclub Koko hosts the monthly Buttoned Down Disco (at the Mornington Crescent end of Camden High Street) – a sparkly indie/electro-pop affair that’s free before 10pm – but get there early to beat the crowds. If it’s hot you could start the night with a sundowner in the beer garden at under-rated boozer The Victoria, tucked away on Mornington Terrace. Alternatively, try The Blues Kitchen on Camden High Street, which also has live gigs.

Student

“So, that’s all a tad conventional for a free spirit like me. Where can I absorb some culture, surrounded by like-minded bohemians? Preferably outside; I mean it’s hot and I’m trying to maintain my gap yah tan.”

It’s back to Regents Park, but this time for the open air theatre, which shows Shakespeare plays during the summer months. Students get €18 standby tickets. For a bit of architectural history, you could saunter down to Hampstead Road to gawp at Tutankhamen-inspired art deco building Greater London House, the former Carreras cigarette factory.

“Ooh, my loan’s just been paid so where can I buy some cheap threads?”

Rifle through fluorescent playsuits, 1930s wedding dresses, retro T-shirts and everything in between at the historic Stables market, a former horse hospital, further up towards Chalk Farm. The Arches area is the best spot for picking up vintage items, although the Electric Ballroom, on the high street, is also worth a rummage on a Sunday.

Young professional

“I’m knackered! These long hours are hell. But now I’m a wage slave at least I can afford to frequent venues that don’t smell of vomit. Well technically I can’t afford anything for the next 30 years until I’ve paid off my loan, but what the hell, I deserve it! Did I mention how hard I work?”

After a day’s slog in the office, you can’t beat a hearty burger, so head to Haché and choose from the freshest “Bollywood”, Mexican, lamb, chicken and even duck burgers, For liquid relief – and the possibility of celeb-spotting – you could try The Hawley Arms, where a colleague’s leaving do was livened up by the late Amy Winehouse jumping behind the bar to serve our pints.

The best power lunches near the station are to be had in Market restaurant, where you can feast on 3 courses of modern British fare from Monday to Saturday for €12. But slightly off the beaten track is El Parador, where €12-€18 (depending on special deals) gets you three generous plates. Make sure you try the salt cod and padron peppers, although the chorizo with brandy is particularly good, as is the fillet steak. Delicioso!

Young at heart

“Spare time? What spare time? Between that work promotion and the brood I’ve been rearing?”

Grab your partner and let off steam at a traditional ceilidh, €12 on Friday nights (check dates) at Cecil Sharp House on Regents Park Road. Its unpretentious vibe attracts a mixture of giggly 20-30-somethings, adventurous singletons trying to impress with their do-se-do skills, and die-hard Celts.

Not-so young at heart

Try to save some energy and funds for a blowout special treat at epic pan-Asian restaurant and bar Gilgamesh, in the heart of the market. Have a champagne cocktail, maybe accompanied by some dim sum, or crispy duck salad and beef penang are also highly recommended. Mains average €19 or so.

Tired? Then it’s probably time for some hot cocoa and sleep. I’ll even warm your slippers for you. Just try to avoid the tattoo parlours on the way home, especially after a few bellinis…

For more things to do in London, check out our Notting Hill street guide or see all London street guides.

Looking for London accommodation on a budget? See our guide Help! I need some cheap accommodation in London. Or, click for a full list of youth hostels in London.

About the author: Charlotte Santry is a hardened newshound who also enjoys a nice drop of Chablis and a weepy novel. Despite throwing all her wages at exotic foreign trips, she is yet to fulfil her quest to find the ultimate pork bun, but hopes her dedication as a bar and restaurant critic for Fluid London will prove fruitful.

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Images courtesy of Flickr users DraXus Ewan-M, eoconn, markhillary, AndyCunningham, Keith_Pullan grahamc99 and Glenbourne At Home. Please note, all images were suitable for use at the time of publication according to the Creative Commons License.

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