Camden Market – London’s Overlooked Landmark

Shops on the main street

If you look up things to do in London, you will likely see a list that includes historical sight after historical sight. Number one is typically the British Museum or the National Gallery. Tower Bridge and Big Ben both sit between five and ten. It won’t be until you get down into the teens and often the twenties that you will find Camden Market. It’s hidden away on the lists somewhat like it is in real life, but don’t be deceived. This is one of the more quirky and modern London sites that gives you an insight into a scene much more vibrant than you will find at major landmarks.

Inside Camden Market

Camden Market is a rabbit warren of shops where you can find anything from vintage leather jackets and Doc Martens to the city’s best burritos. The market stalls are often run by the artisans who create the goods they are selling. There’s experimental restaurants, bespoke gin bars, and artisan shops all crammed together into a winding labyrinth that seems to go on forever.

Entrance into one of buildings of shops inside the market

What I really like about Camden Market is that it gets you away from the center of the city and the main sites. You’ll see a quirky neighborhood with shop fronts that are lavishly decorated and imaginative goods that would be more at home at a punk concert than in the buttoned-up center of the city. It’s more rebellious than the rest of London and a little more interesting.

Take the tube to Camden Station and you’ll figure out the rest.

My hotel was just a few tube stops away during my last stay in late December. I rode to the Camden Market Station.  Being that I hadn’t been to Camden in almost six years, I couldn’t quite remember what the entrance to the market looked like. But it didn’t matter, as soon as I exited the streets were lined with stalls selling Vans and kitschy t-shirts. I passed a little girl and her mom walking down the street together.  I kid you not, the little girl was singing, “For a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down!” Little kids with English accents always sound so dignified. I wondered if she would be at the market in another ten years, buying a band t-shirt and some neon tights like the rest of the London youth.

Eventually I found an area inside a brick wall that looked like a maize of shops and I knew I had found it. It was Austin Powers fab mixed with the beat-up disdain of punk. I went to the Doc Martens shop which is like a candy store to me. They had boots in every color, embroidered with flowers and even metallic pink. Outside, the lanes were starting to get packed as the day got busy. I wandered the shops and bought an asian sheath dress from a low lit shop in a corner for $30. Then I found some cronuts and good coffee, and then went to a book store that specialized in classics but with a twist. Every book was elaborately decorated as though from the victorian era. Camden is so cool.

If you don’t like crowds, plan when to go to avoid them.

The thing about Camden Market is, it gets very crowded. I recommend going early in the day or on a weekday if you like some space. It’s nice to be able to relax and wander without being jostled around.  Even on weekdays though, expect to feel a little claustrophobic. The shops are close to together and walking lanes are narrow so even a small crowd feels bigger than it is.

To me, Camden is a side of London you don’t always get to see as a tourist. It’s the edge an the style of a counter culture that is much more colorful than the major landmarks.

Doc Martens on display