London's Camden Markets - centre of the alternative scene

by Kevin Hughes

Camden Markets have grown to become a major London tourist attraction. Goths, Punks and alternative fashions add colour, energy and a buzz that draws in tourists and Londoners by the millions


“I am an anti-Christ, I am an anarchist,” screamed an angry Johnny Rotten as the Sex Pistols’ infamous Anarchy in the UK belted out from a small unit selling very alternative clothing.

The heavily tattooed stall holder, a poker hand of four aces emblazoned on his neck, a string of green tears falling from one eye and a half-finished depiction of what could have been a Spanish omelette, it was hard to say, scribbled in gaudy colours across his shaven head, grinned toothlessly at a group of Japanese tourists and happily posed for their clicking cameras.

Welcome to Camden Stables Market on a busy Sunday afternoon where the tourist throngs mingle happily with Punks, Goths, and, well, any other cult that could be loosely described as alternative.

Camden is actually a series of different markets which blend effortlessly from one into another.

The Lock Market, established in the mid 1970s and situated by the Regent Canal, was originally a craft market but now sells all sorts of tourist mementos as well as vinyl records, clothes, books, jewellery, candles and bric-a-brac alongside tradition arts and craft work.

The Stables Market, the largest of the markets, was once the Midland Railway Stables and Horse Hospital where equine patients, worn out from pulling barges along the canal, were allowed to rest and receive what limited treatment was available.

Some of the modern market stalls and small shop units are permanent while others are leased on a daily basis.

Then there is Buck Street and Inverness Street Markets, both of which were in existence long before Camden attracted tourists in the numbers it does today, as well as the indoor market at the Electric Ballroom which is only open on a Sunday.

The Electric Ballroom remains one of London’s best known music venues and doubles up as a market hosting record and CD fairs as well as selling new and second-hand clothing at weekends.

However, the range of goods on offer right across Camden Markets is truly staggering, from vinyl records to antique candelabras and clothes to jewellery and tourist trinkets, in fact just about everything and anything can be found for sale among stalls and units stacked high with goods.

But it’s the alternative clothing and art on offer for sub cultures such as Goths, Punks and Cybergoths that is fascinating for those that don’t live in big cities and perhaps, as a result, are less exposed to such powerful cultural statements.

From outfits made of rubber and PVC to studded jackets and trousers adorned with safety pins, chains and anti-establishment slogans or black leather coffin shaped handbags, it’s all to be found somewhere at Camden Markets.

How things have changed. Go back a few decades and Punks, Goths and the like were given a wide berth by a distrusting public wary of their seemingly outlandish fashions and their penchant for snarling angry disapproval at society.

Yet these days, despite Camden Markets being London’s centre for alternative clothing and catering for anything considered remotely alternative, the markets have become a major London tourist attraction drawing in increasingly massive crowds of tourists and Londoners alike.

And hop on a tube train to Camden on any Sunday, although most of the markets are now open seven days a week, and it’s not hard to see why. The place is lively, vibrant and simply bursting with energy. It’s a great opportunity to see, in just a few square miles, how Britain has changed and truly become a multi-cultural, multi-racial society.

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Getting there.

Like most London tourist attractions arriving by car is not really an option as parking is expensive and extremely limited.

The best way to get there is by tube or bus. Camden is on the Northern Line and is just a couple of stops out of Euston. You can get off at Camden Station but expect to be right in among the crowds as soon as you leave the station itself.

Alternatively, get off at Mornington Crescent and stroll the half-mile or so to the markets or Chalk Farm, the stop after Camden Station, which is still pretty close to the markets.

Visitors should remember however, Camden Underground Station is closed to outgoing passengers on Sunday afternoons due to the big crowds so if you arrive by tube you will have to walk to Mornington Crescent or Chalk Farm to get a tube train back into central London.

However, there is a nicer alternative on a sunny day as you can stroll along, what is quite a picturesque canal towpath, from Regent’s Park and arrive right in the middle of the markets.

Eating and drinking

Camden is full of inexpensive places to eat and drink. My personal favourite is to collect a take-away from one of the food stalls selling Chinese, Indian, Thai, Turkish, Mexican or any number of other international cooking styles within the Stables Market.

If the weather is nice you can grab a seat and eat while you soak up the atmosphere and watch the hustle and bustle of market life.

If you want a sit down restaurant meal then try Caponata, a great Sicilian restaurant at 3-7 Delancey Street which has some fabulous dishes on its extensive menu and at reasonable prices. Try the pan fried halibut, sautéed oysters and roasted rosemary squash at just £15 or the roasted aubergine, basil and red onion ravioli with Pecorino cream at just £9.50.

The atmosphere is pleasant although the restaurant can get very busy so expect to wait for a table if you haven’t booked.

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Where to stay

My favourite London hotel is the Grange Fitzrovia, Bolsover Street, W1P 7HJ. Just a short walk from Euston Station, or one stop on the tube from Euston Square to Great Portland Street, it’s in a great location.

Just across the road from Regent’s Park and therefore within walking distance of Camden Markets along the canal side yet it’s only a five minute stroll from Oxford Street.

Rooms are well decorated, clean and spacious and the hotel prides itself on its very accommodating, pleasant staff. There’s a nice bar to be enjoyed for a late night tipple and all-in-all it’s a hotel with a friendly and welcoming atmosphere.

Quite expensive at around £220 a night on weekdays they have some great deals for weekends and you can normally get a double room for around £100 a night.

I usually stay room only and take breakfast 200 meters or so down the road at Great Portland Street Station at the Turkish, Mezes Café. There, a really good fry-up breakfast will set you back around £6.50 including a hot mug of coffee or tea.

The Central Park Hotel, Queensborough Terrace, W2 3SS is also a nice hotel in a good location.

Just across the road from Hyde Park and a short distance from Marble Arch and central London both Queensway and Bayswater Road tube stations are less than a five minute walk away.

Rooms, which are quite large and modern, cost around £125 for a double per night. However, book early online and inevitably there are deals and offers to be had which can substantially reduce your overall bill leaving you paying as little as £80 a night.

There is a nice bar area for putting your feet up and having a cool beer after a hard day of walking around Camden Markets or any of the numerous tourist attractions near to the hotel.

Kevin Hughes

I am a retired police officer who enjoyed a second career in journalism with a weekly newspaper. I now work as a freelance journalist concentrating on politics, sport and local issues. I also do some freelance photography.

I have a passion for travel and enjoy writing about my experiences - good and bad. I have had several travel features published in regional and weekly newspapers and some magazines but I'm hardly a professional travel writer although I certainly wouldn't mind doing more!

Married for thirty plus years and with three adult children and one grandchild my wife and I now have more time to travel. I generally shy away from package holidays finding it more fun to plan where I want to go, how I want to get there and what I want to see and do when I arrive. However, for me, the most important part of any trip is the local people I meet and interact with. It is they who give me a sense of what a place is really all about.

I have been appointed by the Simonseeks editorial team as a community moderator, to review and rate guides on a regular basis.