Camden Town gets its name from the 18th century lawyer and first Earl of Camden, Charles Pratt.
You can see why they went for Camden.
Until he married into the estate, Camden Town was pretty much just fields and one pub, the Mother Red Cap (now The World’s End). It wasn’t until a couple of decades later, in the early 19th century, that the first proper buildings started to pop up – mainly warehouses and trade centres surrounding the newly built railways and canal (which now make up the characterful old buildings of Camden Market). Over the intervening centuries, Camden’s seen it all – prostitutes, piano factories, post-Impressionist painters, chippies, pubs, music halls, Victorian roller skating rinks, a 20-acre gin distillery and the world’s largest manufacturers of playing cards (not to be confused with manufacturers of the world’s largest playing cards, who surely must have worked on Bruce Forsyth’s Play Your Cards Right).
Nowadays, there’s less roller skating and prostitution (at least, not at the same time), but there’s probably just as much gin. So here’s our pick of the best places to eat and drink in Camden Town, as well as the most interesting things to do in the area…
THE BEST RESTAURANTS IN CAMDEN TOWN
Opening their Soho branch in 1988, Mildred’s has been focussed on vegetarian and vegan food long before it was cool. The result? They know exactly what they’re doing with a root or two. Dishes are internationally inspired, ranging from tandoori chick’n with black dahl to jerk tofu; spicy stir fries and mushroom & ale pie. Brunch is a particularly lavish affair, and after salted caramel waffles; poached eggs with grilled aubergine and roasted tomatoes; and oak-smoked house beans on sourdough – you probably won’t even realise that none of it contained meat.
Details: 9 Jamestown Road, NW1 7BW | Open weekdays 12-11pm, Saturday 10am-11pm, Sun 10am-10pm
The Cheese Bar
Pared back, minimalist and refined, the interiors of The Cheese Bar are everything the food isn’t. Nestled in the midst of Camden Market, this place opened off the back of The Cheese Truck, a street food van that doles out sinfully delicious molten cheese toasties. They’re still on the menu here, alongside a range of more elaborate cheese-based dishes, from four-cheese fondue pots and burrata drizzled with pesto, to blue cheese raclette and chicken poutine.
Details: Unit 93-94 Camden Stables Market, NW1 8AH | Open Mon-Thurs 12-9pm, Fri 12-9.30pm, Sat 11am-9.30pm, Sun 11am-7pm
THE BEST BARS & PUBS IN CAMDEN
One of the best jazz bars in London, let alone Camden, the Jazz Café has been blowing its own trumpet for almost thirty years. In that time, it’s seen the likes of Amy Winehouse, Lee Scratch Perry and Don Cherry take to its stage, and now, alongside live performances across various genres, it also plays host to huge DJ sets ranging from funk and soul to electronica, Latin and reggae. Get into the thick of it on the vast downstairs dancefloor, or head upstairs to the mezzanine restaurant for a better vantage point… and er, steak.
Details: 5 Parkway, NW1 7PG | Live shows 7-10.30pm then club nights till 3am – check here to see what’s on
The Blues Kitchen Camden
By day, it’s a whisky-slicked brunch, lunch and dinner spot, serving smokey Texan-style BBQ, burgers and spiced Southern dishes. By night, it becomes a packed-out bar with excellent cocktails, one of London’s biggest bourbon collections and live bands taking to the stage to play blues, soul and honky tonk before the vintage DJ set takes over until the wee hours.
Details: 111-113 Camden High Street, NW1 7JN | Open Mon & Tues 12pm-12am, Wed & Thurs 12pm-1am, Fri 12pm-2.30am, Sat 10am-3am, Sun 10am-1am
The key to the Lock’s success? Local beers on tap, a roof terrace, free entry, a beer garden (with firepits), live bands, karaoke with live bands, DJs spinning everything from disco to garage, and pub grub ranging from fish & chips to 1/2 a kilo of buffalo chicken wings.
Details: 35 Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8AJ | Open Sun-Wed 12-11pm, Thurs 12pm-12am, Fri & Sat 12pm-1am
Open every night, Joe’s plays through a stack of vintage vinyl in an intimate, colourful bar. Each night takes on a different genre, from mods & rockers on Mondays to reggae and Northern Soul on Tuesdays, before ending the week with Latin and Belgian popcorn – described by musician Bob Stanley as “possibly the last truly underground music scene in Europe”. The food and drink, however, is a little more familiar, with nightly happy hours on hot dogs, ale and cocktails from 5-7pm.
Details: 78-79 Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8AR | Open nightly 5pm-3am
Ladies & Gentlemen
The big number two from North London’s best bar-in-a-former-public-toilet, Ladies & Gents Camden is a cosy subterranean nook serving cocktails made with spirits they distil themselves. Amidst the candlelit booths and raw concrete bar, you’ll spot original features like the tiled walls and floors, and the ironwork running across the ceiling from an old railway line. And since the drinks here aren’t too pricey, you’ll still leave feeling flush.
Details: The former public toilets on the junction of Royal College Street and Camden Road, NW1 9NL | Open daily 5pm-late
A secret, illicit, subterranean lair plucked straight out of the shady side of 1920s London… that stocks no booze. Instead, that’s your job – pick your poison, bring a bottle, and the smartly attired barkeeps will spend two hours creating a never-ending flow of inventive, delicious cocktails with it.
Details: 11-13 Camden High Street, NW1 7JE | Open Tues-Sat, 5pm-late
THINGS TO DO IN CAMDEN
The Roundhouse. Strangely, it’s pretty edgy… Set in an old train repair shed, this quirky music and live performance venue first opened in the sixties, when bands like Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix took to the stage. Nowadays the music line-up is just as strong, and is accompanied by a jaw-dropping roster of other events, from spoken word festivals to circus cabaret, avant-garde opera and modernised Shakespeare…
Details: Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8EH
Home to an eclectic mix of independent boutiques, market stalls, street food stands and subterranean Aladdin’s caves, the Market has been the beating heart of Camden Town since the 70s. Vintage clothing shops, vinyl stores and hand-crafted jewellery stands rub shoulders with a gin microdistillery, ethical butchers and a vegan pie and mash shop, while food stalls overlook Regent’s Canal and the industrial Camden Lock…
Details: Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8AF | Open daily 10am-6pm
A fascinating collection of items telling the stories of Britain’s Jewish community, from beautiful religious objects to striking artwork by émigré artists in the 1950s. The impact of the Holocaust is shown through the eyes of a survivor who donated numerous personal items, letters and photographs to the collection, bringing a deeply human voice to a chapter of history that is often told with staggeringly incomprehensible numbers.
Details: 129-131 Albert Street, NW1 7NB | Open daily 10am-5pm (2pm Fridays) | £8.50
Live music has been part of Camden for over 50 years, whether it’s in the vast circular arena of the Roundhouse or the crammed confines of a cosy pub. If you’re after something less formal than a ticketed gig, these pubs are perfect for catching some upcoming talent in a relaxed setting. You can find pretty much anything in Camden – from heavy metal at The Devonshire Arms or up-and-coming rock bands at The Monarch, to acoustic jazz improv and folk at vegetarian café Green Note. For bigger crowds, check out Dingwalls – a Camden institution nestled in the midst of the market, or KOKO, a huge club and gig venue set in a beautiful old theatre.
Shopping in Camden Town
Camden High Street has been home to some pretty eye-catching shopfronts since the 90s. Nowadays, a lot of the shops beneath them sell the same type of touristy nick-nacks – cheap sunglasses, slogan t-shirts and the widest selection of marijuana-related paraphernalia that’s not, you know, actual marijuana – but the giant 3D models tacked on to the upper storeys are worth keeping an eye out for. Most of the area’s best shops can be found in the market, but a couple of high street highlights include Londønworks, a Scandi clothing and homeware shop; Slanchogled, a crafts and stationery store; and the original Rokit for vintage clothes.
Taking over three huge rooms in the Stables Market, Fest Camden boasts a 10,000sq ft nightclub with confetti cannons and an LED video wall; a hidden cabaret restaurant; private party rooms (including one laid out like the House of Commons); aaaand a flower-laden rooftop bar, with an outdoor cinema screen, BBQ and frozen slushie cocktail bar…
Details: Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8AH | Open Sun-Mon 12pm-12am; Tues-Wed 12pm-1am, Thurs-Sat 12pm-2.30am
ZSL London Zoo
Head down Parkway towards Regent’s Park, follow the Outer Circle path, and you’ll find yourself at ZSL London Zoo. The first scientific zoo in the world, where animals were kept for study (and, increasingly, conservation), it’s home to bearded pigs, alpacas, sloths, Mexican blind cave fish, bird-eating spiders, slender lorises and more. Throughout the day you can catch feeding times for various animals (including a stunning display by the Humboldt penguins on their South American-styled beach), and in the summer, the zoo keeps its gates open late for cocktail-laced, after-hours visits.
Details: Regent’s Park, NW1 4RY | Open daily from 10am | From £27
Just behind Camden Market is Primrose Hill – the sprawling hilltop park with some of the most perfect views of London going. Wander down Regent’s Park Road, pick up a coffee and something sweet from the fancy cafés lining the high street, and watch the sun set over the Shard, the BT tower and the London Eye.
Main image: Charles Postiaux
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