My Mistake – How I Overlooked Camden

The Camden Lock

Is Camden Dangerous?

Let’s start with the basics…this post should likely be titled – “Camden – You’re not going to get shot, stabbed, murdered, or bludgeoned to death” but that seemed slightly too long and obtuse. The short answer to this concern is, “No it’s not dangerous and in fact, it’s relatively safe and downright awesome”.

The Camden Lock

My first trip to London was as part of a study abroad program through Arizona State University in 2004.  I spent three weeks in the city based out of Kensington just off the Earl’s Court metro station.  I explored the city, wandered its streets, and was in that perpetual state of wide-eyed awe that goes with your first study abroad experience.  Since that visit I’ve been back to London several times for a variety of reasons.  In 2007 I paused there as part of the early stages of my 3 month solo jaunt through Europe.  Last year I found myself back in London for the World Travel Market conference to chat travel and travel blogs.  In between I’ve found myself in London for layovers and other similar things a number of times.  However, one area of the city (well at least one) slipped through the cracks: Camden.

The Camden Lock

Somehow, despite my many visits to London, I never made it to Camden. Given the area’s reputation as being somewhat less than safe and recent attention after the series of riots that damaged the district, I suppose it wasn’t purely accidental that I never made it to the area.  After all, getting stabbed or mugged doesn’t exactly rank on most traveler’s top-10 list for London.  The running commentary about the area from British friends did little to assuage my fears.

The Camden Lock

Still, when the time came to book a hostel in London just a few days before the start of the Olympics my options were fairly limited.  It doesn’t help that London, for all of its other fantastic elements, is really a dreadful hostel city.  Sure it has a wealth of them but, most are shoddy, overpriced, run down, or old-model Hosteling International bedbug-ridden flea traps.  So, it was with some trepidation that I eventually settled on St. Christopher’s Camden Town hostel.  The rating was better than most and I was familiar with the St. Christopher’s franchise, if not an overly enthusiastic fan.  As with the rest of Camden, I shouldn’t have worried.  The hostel was acceptable and perfectly located in the heart of Camden.  It served as an easy meeting point, as it was also where I met my folks who arrived a few hours later on the same day.  I’ll admit I was more than a little nervous about how they would deal with staying in a hostel – after all my Dad is in his 70s and my Mom her early 60s.  Luckily they braved the hostel eagerly and I’ll even wager they enjoyed it a bit but more on that soon!

The Camden Lock

The Camden Town Charm

But Camden is why you’re reading this post right?  So here’s the scoop.  Camden is a vibrant neighborhood.  It is alive with tourists, immigrants, and a smattering of Brits.  The whole area is a mixture of gentrified and partly gentrified blocks which boast a busy jumble of health stores, fashion outlets, and street markets in a vibrant explosion of colors, scents, and sounds.  During the day the streets are nearly overwhelmed with people, especially in the area surrounding Camden Lock.  The biggest safety concern most need worry about is the area’s skilled and apparently prolific pickpockets.  Still, as is always the case in these types of areas, it’s just a matter of being attentive and properly prepared. Or perhaps looking really, really mean?

The Camden Lock

The mixture of shops and street stands provide a fantastic opportunity for people looking to do a bit of budget friendly shopping.  I saw everything from ornately carved jade jewelry to steampunk/goth clothing on display.  The area also provides a top-notch mixture of culinary options including the quirky food court area of Camden Lock which features outdoor bench seating in the form of the back half of old mopeds bolted to long tables overlooking the canal.  Though the most common types of food are Asian and Indian I spotted a wide variety including Mexican and burgers. The local restaurants are also wonderful.  We used Yelp to track down a great Thai restaurant which was cheap and offered fantastic lunch specials.

The Camden Lock

In short, it’s a vibrant, energetic, and highly enjoyable area to spend time in.  As a visiting tourist it’s a great budget friendly slice of London.  It is also located within walking distance of classic English neighborhoods, a main train station, and parts of London’s thriving downtown area.  The neighborhood boasts a wonderful mixture of bars and pubs including a local Brew Dog where we paused to try their Tactical Nuclear Penguin beer. Some of you may recognize the name as it was, for a brief time, the strongest beer in the world at 36%.  As you might expect, it doesn’t taste much like beer.

The Camden Lock

No matter what you’re looking for you’ll probably be able to find it in Camden.  It’s high on my list of areas to return to when I visit London again and I strongly suggest you at least visit it for the afternoon.  It is worth noting, however, that it isn’t the world’s safest district at night.  Be careful where you walk, stick to the main streets, and you’ll be fine.  Stray down dark alleyways or wander too far off the beaten path and…well…you’ll no doubt find and experience a far less enjoyable side of one of London’s most famous districts.

Have any questions about Camden?  Or comments, tips or suggestions?  I’d love to hear them!

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Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.

12 Comments

  1. Best thing about Camden as a former Borough resident? Going to the market for hungover lunches on a Sunday. Running the gauntlet of the street food hawkers with a pounding head, being seduced by all the fantastic smells, and then shovelling down as many noodles as possible before topping it all off with a cider or two by the canal (hair of the dog and all that) makes for a pretty fantastic Sunday afternoon.

    Your point about the pickpockets and night-time walking is probably true for any busy, touristy area in a big city. I lived in the area for more than 10 years and never experienced any trouble, but then I’ve got a pretty good ‘don’t mess with me, bitch’ face when I’m walking around London. As ever, be aware of your surroundings and you should be fine.

    Oh, and PS – I recommend the doughnut stall just under the railway bridge, at the entrance to the market. Oh. God. Yes.
    Katja recently posted..Sunday Supper

    • I’m not sure how, but you just managed to make a hangover sound downright enjoyable!

      I’m definitely going to have to track down that doughnut stall during my next visit!

  2. I lived in Camden for over a year, and not once did I fear for my safety.

    London is a big city. It has its problems – just like NYC and Paris. But Camden is a HUGE borough. To say that there are problems in Camden is like saying there are problems in Manhattan – yes, but you have to be more specific as to where exactly. The problems lie mostly in the north-east area (Holloway, King’s Cross, or west in Chalk Farm), not in the tourist hub that is Camden Town. You could get pickpocketed right in front of Big Ben. In front of the museums. Hell, INSIDE the museums since they’re all free.

    Camden Market is one of the most effervescent places in the whole city, and definitely should not be missed out on. Keep your wits like you would in ANY other city – don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket, don’t advertise your shiny iPhone.

    I’ve felt safer in London that I have in Paris or Amsterdam or even Montreal at times.

    Sorry if this comment sounds harsh – it’s not meant to! It’s just that I love Camden so much after living there that it saddens me to see people intentionally miss out on it because of the media that have it all wrong ;)

    If you need a guide to Camden next time, let me know!

    • I agree. It really boils down to just another case of overblown/over hyped threats that are largely unjustified.
      I’d love a guide on my next visit, will definitely let you know. I’ll obviously be back to Camden soon!

  3. Ha, Camden is definitely not dangerous! I think the tourists are the most dangerous part of it – stopping in the street and taking photos :) Love, love, love Camden.

  4. I have a trip to London coming up shortly and to be honest, until I read this piece, Camden wasn’t on my radar screen. Thanks for the nice write up and for opening my eyes up to the possiblilty of visiting while I’m there.
    Gay Travel Herald recently posted..Picture perfect: Tokyo manhole

  5. I’ve been nagging my son to go to Camden since he moved to England, just outside London, two & a half years ago. Finally….two weekends ago…….he went & now knows what I was talking about! It’s a few years since I was there, come to think of it, and with Guy now living in central London I absolutely mustn’t miss it next time. Sounds as if it’s even better than the last time I was there!
    Linda recently posted..Tenerife Under my Skin

    • Yep! It’s weird how people miss it (myself included) and then once you visit can’t help but be annoyed at what you’ve been missing!

  6. Dansays:

    Good post bud!

  7. Sad you missed visiting Camden Lock
    Camden is safe and there is a grea market there,where you can find pretty much anything.Antiques,clothes and old record discs
    I love it in Camden
    Travel Finland Blog recently posted..How to Prepare For a New Life in Finland

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