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!