Kelley and I exited Camden Town tube station in north London to find ourselves on the streets surrounded by thousands of people. We had not expected to find ourselves rolling our luggage through crowds as we walked along the street past dozens of sidewalk tent stalls selling clothing, records, and crafts.
Kelley and I both spotted a t-shirt hanging on a rack outside and laughed, reading the words, “Normal People Scare Me”. In a phrase, that sums up alternative London in Camden Town. Alternative is normal in this part of London.
A Visit to Paddington last year motivated to stay in Camden Town this summer
I came for the quiet canals and fell in love with the noisy crowds
Sometimes I find myself in a place solely due to a hotel I picked for a free night. This was the case in London when I decided to redeem 35,000 IHG Rewards Club points for a free night at the Holiday Inn Camden Lock in north London.
Last November, on a walking tour of London photographing Paddington Bear statues around the city, I went to Paddington Station to knock out eight statue photos in an hour. Walking around Paddington educated me about the London canals built between the 1790s and 1820s in an extensive transportation network from the Midlands of England into north London and the River Thames. These canals improved trade between London and outlying regions, but they were made obsolete in a few decades with the advent of railroads. Today these canals are primarily used for leisure boating and tourism activity.
During my time in Paddington, I learned that Regent’s Canal was built to link the Paddington Basin with Camden Lock. Paddington seemed like a dual purpose area as a modern commercial high-tech industry center surrounded by historic canals and residential neighborhoods.
There are many big brand tourist hotels around Paddington Railway Station. Hilton has a couple of major hotels here.
Hilton London Metropole (left photo) is a modern construction hotel in the high-tech Paddington Basin about ten minutes walk from the train station. Hilton London Paddington (right photo) is connected to the Paddington train station, where you can take the Heathrow Express directly to and from London Heathrow Airport in 20 minutes.
In short, my decision to stay at a hotel in the Camden Town area of north London was based on the general idea that Kelley would enjoy walking the canals around Camden Town and Regent’s Canal bordering the north side of Regent’s Park London.
Alternative London in Camden Town
What I did not know, until we arrived, is Camden Town is a center for an alternative London. This place has a very different atmostphere from Paddington. The streets fill up with thousands of people who come to Camden Town on weekends for food, cheap shopping, entertainment and music. Camden Town is a place for alternative culture. There were people with baby strollers. I’d advise against bringing your young children here. The crowds are so thick that I worried about some children being trampled. Take your kids to the London Zoo instead.
Camden Town is also a place with literary and rock music history. Camden is the setting for Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol when the area was a slum, a place the Cratchit Family and Tiny Tim called home. The area of Camden Town these days is trendy and associated with the London music scene from the 1960s to present day.
The Roundhouse is a music venue opened in 1966, where the first gig featured Pink Floyd. Jimi Hendrix played there in 1967 and the Doors only UK concert happened there in 1968. The Who performed Tommy in 1970 and the Roundhouse is the place where the Ramones played their seminal concert on July 4, 1976, sparking a punk rock revolution across Britain.
REM’s first UK show was at Dingwalls in 1983, another Camden Town venue.
Amy Winehouse lived on Camden Square and died there in July 23, 2011 and frequently played at The Good Mixer. Rock and roll alcohol poisoning deaths in Camden Town have an even older history with Bon Scott, original lead singer for AC/DC, dying in February 1980 after a night of drinking at the Music Machine, now called Koko.
There is every kind of food available during the day at Camden Lock food stalls. The market is primarily a daytime destination with many of the shops and food booths closed up by 6:00 pm. The pubs, music and crowds continued on partying to much later in the evening.
Camden Town is a place full of people of all ages, but definitely more of a millennial crowd. The place is a destination for party people with the sides of the canal filled with hundreds of people sitting, eating and drinking on a warm and clear summer day.
I can hardly describe the crowd. This is a place to keep your valuables secure, since jostling through the crowd means a lot of bumping and grinding into people, and this is a prime opportunity for pickpockets. I actually left my camera in the room for most of the time due to the thick crowds.
My street photo does not really convey how crowded the sidewalks were on a weekend afternoon in Camden Town. Kelley and I walked across this street together and it took me more than 15 minutes to find her again after I stopped to take a photo of a John Lennon wall mural.
Imagine all the people. I wonder if you can?
Best part of our visit to Camden Town was the canal side room we had at Holiday Inn Camden Lock, right in the center of all the activity.
Our canal side room at the Holiday Inn was fantastic for people watching with a patio-size door that opened (no balcony though). Just remember to bring earplugs to block out the music beats, if you plan to sleep before 11pm.