This post is part of my London Neighbourhood Guides series. Fancy visiting another area of London? Check out my other guides here, which all include information regarding the sights, history, charm, food and drinks of the area you’re curious about.
What does Camden mean to you? What words come straight to your mind? I suspect it may include keywords like underground, alternative, musical, colourful, and perhaps leather jackets. It’s true — all those words can be associated with Camden, but this gem of a neighbourhood means so much more. The history of modern Camden is tied to the history of the modern music scene in London.
As you may have suspected, there are a plethora of concert venues in Camden. I mean, it’s kind of Camden’s thing. Therefore, the best way to experience the area is to attend a concert! Here’s the run-down of several key venues:
Roundhouse and Dingwalls
The Roundhouse was originally built in 1874 as, well, you guessed it, a roundhouse. It was built by London and North Western Railway, however, it was only used this way for 10 years or so. After falling into disrepair, it reopened in 1964 as a performing arts venue. From there… the entire Camden punk scene launched here a decade later.
It’s impossible to talk about the history of the Roundhouse without talking about the history of Dingwalls as well. On 4 July 1976, American punk band, The Ramones took to the Roundhouse stage, supported by The Stranglers. The next night both bands played at a smaller venue called Dingwalls. This weekender would change the fate of Camden and London forever. It has gone down in history as a rallying cry for the UK’s thriving punk scene. Some of the big names we associate with the punk scene began their journey that very weekend including members of The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Damned and Chrissy Hynde.
I’ve seen more than a couple of great bands at the Roundhouse like badbadnotgood (an instrumental music group from Toronto) and Slowdive (an English rock band that formed in Reading). Dingwalls is tucked away in Camden Market and is quite the staple even today. However, I’ve only seen one band at Dingwalls called Sorority Noise, an American rock band from Connecticut.
The club KOKO is one of the most premier live music venues in London. Since its relaunch in 2004, several big artists have performed here like The Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Madonna, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, The Killers, Kanye West, Katy Perry… the list goes on and on! I went to go see an instrumental rock band from Belfast called And So I Watch You From Afar (ASIWYFA), and the concert was indeed fantastic.
The Black Heart
Now this place is something else! The Black Heart is a music pub, meaning that it hosts concerts all the time. It’s quite unique because it’s decorated with goth, religious icons, fairy lights… it’s almost a hell-like music pub for rock, punk and indie. It also has a ton of band paraphernalia. I’ve only had the pleasure of visiting this pub as a venue once when I saw Toundra, a post-rock band from Madrid.
The Jazz Café
Another venue worth sharing is the Jazz Café. The original Jazz Café was founded by Jon Dabner and Jean Marshall in the 1980s in Newington Green, Stoke Newington, and moved to Camden Town in 1990. I have yet to actually see a Jazz concert, but I have seen a Norwegian musician and DJ called Cashmere Cat. It’s a fun venue and can accommodate various types of music scenes.
And finally, another pub. The Unicorn is a traditional, low-lit pub. They host mostly indie and rock bands 6 nights a week. I saw Viva Belgrado, a post-rock/screamo band from Córdoba, Spain. It was a great concert and the type of people attending The Unicorn are a cool, friendly bunch.
The High Street
Walking through Camden is also an experience in itself. There’s a lot of noise, colour and people. Nonetheless, here we are at one of the most famous streets in the world.
As you walk down the high street you’ll inevitably run into Camden Market. In 1974 Camden Market welcomed its first colourful and diverse traders, and is now, like the street, is one of the most famous markets in the world. And yet, in reality, Camden Market is actually made up of six different markets. They’re all distinct and appeal to different types of visitors. The most famous part is Camden Lock Village, the market along the canal that runs through the area. Be sure to check out the Boho goods at The Stables Market, or perhaps the clothing and jewellery at Camden Lock Market.
Drinks & Eats
If you plan to hang out at Camden Market for a while, I can recommend two cafes. One is Pamban Chai & Coffee House. There was a time when I was obsessed with all things Chai and therefore wanted to find the best Chai around me. Luckily, there was one outstanding recommendation very close to home. The co-founders are from India and Sri Lanka and wanted to bring “proper” Chai to London. Hot Chai is my favourite, but I can tell you that on a hot, summer day, an iced Chai is heavenly.
My other cafe recommendation is a little off the beaten path… or perhaps right on it and it has gotten so much attention on social media! I have always been obsessed with cereal, in fact, I would be more than happy to replace dinners with a wonderful bowl of my favourite cereal. I didn’t realise others had the same love for cereal until I discovered Cereal Killer Cafe. Now, Victor does not really approve of my love for cereal so would never allow me to go here for a meal. But then my best friend from the US came to visit and heard about this, and proceeded to tell me: “alright, we’re definitely going for a bowl of cereal now”.
You can either pick one of their combos or create your own bowl. First, you pick one or two types of cereal. Second, you pick your milk and, if desired, a milk flavour. Finally, you pick your toppings! I’m a fan of more simple combinations, so I picked Donettes cereal with oat milk and digestive nibbles. Needless to say, I was so incredibly satisfied.
Perhaps you’re looking for a “real” meal? Maybe looking for a delicious version of traditional British fish and chips? One of the best chippies (well, posh chippies) is HOOK. This restaurant offers a variety of fish and chips dishes, as well as fun dipping sauces. They prepare their fish in two different ways, either with panko breadcrumbs or tempura. I highly recommend the tempura fish as it’s delicious! The seaweed salted chips (i.e. steak fries) are also a great side. More importantly, HOOK sources from 100% sustainable fisheries — a wonderful feat!
By now you probably have heard of Brewdog. It’s a Scottish brewery that has quickly taken the world by storm (I hear there’s now a huge location in Columbus, Ohio). But nonetheless, Camden has a special connection with Brewdog: it’s the site of Brewdog’s first location in London.
And there you have it! Camden may be a crazy place, but it’s an integral part of London’s music scene and history. It’s a fun, alternative place, and I recommend anyone visiting London to visit Camden.
For more London neighbourhood guides, check out my other posts.