Camden Market is one of London's must-visit spots. In this week's post, Sarah shares why this is one of her favorite boroughs in the city and why you can eat, shop, and enjoy interacting with the locals there. Get a quick intro to bartering 101 at the market and what to expect at thrift stores in the area!
(Original illustrations by Sarah Mai)
I’m just over halfway through my time here in London, and at this point I feel like I’ve subconsciously started moving to the rhythm of the city. I know the train schedules by heart, have apps downloaded that keep me in the loop of the city’s going-ons, and have become familiar enough with the local grocery store clerks to the point that I am embarrassed that they know how many times I have purchased Haribo Starmix in the past month. The weeks gently tick themselves away and I find myself counting the things I have left to see before the next half of the semester passes all too quickly. Trust me, there is no shortage of sights and experiences left, but I keep circling back to the same few favorite activities, like museums, parks, and high streets. There is one activity that stands out from the rest, which feels distinct to living in an old and very diverse city, and that is market going.
What to expect around Camden Market.
It’s no secret that London is home to incredible markets, each having the unique personality of its home borough. Some are mostly focused on food, with brilliant mounds of fragrant cheeses, cured meats, and shiny fruits displayed proudly for foodie perusal. Some are more focused on the material things in life, from kitschy t-shirts, antique lamps, and sparkly fabrics, to chunky plastic jewelry. At the heart of one of my favorite boroughs in London is the Camden Market, which has a little bit of everything you could ask for. It also is one of the best places in the city to do one of my favorite activities: people watching.
Watching people and observing London's street style.
Trust me, Camden Market is one of the best people watching spots in the city. The town has a palpably alternative attitude, which is represented by the styles of its proud inhabitants. It doesn’t feel unapproachable to me, as I dabbled in wearing dark lipsticks and dying my hair a range of grungy colors in high school, and gives me the opportunity to relive some of my more rebellious fashion choices of the past. I would never claim that I ever immersed myself truly into goth or punk scenes, as there was none in my hometown. However, in Camden alternative style lives and breathes fire and plays electric guitar. The market itself is plopped at the top of Camden Town, but seems to extend way past its apparent google maps border. The high street leading up the market is littered with vendors selling Batman t-shirts and designer bag rip-offs, but also a few incredible shops that sell the highest platform goth boots with the most studs and buckles I have ever seen successfully applied to one shoe.
These boots were made for buying from Camden Market!
Once you get to the actual market, you find that it is an extravagantly designed and decorated labyrinth. Food and drinks are scattered around the entrance so you can nourish yourself before becoming lost for the next few hours in the indoor market space. I prefer to go on a weekday, as it can be overwhelming on a weekend with the amounts of goers, and I find myself wanting to rush past shops rather than peek in when I’m being shoved forward by an angry mob of tourists. If you do get to take your time in the market, peek into as many shops as you can! There is something for everyone, from bohemian embroidered headbands, to techno-club light-up furry tube tops, to plain white t-shirts.
More things to Do around Camden Market.
I usually find myself peeking around in one of the many thrift shops buried within. They will have things from a wide range of time periods and styles, and I’ve found a lot of gems. I’d say the majority of the items in the market right now are a trendy blend of iconic '80s pieces and gently worn '90s staples. For example, I found an awful and amazing full body jumpsuit made of windbreaker material (did not cop by the way) and an enormous pile of rainbow-colored berets (also did not cop but was very tempted.) If you don’t mind secondhand clothes and are interested in upping your style game in a sustainable way, market-going is a super option. A serious pro-tip for shopping in the market is that you will need cash; most places can’t accept cards, so stop at an ATM before you go!
Generally, things are priced moderately and there isn’t much of a need to do any bartering for objects. However, on the chance something seems a little too steeply marked, or you just don’t have enough cash on hand to get something you want, bartering is always an option! Bartering isn’t used a lot in the US, except in some antique stores, but it is normal for a lot of European markets and other global shopping scenes. A couple tips for bartering is to pick the highest price you are willing to pay and stick to it. If the vendor sees you are steadfast, they likely won’t push back too hard. Don’t be aggressive of course, but firm and reasonable enough to make a good deal for both of you! If the vendor won’t budge on the price, be willing to walk away and come back later if it is worth it. The biggest tip is to not be afraid to ask—sometimes vendors just want to make the sale and will say yes right away. I have saved some money just by asking for a few dollars off!
Finally, if you have made it in and out of the market with some money left to spend, it might be in your interest to grab a snack before heading home! Food stands in the market tend to be a little more experimental than what you can get on the high street. To name a few of the cuisine options, there is Vietnamese, falafel, fish and chips, Yorkshire pudding, burritos, vegan diner food, gluten-free Italian, edible cookie dough, California-style poke, churros, curry burgers, and nitro ice cream. It is likely you will be able to find something that makes you say “yum” or at least makes you think “well, that’s new.” Certainly worth a try if you like food that pushes traditional boundaries!
A final few tips before I wrap this up is to bring a backpack or tote bag with you to the market. If you end up getting some small items or clothing, it will be a pain to lug around all day if there’s not a bag available. Another tip is to chat with the vendors! I had a nice conversation with one about some of the photos he was selling, and he gave me some recommendations for things to do in the city. Finally, take your time and enjoy the surroundings—Camden is one of a kind and not easy to forget.
Sarah Mai is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2019, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An English and Art major at University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, she is studying abroad in London this semester.
Sarah's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.