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The biggest, liveliest, most alternative market in London is held seven days a week in the area around Camden Lock, although the market is at its biggest and best at weekends.
Emerging from the Camden Town Tube station (Northern Line) practically opposite 'The Worlds End' pub, first time visitors are likely to be overwhelmed by the mass of different people milling around here. Camden has long been a Mecca for hippies, punks, musicians, artists, designers, actors (see Withnail and I, the beginning of which is set in the Camden of 1969), and generally any lovers of alternative lifestyles.
Walking up Camden High Street takes you past the Electric Ballroom - one of the many excellent nightclubs in the area. There is an area on your right grandly labelled The Camden Market1 as you walk towards the lock, but this should really be regarded as a taster of things to come, the stalls here are very tightly packed together and this makes it pretty claustrophobic to all but the most dedicated bargain hunters. However, in case of differences, a good place to wait (and arrange as a meeting point in case people get lost) is 'The Elephants Head', a little further down the road.
A Relaxed Atmosphere
By now you will have probably stated to observe the strict pedestrian code that is in force here, or at least noticed that wandering around in the middle of the road, ignoring traffic lights and so on are par for the course here. This could well have something to do with the 'aromatic' cigarettes that you may (or may not) also notice.
The shop fronts will also strike you as pretty bizarre, don't miss the huge fibreglass boot sprouting out of a wall. Camden is also one of few places in London where the buildings can be painted without special planning permission.
You cross over the bridge and arrive where it really starts. You are now faced with somewhere in the region of 600 stalls and shops selling pretty well anything imaginable (that will fit on a market stand) and probably quite a few things that are not...
- Incense Burners - all shapes and sizes
- Sculpture - African, Indian, Indonesian, Celtic, you name it
- Furniture - From lampshades to carved chairs and tables, Medieval style ironwork, antique and reproduction furniture, fireplaces, stuff for the garden...
Lots of reasonably priced, tasteful stuff, far too numerous to list.
There are a lot of stands stacked with CDs playing samples of what each trader sells - most specialise in a particular style. Most of the music playing is so good you will probably feel like buying it on the spot. While this would get you a record collection that would be the envy of your friends and peers, be warned that it may sound better in situ than it does when you get it home.
Anything from jeans and T-shirts to ethnic clothing, clubwear (including two-foot high platform shoes, UV active transparent jackets and T-shirts with animated LCD patterns), vintage clothing, theatrical costumes, intriguing latex outfits, new and second hand leather... Doubtless you will see people modelling most of the fashions available, others would perhaps require a more 'private' viewing.
As all this looking is bound to build up an appetite, there are plenty of catering stands providing meals for around £3. Choose between Thai, Indian, Mexican, Chinese - you may even find burgers and hot dogs somewhere.
Having had such a wonderful time, should you feel the need to get yourself pierced, tattooed, or otherwise modified, there are plenty of shops that will oblige. Many of the tattooists are at the top of their profession, you would have to go a long way to find better.
Plenty of places deal with spiritual stuff and alternative medicine. Get a head massage, your aura balanced, crystals charged, whatever.
Most of the stalls close at around 6pm. Don't miss the underground areas, lots of interesting stuff there. And in spite of the often fragrant atmosphere, normal laws apply.
Relax and enjoy yourself...