Blessed with two revamped train stations, this once-scruffy corner of London has scrubbed up well in recent years. Forget the sad train sandwich: Josper grills, craft brews and even a Fortnum & Mason tea parlour have zhuzhed up the neighbourhood. Neighbouring Camden’s ‘devil horn’ hands remain thrown high, but even this favourite gig- and people-watching spot is more polished nowadays.
Come summer, get outdoorsy at Camley Street Natural Park or the Skip Garden, two lesser-known green spots in King’s Cross. Kerb and Canopy markets offer tasty picnic prospects; sun-kissed canalside perches are readily found. Bike, boat or stroll – or embark in a floating hot tub – past the multi-coloured houseboats lining Regent’s Canal. Rummage through Camden’s famed market complex, taking inspiration from scenesters from every possible music genre. After dark, hit Camden’s eclectic gig venues, or boogie in the legendary Scala club.
The place for soulful and sultry sounds when you’re all rocked out. One-man bands, Winehouse wannabes, and noted strummers (Seasick Steve, Pete Doherty) have belted out tunes on its petite stage. Retro club and finger-licking rib nights up the ante with a dose of southern comfort. There’s a biblically long list of Kentucky bourbons and Tennessee whiskies, too.
This Colombian street-food joint fills boxes with colourful, authentic, gluten-free dishes that give a powerful flavour hit. It’s set in the belly of the Stables, so expect to queue. The menu’s worth the wait: enjoy cheesy pandebono buns packed with chorizo, avo mayo and halloumi, chilli-sprinkled plantain salads, and meat-topped garlicky rice with balsamic-spiked cabbage.
All North London’s indie darlings (Liam Gallagher, Kate Moss, Doherty again) have stopped by this much-loved boozer. The main attraction for punters and waiting paparazzi was Amy Winehouse, who often went behind the bar to pull pints. After rebuilding from damage in the market fire, it’s still the premier spot for hot new acts, unpretentious pub grub and a decent-enough pint.
St Cyr (named after 1940s burlesque star, Lili St Cyr) is a giant dress-up box for vintage-seekers, with affordable price tags. Camden’s finest trove has laden, well-categorised racks with pieces dating back to the same decade. Quantum leap through retro denim, tailoring and jewels, hunt the odd Mary Quant or Biba piece, and pick up style tips from its vast fashion library.
The Michelin-starred pop-up stall manned by Singaporean chef Hawker Chan earned Kerb column inches lengthier than the queues of hungry Londoners. A rotating programme of traders regularly lures crowds here. From Wednesdays to Fridays (12 noon to 2pm), make this your picnic spot with budget-suiting eats: deluxe cheese toasties, truffle-accented dishes, Cali burgers and the like.
This national treasure has a copy of every book printed in the UK and Ireland – 12km of new shelving is installed each year. Within its walls are sound recordings and music scores, as well as history-defining pieces: the Magna Carta, the Beatles’ drafts… The inspiring exhibitions make it a must-visit spot for history buffs of all ages, with 2-for-1 entry with a Eurostar ticket.
It’s packed and gloriously tacky (look out for the tourist-crowded Winehouse statue), but Camden Market’s indie traders create a shopping experience unmatched in the capital. From a small craft fair, it’s become London’s fourth most popular attraction. For every cheesy keyring store, there’s a quirky-cool clothing, art or vintage stall to visit, plus a tempting spread of street-food picks.
For a lazy breakfast, score a prime spot on the canalside terrace of this sleek King’s Cross address. Dotted with leafy plants, it looks on to the water – look out for swans and their fluffball cygnets. Kick off with toasted seed-scattered fruit salad from the healthy section of the menu, then head in for round two. The full veggie’s decent enough, but the standout’s the crushed avocado, served on treacly sourdough, laced with chives and topped with two perfect poached eggs.
A great little breakfast spot for beautiful pastries and good coffee. It’s tiny, so if they’re full, get a takeaway (the cheese and Marmite swirl is our favourite) and head to the nearby canal for an impromptu picnic.
The canal is a cool green escape from the madness of East London, with some interesting food options to tempt you along the way, including Haggerston’s Towpath Café and Hackney’s Broadway Market.
My favourite spot in Camden? Primrose Hill for naps in the sun, dog-watching and the best view in town.