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I am one of the most neurotic, research loving, Type-A travelers that ever made a color coded trip binder walked this planet. I truly do believe that planning is half the fun and I cherish my time digging into guidebooks, blogs and forums to learn everything I can about my destination. While I might not go so far as to make a day-by-day itinerary (anymore) I do have a full picture of what I want to do and see and how much time that will require.

Not with London.

Camden, London

I was in London primarily to visit friends — and as I confessed, it’s not my favorite place anyway. So for maybe the first time ever, I was on a plane headed to a destination with not. one. thing. planned.

Flipping through the in-flight magazine, I read about an ice cream shop that made ice cream using liquid nitrogen. I ripped out the page. I wanted that ice cream. There, I had something planned for London. When I spent the weekend in Manchester and friends asked me what I had in store for London, I pulled out my tear sheet in response.

Camden, London

The ice cream shop was located in Camden, so on a free day when my host was at work I hopped on the tube and emerged into a totally new area of London. Doing a bit of on-location research, I learned that Camden is a trendy, bohemian area of London marked by exotic markets, scenic canals, colorful nightlife and vibrant residents. Camden is often considered the center of alternative culture in London and simply people watching is a popular activity.

Camden, London

Perhaps Camden’s most famous feature is its market. “Camden Market” is somewhat deceiving as it refers to several markets across the northern end of town — however, they all bleed together in a way that I personally found them fairly indistinguishable. I’m not a huge shopper, especially in a pricey place like London, but I love soaking up the atmosphere of famous marketplaces from Chatuchak in Bangkok to The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Camden Market was so different — I took photos, chatted with vendors, snacked on street food and got hopelessly lost.

Camden, London

Camden, London

Camden, London

Camden, London

Speaking of Chatuchak Market, I was there not too long ago. And so when I walked into a certain booth at the market in Camden, I couldn’t find a certain sense of déjà vu. The stall owner was certainly Southeast Asian looking, but I couldn’t be sure if she was Thai. Sawasdee ka, I started tentatively. Chatuchak? I asked, pointing to her merchandise. She burst into laughter, nodding, and we had a good chat about our mutual favorite country.

Camden, London

Camden, London

Camden, London

Camden, London

Camden, London

Aside from browsing the markets, a popular pastime is lounging along the canals eating, reading, and socializing. When the sun made its brief daily appearance I rushed to sit on the dock and catch up on my book, and watch the people of London go about their days.

Camden, London

Camden, London

Camden Locks, London

Eventually though, it was time to get down to business. I had come to Camden with a mission, remember? To find Chin-Chin Labs, Europe’s first liquid nitrogen ice-cream parlour. I had an address and a general location from Google Maps, but unfortunately street addresses are of little use in the maze-like and alley-filled Camden Locks. I wandered for ages and was started to reach peak levels of frustration when I spotted a familiar molecular logo.

Chin Chin Laboratories, Camden

I had found it! The one thing on my London to-do list… or perhaps I should call it a to-eat list. Then came my biggest decision of the day — picking a flavor. On offer were Pondicherry Vanilla, Valrhona Chocolate, Strawberry and Hay, and Purple Grape Soda Sorbet. Toppings included hazelnut crunch, heather honeycomb, grilled white chocolate, caramelized pretzels, green tea peanut brittle, chocolate dipped ‘potato chips’, popping candy, and sauces like raspberry, fleur be sel caramel, and valrhona chocolate. If I may be eloquent: YUM.

Chin Chin Laboratories, Camden

Chin Chin Laboratories, Camden

Watching the whole liquid nitrogen process and observing the kitschy laboratory-influenced decor was almost as delicious as the Strawberry and Hay ice cream and popping candy topping that I eventually settled on. Dessert lovers, this is a must visit in London. It’s not easy to find, but I do offer this photo as a clue to Chin Chin Lab’s elusive location:

Camden Locks, London

Eventually I had to tear myself away from Camden to go meet my friend for dinner, so sadly I didn’t get to sample the areas notorious nightlife. However I enjoyed my day in Camden so much I have a strong feeling it won’t be my last time there.

Camden Locks, London

Camden Locks, London

Camden Locks, London

Camden Locks, London

Granted, I’m no London expert. But from what I have seen, Camden is without question my favorite area of this big city. It’s my new go-to recommendation, and the first place I’ll visit on return. As the late and great Amy Winehouse once said, “Nobody stands between me and my Camden.”

Camden, London

London, it was real. I’ll see you again soon, whether we like it or not –I’m sure of it.

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29 Comments...
  • Chrystal McKay
    September 28 2012

    This is one area of London I didn’t explore. I think thats another reason I DID love the city so much- there is just SO much to see there. So many neighbourhoods and stores and nooks and cranys! 😀 Sounds like you had a great day and everybody should have a to-eat list. WAY more important than a to-do list 😉 haha
    Chrystal McKay recently posted..Shopping Myself Pretty in Singapore

    • Alex
      September 29 2012

      Lately I’ve been obsessed with taking an “eatcation” to either Mexico or Italy, homes of my two favorite cuisines. I guess I’d have to take a fitnesscation after though to shore things up!

  • amy
    September 28 2012

    Glad that you liked Camden Alex,it looks fairly sunny in your pictures too – see, London’s not so bad after all! Love the pics, especially of the canal,it’s a great spot to visit
    amy recently posted..Why Travel?

    • Alex
      September 29 2012

      This was definitely the sunniest day I had — which was great, because it was my big tourist day too! London started to grow on me on this trip, but its still not my favorite city in the world 🙂 Ah well, different strokes!

  • Dani
    September 28 2012

    Ah, Camden! I just love the markets there, and strolling along the canal to Primrose Hill – if you haven’t done this last time you were there, put it on your list for next time. It’s a beautiful path and you will walk through a part of the zoo (for free!) You might even spot Gwyneth & Chris with the kids 😉
    Dani recently posted..Polaroid of the week: Aztec performer on Mexico City’s Zocalo

    • Alex
      September 29 2012

      I started to walk down the canal but I had no map and no data on my phone and I got freaked out about getting lost — so I turned around. If only I had known the zoo was on the other side! Great tip and I will keep that in mind for next time!

  • You look so pretty in that last shot! I would have spent a fortune at that market!!! What cool surf! And that ice cream, wow!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Puerto Rico & Dominica: Day 4 (Part 2)

    • Alex
      September 29 2012

      Aw, thanks! And yes, the ice cream was amazing!

  • Lucy
    October 1 2012

    I lived in London for 10 years and had an awful job I hated in Camden for a while so it always had really bad connotations to me, but I think I need to go back and give it another chance. Looks like the stalls have got way better and the areas been cleaned up a bit so it might be time!
    Lucy recently posted..Costa Rica’s elusive Arenal Volcano

    • Alex
      October 2 2012

      Living and working in a place and visiting it are DEFINITELY two totally different experiences, so I don’t blame you for wanting to return as a traveler 🙂 Hopefully you’ll like it better in that capacity!

  • Elaine Burr - Gram E
    October 1 2012

    Can’t wait for Honolulu – Hurry up

    • Alex
      October 2 2012

      Getting there, but there are a few more mini trips to share first 🙂

  • Jo
    October 5 2012

    Love the photos! Camden can be a place of many new discoveries.

    • Alex
      October 5 2012

      Thanks Jo! I’ll definitely return to Camden again and again!

  • Dad
    October 11 2012

    Alex, I missed this post when it first came out. What a neat area of the city that I have never visited and I am a London lover. The history makes London a destination visit for me. Now I have another reason to go back.

    • Alex
      October 12 2012

      I’m glad I could show you something new!

  • Jemma
    October 22 2012

    London is really a lovely place. I think it’s great to stay there for a few weeks. And what do you call those cute and small motorcycles? I would love to ride one of those.
    Jemma recently posted..Tapao Mountain Resort

    • Alex
      October 23 2012

      I think you mean mopeds? They are fun to ride, but also cute as chairs! 🙂

  • Emilie
    October 23 2012

    They have liquid nitrogen ice cream in Bangkok! At the Siam Paragon, one of my friend’s friend owns it!

    • Alex
      October 24 2012

      No way! I have GOT to check that out when I get back in December!

  • Paul
    November 18 2012

    I too discovered Camden Lock by accident, as work took me there. An afternoon spent in the street-food market and I was hooked. I took my wife there a couple of weeks ago, for her first time, and she was blown away. The food is amazing, the people eclectic and the atmosphere thoroughly bohemian. I whole heartedly recommend this being put high on any London itinerary…

    • Alex
      November 18 2012

      Paul I couldn’t agree more! I’m glad you too stumbled upon this amazing gem of a place. I’ll certainly be back!

  • Gary Anderson
    May 8 2013

    I was there a long time ago. Camden town is trendy now. Whimsical even. But the best part of Camden was and no doubt still is Hampstead and its Heath.

    You should stop by this little slice of what makes London cool, even though they have too many banksters there !

    • Alex
      May 9 2013

      I might be back to London in October… I’ll definitely keep this in mind if I do! Thanks for the tips!

  • Gary Anderson
    May 9 2013

    Yes, Ian Fleming lived there, and even a guy named Goldfinger! 🙂 No joke!
    Gary Anderson recently posted..Vegas Tickets

  • Rashaad
    April 18 2014

    Years ago, during my first to London, I visited Camden Town and I thought it was very cool for lack of a better phrase. It seemed to have a very youthful vibe.
    Rashaad recently posted..On vacation…. well, not really

    • Alex
      April 18 2014

      Walking through Camden was the first time I really felt love for London. It was great! Maybe I’ll get to pop back through this summer when I return.

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