This is a classic slice of inner London, where your neighbours are as likely to be social housing tenants as wealthy lawyers and arty creatives, and conversations in the street take place in a babble of different languages.
'Camden is an area fizzing with energy, with Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill nearby for a weekend escape'
But a wave of gentrification from neighbouring Primrose Hill across the Regent’s Canal over the past decade has pushed up prices in Camden; the elegant Georgian terraces in the best roads now change hands for well over £1 million, bought by lawyers and media executives who like a place with some edge.
Phifi Tsannos of estate agent Hotblack Desiato (020 7482 2894) says: “Camden used to be cheap and the properties a bit run-down but now it’s a lot smarter and more expensive. It’s Chelsea without the yuppies. The bars and shops are changing but people still like the roughness.”
If you’re looking for a restful place to live, Camden is not for you. The Tube station can be a seedy place at night and drug dealing is a problem according to one local, who says her husband was offered drugs on a recent night out.
Crowds of “cool” and grungy dressers pour out of the Tube station and up Chalk Farm Road to the market seven days a week, and an early bedtime is not on most people’s minds.
But if you want to be in the thick of things, close to bars, restaurants and Camden Lock, in an area fizzing with energy, with Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill close by for a weekend escape, get on the next Northern line train.
Camden area file
Camden Town has a mix of every kind of property, from low-rise council blocks and small Victorian terraces, to four-storey Georgian terraces and handsome Victorian houses off Camden Road and along Gloucester Crescent.
Many of the flat-fronted Victorian terraces here and in the quieter roads on the Primrose Hill side of NW1 are housing association- or council-owned, with the council keen to encourage a mix of tenants and long leaseholders. In a characteristic local contrast, just around the corner from a terrace of housing association properties, armed police guard the home of the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband.
The area attracts: professionals - especially in the arts and creative industries; lawyers; young City types who can’t afford Primrose Hill and the Left-wing intelligentsia. It is also becoming popular with Italian, German and French buyers, since the arrival of the Holiday Inn at Camden Lock put it on the tourist map.
Staying power: It has surprisingly good staying power for inner London, with people moving into flats when they first come to the area, then graduating to a series of larger houses. Wealthier buyers move over to Primrose Hill, where they compete for homes with price refugees from Kensington and Chelsea and Bayswater.
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Postcodes: Camden Town shares its NW1 postcode with the east side of Primrose Hill but the two are very different, says Edward Prickett of John D Wood estate agents (020 7586 9060).
“Primrose Hill has a totally different vibe; it is very insular, small and popular, so demand exceeds supply.” It’s a complex micro-market but agents suggest Primrose Hill is about 25 per cent more expensive than Camden Town.
Best streets: as far as the best streets go, the jewels in Camden’s crown are Albert Street and Arlington Road, off Parkway, which are lined with immaculate, four-storey Georgian terraces. On the other side of Camden Town, South Villas and Camden Square are the most sought-after roads, although they are cheaper than roads off Parkway because they are a walk up the scruffy Camden Road away from the Tube.
“You’re running a bit of a gauntlet going to the Tube, especially late at night,” says Edward Prickett. But he believes Camden Square and surrounding roads will benefit when the new King’s Cross development to the east comes on stream in 2012.
Up-and-coming areas: check out the likes of Georgiana and Pratt Streets east of Camden High Street, a mix of blocks and period properties mostly owned by Camden council as freeholder.
New developments and regeneration: the Camden Lock and Stables Markets have been smartened up and extended and this whole area is now a buzzy series of indoor and outdoor stalls and shops selling vintage clothes, jewellery, bags and food. Camden Lock Village opened in May last year east of the Chalk Farm Road, on the site of the old Camden Canal Market which was destroyed by fire in 2008.
Schools: local secondary schools performed better than average in the latest league tables and parents fight fiercely to get their children into top-performing Camden School for Girls (boys in sixth form). Private alternatives include North Bridge House and South Hampstead High.
Shops and restaurants: there’s a huge choice of bars, restaurants, clubs and pubs in Camden and quieter but varied dining in Primrose Hill. Camden High Street shops are quite shabby, with charity and fast-food outlets prominent. Regent’s Park Road has smart, individual shops.
Green space/culture: for an urban area, Camden is surprisingly close to green space, with Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park a stone’s throw away, Hampstead a 10-minute bus ride and the towpaths of the Regent’s Canal opening out from the market. The restored Roundhouse has live music, theatre, dance and circus, and Camden is gig heaven, with bands playing every night of the week.
Transport: Camden Town is on both branches of the Northern line, a plus point for convenience but a minus point for delays. The station gets so crowded at weekends that a one-way entry and exit system is in operation. Chalk Farm or Mornington Crescent (also Northern line) are more peaceful. Euston and King’s Cross mainline stations are walkable.
Local council: Camden (no overall control); Band D council tax is £1,332.
Average sale prices
One-bedroom flat: £332,872
Two-bedroom flat: £463,148
Two-bedroom house: £662,950
Three-bedroom house: £727,214
Four-bedroom house: £1.6 million
Average lettings prices
One-bedroom flat: £260pw+
Two-bedroom flat: £300pw+
Three- and four-bedroom houses: £550pw+
Pictures by Barry Phillips
All details correct at time of publication (24 February 2010).