Welcome to another instalment of “A Cabbie’s Guide to…”, if you have taken a ride in my minicab before, you will know that I’ve been a cabbie in the capital for many years. I know the sights, the sounds and the smells of this city so very well.
I’m here to take you on a journey around the city, giving you my top picks for things to do. Of course, London is a big old place though, so I can’t promise I will cover everything. I can promise what I do cover will be great though.
Right, there’s no need to get a taxi, as my cab engine is running and the conversation is in full flow. The meter isn’t running though, as this ones on me. Today, my minicab is taking you to North West London, we are hitting the road and heading to Camden!
A Little Bit of Background...
Formed in 1965 from the merger of the metropolitan boroughs of St Pancras, Hampstead and Holborn, Camden is historically a part of Middlesex and takes its name from Camden Town.
The London Borough of Camden, to give it its full name, consists of a number of places, including the following locations:
As it is a major part of London and is partially located in Central London, Camden has a prominent position. Due to this it is home to many well-known organisations and points of interest, some of these we will venture to in the cab throughout the course of this trip. These include:
Jewish Museum London
St. Pancras Library
The British Museum
Great Ormond Street Hospital
King's Cross Station
National Union of Students
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
Royal College of Anaesthetists
Royal College of General Practitioners
Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
Royal College of Physicians
Royal College of Surgeons
School of Oriental and African Studies
The University of Law
Its prominent location within London has seen Camden become home to many famous faces over the years. Many of these who have made a significant contribution to history have been honoured by English Heritage with a blue plaque - due to this, there are around 172 blue plaques throughout the borough, or so I’ve read - I haven’t counted all of them! I have seen a lot of them though.
People who have a blue plaque include Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Sigmund Freud, John Keats, Sir John Betjeman, Richard Burton, John Constable, Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf.
Right, I’m going to finish waffling now and take you to our first stop...
I would go as far to say that Camden Market is world-famous. Whenever I have passengers in the cab from abroad, it’s not rare for them to already be aware of the market - and, it makes sense as a little bit of research tells me that it is the 4th most-popular visitor location in the whole of London and it attracts 250,000 people each week!
However, for those of you who aren’t aware or would just like to find out a little more, I shall tell you a little bit about it, the Stables Market and the surrounding Camden Lock area.
Camden Market comprises a number of adjoining retail markets, situated by the Regent's Canal
on a site formerly occupied by warehouses.
Altogether, there are around 1000 shops and stalls located within the market. And it really is like Aladdin’s cave, as you can buy pretty much anything. It’s particularly great for unique clothes, vintage clothes, custom t-shirts, crafts, books, jewellery, vinyl...actually, all kinds of stuff really! I really wouldn’t be doing it any justice by listing exactly what can be bought, it’s definitely a place which you have to wander around and see what catches your eye.
The market is home to several well-known stores...
With its massive metal cyborgs greeting you as you enter, Cyberdog is one of these.
A haven for trance music and those interested in rave culture, Cyberdog is the place to go if you’re after bright, fluorescent dance clothing, clothing featuring flashing lights, shoes, jewellery, glowsticks, or all kinds of UV items.
Another well-known store is Rokit, which is a goldmine for vintage clothing. Venture to Rokit and you will expect to find everything from knitwear to ski jackets, sheepskin jackets to all kinds of denim...it really is paradise for anyone who likes vintage clothing or is looking for something distinctive or a slightly unusual.
The appeal of Rokit shows as clothing from there has been used in photoshoots for leading style magazines such as Vogue and Dazed and Confused.
Cyberdog and Rokit are just two of the stores at Camden Market, there are so many more...and if you’ve read previous guides, you will know that I’m not a massive fan of shopping and even I’m impressed by the shopping at Camden Market. The great thing about both Cyberdog and Rokit, is they both started as stalls on the market and now have very successful shops, I love seeing how they’ve grown!
So whilst Camden Market’s shopping impresses me, I have to be honest the food impresses me more. However, this is just because I absolutely love my food! It’s definitely one of those places where I simply don’t know what to choose, so just find myself wandering around and taking in the smells from each stand.
To give you an idea of the food at the market, your options here include New York deli sandwiches, French patisserie items, traditional English fish and chips, Portuguese custard tarts,
Indonesian street food, Taiwanese fried chicken, Dutch pancakes, falafel (as a veggie, one of my favourites!), Vietnamese pho, poké bowls, pizza, fresh pasta, premium burgers...and I’m going to have to stop, as I’m getting hungry just thinking about all of the other options on the list!
If you’re a music fan like myself, whilst you’re at the market I recommend popping outside to see the daughter of a taxi driver who became a global star with her powerful voice - but was sadly taken too soon - that is the statue of Amy Winehouse, which is just near the entrance of the Stables Market. Unveiled in 2014, it’s a fitting tribute to an extraordinary and sorely-missed talent.
Right, roll-up, roll-up. Let’s get back in the cab and on to our next destination - I’m taking you to Hampstead Heath.
One of London’s most popular open spaces, Hampstead Heath offers beautiful countryside, rich wildlife, ancient woodland and a mosaic of habitats, and unbelievably to many, it’s just six kilometres away from the hustle and bustle of Trafalgar Square.
Hampstead Heath, or the Heath as it’s known, extends across Hampstead and Highgate, and is so much more than just an open space. Whilst it makes for a fantastic location for a walk or a picnic when the weather is nice, there is loads more to see and do. There is a zoo, an athletics track, an education centre, extensive children's facilities, three swimming ponds and a lido.
It’s also a fantastic spot to bird watch.
The swimming ponds, in particular, have always been something which have attracted me to the Heath, and on a few occasions, I’ve braved the water and gone for a dip. I say braved because you’re not reading it wrong, they are ponds not pools. Originally reservoirs for drinking water from the River Fleet, they are now used for wild swimming.
There are three ponds in total:
The Mixed Pool - On the Hampstead side of the Heath, this pond is only lifeguarded and open to the public during the summer. If you want to swim in it during the winter, you will have to join the Hampstead Heath Winter Swimming Club.
The Ladies’ & Men’s Pond - Both on the Highgate side of the Heath, there are separate ponds for men and women, these are lifeguarded and open all year-round.
The swimming ponds provide a great opportunity for open water swimming in London and have been enjoyed by people for years. I have to warn you though, when it gets hot, the ponds get very busy!
If you like the sound of swimming in the Heath, give in to the temptation - it’s muddy, it’s freezing, there’s sometimes ducks, but boy, it’s great!
If you can’t quite hack the mud or maybe you don’t fancy sharing your water with ducks, there’s also a lido at the Heath too.
And if you’re feeling active but don’t fancy a swim, there are rolling hills for walking, playgrounds for the younger members of the family to burn off excess energy, plus facilities for all kinds of sports including running, cycling, athletics, kite-flying and volleyball. On a Saturday morning, there is also a weekly 5K Parkrun held...don’t ask me what it’s like, I don’t run!
As with many of the other open spaces in London, Hampstead Heath has been featured in all kinds of literature, art, music, television and film. There are many things that have involved the Heath but a few of its claims to fame include:
It was used on the cover of The Kinks album “The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society”
It was used as a filming location for the film Notting Hill
It was a setting for Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula
For our next destination, we are heading to the West End and over to one of my favourite theatres, Shaftesbury Theatre. It’s at this point I should say if you’re a tourist to London and you’re not making a visit to the theatre as part of your trip, I think I might just change your mind in the next few paragraphs.
I love the theatre, I always find it to be one of those unforgettable experiences. A trip to the cinema can be throwaway and quickly forgotten but the theatre is immersive. To see the action unfolding in front of you really makes you feel part of the production.
In fact, upon entering some older theatres, like those in London’s West End, you may feel you have entered another time in history! The architecture and luxurious interior all contribute to the theatre experience.
Opened in 1911 as the New Prince's Theatre, The Shaftesbury Theatre was the last theatre to be built on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Designed for the Melville Brothers by Bertie Crewe, its opening show was The Three Musketeers on Boxing Day, 1911. It then changed its name to the Prince's Theatre in 1914.
Showing its resilience, despite heavy bombing in the West End during World War II, the theatre continued with a programme of shows.
In 1962, after being sold to Charles Clore and EMI, the theatre was given its current name of Shaftesbury Theatre.
The current capacity for the theatre is between 1300 and 1400.
Over the years, the theatre has been host to many famous and groundbreaking performances.
Notable shows which have run at the theatre over the years include Funny Face, Twang!!, West Side Story, Dad’s Army, Run For Your Wife, Hair, Tommy, Rent, Peggy Sue Got Married, Daddy Cool, Rock of Ages and The Illusionists.