Doing the Regent’s Canal walk is one of London’s best kept secrets. Especially visitors who have seen the main “must-do” sights, like Big Ben, Buckingham Palace or the London Eye, who would like to get to know London a little bit more from a local angle than a touristy one, will find this a very varied and rewarding route to take through Central London.
Regent’s Canal: the walking route
Start in Paddington, just behind Sheldon Square. When you get off the Hammersmith and City / Circle Lines, just walk up the stairs and voila, you’re at the start of the canal walk, also called the Paddington Basin. All you have to do now is admire the houseboats and wander along the water!
After about a five-minute walk along the modern high rises and office buildings complete with franchise restaurants and Starbucks, you get to Little Venice. It is amazing how many cities, even European cities, boast about their Little Venice. Every city has to have one, it’s almost like Chinatown – there’s one in every city. To be honest, I have seen prettier Little Venices, for example the one in Bamberg, Germany, or indeed the real deal, Venice itself, but this little nook of Regent’s Canal is charming enough and still worth a visit.
This is where Paddington and Maida Vale come together, and so does the Regents Canal. Little Venice is essentially a little triangle, where one arm ends in the Paddington Basin, the other comes in from the Midlands (Grand Junction Canal) and the other leads on towards Limehouse, past Primrose Hill, Regent’s Park and Camden, amongst other stops. First thing to notice is that the houses are getting bigger and definitely more beautiful to look at. Little Venice is also a starting point for boat tours on the canal.
Little Venice is nice to look at, but to be honest, the water is not, especially in the basins, where rubbish accumulates and floats around. The local wildlife is making use of all this though, making a nest out of rubbish… Let’s just say it’s not a canal you’d like to swim in.
Moving on you turn right to walk towards Primrose Hill and Camden., past the colourful boats moored at the side. You may want to stop and have an ice cream, some candy floss or select a hat at the hat barge. There are lots of eccentricities to be found on the Regent’s Canal walk.
Continuing onwards, you only have to leave the side of the canal for a few minutes and walk on the sidewalk of the road as the bit of canal path is private. Beautiful houseboats are moored there on a permanent basis and have their own little gardens and electricity supply along the path. It doesn’t matter, though, as you get to see plenty more houseboats shortly afterwards, and the canal passes through two tunnels inaccessible to pedestrians right after the houseboats anyways.
It’s equally nice to look at the buildings on the street that you need to walk for the next few minutes as the canal passes through Maida Hill Tunnel. Once you’ve crossed the road, the buildings become less attractive as you walk towards a council estate, which is where you can get back down to the canal.
After a few graffitis on the high brick walls next to the path, and walking through a short tunnel, you reach Lisson Wide. Walking this attractive and quirky stretch of the Regent’s Canal feels like serial-visiting people’s private gardens. Many of the houseboats moored there are somewhat permanent, and residents developed the path into their own backyards. You stumble upon many a pretty pot plant and walls decorated with mosaics, tiles and flowers, alcoves, hammocks, gumboots and the odd barbeque. Anything goes, from the alternative hippie barge and natural garden to the stylish landscaped garden booth that could feature in an issue of House & Garden magazine.
Regent’s Park and London Zoo
Walking further along Regent’s Canal, you reach the area where the canal leads through Regent’s Park, after a short stretch of pathway and bridges full of graffiti. Bridges become gradually more attractive again, the pathway widens and the greenery makes it an absolutely lovely part of the route.
Soon enough the greenery opens up and you get your first glimpse at one of the white villas on the other side of the canal. They sit right on the edge of Regent’s Park, which unfortunately you cannot see from the canal, but there are plenty of opportunities along the way to exit the canal path, cross a bridge and enter the park.
After the villas the canal reaches the London Zoo, and you will see animal enclosures on either side of the canal. Admire the various species of birds on your side of the canal, or take a look at the wild boars in the enclosure across on the other side.
Just after the London Zoo, the Regent’s Canal takes a sharp left at the Cumberland Basin. It’s hard to overlook the floating Chinese restaurant permanently moored in the basin. The restaurant is called Feng Shang and is another one of those equally odd and surprising things you discover along the canal.
Primrose Hill and St Mark’s
In case you find yourself on the Regent’s Canal walk on a Sunday afternoon and you’ve worked up a bit of an appetite, or are indeed longing for some afternoon tea, I recommend you take the exit right here where the canal turns left and cross the road.
I cannot recommend this highly enough. We accidentally discovered this place a few weeks ago as we left the canal with the intention of taking a short break and having a cool drink. As we walked up the steps from the canal towards the road right there in Primrose Hill, St Mark’s church came into view, and with it a big banner reading “Afternoon tea“. Unable to ignore the message with our parched throats, we crossed the road and entered the churchyard.
What presented itself was the most inviting looking table of homemade cakes I had seen in a long time. After a nice chat with the ladies from the church’s community, we found out that this was actually a regular event – every Sunday in spring/summer, weather permitting, the community throws a bake sale complete with coffee, tea and squash, to collect money for the maintenance of St Mark’s church.
And just in case you fancy reading a book while you’re having your lemon drizzle (highly recommended) or banana ginger cake (also highly recommended…), you can buy one right there as the church also has a quite substantial second hand book and clothes sale at the same time.
Once you tear yourself away from the fantastic hospitality and nice conversations at St Mark’s, enjoy the last picturesque stretch of Regent’s Canal from Primrose Hill to Camden. The path leads along the beautiful Victorian terrace houses, where residents take pride in maintaining their backyards. Those gardens are fully visible to the passer-by on the canal, and very much a sight in themselves. Plenty of flower pots, wooden decks and landscaped bits, sans the hippie touch or fading paint of Lisson Wide.
The last stretch of the Regent’s Canal walk leads right up to Camden, and the transition from flowery beautiful Primrose Hill to alternative, funky and loud Camden couldn’t be more obvious, and not just because of the music blasting from the various canal-side pubs and eateries. After another short tunnel, you emerge to see the Pirate Castle, a community centre that offers activities to children and youth, including kayaking.
Past the Pirate Castle you have made it to the final destination of this walk: Camden Lock. Regent’s Canal continues on for another few miles, towards King’s Cross, through Islington and Hackney, to finally reach Limehouse. However, after 2 hours of walking and enjoying the scenery along the way, it may be time to explore funky Camden and its alternative and creative markets, offering anything from ethnic food to home decorations, jewellery, accessories, fashion and a few counterfeit goods from Asia.