Great London walking tours: Regent’s Canal walk

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!

First top along the Regent's Canal: Little Venice, London

Little Venice, London, on the Regent’s Canal

Little Venice

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.

Cafe in Little Venice, along the Regent's Canal, London

Cafe in Little Venice, on the Regent’s Canal

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.

Bird's nest in Little Venice, on Regent's Canal, London

Bird’s nest in Little Venice lagoon, London

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.

Eccentric boats in Little Venice, Regent's Canal

Eccentric boats, selling hats or candy floss

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.

Lisson Wide

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.

Regent's Canal at Lisson Wide, where house boats are moored.

House boats moored in Lisson Wide, Regent’s 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.

Home decorations at Lisson Wide, Regent's Canal

Home and garden deco along the path at Lisson Wide

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.

Regent's Canal path near the London Zoo, Regent's Park

Regent’s Canal path near the London Zoo

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.

Villas along the Regent's Canal near Regent's Park

Villas along the Regent’s Canal near Regent’s 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.

Cumberland Basin

Cumberland Basin, Regent's Canal, near Regent's Park

The Feng Shang floating restaurant moored in Cumberland Basin, Regent’s Canal, near Regent’s Park

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.

St Mark's Church in Primrose Hill, along the Regent's Canal

St Mark’s Church in Primrose Hill, near Regent’s Park, on the Regent’s Canal

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.

Afternoon tea served at St Mark's Church, Primrose Hill, Regent's Canal

Afternoon tea served at St Mark’s Church, Primrose Hill

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.

St Mark's Church, Primrose Hill, Regent's Canal

St Mark’s Church also does a great second hand book and clothes sale

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.

From Primrose Hill towards Camden on the Regent's Canal

Walking further on the Regent’s Canal, from Primrose Hill towards Camden

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.

Camden Lock

Pirate Castle on the Regent's Canal, Camden

Pirate Castle on the Regent’s Canal in Camden

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.

Camden Lock, Regent's Canal

Camden Lock on Regent’s Canal – tons of market stalls to explore

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.

 

What part of Regent’s Canal would you most want to see?

Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  10 comments for “Great London walking tours: Regent’s Canal walk

  1. Bodo
    30 August, 2012 at 09:58

    Thanks Christina, that is an impressive account of the Regent’s Canal. My favourite part is the tea & cake bonanza in St.Mark’s church orchard, which is very beautiful in itself. Can we have more of that?

    • Christina
      1 September, 2012 at 09:48

      Yes, Bodo, I know your favourite part is St Mark’s we can have more of the tea and cake bonanza before autumn comes and they pack away their cakes table until springtime… Maybe they have a few events in winter, with gluehwein? Let me find out…! 🙂

  2. 30 August, 2012 at 15:46

    I love this walking tours tip and can’t wait to take a stroll along Regents Canal. There’s so much to see. Although I’ve been to Regent’s Park, I haven’t visited these other spots. I’ve been missing out on a lot, I think.

    • Christina
      1 September, 2012 at 10:04

      Great Cathy, when are you coming over then? I share your feeling of having missed out. I asked myself why I hadn’t done this walk before, when I’ve lived here for a few years now. Great to discover new stuff just in your backyard, isn’t it!

  3. 30 August, 2012 at 15:54

    I would love love love to do this walking tour! Especially now, it looks so beautiful. Forwarding this to a friend who will be in London next week!

    • Christina
      1 September, 2012 at 10:05

      Thanks Jade! I’m sure your friend will like it. Weather is supposed to get better too, so they’ll have some sunshine on the way. Just point them my way if they need any other suggestions, happy to help.

  4. 31 August, 2012 at 09:12

    What a great walking tour! I’ve heard of the boat tour of Regent’s Canal but I think I’d prefer walking. You captured this tour beautifully! It’s been years since we went to London and I would definitely do this one on our next visit. I would love to walk by Lisson Wide and Little Venice.

    • Christina
      1 September, 2012 at 10:08

      I’ve added to your next London to-do list, I’m glad. I’d definitely recommend the walking tour instead of the boat tour. You really want to be able to leave the canal sometimes just to explore the neighbourhoods as well, or to just stop and stare at those beautiful gardens and have a chat to people once in a while.

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