LONDON CANAL WALKS: 3 stunning routes along London’s waterways!
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England’s capital city hides an impressive canal system with decades of history. These man-made waterways were built to allow transportation of raw materials across the city as well as the country. Until the 18th century, horses were pulling river barges weighing up to one hundred tons, making these intricate water routes England’s most used transportation network.
Today the canals have become a hot spot for a series of activities, including kayaking, walking, and floating cinemas! Strolling along London’s canals is one of the best ways to experience the city. From traditional narrowboats to modern and futuristic buildings, weeping willows, and unique stores and cafes, these London canal walks all have something in common: they allow you to step away from a busy and bustling city and reconnect with nature.
Here is a list of the 3 best canal walks in London, including highlights and some essential information.
3 BEST CANAL WALKS IN LONDON
Regents Canal walk: Little Venice to Limehouse Basin
Distance: 9 miles- 14 Km
Transports: Paddington station – Limehouse station
The Regent Canal is perhaps one of the most popular walks in London and for good reasons. This 9 miles route stretches across most of the city, west to east, and it covers many of the most popular attractions, including Victoria Park, Camden Lock, and Little Venice.
The Regent canal walk is a unique oasis of calm that offers many fine pubs and restaurants along the way. On top of that, organized kayak and narrowboat tours are available all year round.
Despite being a relatively long walk it can be done in a day, the canal path is easy to reach, maps and information are available along the way. Nevertheless, the regent canal can be divided into two main separate sections:
First section: Paddington Arm to Camden Lock Market highlights (3 miles)
- Paddington Arm and Little Venice: The Paddington arm is where the Grand Union Canal meets the Regent’s canal; this beautiful area, also known as “Little Venice”, represents a window to the past. Despite being very different from the Italian city of Venice, this section of the Regent’s canal walk is characterized by weeping willows, traditional houses, and many boats converted into floating bookshops, cafes, and tiny independent shops. The Paddington Arm is also home to a few luxuries and uniquely converted canal boats, this included the famous BoatHouse created in collaboration with the interior design brand MADE.com; a boutique hotel boat in the heart of London providing an unforgettable experience. This unique canal walk in London offers many traditional pubs and even floating cafes. The waterside cafe opened in 1995 and it’s the perfect way to experience life on the canals! Finally, the latest, and perhaps most unique addition to little Venice, is a floating Cheese Barge with everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to chessboards and wine!
- Regent’s Park, London Zoo, and Primrose Hill: Regent’s park is known as one of the best parks in London. This section of the walk is quiet and beautiful. The park covers 395 acres in the heart of the city and it’s home to the London Zoo. Sourprinsly you will be able to spot some of the animals while walking along the canal! A small walk away from the Regent’s canal path is Primrose Hill. This 63 meters hill has a clear skyline with stunning panoramic views of the city. If walking the Regent’s canal in summer, Primrose Hill is a great spot to stop for a quick sneak in one of the many independent restaurants and cafes. An interesting and unique sight is the Feng Shang Princess Chinese restaurant floating on the canal water right in the middle of Regent’s Park. This is a three-tiered floating pagoda covered with red lanterns and colorful decorations offering incredible food. Booking is highly recommended.
- Camden Town: The Regents canal walk goes straight through the famous Camden Market, a perfect place to stop and enjoy some street food and browse between vintage and unique stalls. Camden market is a relatively new addition to London. It was opened in 1971after the local deserted industrial buildings were sub-letted to workshop owners. A famous waterbus (canal boat) runs every hour throughout summer from Camden Lock all the way to Little Venice covering this entire first section of the Regent canal walk in London.
Second section: Islington to Limehouse Basin highlights (6 miles)
- King’s Cross: King’s Cross has been a major place of trade since Roman times and the Regent’s canal played an important role. The canal path has been recently upgraded and it includes a two-acre nature reserve in the heart of the city, the Camley Street Natural Park. This section of the Regents canal walk is perfect for families and people looking to reconnect with nature without the need to leave the city! A unique highlight is the famous Word on the Water book barge, an unusual canal barge refitted to sell traditional books on the water
- Islington Tunnel: Unfortunately, unless you are traveling by canal boat, you won’t be able to walk this section of the Regents canal as the tunnel doesn’t have a footpath. Nevertheless, the Islington tunnel is the longest one in London and runs for 878 meters underneath Angel. Here, watching the narrowboats enter and exit the tunnel is the real highlight, the space is extremely small and dark without artificial lights. Legend says that once upon a time, when narrowboats were still pushed by horses and didn’t have engines, men had to lay on their backs with their feet on the ceiling in order to “walk” the entire length of the tunnel with their boat. These fascinating stories are what makes the Regents footpath one of the best London canal walks.
- Hackney and the Broadway Market: The Regents canal walk runs next to the famous east London Broadway Market (Saturday Street Market & Sunday Hot Food & Floristry Market). Here you will find plenty of photo opportunities as well as numerous street vendors with unique gadgets and high-quality food. On top of that, the area has many established restaurants and cafes open all week!
- Victoria Park: This canal walk runs across a small section of Victoria Park, the largest and most popular green space in East London. It includes a large adventure playground for children, a splash pool, bandstands, cafes, and lakes. With many festivals and activities being organized in the summer months, no wonder that Victoria park is also known as the “people’s park”! This section of the Regents canal walk is beautiful in its own way, very different from Little Venice and Regent’s park this green area has a true east London vibe: colorful, unique, and more chaotic.
- Limehouse Basin: This is the gateway between the River Thames and many miles of navigable canals and rivers. The marina is a beautiful place to admire the beauty and tranquility of London’s canals and a great way to end a 9-mile walk across some of the best highlights the city has to offer.
The East London Circuit and Limehouse cut: Limehouse to Limehouse
Distance: 7.2. miles – 11.5 km
Transport: Limehouse station
A small circuit starting at Limehouse basin and running across the first section of the Regent canal all the way to Mile End. Turn right onto the Hertford Union canal all the way to Hackney. This stretch crosses the entire length of Victoria Park. Here the canal mixes with the river Lea in a bustling and very busy environment. Turn right again to continue all the way to Bromley by Bow and finally right again to walk the famous Limehouse cut all the way back to Limehouse basin. This is a relatively short and easy canal walk but still full of highlights and unique sights:
- Limehouse Basin: Limehouse basin is a beautiful and calm oasis on the water. The marina makes a perfect base from which to explore London by waterways. Here you can admire a collection of traditional narrowboats and dutch barges as well as modern and luxurious river homes. Simply relax and enjoy a drink or snack at one of the many cafes in the area. Limehouse basin often organizes events such as markets and live music in the area.
- Victoria Park: Victoria park stretches over a huge 86.18 hectares, luckily this London canal walk runs across a big section of this green oasis. The park hosts big events and activities all year round. From music festivals to fireworks displays, there are plenty of things to do in Victoria Park, including a boating pond and a Chinese pagoda island. The area surrounding the park is full of delightful cafes and unique restaurants you must try.
- Hackney Wick: The busiest section of this canal walk in London is right where the Hertford union canal meets the River Lea in Hackney. This area is well known for its bars and restaurants as well as independent shops and art galleries.
- Limehouse cut: The Limehouse Cut was the first navigable canal in London and one of the earliest in England. Today it’s a tranquil place to walk or cycle along, very different from the previous bustling environment of the river Lea. This section of the path is calm and very quiet, perfect to finish off one of the best London canal walks!
The River Lea Walk: East India docks (or Limehouse Basin) to Waltham Cross
Distance: 50-mile (80 km) long-distance path – 14 miles (22 km) in London
Transport: Canning Town (or Limehouse) station – Waltham Cross station
The Lea valley walk is a long-distance canal walk that follows the river from Luton to the Thames. Luckily it can be divided into shorter sections, such as the 14 miles route across London. Despite being only a small part of the full Lea Valley trek this is still the longest canal walk in London and requires good preparation and physical fitness.
Some of the highlights include Lea Bridge, Three Mills, East India Docks, and Waltham Abbey. The London Lea Valley was can be divided into 5 sections, allowing people to only walk part of the hike if necessary.
First section: East India docks (or Limehouse Basin) to Three Mills highlights (2.1 miles)
- East India Dock: The original walk starts in East India Dock, unfortunately, there isn’t a canal path to follow all the way to Three Mills therefore many people choose to begin the walk from Limehouse Basin instead, through Limehouse cut all the way to Three Mills where it’s possible to rejoin the river Lea canal walk. East India Dock Basin is the largest remaining part of the early 19th century East India Docks complex. Unfortunately today the area lacks infrastructure.
- Trinity Buoy Wharf: This is a Docklands site providing artists’ studios and gallery space as well as cafes and restaurants right on the edge of the river Themes. The unique combinations of colorful containers and outdoor venues make this worth a quick stop along the Lea Valley canal walk.
Second section: Three Mills to Lea Bridge highlights (2 miles)
- Three mills: Three Mills Island is a small pocket of land surrounded by three channels of the River Lea. In 1086 a total of eight working watermills were counted; what used to be the former arteries of London’s industry is now used for leisure as three Mills offers a remarkable collection of historic industrial buildings. To fully enjoy the area is recommended you wander off the canal path and take a free tour of the famous House Mill, a survivor of the early industrial revolution in London.
- The Olympic Park: Since the London 2012 Olympic Games, this section of the Lea navigation has been cleaned and restored. Today this London canal walk is a popular and vibrant spot for many well-known events, restaurants, and cafes. The canal path is surrounded by kids’ playgrounds, unique street food vendors, and many bars with seats by the water. On top of that, a small walk away is one of the biggest shopping malls in London (Westfield).
- Hackney Marsh: This is an open space along the canal path. A calm green oasis perfect to stop and relax after the bustling environment of the Olympic Park. Simply sit down and enjoy some unique wildlife or admire the occasional narrowboat passing by.
Third section: Lea Bridge to Tottenham Hale highlights (2 miles)
- Walthamstow Marshes Nature Reserve: This is Europe’s largest urban wetland reserve: a 211-hectare site comprising ten reservoirs that provide drinking water for London. Aside from the canal walk, there are 13 miles of available paths to explore the natural reserve. The park is free and opens all year, it includes some incredible wildlife and plenty of seasonable activities for families.
Forth section: Tottenham Hale to Ponders End highlights (4 miles)
This section of the river Lea walk is pretty simple and straightforward. There aren’t many famous sights along the way so despite being one of the longest stretches it can be done in just over an hour.
Fifth section: Ponders End to Walham Cross highlights (3.5 miles)
- Royal Gunpowder Mills: Royal Gunpowder Mills played an essential part in English military history. A small family business that grew to become Crown property. Unfortunately, the mill is only open on specific days and times, nevertheless, it is possible to admire and enjoy this old beautiful structure from the canal path.
- Waltham Abbey: Waltham Abbey is a traditional market town, just a small walk away from the Lea valley canal path there is the famous Waltham Abbey church, one of the possible resting places of King Harold Godwinson who died in the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
- Lee Valley White Water Centre: To finish off one of the best London canal walks you can visit the Lea Valley white water center and enjoy some incredible water activities, from kayaking to white water rafting and paddle boarding.
This was just a small description of the 3 best London canal walks. Each is packed with unique sights and attractions, reason why they attract many walkers, boaters, and commuters every day.
From the Regents canal walk, with wiping willows and colorful buildings, to the Limehouse Cut, there is something to discover at every corner. Enjoy this selection of the best canal walks in London!