The Regent’s Canal walking tour in London
Walking in London is impossible, if you walk in London you don’t get anywhere, the walking itineraries in London are too dispersive. These are just some of the clichés I hear a lot, too often maybe.
It is true that walking in London is not like doing it in Paris, a much more compact city with close and well-defined neighborhoods. The English capital, however, offers many walking itineraries, either by following the subway lines or strolling from one neighborhood to another.
Among the London walks that I prefer, the one along the Regent’s Canal is without a doubt the first that I would recommend, in its short version, but also in the long one, in case you are a tireless walker.
Walking tour along Regent’s Canal
The Regent’s Canal connects the district known as Little Venice, in the west of London, to the Thames in the Limehouse area, on the opposite side of the city.
Once an area of warehouses and industries, the canal has now become a fashionable place, where last decades renovation converted it in a very cool residential area.
The walk lasts about three hours, passing through Regent’s Park, a small detour to enjoy the views from Primrose Hill, Camden Lock and Islington, but I suggest you add two more hours to get to the Limehouse Basin.
As a starting point, I recommend the Warwick Avenue stop on the Bakerloo line. Taking the Clifton Villas exit, you will leave the church behind you to enter Warwick Place and from there onto Blomfield Road. On the other side of the bridge you will find the steps to get off in the small dock, the heart of Little Venice and the true starting point of this walk.
Little Venice in London
The name Little Venice is due to the convergence of the two nineteenth-century canals: the Regent’s and the Grand Union, built to transport materials and goods between Birmingham and Paddington.
The route of the canal follows fairly straight lines, but not the walk: between private sidewalks, underground tunnels under train tracks, such as those entering Marylebone Station, and the absence of docks, you will have to walk up and down quite often, admiring romantic houseboats and the surrounding architecture. Maybe trying to imagine that once the boats used to move up the canal pulled by horses. Surreal no?
At the height of the main London Mosque you can cross Regent’s Park, admire the gardens, the pond and the Queen Mary’s Gardens, or leave the park and canal for a short detour to the top of Primrose Hill, which you have certainly seen in various movies set in London.
The highest point of Primrose Hill is only 63 meters and it’s therefore just a very slight climb, but the park and the city seen from here are really beautiful. The skyscrapers you see from above are those of the City and Canary Wharf, in continuous expansion like the rest of the West End. If in doubt, check the steel panel that details what you’re looking at.
If you are in the mood for a sweet break, I recommend the Primrose Bakery: their cupcakes are a must and it’s the perfect location if you’re looking for colorful photos for your Instagram profile …
Once back to the canal sidewalk, you cross the London Zoo, which really is in a very bad state. Oh so sad … however, if you are interested in its history, you can also learn it in the Tower of London, whose moat was the zoo precursor for decades.
Camden Lock Market
Next stop, just after the medieval-style bridge known as Pirate Castle, is Camden Lock, the first of twelve locks built to lower the level of the canal between this point and Limehouse.
Here, if it’s a weekend, if you’re hungry, if you’re thirsty, if you’re curious, if you do not resist the temptation to go shopping, add at least an hour to the expected tour time …
The Camden market is a real Alibaba cave for me. It is true that there are so many junkies for tourists, but there are also particularly cute objects and details and stalls, such as the Spanish guy personalizing Converse and the countless dining options that offer various high-calorie delicacies. For example I can’t resist the handmade fudge!
Re-emerging from Camden Lock you have to cross Camden Hight Street to find the next portion of the canal, squeezed between high modern buildings and with no pedestrian banks for a while.
This area also sees a succession of old decommissioned and converted warehouses and railway bridges leading to King’s Cross or Saint Pancras.
An area that I really like, also because it represents the kind of redevelopment that in Italy we still see as a utopia. I actually really like the London Canal Museum and the surrounding buildings. Until the twenties it was used as a warehouse for storing ice harvested in Scandinavia!
Here, at the height of Granary Square, you’ll find one of my favorite bookstores in London: Word on the Water. It is certainly not the biggest, but it is definitely the one that makes me daydream and fantasize as soon as I set my eyes on it. It is welcoming and romantic and is masterfully managed: excellent book selection, live jazz concerts on the roof, artistic improvisations and happy chatter with customers / guests.
After the Thornhill Bridge the canal enters the Islington Tunnel for about a kilometer, but in order not to lose it, just follow the blue disks on the ground, just like breadcrumbs.
This neighborhood was also known as Merry Islington: an area designed for outdoor recreation, including cricket pitches, spas and tea rooms. It was also the arrival point of the Great North Road that led from York to London and which here bifurcated towards the City or to Smithfield Market, still the main British meat market.
Once here you can take the subway from Angel Station, on the Northern line, or keep walking along the canal to Limehouse Basin, and if you feel strong enough, from there to the Tower of London. I dared the full walk only once: beautiful, but exhausting!
Have a great stroll along the Regent’s Canal!
P.S. The Regent’s Canal is named in honor of the Prince of Wales, who in 1811, the year before the inauguration of the canal, had become Prince Regent, before being crowned King George IV.