If you like walking alongside a peaceful and bucolic waterway while never being more than 10 minutes from a trendy cafe, pub/bar, or transport to escape back to civilization, then this could be the perfect day trip for you!
Having previously lived alongside Regent’s Canal in London, I decided to return one year after moving away to reconnect and complete a challenge I’d always wanted to tackle: walking the entire length of the waterway.
It was fascinating to experience the different characters of each neighbourhood: from swanky houseboats in Little Venice, through lively Camden with street food vendors right by the water, the beautifully redeveloped industrial landscape around Kings Cross, to chilled cafes in Angel, street art in Haggerston, and the countryside feel while walking past Mile End Park. I also enjoyed spotting super floofy baby water birds and saying hello to the many dogs also out on walks!
It took me about 6 hours door to door, so about 5 hours for the actual hike. I like to maintain a relatively good pace while walking, especially when there’s a long way to go, but I did make a stop for lunch and many more pauses to take photos and explore! My step count racked up an impressive 24k, which my app. calculated to be about 17.8km (door to door). If you don’t have this amount of time or energy, it’s certainly possible to approach it in chunks as you’re really not more than 10mins from public transport at most points. Hopefully, my brief account below will help you choose what sections you’d like to prioritise, or inspire you to do the whole thing.
What to take:
- Comfortable shoes. I didn’t bother with my walking boots as the terrain is very flat and mostly paved, so trainers were fine for me.
- Water bottle or camel pack (I’m inseparable from my pack and the 2l of water lasted all of the trip)
- You can bring your own food but there are plenty of places to grab things along the way.
- External battery pack for your phone (I didn’t take mine and regret this- there were lots of exciting things to photograph, plus I was listening to podcasts the entire journey. I had to switch to flight mode for the last 2hrs, cut down on the photos, and made it home with only 2% left!)
- Layers of clothing – this is London after all! I did this trip in June and experienced bright sun, clouds and a bit of a chill wind, and it threatened to rain at one point.
Paddington Basin to Little Venice
I started the hike by taking the Tube to Paddington station and following the signs to Paddington Basin where the waterway begins. The contrasts between the high-rise buildings and the small scale of the houseboats are very cool! There are some cute street food vendor trucks offering amazing-smelling wraps, plus drinks, and a pretty restaurant on a boat if you want to kick off the day with some fuel. I decided to grab a pastry and coffee from Gail’s bakery and get going.
After a few minutes, the canal divides into two forks: the one to the right is Regent’s Canal and the other is Grand Union canal. At another cute cafe on a boat, I took the bridge over to follow the Regent’s Canal pathway. After walking past some very posh houseboats and towpaths, with gorgeous wisteria vines creating picturesque arches to walk under, there is a small section that is private and closed off, so it’s necessary to walk along the pavement for a while. This is no hardship as the houses in the area are even fancier than the houseboats! Equally, a place I noted to stop off at next time is a restaurant and bar on a bridge with stunning views out over the water- a very special location.
Soon I was back by the water and in this section, you can really see the community feel that the houseboat dwellers have created for themselves. The towpath is quite wide and people have made lovely gardens and places to sit alongside their boats. It would be so relaxing to sit here in the summer evenings, chatting to your neighbours!
Regent’s Park to Camden
After Little Venice, the canal runs alongside Regent’s Park (appropriate!) and eventually, London Zoo. The Zoo is actually on both sides of the canal and I spotted an enclosure with warthogs on the right side, and the huge aviary towers overhead on the left. There are also some impressive mansions which reminded me of those you see on the Italian Lakes – they must be extremely valuable!
A striking three-story floating Chinese restaurant, Feng Shang, marks the end of this section, and a left turn takes you into an area with more houseboats and lovely houses (although seemingly modest compared to the previous mansions) with their own moorings. There starts to be a little street art and graffiti in this section as we are approaching vibrant Camden. The Pirate Castle guards the official entry to this area, a youth and watersports centre with a fun architectural style (I actually did a very good paddleboarding trip with them for my birthday last year).
Camden makes its presence known as the towpath leads you into a lively area full of street food vendors. There’s music, crowds of people, and tempting smells of different foods wafting from all directions. This is definitely a contrast to the pretty bridges, elegant willow trees, and rural locks also populating this area!
I grabbed a tasty halloumi gyros and continued on for about 200m to sit by the (relatively) recently redeveloped Hawley Warf area. It’s also worth noting that there are public toilets in this building and places to refill a water bottle.
Kings Cross to Angel (part 1)
The next section following Camden enters the King’s Cross area. I didn’t know what to expect here, but there have been lots of redevelopment work and I can say that this was probably my favourite segment of the walk! A highlight of the day was certainly Gasholder Park No. 8. I love the architecture of these round, former gas storage towers, and appreciate how they have kept the skeleton of the structure but created a beautiful park in the centre. There were families hanging out
Beyond the park there are further bars and restaurants close to the towpath, and even a floating bookshop, Word on the Water!
The canal then disappears into the Islington Tunnel, (the longest tunnel in london at 878m), as you hit Angel. It’s necessary to navigate through a residential area (there are blue signs to follow) and through the shopping streets near Angel Tube. I took the opportunity to grab a snack and use the very nice toilets at the Angel Shopping Centre, plus there is another water bottle refill station here if you need it.
Angel (part 2) to Haggerston
Picking up back onto the towpath in Angel, we press on past more houseboats to an idyllic lock with a red brick former factory, complete with a chimney stack and weeping willow trees dipping their branches into the water like something out of a romance novel!
This was my old stomping ground during lockdown, so I have a lot of love for this area – walking here definitely helped me to survive! There is a cafe by the lock, Canal No. 5, and now a boat selling wood-fired pizza, One to Many Pizza Barge, if you’d like to indulge. A little further on, there is a pub right by the canal appropriately called, Narrowboat, with a lovely balcony overlooking the canal if you’re after something more substantial/alcoholic (booking recommended).
The journey continues on into hipster, Haggerston. There is more graffiti and street art on this stretch, and the buildings become more industrial, with four/five-story warehouses converted into apartments looking out over the canal. Coming up are some other popular cafes by the canal: Towpath (they even have a podcast of canal stories and recipes!) and By the Bridge Cafe, serving up smoothies, snacks, and cocktails. There are a couple of specialist beer taprooms (e.g. Signature Brew Haggerston) or even a Venezuelan restaurant, Arepa & Co., if that’s more your thing.
Further on, there are yet more gas towers on the other side of the canal. These are yet to have been gentrified like the towers in King Cross- let’s see what they will become in future! Back on the towpath side of the canal, the route is now pretty close to the upscale treats available at Broadway Market, if further refreshments are required.
Victoria Park to Mile End Park
In contrast to the industrial feel of Haggerston, Victoria Park emerges as an oasis of manicured greenery. If you have time, I’d recommend a little side excursion to see the ornate Chinese tea house and enjoy this lovely park. I was on a mission, so I kept going…
Not long after and the route hits a long stretch beside Mile End Park. This has a much more wild feel, with groups of students sitting outside in the long grass with beers from the nearby pub, The Palm Tree, a real East-End boozer!
It’s at this point that I got my first glimpse of the highrises of Canary Warf, which hinted that I was nearing the end of the journey…
To the finish line…
I spotted some of the boats moored in Limehouse Basin from underneath a low bridge that had been hiding the marina from view. After stepping through, the canal itself ends with a very pretty series of locks as the water enters the picturesque marina.
I decided to take a victory lap and officially walk the entire length of the canal by ending at the River Thames, and conveniently, at Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant, The Narrow!
To exist the hike: Limehouse DLR station is about a 5-minute walk back inland and has good transport links to most places in London and beyond.
On reflection, what I liked most about this urban hiking adventure was not needing to look at a map and worry about where I needed to go all day – as long as the canal was on my right, I was probably heading in the correct direction! It was a very freeing feeling, which is what I value about hiking in general. It’s also very practical as I knew that if I got tired or it rained heavily I could very easily bail and go home as you’re really still in central London! I also found plenty of toilets, water bottle refilling, and food/treat procuring opportunities, which is always a consideration when going for a full day of walking. Overall, 10 out of 10 would highly recommend it!
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