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Little Venice to Camden boat trip : explore the hidden canals of London

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Little Venice to Camden

The Venice to Camden boat trip is one of the most popular in London, and yet, so many visitors are completely oblivious to this waterway snaking its way in and out of well-known areas. Weeping willows sway and bend in the breeze as they lap at the water’s edge of two meeting canals.  Canal boats, offering both tours and accommodation to those who make the water their life, move through the calm waters.  It’s as though we’ve found a hidden city, tucked away inside the busy roads and residences at Maida Vale, just north of Paddington.  This is the London version of Venice.

little venice with bridge in background

Little Venice London

It’s a great find, tucked away in this busy city, and usually not something you’ll find on any first timers guides to London. This makes it a perfect “off the beaten path” activity for those who want to explore more of London.

The area is surrounded by some very fancy looking mansions with incredible gardens.  It’s hard not to peer through the fences as we pass.

We start on the pretty light blue wrought iron bridge, overlooking the area where the Grand Union and the Regents Canal meet.  The Grand Union canal runs for 220 kilometres north-north-west of Little Venice until it reaches Birmingham.  Regents Canal is almost 14 kilometres long, linking the Grand Union Canal to the Limehouse Basin in the east, and ultimately, the Thames River.

In summer, this is the perfect place to be and if the weather is behaving itself, the area is alive with people.  We were blessed with reasonable weather on the day we were here, so everyone was out enjoying a little sunshine.  The towpaths, alongside the canals, were a hectic mix of bicycles, skateboards and people. 

People running, strolling, walking with intent, reading, chatting, eating, and queuing.  The queues belonged to the canal boats that run groups of people up and down the canals, mostly toward Camden Lock.

It’s quite a business to queue for these boats as they fill up fast and there’s a rather antiquated, inaccurate process of booking your voyage. 

queuing for the canal ride at little venice
One of the queues for the canal boat rides

Regents Canal history

Long before motorised road transport and railways, canals were used as the transportation methods for many industries.  Horse-drawn boats were pulled along the waterways, hence the name “towpath” given to the small service lanes that run alongside the canals.  The Regents Canal was built to link the Grand Junction Canal through to the River Thames at the Limehouse Basin.  The name Regents Canal was used to honour King George IV, who prior to his coronation was also known as Prince Regent. 

Legislation was required to be passed first, in order to allow the canal to be built.  The Regents Canal Act was formerly passed in 1812.  The first portion of the canal, to Camden Lock (known officially as the Hampstead Road Lock), was opened in 1816, with the remainder opening in 1820.

During the 1840’s canal traffic started to decline, as the use of the railways ramped up.  However, during World War Two, the canals were once again used as an alternative and contingency to trains.  The towpaths ceased being used for horse-drawn boats in 1956, and by the 1960’s the canals had become a redundant commercial highway.  

Today, like most of the canals in the UK and Europe, they are used as an important part of the tourism sector. 

Regents Canal boat trip

There are three boat companies that run canal boat trips up and down the Regents Canal, but only two of them stop at Little Venice.

Jason’s Trip

Jason is not the name of the tour operator, it’s the name of the 100-year-old canal boat.  The canal boat season runs from roughly April to November but will be seasonally dependent.  “Jason” will take customers up and down the canal, with a one-way trip taking approximately 45 minutes.  A commentary is provided on board to highlight the key points of interest along the way.

The trip is direct from Little Venice to Camden (and return).  There are no stops along the way where you can disembark.

Reservations can be made online, but emails are only managed Monday to Friday, so if you are wanting to book for a weekend boat trip, you’ll need to make arrangements during the week and ensure that you get a response. Tickets cannot be purchased online, so even if you have a booking, you will still need to purchase on the boat. Tickets may be purchased with cash, VISA, Mastercard and AMEX or using the London Pass. 

London Waterbus Company

Moored across the canal from “Jason’s Trip” are the boats belonging to the larger business of the London Waterbus Company.  The only real difference with taking these narrowboats for a ride is there is a stop along the way for the London Zoo.  Tickets may also be purchased on board for the zoo. 

Their payment method is also the reverse, with no cash being accepted.  Payment is by credit card only.  They operate a similar timetable.  Make ticket purchases online. The London Pass is not able to be used here. Only people who have pre-booked tickets should join the queue as you can’t buy tickets at the boat.

London Waterbus Company is our preferred option quite simply because it is more convenient and you can plan your trips immediately through their live booking system. This means you can choose the times you want and receive confirmation immediately, as opposed to having to wait for an email response from the other operator.

Hire your own boat

If joining a throng of other people doesn’t excite you, why not hire your own boat for a few hours? Whilst not narrowboats, the boats at GoBoat will allow you to move along the canal at your own pace, and you can invite your friends along too.

If you have your hert set on a narrowboat, you can book with Book A Houseboat.

Cruising from Little Venice to Camden

The boat ride along the Regents Canal is often a competing mixture of obvious wealth and neglect, but it all comes together to provide an honest view of life in a leading world metropolis.

Expensive neighbourhoods, sporting massive mansions line the banks.  We are told by our tour guide that “some boats along here pay £100,000 per annum to moor a boat” in certain parts of the canal.

There is also a growing trend in London of people on canal boats, once their source of affordable housing, being forced off the waterways as gentrification raises land (and water) values.

georgian mansions along the regents canal

The boat takes us underneath the historically controversial Maida Vale tunnel.  When the Regents Canal was being built, there was strong opposition to the route coming through this location and so a tunnel was built to remediate the issue.  The overhead cafe that now affords diners a view of the canal boats is also controversial.

georgian mansions along the regents canal
Going through the Maida Vale Tunnel – Cafe Laville overhead

Boating behind people’s houses always feels a bit voyeuristic but it’s enjoyable seeing how people utilise their own patch of the water.  The deck built out over the water was one of our favourites.

house on the regents canal
A great looking deck built on the canal

Regents Canal is home to many who permanently moor their boats here, and also to visitors who hire boats to cruise the canals on their holidays.

colour of the canal boats on the regents canal

Walk the Regents Canal from Little Venice to Camden

Walking the towpath alongside the canals is just something that has to be done.  With no traffic and narrow pathways, life slows down here as you walk alongside the canal boats that in turn push slowly through the water. 

If it feels voyeuristic on a boat, it feels even more so when you are walking along the path.   Oftentimes, it feels as though you are in someone’s backyard.   Cyclists do use the towpaths, however, so you still need to have your wits about you.

There are certain times when you need to walk on the road due to maintenance works on the path and areas of private access only.  It is usually signposted to let you know where to go.

Arriving at Camden Lock

You will know you have arrived at Camden when you see the hive of activity, especially if you are going there on the weekend.  The end is signalled by the sight of the Dingwall Building and the double lock system, Camden Lock.

Camden is a lively mix of markets, food stalls, antiques, crafts, pubs, cafes and restaurants.  It’s also an emerging street art location too.  In our next article, we’ll bring you all the sights of this fascinating area.

camden lock from little venice via regents canal boat cruise
Arriving at Camden Lock

Places to eat in Little Venice 

Whilst there are a number of places to eat close by, we couldn’t pass up the English pub, The Bridge House, a well-known theatre pub with a cosy interior and an outdoor terrace alongside the canal.

Cafe Laville – without a doubt, this is one of the best places to get a view of canal boat life, without actually being on one. Cafe Laville, an Italian-inspired eatery is positioned on a busy road, but its glass exterior means that you get a great view from the tables along the window.

453 Edgware Rd, London W2 1TH, United Kingdom

The Waterway – a gastropub with a view of the canal

54 Formosa St, London W9 2JU, United Kingdom

Waterside Cafe – thie cafe is in a moored canal boat, right near the bridge. They are known for their English cream teas.

Warwick Cres, London W2 6NE, United Kingdom

Elsewhere, the Prince Alfred offers more pub food and the Summerhouse does seafood. 

Prince Alfred Hotel – a typical English pub with Victorian architecture

5A Formosa St, London W9 1EE, United Kingdom

The Summerhouse – by the water and looking for seafood? The Summerhouse has you covered. Also has a view of the canal.

Blomfield Rd, London W9 2PA, United Kingdom

How to get to Little Venice London

Little Venice is easily accessible.

If coming by tube, the nearest station is Warwick Avenue, on the Bakerloo line between Paddington and Maida Vale.  This will take 5-10 minutes to walk.  Alternatively, you can walk from Edgeware Road Station, which will take approximately 15-20 minutes depending on your walking speed.  It will also give you more of an opportunity to check out the surrounding neighbourhoods.

By train, the closest station is Paddington.

Buses connect from near Warwick Avenue and other tube stations. These bus routes will all get you to the Little Venice area: 6, 16, 18, 46, 98, 187, 332, 414

Limited car parking is available in the streets around Little Venice (metered on weekends) but given how busy it can be, public transport is recommended.  

Use the London journey planner to work out your most direct route to Little Venice.

 

Other London Resources

explore-london's-canals-by-boat

19 thoughts on “Little Venice to Camden boat trip : explore the hidden canals of London”

  1. Wow, sounds like going from the Little Venice side can be a bit of a pain. :\ When I was there last spring I did a roundtrip canal cruise with Walker’s Quay. I was able to buy my ticket in advance and also got to go through Camden Lock, which was a neat experience. Our boat did make a special stop in Little Venice to let someone off, though it’s not part of their typical tour. I was also lucky that it wasn’t busy, despite being a spring weekend – there were only a handful of other people on the boat. Such a fun way to experience a different side of London.

  2. That’s such a fun day. Great photos here! It’s a fascinating trip up the canal to Camden Locks – I take all my overseas visitors.

  3. I used to work in King’s Cross and walk this route on my lunch breaks. Always loved peering in those gardens! Must get around to taking the boat trip this year.

  4. This is such a fab thing to do… we walked the entire 14km length of the Regents Canal from the Thames all the way to Little Venice last year asks it was lovely to get a completely different view of London!

  5. Hi Kerri,

    The pea soup looks delicious. I had no idea a Little Venice even existed in London. Brilliant.

    Ryan

  6. I never experienced this when I lived in England…though I did frequent Camden Market. Ok then. It’s been pinned for when I visit family next time. I must do this.
    I’ve seen London this sunny about 3 times in my life lol.

  7. Great read! Also, am I the only one who thinks that chicken Caesar looks amazing? Feels like I can taste it already haha.

  8. Sadly never done this myself, despite having been to London 3 or 4 times. Camden & Little Venice look like they have plenty to see and do, I’ll check them out next time I’m there. I’ve done the boat tour from Greenwich and the actual, Italian, Venice so am sure I’d enjoy this! But yes you don’t need to tell me about the queues, people, queues, people side of London.

  9. All the times I’ve been to London, I’ve never come across this. Now, I really want to go, and especially eat at that Cafe! I would love to watch the boats underneath. How fun. It looks like a great day out.

  10. Never heard of Little Venice in London place. Sounds like a great place to visit, an offbeat place also. I like to take a ride on the boat through the canal one day, definitely on my next visit.

  11. I wish I had known about this before going to London. Oh well, I guess I will just have to go back again!!

  12. I’ll be going to London in April and was looking for “alternative” things to do – looks like this boat ride at Little Venice is up my alley!

  13. I had no idea this existed. I’ve always found waterways to be interesting, ESPECIALLY when they are the backs of people’s houses! I’ll have to put this on the list for next time I’m in London.

  14. Little Venice is indeed a gem off the beaten path. It is these kinds of places that do not figure on the “must see lists” which retain their pristine charm.I loved the arched bridge which reminded me of the Bridge of sighs and many others that span the grand canal in Venice. What we would absolutely love to do is walking the towpath alongside the canals, it sounds like a really amazing experience.

  15. Wandering life - Catarina Leonardo

    I visited London just one time a few years ago. I want to visit a lot of things and this is one of them 😉 Very nice place.

  16. I never knew of Little Venice in London but it looks worth visiting. Sailing though beautiful water canals must be a beautiful with all arched bridges and lovely sights. Thanks for sharing!

  17. I really loved London and since a few years I tried to visit the city as often as possible. Its so cool the see some new great places to visit – thank you so much for the great recommendation. I will definately go there next summer.
    Have a nice day
    Martina

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