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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 things to do in London
Visiting London? Check out some of the other great things to do in and near London.
- An unusual afternoon tea in London: The Gin Lover’s Afternoon Tea
- Brick Lane street art: some of Shoreditch London’s best artwork
- Three cool, unusual and historical places to eat in London
- 16 reasons to visit the Borough Markets of London
- Things to do in Colchester, UK – an easy day trip from London
- Looking for pubs in Richmond London? Visit the unique Whitecross on the River Thames
- The Banksy (Leake St) Tunnel – a hidden graffiti art location in London
- Walk the streets on an historic pub and food tour in London
- Little Venice to Camden boat trip: explore the hidden canals of London
Other London Resources
- Rick Steves London 2020 (Rick Steves Travel Guide)
- Fodor’s London 2020 (Full-color Travel Guide)
- DK Eyewitness Travel Guide London