An incredible feat of industrial engineering, London’s canals once formed some of the country’s most important economic arteries. Now over 200 years old and no longer serving much of a purpose in the haulage business, they still form some of London’s most delightful patches of nature, dotted with cute cafés, quirky art galleries and abundant wildlife. Here, we look at some of the capital’s most beautiful canals, where sleek urban London meets everything from meadow to marshland.
The first navigable canal to be dug in London, Limehouse Cut took 16 months to dig and connects the River Thames at Limehouse Basin with the River Lea at Bromley. Full of swans, ducks, geese, cormorants, and plenty of other wildlife, it’s a peaceful place to take an afternoon amble. Several of its railways arches were engineered by George and Robert Stephenson in the 1840s, and it has plenty of curiosities scattered along its pathways, including the spire of St Anne’s church (the only church in Britain to be allowed to fly the English Ensign), as well as the modern marina, which hosts roughly 100 boats, from tiny canal-boats to giant yachts.
Lying on a bend of the Grand Union canal, this 55-acre cemetery was opened in 1833 to cater to extra demand as Victorian London burgeoned. Now hosting the likes of Harold Pinter, Isambard Brunel, William Thackeray, Charles Babbage, Anthony Trollope and the last man to fight a duel in England, its ivy-clad sculptures, gothic memorials and neo-classical facades offer an unusual, if melancholic, window into one of London’s lesser-known canals.
Trains rather than canal boats tend to be the first image that leaps to mind when King’s Cross is mentioned. However, this stretch of Regent’s Canal, which winds round the top of King’s Boulevard, is now an ultra-modern wonderland of hip restaurants, bars and pop-ups. Hit the canal-side steps, which are carpeted green in the summer months, for some downtime, visit the floating cinema, or just watch the world go by.
Located within reach of Maida Vale’s regency grandeur, Little Venice’s peaceful waterway (forming part of Regent’s canal) is lined with sophisticated seafood restaurants, gastropubs and cafés. One of the most popular haunts is the Waterside, an all-day café based on a docked canal-boat by Warwick Crescent. But there are lots of other independent venues too, with comedy at the Canal Café Theatre and music at the local pubs.
Located at the recently regenerated City Road Basin, the Islington Boat Club is the perfect place for adults and kids to learn water skills, or just watch others try to canoe, narrowboat, powerboat or pedalo. Visit on 3rd September if possible, when the popular Angel Canal Festival take place. Full of rides, bouncy castles, Punch & Judy shows, boat trips, live music, regattas, races and competitions, there’s plenty of fun to be had.