Route: Canal - London, England
Think of water and think of London and you’re likely to picture the Thames, but just to the north winds a lesser-travelled waterway that gives a fantastic insight into a much more relaxed and local side of the city, and makes for a grand day out.
Cutting a watery swathe through north and east London, the Regent’s Canal, opened in 1820, provided a vital link in a network that connected Birmingham with the Thames. The London Canal Museum, set right on the canalside at King’s Cross, is a quirky and fascinating way to find out about the canal’s history and a perfect starting point for further exploration.
Housed in a nineteenth-century ice warehouse, the museum traces the history of the Regent’s Canal and the ice trade – big business in Victorian London. Upstairs, there are more exhibits on the history of British canal transport and a handy map of the city’s canals from which to get your bearings.
From here, the eastbound canal is inaccessible for just under a mile but you can hop through the backstreets, or jump on the underground, to rejoin it at Danbury Street, just east of Angel tube station. Strolling east, you’ll pass the City Road Basin and dip under numerous bridges before emerging in front of gorgeous little Towpath Cafe, which has tables right on the water and a range of simple, well-executed dishes, chalked up on a daily menu.
After another 20 minutes, a ramped exit leads you to Broadway Market, a pretty parade that’s hosted a line of stalls since the 19th century, and these days attracts a gaggle of East London hipsters. On a Saturday it’s thronged with crowds browsing the artisan food, books, records and vintage clothing of the modern-day market. There’s an interesting assortment of boutiques, superb coffee at Climpson & Sons and a truly impressive selection of Belgian beer at the Dove.
Rejoin the canal on the other side of Broadway Market, looking out for Word on the Water, the bookshop barge that’s often moored here, and after 10 minutes you’ll reach the southwestern edge of Victoria Park. This 86-hectare leafy expanse opened in 1845, and was the first public park in the East End. An Olympic make-over means it now boasts a colourful new pagoda and the beautifully restored Burdett-Coutts Memorial, originally a gift of Angela Burdett-Coutts, once the richest woman in England, and a prominent philanthropist. The Pavillion, sitting right on the lake, is a relaxed cafe serving organic treats, and the park’s two handsome pubs, the Royal Inn on the Park and the Britannia, both sport excellent beer gardens.
Exit the park at its southeastern tip, cross the road, and pick up the canal path next to the Top O the Morning pub. Not far along the mighty Olympic Park will rise into view. Crossing the canal at the first bridge you come to will bring you on to Fish Island, Hackney Wick, an arty enclave and home to some great cafes and restaurants.
Directly ahead of you, the nonchalantly cool Counter Cafe is a firm favourite with the local art crowd, and serves up great coffee, tasty breakfasts, sandwiches and pies. Forman’s next door offers more upmarket dining. Curing salmon since 1905, their menu comprises an interesting range of British-sourced dishes, including an exceptional wild smoked salmon. Both have unrivalled views of the Olympic Park across the River Lee, another fascinating London waterway you’ll have to save for another day.
Sally Schafer is the author of the Lonely Planet London City Guide.
- Visit the Lonely Planet's London 2012 page
- Visit Sally's blog dedicated to East London at therightsideofthecity.blog.com
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