Exploring London’s Canals By Bike

9 October 2014
Read Time: 2.7 mins

I spent 24 months living and working in London and the thing I miss the most - aside from the after work pub shenanigans, ample market offerings, and new and exciting eateries - is the unique kind of freedom found on two wheels.

London is an excellent city to explore on bicycle, particularly its charming network of canals, which can be traced either via boat (obviously), by foot, or quite favourably by bicycle. More good news: there are plenty of gems (read: bars) to be found along the way. Here are some of my favourite canal-side cycle routes in London.

 CRATE Brewery & Pizzeria at The White Building, Hackney Wick

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Broadway Markets To Hackney Wick

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If it’s Saturday morning and you know what’s good for you, you’ve just filled up on a bacon and egg sarnie and a Climpson & Sons coffee from Broadway Market. Now you’re ready for a leisurely cycle to Hackney Wick.

First stop: check your bike's tyre pressure and pump up your wheels if needed at the free pump outside Lock 7 Cafe (and bicycle shop) on the canal end of Broadway Market, before heading out onto Regent’s Canal towpath heading east.

Along this route you’ll skirt the edges of Victoria Park, winding along the quiet backs of quaint inner-city English gardens. This cycle will take you no more than 30 minutes, slightly longer if you stop to appreciate the lovely backyards and quaint bridges you’ll roll under.

The reward at the end of the road? A slice of woodfired pizza and a craft beer from CRATE Brewery & Pizzeria. One of East London’s best-kept secrets, CRATE operates out of a disused warehouse in Hackney Wick and its wide open space, up-cycled furnishing and canal-side location make it the perfect spot for a lazy London afternoon sampling the local drop.

Beware: you’ll need to cycle back too, so perhaps avoid the stronger IPA beer varieties – you don’t want to end up IN the canal.

 Cruising along the picturesque Towpath Cafe

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Victoria Park To Angel along Regent’s Canal

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Perhaps you’ve spent the day lazing in Victoria Park; you smelled the flowers and had a spot of lunch at The Hemingway pub, and now you’re heading to Angel for a round of afternoon drinks. Cycle your way west along Regent’s Canal, crossing under Kingsland Road, and you’ll soon reach The Proud Archivist gallery, bar and restaurant.

Stop in to see the latest art exhibition; just a stone’s throw from here is the Towpath Cafe. If the weather’s nice, stop in for a quick beverage to keep you going for the rest of the ride. A few more clicks onwards (say 15 minutes give or take) and you’ll reach Angel, where this section of the towpath concludes. De-bike and wander up to explore the shopping and dining offerings on Upper Street.

 Visit re-purposed buildings with hip new bars and eateries

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King’s Cross To Little Venice

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Head further west and you’ll discover the canal towpath doesn't mysteriously end in Angel, as you can reconnect to the towpath at King’s Cross. While you’re in the neighbourhood, drop by the London Canal Museum and learn some of the history behind these jaunty narrow bends.

You don’t have to go far for a drink or bite to eat overlooking Regent’s Canal. Check out the King’s Cross Filling Station, a repurposed 1960s petrol station on Goods Way. Next it’s on to Camden Town, winding through Camden Lock, and surely by now you deserve some liquid-nitrogen ice cream from the Chin Chin Laboratorists.

Continue to follow the path and you’ll reach the majestic Regent’s Park. Here, you can enjoy some of the delights of London Zoo for free as you skirt along its property. Continue on even further (follow directions to reconnect to the towpath) and you’ll reach Little Venice in the heart of London’s inner west.

Head to the kitsch Bridge House pub for a well earned pint by the canal before planning your route homeward bound. Isn’t London grand?

 Take it easy and follow the cycle code!

Advice for cycling canals:

  • Respect the friendly folk who live on canal boats;  you’re essentially riding along their front door.
  • Always ring your bell when approaching a tight corner or heading under a bridge. This will allow other cyclists and pedestrians to know you’re coming, so one of you (probably you) doesn’t end up in the river.
  • Always follow the cycle path and make way for pedestrians – likewise, dismount and walk your bike when signage advises.
  • Feel chuffed with yourself for finding an inner-London sanctuary to ride on, free from imposing double-decker buses and murderous round-a-bouts.

Rachel Surgeoner

A self-confessed 'food-tourist', I take hunting for the world's greatest sandwich very seriously, my quest has taken me from Berlin to Hoboken. Stopping off only for vintage shopping, craft beers and Mediterranean sunsets.