Although not strictly in Central London, this little slice of urban heaven qualifies by being just on the northern fringe of the centre and is one of my very favourite areas of London – Little Venice.
In truth, probably more ‘Little Amsterdam’ than Little Venice (especially as far as the weather is concerned) the Regents Canal meanders peacefully through the area of Maida Vale, surrounded by the beautiful white stucco painted Regency mansions which provide a stunning back drop.
Dozens of quirky and decorative House Narrow boats line the canal on both sides, giving a glimpse of a relaxed and bohemian existence, where time just seems to go a bit slower. Regular day trip boats, floating businesses and water cafes complete the picture of complete tranquillity – especially if you consider the noise and bustle of Paddington Station which isn’t too far away.
The Regents Canal was built in 1812 and was part of a grand plan to build a network of canals across England. It flows all the way from the Thames at Limehouse to Paddington where it joins the Grand Union Canal.
The original idea was to transport goods to and from the docks of London to the Midlands and the North of England. But soon after the canal was constructed, the railways began to appear, criss- crossing the country and provided a much faster way of transporting goods nationwide. The canals were left with the more limited role of moving goods locally and proved very useful in transporting coal and building materials across the capital. Soon that too became more economical and faster by the fast-developing road network, and the Regents Canal fell into decline.
Over the years there have been several proposals to develop the canal, including converting the canal into a railway line, but happily all development plans were beaten off and the Regents Canal remains a wonderful reminder of London’s historic past.
There is a charming little Canal Museum nearby at 12/13 New Wharf Road which tells its story. My favourite view of the canal is from Warwick Ave, where the road bridge crosses the canal, affording a lovely view of the Canal to one side, and the Little Venice basin to the other.