There is no shortage of thrills in London, but one unique way to explore the city is via its waterways. The canals are host to vibrant life and community spirit. They have also been inspiring creative businesses, which have been springing up all over the place in recent years.
From brunch cruises, restaurants to shops and entertainment venues, there is something for everyone. Hop on and full stream ahead!
Word On Water
Next door to Granary Square and the renowned Central Saint Martins College, Word on Water has conquered the hearts of local residents, who fought to secure its now permanent spot in Kings Cross. Converted from a 1920s Dutch barge, this floating bookstore is a real hidden gem and treasure cave.
Dive inside this book lover’s paradise and explore the shelves packed to the brim with a selection of new and second hand books including fiction, non-fiction, classics, photography and art. In winter you can cosy up by the woodburning stove and in summer the deck turns into a live music stage. In the past the barge has run a variety of events including readings, poetry and jazz, so keep and eye out for those.
Where to encounter: Permanently moored on Regent’s Canal in Kings Cross in front of The Lighterman pub, Regent’s Canal Towpath, Kings Cross, N1C 4LW London, UK
Darcie & May Green
This fun and colourful duo of barges serves up Australian café food on the Grand Union Canal. Adorned in bold geometric shapes and neon signs, it is a pop-art creation of renowned British artist Sir Peter Blake.
Darcie Green is an ideal place for a relaxed bottomless brunch – think shakshouka, buttermilk pancakes, celeriac toast with poached eggs and avo. At May Green you can grab a delicious coffee and banana bread, whilst in the evenings it turns into a cocktail bar with a selection of craft beers on tap.
Where to encounter: Permanently moored on Grand Union Canal by Paddington Station, Sheldon Square, London W2 6DS, UK
Village Butty Busker’s Stage
Village Butty is essentially a floating community hall and performance stage supporting talented, local buskers and hosting a myriad of live music, comedy and cabaret acts.
Cruising the London waterways and moored at a different location every 2 weeks the Butty encourages the public to take part in the tight-knit canal boat community with workshops, talks and film screenings. You can also grab a drink or snack from their cafe. And don’t forget to bring some cash for the buskers!
Puppet Theatre Barge
For some adult and children-friendly entertainment head to the Puppet Theatre Barge, which offers intimate marionette performances on the canal in Little Venice. Michael Palin is a patron so it must be good!
The converted barge has been in existence for over 30 years and it initially started as a touring company travelling across the UK. Exotic puppets from around the world adorn the interior walls of the boat. Get ready for some old-fashioned fun in a unique setting, interval snacks and all.
Where to encounter: Moored mostly in Little Venice near Paddington throughout the year, in summer months between mid-July and mid-October you can also find it in Richmond, check in advance.
Boulangerie Flottante (Floating Boulangerie)
This floating French bakery came into existence during the coronavirus pandemic, when a French couple living on a houseboat found themselves furloughed. Previously working in the catering industry, they taught themselves how to bake from YouTube videos and started their own business.
You can have a delicious breakfast on board and enjoy the French classics including baguettes, croissants and pain au chocolat. Or simply get your goods delivered.
Where to encounter: Various places, seen in Angel and near Victoria Park, check the Facebook Page for current location
Electric barge is the full lazy weekend party canal cruise and bottomless brunch package all in one. And things can get very electric indeed as there lots of bubbly on the cards too.
The boat cruises from Paddigton’s Grand Union Canal to Camden Market via Little Venice and back. It’s a great way to enjoy one of the most scenic stretches of the canal and along the way you can see some grand regency villas and the lush greenery of Regent’s Park, as well as a sneak peak of the London Zoo.
Where to encounter: Moored on Grand Union Canal in Paddington, Sheldon Square Paddington, W2 6NA London, UK
For a classic sightseeing canal boat tour take a ride on Jason’s Trip – the oldest canal tour operating since 1951. Jason is a traditional narrowboat and one of the oldest around, over 100 years old! This canal grandfather is an important part of the waterways history and used to be pulled by horses in the olden days.
A round trip takes about 1,5 hours and it runs between Little Venice and Camden Lock. A guide will give a live commentary on the way to Camden, but if you prefer to just enjoy the views in silence join the trip from Canden back to Little Venice.
Where to encounter: Departs from Little Venice, W9 2PF London, UK
Alfred Le Roy
For a refined experience check out Alfred Le Roy floating speakeasy cocktail bar usually moored by Hackney Wick’s very hipster CRATE Brewery. Alfred is a restored wide beam canal boat and its name is a tribute to a 70s Belgian pub landlord.
The boat is available for private hire, but on some weekends you can take a pre-organised cruise down the River Lea.
Where to encounter: Moored permanently in front of CRATE Brewery, Hackney Wick apart from when out on a cruise.
Hackney Wick – the hipster heart of London is home to the Barge East Restaurant. This floating restaurant offers a true British experience with a modern British menu and classic sunday roast.
Converted from an old Dutch barge and moored on the River Lea, Barge East offers fantastic views of the Olympic Park. They also have a heated terrace on the towpath if you fancy a more casual drop-in.
Where to encounter: Permanently moored on River Lee, Sweetwater Mooring, White Post Ln, Hackney Wick, E9 5EN London, UK
The Floating Barber Shop
Run by master barber Matthew Lankester this 1960s barge is a floating unisex hair salon. It moves around central London canals offering trims, cuts and beard care.
It’s certainly a unique experience if you’re willing to put your trust in Matthew’s steady hand and with some luck – steady waters too.
Where to encounter: Various locations, frequently seen at Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross
London Shell Co
For delicious fresh fish and seafood sourced directly from independent Cornwall fishermen head to the London Shell Co permanently moored in Paddington. This elegant restaurant with romantic vibes located on The Grand Duchess barge is open for lunch and dinner.
Apart from an extensive menu featuring monkfish, sole, trout and oysters there is also an impressive wine list to match (especially white and sparkling white wines!). They also have a smaller cruising narrowboat restaurant – The Prince Regent.
Where to encounter: Moored permanently near Paddington, Sheldon Square, W2 6DL London, UK
Have you visited any of these or have other recommendations? Share with us below!