Some say Little Venice was given its name by playwright and poet Robert Browning who lived in the area for more than 25 years. Others say it was poet Lord Byron’s likening of the canals to those in Venice that gave one of London’s hidden gems its name. Then there are those that attribute the Little Venice moniker to author Margery Allingham’s 1930s novel Death of a Ghost. We may never know exactly where the name Little Venice came from, but what we do know is that this quirky and charming area of North London has been a magnet for writers, celebrities and artists since the 19th century.
Located on the border of Paddington and Maida Vale, and less than 10 minutes from Paddington Station, Little Venice is where the Regent’s Canal and the Grand Union Canal collide and where leisurely narrowboats amble alongside grand Regency terraces. A place for canal boat trips and boat tours, for walks along the towpath and for luxuriating in the authenticity of Little Venice London. One of the easiest ways to reach Little Venice is by tube, with Warwick Avenue (on the Bakerloo line) and Edgware Road being the closest tube stations. And once you’re in Little Venice, here are 11 of our favourite things to do:
1. Rembrandt Gardens. Little Venice’s answer to Hyde Park, the romantically named Rembrandt Gardens, is just the spot for well-tended greenery, and sunshine laden picnics or brunch overlooking Regent’s Canal. Originally known as Warwick Gardens, this delightful spot in Little Venice became Rembrandt Gardens when the Cities of Westminster and Amsterdam were twinned, accompanied by ceremonial tulips!
2. The puppet theatre barge. Where else but Little Venice can you experience a puppet show on a houseboat? The puppet theatre barge, located on Blomfield Road, may look like a regular narrowboat, but step aboard and you enter your own mini theatre, the perfect stage for the string marionette dolls to put on their performance. With shows including The Town Mouse and The Country Mouse, and Brer Rabbit Visits Africa, this is the UK’s only floating puppet theatre.
3. Camden Lock. Hop aboard the London waterbus for a boat ride from Little Venice to Camden Lock along the royal waterway of the Regent’s Canal. Or for Little Venice authenticity, make it a narrowboat instead, like the 1906 Jason’s Trip canal boat. Cruise through Regents Park, London Zoo and sneak a peek at some of the most expensive homes in London. Once you’re back on dry land at Camden Lock, trendy Camden Town with its famous Camden market beckons, for unique gifts and over 1,000 stalls and artisan traders. Laden with your goodies, wend your way back gently by waterbus or narrowboat.
4. Canal Café Theatre. Where many of the biggest names in comedy and musical theatre cut their teeth, the Canal Café Theatre sits above the Bridge House Pub on the edge of the Regent’s Canal. With only 60 seats, the Canal Café Theatre is intimate yet exciting, with an enticing blend of plays, comedy, cabaret, improvisation and musicals.
5. Authentic British food. Live like a local when you sit down for a pint and a plate of fish and chips at 19th century pub, The Warwick Castle. Or for à la carte fare, try The Waterway, with its outdoor terrace overlooking the Grand Union Canal. Little Venice is a treasure trove of traditional pubs, and canal-side cafes.
The Prince Alfred pub is another interesting example. It has the best snob screens in London. Snob screens, you say? Snob screens were put into pubs in Victorian times to separate the working class from the middle class. You have to duck under them to move from table to table!
6. Canal-side walk. For a different perspective on Little Venice, use the power of your own two feet to walk the Regent’s Canal Towpath. Take time to stop at the Waterside Café for a cup of tea or Café Laville for a taste of Italy. This 1-2 hour meander will take you through Regent’s Park and London Zoo, giving you a glimpse into some of the animal habitats inside. For the secrets of the Blow Up Bridge and the British Industrial Revolution, a London Walks specialist guide can elevate this walk to the extraordinary.
7. The Canalway Cavalcade. Loved by Londoners, the Canalway Cavalcade is a celebration of life on the waterways. It last took place in London’s Little Venice on the early May bank holiday weekend. The vibrant annual event involves real ale, crafts, street food, an illuminated procession and plenty of family friendly activities. It’s fun and colourful festival. Look out for the next one!
8. Paddington Green. To experience a bit of Londoner’s London, walk down from Little Venice to Paddington Green, a little known expanse of green with plenty of jewels to uncover. There’s St. Mary’s Church, an exquisitely restored Georgian church and the resting place of 18th century actress Sarah Siddons. It’s home to her memorial, said to be the first statue of a non-Royal woman in London.
9. Heroes from history. WW2 hero Alan Turing, who broke the Enigma code and changed the course of the war, was born in Maida Vale. The code breaker was also a pioneer of computer science. See the Alan Turing plaque on Warrington Crescent, outside The Colonnade Hotel, which was once a hospital called The Warrington Lodge Medical and Surgery Home for Ladies. A short walk away at St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, you can visit the museum of another hero, Nobel Prize winning Scottish physician Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin there.
10. Walk down Paddington Arm. Walk along the Paddington Basin to St Mary’s Paddington (the famous birthplace of Princes William and Harry, and George and Louis, and Princess Charlotte). The Paddington Arm walk is fairly new and aesthetically pleasing with a mix of new architectural forms and old 19th century industrial forms. If you want to relax after your walk, head for the magnificent Victoria Pub, just off Hyde Park Square.
11. Clifton Nurseries. Not just for gardeners, Clifton Nurseries is a wonderful city bolthole. Surrounded by all the flowers and plants, you could be miles from the city. Its wonderful Flotsam and Jetsam cafe is a real gem, whether you have green fingers or not.
Written by Kelly