What better way to explore all of London’s watery gems than by canal, or, to be more specific, via GoBoat? I always think of Little Venice as the Montmartre of London. It’s picturesque, bohemian, eclectic and soulful. It’s wedged between Paddington’s high rises and grungy Camden, and it neighbours majestic Regent’s Park and London Zoo. My GoBoat trip was from Paddington to Camden Lock and back again, taking about two hours. My daughters Eloise and Anais joined me on the excursion, together with my friend Lucy and her children. And what fun we had on our self-drive mini cruise along London’s canals.
How to GoBoat
It’s easy-peasy. GoBoats are pre-booked for up to 8 people on any one boat. The boats “sail” away from Merchant Square in Paddington. Anyone over the age of 18 can operate a GoBoat, and they require no sailing experience whatsoever. This is a relief, as I can barely drive a car, let alone a boat. But to be safe, I asked my 18 year-old daughter Eloise to drive, as anyone who knows me is aware of what an appalling sense of direction I have. No one wanted to end up in Birmingham on our cruise!
Make sure you arrive 15 minutes prior to casting off. A member of the GoBoat London staff will discuss the journey and any operating and security measures with you. It’s very straightforward, even for someone like me with zero sense of direction.
Let’s get this GoBoat on the road.
First things first – you might want to spend a penny in the café next to GoBoat as there are no toilets on board and nowhere to stop on the journey. Dress sensibly (I wouldn’t wear heels) and take a jumper in case it gets cold. There are plenty of places where you can buy food and drink in Merchant Square, but we made homemade cakes for our journey. You can take a picnic on board, and you are also allowed alcohol (but there is a maximum amount allowed – check the website for more details).
Sailing is continental-style, on the right-hand side of the canal, but you are encouraged to stay in the centre when no other boats are around. The exception to this rule is when you arrive at the Maida Hill tunnel. Here, you enter on the left-hand side of the canal, and you must give priority to any boat already in the tunnel.
So now, let’s cast off and begin our journey!
GoBoat and Little Venice
As you leave Paddington Basin behind you on your GoBoat, it’s time to enter London’s canal gem: Little Venice. Little Venice is parts Maida Vale, parts Paddington, a combined area referred to as ‘Venice’ before the ‘Little’ was added in the second half of the 20th century. Legend has it that the poet Robert Browning coined the name, but some argue it was Lord Byron.
Little Venice is one of London’s prime residential areas. Notable residents include Michael Bond, creator of ‘Paddington,’ Richard Branson, Alan Turing and of course, Robert Browning who lived at No 19 Warwick Crescent.
Exploring London’s canals
As a young student, I always dreamed of living the life of a struggling writer in a Parisian garret. Then I came across the colourful boats of Little Venice and decided perhaps the life of an artist might be more romantic. I’m not sure which one takes the prize, but the canal boats of Little Venice really are the stuff of dreams.
The Regent’s Canal
Designed by John Nash, the Regent’s Canal is 8.6 miles long and links the Paddington end of the Grand Union Canal to the Limehouse Basin in east London. There are some eye-popping villas along the way, but you’ll need to squeeze through the Maida Hill tunnel first in your GoBoat.
Regent’s Park and London Zoo
Also known as the ‘Jewel in the Crown,’ Regent’s Park was once Henry VIII’s hunting ground. John Nash transformed it into the royal park we see today with its canal, rose gardens and lakes. Regent’s Park is also home to London Zoo with its 17,000 animals across 750 species.
A Floating Princess
Yes she’s kitsch but I don’t care – the FengShang Princess restaurant is a floating vision of red and gold. I used to eat here in the 90s, as it was one of the few Chinese restaurants that served vegetarian chicken. I haven’t been since then, but as I marvel at her seductive silhouette on the water, I’m reminded that I really should pay her a visit again.
Camden Lock was once a wharf housing the stables for Regent’s Canal. It’s now a world-famous arts and crafts market and teeming with restaurants, cafés, music venues and nightclubs. It’s also a mecca for Amy Winehouse fans, as she lived and performed in the area. Camden Lock market is open 364 days a year (it shuts only on Christmas Day).
Camden Lock signals the end of the GoBoat canal trip. We could technically carry on to Birmingham, but it’s time to head back to Paddington!
About GoBoat London
GoBoats are built in Copenhagen and are made of 80 percent recycled bottles. They are electrically powered and cruise at 4 miles per hour. Each self-drive GoBoat can take up to 8 people, and you can even bring your pooch!
Prices start at £79 for one hour, although I recommend a minimum of 2 hours which is plenty of time to cruise from Paddington Basin to Camden Lock and back. On weekends, the organisers suggest 3 hours to allow for extra traffic on the canals.
You can take a picnic on GoBoat and alcohol is allowed (the driver must be sober at all times). There are limits on the amount of alcohol which can be consumed on board (check the website for further details).
Children must wear lifejackets, and these are included in the price.
GoBoat Merchant Square, Paddington, London, W2 1JZ. Nearest tubes; Edgware Road / Paddington. You can book your own self-drive adventure here.
Note: due to Covid 19, some restrictions are in place. Details on the GoBoat London website.