Regent’s Canal: The Houseboats of Hackney

Regent’s Canal: The Houseboats of Hackney

Whether it’s for an afternoon stroll or a morning jog, this pocket of tranquillity has become the preferred place for locals to escape the hustle and bustle of the busy city life. With one of the prominent features of this waterway being the majestic narrowboats that line its waters. This guide aims to unmask the very best boats you’ll see and the story behind them. 

The houseboats of Hackney are a visual feast, lining up along the banks of Regent’s canal in all their multi-coloured glory. There are stunning houseboats of all sizes and colours, From the long and the narrow to the short and the fat. Red, green, yellow and every colour beneath the sun. You’ve got old rinky-dink wooden rigs and new-fangled floating abodes clad in steel. These houseboats run the gamut, adding such a terrific, unique, one-of-a-kind aesthetic character to urban space of East London.

run down narrowboats line the murky green water of regent's canal
Houseboats lined up along Regent’s Canal on a crisp November Saturday 
a graffiti covered grey lock in the murky green water which is reflecting the yellow leaves on the trees that line the grey path
Acton Lock is one of the many ‘locks’ along Regent’s Canal. These locks make transportation possible, though it takes some patience waiting for them to fill with water 

What’s the story behind these peculiar homes?

Well for starters, the word ‘houseboat’ is a bit of a misnomer. They’re actually called ‘narrowboats’, and are as quintessentially British as a Sunday roast dinner. The story begins during the latter half of the 18th century when the Industrial Revolution whipped into a fever pitch. It was during this time that the British canal network was carved through the country. Playing an integral role in the transport of all the new goods and raw materials which fueled this boom. These canals plunged through the hills and dales and glens of the countryside and knifed their way into rapidly growing cities. Eventually, the importance of the canals was replaced by the railroads, from an economic perspective at least, yet their indelible mark remains.

grey narrowboat called
Every houseboat has a name. Here we have the ‘Hummingbird’ labelled along the side of a very traditional looking boat
black and red houseboat called
The Progress, a bold and emphatic black boat 

Like most of the boats, you’ll see on Regent’s Canal, they are used for now used for leisurely purposes. With alot of the signature narrowboats of the UK becoming a relatively affordable option for alternative housing. This is particularly true in London where rent prices have skyrocketed in the past two decades. With upwards of three per cent of the city covered in water, houseboats are increasingly seen as a reasonable living option. While a permanent plot is certainly pricey, between 10 and 20 thousand pounds per year and sometimes, unbelievably, more – there are also plenty of ‘continuous cruisers’ afoot. Or adrift.

Green Red Yellow Narrowboat on murky water which
The Valletta, a classic houseboat.

Continuous cruisers are able to forgo a permanent mooring, and instead live a truly nomadic lifestyle along the canals. As long as they are able to secure an aptly named ‘continuous cruising license.’ There are plenty of free moorings to choose from in the county, and as long as you adhere to the 2-week time limit you don’t have to pay to park your boat. Of course the lifestyle of constantly moving can be taxing. With houseboat living coming into vogue as of late, continuous cruiser moorings are becoming more and more competitive.

green narrowboat on the water that has
Walking along Regent’s Canal to observe the houseboats is a past time unlike any other. Free inspiration.
plantpot and wooden chairs in front of a green boat that has a yellow red flower and a blue and pink sign the that says
Walking along Regent’s Canal to observe the houseboats is a past time unlike any other. Free inspiration 

The Houseboats of Regent’s Canal…

Regent’s Canal, in particular, has become a haven for houseboats in recent times. In total, the canal is a hair under 14 kilometres in length. Winding like a murky serpent from Maida Vale aka Little Venice in the ‘city’ of Westminster, to Limehouse Basin by the River Thames in the East. 

blue houseboat docked with white rope in front of a yellow green and black narrowboat that reads
The narrowboats on Regent’s canal are so majestic 

Along its circuitous journey, the canal scythes through some of the most interesting parts of the Northern half of the city. These include London Zoo, Primrose Hill, Kings Cross Railway Station, Broadway Market, and Victoria Park, to name a few highlights.

a man with a backpack riding a read bike next to a houseboat that is covered in pink, green and blue graffiti
This is one of the more modern-looking houseboats with a psychedelic graffiti paint job on its hull. Oozing brick lane street vibes 

Tourists and local residents alike will do well by themselves to take a gander along the canals. The boats are endlessly charismatic and provide a plethora of inspiration for that poetic part of your soul that can’t help but come alive in a place so rich with character.

murky watered canal with black and white narrowboat that has water which is reflecting the trees and apartments by the canalside
The reflections along Regent’s Canal are mesmerizing, particularly with pewter autumn skies up above

During the warmer months, there is little better on Earth than sitting along the banks of the canal in the shadow of Broadway market, watching the boats skim across the surface while sharing a few cold cans of cider with a good friend.

blue cover on a narrowboat that is docked next to a building on regents park
This is a transportation-based houseboat. During the Industrial Revolution, these crafts were integral to the manufacturing boom of the British Economy 

The best stretch of Regent’s Canal to frolic along is from the Islington tunnel – which can be found in well, Islington – to the Acton Lock and the Hackney Gas Oval. There are several cafes and riverside bars along this stretch as well as all the houseboats featured in this article.

canal with water that is reflecting the surroundings next to brown buildings and street art that reads
The stories of the canal skim along the surface like a mirage.

But the full stretch of locks, basins and tunnels along Regent’s canal are all mystical in their own way. You’ll do well to voyage the full route if time allows. Every houseboat is unique. The only things they have in common is that every boat has a name and all of them can float (hopefully at least). And each and every houseboat has a sensational story to tell. Now its time to go down to the Regent’s canal and listen for yourself.

If you like the idea of exploring the pockets of tranquillity amidst the bustle of the big smoke. Then be sure to walk along the Regent’s canal and also check out some of the awesome green spaces where you can unwind. Once you’re done walking around if you feel peckish or are looking for some fuel for the belly. Download the Like Locals app to find some epic restaurants, bars and cafes nearby. Available for free on both iOS and Android devices. 

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