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Little Venice is one of London’s glorious secret hideaways that covers a postage-stamp sized area of the capital. As the name suggests, Little Venice is a play on the Italian city of canals because the district lies at the junctions of the Regent Canal and Grand Union Canal. Where the name comes from is anyone’s guess. The most popular but disputed story is poet Robert Browning coined the phrase when he lived nearby. The canal junction is even called Browning’s pool in his honour.
Unsurprisingly, the main feature of Little Venice is the flotilla of houseboats moored along either side of the canal beneath a picturesque avenue of trees planted alongside the tow paths. Little Venice is a prime residential district because the suburb is small, pretty and has a limited number of homes.
Traditionally, Little Venice is the area between Maida Avenue, Warwick Crescent and Blomfield Road and westward to Harrow Road Bridge.
Browning lived at 19 Warwick Crescent by the pool that took his name between 1861 and 1868.
Little Venice was not so little in Victorian times. The canal was fronted by splendid Georgian and Victorian houses and was much wider, but modern development and the canal falling out of use as a commercial lifeline to the Midlands led to developers encroaching on the waterway.
Seek out the Puppet Theatre Barge in Blomfield Road – a show with a difference. Space is limited so be sure to book.
Clifton Road and the surrounding streets provide the main shopping parades where high street brands and independents jostle for business.
Another place for ardent shoppers is an open-air market at the junction of Harrow Road and Elgin Avenue.
Watch out for Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller and Stella McCartney – all have homes around Little Venice. Gallagher and Weller’s gardens back on to each other.
Celebrated Georgian architect John Nash was a director of the original Regent’s Canal Company and headed the team responsible for designing and building a swathe of housing and other buildings on the Marylebone Estate, which stretched from Regent Street to Little Venice. He built many fine Italianate style white stucco fronted houses on the waterfront at Little Venice, but sadly many were destroyed in World War 2.
Those that survive are often listed and prime residences commanding prices well into the millions. Over time, some of plots have been redeveloped with red brick homes and in recent years, contemporary and stylish modern apartment blocks. Among the newest is Amberley Waterfront, with 47 apartments with views over the canal. The block is behind the new primary school in Amberley Road, down canal from Harrow Road Bridge. Houseboats are also popular to buy or rent in Little Venice. Remember that Little Venice offers little mews houses that served as stables or staff quarters for the big house – but those big houses are massive, and although some remain intact, many are airy and spacious apartments.
Living in Little Venice is an experience almost like no other in London, but despite stepping out of the hustle and bustle, the neighbourhood is only a short ride by cab or tube of around 40 minutes to Heathrow, The City or Canary Wharf. The two nearest tube stations are Warwick Avenue, minutes away on the Bakerloo Line north of the Regent Canal, while longer stroll south of the canal is Royal Oak on the Hammersmith & City Line. The area is also well-served by buses and cabs. Marylebone Station with over ground services to the Midlands is just three stops down the line from Warwick Avenue. Close by is Paddington Station, the London gateway for over ground trains to Bristol and South Wales. Paddington also has tube links for the Circle, District, Bakerloo and Hammersmith and City Lines. Crossrail will also have a new station at Paddington.
Things to do
For some satirical comment and sharp wit, visit the Canal Café Theatre off Browning’s Pool for a revue of the week’s news on four times a week.
Walk along the towpath away from Little Venice, past Maida Vale and after a while you come to Regent’s park and the zoo. Visit one of the many waterside cafes, bars or restaurants that abound in Little Venice to relax away from the crowds. Take the waterbus to Regent’s Park zoo. Stop off at Camden Lock for the markets and shops to pick up the latest in fashion, footwear and jewellery. Don’t miss the Canal Cavalcade, a street party on the water, that takes place on May Bank Holiday Weekend.
Schools and colleges
Little Venice relies on Maida Vale and the surrounding area for schools and colleges. Parents and students can select from around 20 public and independent schools from nurseries to further education colleges. University students can nip to lectures in Central London by taking a tube from Warwick Avenue.
Little Venice has a London W9 post code and the City of Westminster is the local authority.