Messing About In Boats: London's Best Alternative Launches

By Zoe Craig Last edited 87 months ago

Last Updated 10 February 2017

Messing About In Boats: London's Best Alternative Launches
The Waterside Cafe looking gorgeous at Little Venice by hansziel99

The floating cinema

London's Floating Cinema started life in 2011 as an Olympic project. Since then, the 60ft-long converted barge has become a summer fixture on London's waterways. As well as hosting shorts, talks and live music on board, the team moor up for big film screenings for up to 500 people. Usually with some fab, themed fancy dress.    

The floating bookshop: Word on the Water

The epitome of a plucky against-the-odds business, Word on the Water has survived all the stormy waters a tiny, boat-bound independent bookshop could expect since taking to London's canals in 2011. Finally, after a successful crowdfunding campaign in summer 2015, the 1920s Dutch barge now has a (whisper it) permanent home on Regent's Canal in Granary Square. Pop in for ridiculously cheap quality second-hand books — £3 for paperbacks, £4 for hardbacks — plus new editions, book launches, readings and ad hoc music nights.

The floating cafe: Waterside Cafe

Offering brunch, tea, cakes (and more) to canal-side wanderers, the Waterside Cafe is a Little Venice institution. In bad weather, you'll need to grab one of only about 15 seats on board: in the summer, the chairs and tables on the waterside offer lovely views of the water and wildlife on the Regent's and Grand Union Canals.

The floating church: St Peter's Barge

St Peter's Barge was created in an effort to support the 100,000 people who work in Canary Wharf, in the parish of St Anne's Church. Lacking another permanent venue, the St Peter's Canal Trust took the 'fishers of men' line to heart and bought a refitted Dutch freight barge in 2003. The 140ft barge now has a permanent mooring in West India Quay. While St Peter's is the only floating church in the capital today, it's not London's first floating church. That was the Episcopal Floating Church (PDF) which operated between 1825 and 1845 from the ship Brazen.

The floating theatre: Puppet Theatre Barge

London's Puppet Theatre Barge has been weaving its watery magic into children's imaginations since 1982. Current puppeteer Stan Middleton's grandparents formed the touring Movingstage Marionette Company in the 70s, but couldn't afford anywhere on land, and settled on using a barge instead. The adapted Thames lighter is usually moored at Richmond on Thames for the summer, and in Little Venice between October and July.

The floating bar: PS Tattershall Castle

Following a colourful past as a packed passenger ferry on the Humber estuary and some active service during the war carrying barrage balloons and radar, the PS (Paddle Steamer) Tattershall Castle now does important work keeping civil servants, students and tourists well watered while enjoying great views of the Thames at Embankment. There are even regular comedy nights on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays.

The floating classroom: The Electric Barge

By now, you've probably realised there's a lot to learn about London's waterways. Enter The Floating Classroom. Run by the Beauchamp Lodge Settlement charity on board the Electric Barge, the Floating Classroom offers fun, hands-on learning activities for school kids from across London. Programmes include one on science, developed with the Science Museum, a nature and environment strand, and one called Floating Through History. Anyone else wishing they were still at primary school?

Looking for more top floaters? Try these:

London's Best Boats

Where To Go Boating In London

Secrets of London's Canals Video Series

London's Floating Cinema, something of a summer fixture since the Olympics.
London's 'book barge', Word on the Water, at a previous mooring. Photo by Paweł Buderaski.
St Peter's Barge, London's only floating church, photo by helenoftheways.
The colourful Puppet Theatre Barge uses two separate London locations through the year.
Want some beer on a boat? Try the Tattershall Castle. Photo by markdbaynham.
Children can learn all about London's canals and locks at the Floating Classroom, based in Little Venice.