Punting in London

Punting and Canoes in East London

Punting in London
••• Punting in London. © Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

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I bet you thought you would have to go to Cambridge or Oxford to try punting, or to have a punting chauffeur who is a student from a top university, but no. London can offer you all this and more. East London Boats is licensed by British Waterways who fully support London's first punting company.

Who's Idea Was That?

Medical student David Carruthers heard about punts (the flat-bottomed boats) being sold in his home town, Bath, and got the idea to punt near the Queen Mary University in east London where he is studying.

What started out as some fun with friends has blossomed into his own business for the summer each year.

Can I Take a Punt Out Without a Chauffeur?

Absolutely! I wasn't brave enough to try this but there were plenty of bookings the day I visited for groups wanting to try on their own. Each punt can hold up to six people, including the one standing up with the pole. It's a cosy fit on the narrow punts but, of course, we'll only be trying this with good friends or family. There are also canoes for up to three people available for hire too.

I tried a chauffeured punt with David, the company founder, who made it look effortless but we saw groups laughing and going round in circles so it's not as easy as you first think. The idea is to lower the pole straight down to the bottom of the canal and then push yourself forward. If the pole gets stuck, and you keep moving, do let go as you have a paddle with you to get yourself back to collect it.

I would recommend booking a chauffeur - at least for your first time punting in London - as it is a wonderfully enjoyable way to relax and watch the world go by from the water, and let an expert propel you along.

What Will I See?

East London is not rural England but London's waterways in east London are a peaceful area.

We waved to drinkers in pub gardens, people on their balconies overlooking the water, and passers-by walking over the bridges. The tow path is popular with walkers, runners, cyclists and dog walkers.

As well as brightly painted graffiti you may be surprised how lush and green the area is. It did feel slightly surreal punting in London but as East London Boats are the first company to offer this service I think we should all embrace the idea and give it a go.

While Cambridge and Oxford are known for their punting and therefore have busy waterways, there was not much traffic at all on the Regent's Canal when I visited: one canal narrowboat, a family of swans with cygnets, some ducklings, and the two other punts owned by East London Boats.

Due to the canal locks, the punting area on the Regent's Canal is between Mile End Lock and Old Ford Lock at the corner of Victoria Park, but you can turn right onto the Hertford Union Canal which runs alongside Victoria Park and continue to Top Lock. This is about a mile and then it's time to turn round and head back to the punting station where you will feel calm and relaxed (as long as you weren't doing the punting). This journey takes around an hour and you can hire punts and canoes for one or two hours.

How Do I Book Punting in London?

The punting station is open at the weekends from 12-6pm, but does have to close in bad weather.

You can book in advance or just turn up and see if there's any free time that day.

To book in advance, send an email to check availability then pay through the website.

Where Is It?
The punting station is on the towpath of the Regent's Canal, near Mile End Road bridge. It is a ten minute walk from Mile End tube station and there are clear instructions on the official website. Mile End is only two tube stops from Liverpool Street station which makes it easy to combine a punting trip with the fun of Spitalfields and Brick Lane. Or walk along the canal and visit Victoria Park to relax in the sun, then try one of the local pubs.

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As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.