This 14km (9 mile) circular cycle route will take you from the Tower of London, past the iconic Barbican, through trendy Shoreditch, along peaceful Regent’s Canal and historic Narrow Street and Wapping back to The Tower and all along mostly quiet roads and cycle paths. There are plenty of delightful places to stop, rest, eat, drink and shop along the way so take your time and make a day of it!
Our London bike routes have been designed so you can use the Santander Bike Hire scheme – click here for more details. Our routes are all within the Bike Dock areas and we suggest sections of route which will take you only 20 minutes or so to complete, so you can dock your bike comfortably within the 30 minutes (usually). Then spend time seeing the area around that bike dock station, before taking another bike out for another 20 minute ride along our Walk Run Cycle route. But as all routes are circular you can start/stop where you wish. Our static maps below show bike dock station locations as red stars.
We start this cycle route at the bike dock station at the back of The Tower of London by the small green grassy area called Tower of London Park by the A3211 and A100 Tower Hill (Map Point 1).
The Tower of London was founded near the end of 1066 during the Norman Conquest of England. The famous White Tower was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, and used as a prison from 1100 all the way through until 1952, although it’s main purpose was that of Royal residence and Palace. Some famous prisoners over the years have included Queen Elizabeth 1 and Sir Walter Raleigh. Despite it’s dark reputation in history as a place of torture and death, coining the phrase being “sent to the tower”, it only ever saw 7 executions up to the World Wars in the 20th Century. Today, the Tower of London is an extremely popular tourist attraction, and where you can view the Crown Jewels. For more information please visit https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/
From the bike dock station, collect your bike then cross the road at the pedestrian crossing at the back of the park (on A3211) and turn left (West) onto the cycle superhighway segregated lane, to be cycling in the direction with the Tower of London on your left hand side. Follow this cycle superhighway into Byward Street, then Lower Thames Street. You will shortly see on a road up to your right the famous Fire of London Monument (take a small detour here to see it close up).
The Fire of London Monument was built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666. The fire began on Pudding Lane, in Thomas Farriner’s bakery house, on Sunday 2 September 1666. It went on to destroy thousands of homes, hundreds of streets, public buildings and churches before eventually being put out a few days later on Wednesday 5 September. The Monument is 61 metres (202 feet) high, the same distance between the Monument and where the fire began in Pudding Lane. As well as the source of the Great Fire of London, Pudding Lane has the unusual claim to fame of being one of the World’s first one way streets, being designated as such in 1617!
Samuel Pepys is famous for the daily, detailed diary he kept of daily life in London between 1660 and 1670, during which time he witnessed the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. Pepys was born on Fleet Street, worshipped regularly at St Olave’s Church (see below) and was buried there, next to his wife. On the morning of 2 September 1666, Pepys was woken by his servant informing him of a fire nearby. Pepys didn’t think it was serious so went back to bed. Waking later that morning, his servant informed him that 300 houses had already been destroyed. Pepys took a boat out onto the Thames and observed the fire for an hour or so, writing about it as follows:
I down to the water-side, and there got a boat and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire. Poor Michell’s house, as far as the Old Swan, already burned that way, and the fire running further, that in a very little time it got as far as the Steeleyard, while I was there. Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that layoff; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconys till they were, some of them burned, their wings, and fell down. Having staid, and in an hour’s time seen the fire: rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods, and leave all to the fire, and having seen it get as far as the Steele-yard, and the wind mighty high and driving it into the City; and every thing, after so long a drought, proving combustible, even the very stones of churches, and among other things the poor steeple by which pretty Mrs.XXX lives, and whereof my old school-fellow Elborough is parson, taken fire in the very top, and there burned till it fell down…”
Continue along the Cycle Superhighway, and after going under the wide railway bridge of London Cannon Street train station you will see a small area of green space (Whittington Gardens) on your right with a church at the back of it (St Michael Paternoster Royal). Just after these gardens turn right off the cycle superhighway, across the short pedestrian section and into Queen Street (part of Quiet Cycle Route 11) at Map Point 2.
Continue up Queen Street, crossing over Cloak Lane and into another small pedestrian section, before crossing over Cannon Street to continue along Queen Street. At the junction with the main road Queen Victoria Street, cross over at the lights, turn right onto Queen Victoria Street then almost immediate second left to continue up Queen Street. When you reach the junction with Cheapside, continue straight ahead into King Street, still part of Quiet Cycle Route 11. Continue up King Street with the view of the impressive Guildhall building ahead of you (Map Point 3).
Guildhall (never “the” Guildhall!) is Grade 1 listed, used as a townhall for centuries and still the ceremonial centre for the City of London. In Roman times, the largest amphitheatre in Britannia stood on the same site (you can see the outline marked in black in the paving in the courtyard where you are now standing). The first documented mention of London Guildhall dates back to 1128, though the current building was started in 1411. If you are lucky enough to know a member of Guildhall, then accompany them to a drink in the members bar – as drinks are heavily subsidised through a fund originally setup in the 15th Century!
At the end of King Street turn left into Gresham Street then second right into Wood Street (following signs for Quiet Route 11). Follow Wood Street all the way until it bends round to the right just in front of one of the Barbican concrete buildings into Fore Street.
The Barbican Redevelopment Scheme was a project of staggering scale and complexity. It took nearly three decades to design and build; involved the design of over 2,000 flats, two schools and an arts centre; it required the realignment of an Underground line and the excavation of 190,000 m³ of soil and at its peak employed a thousand workers. The Barbican Estate was designed by Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, now considered one of the most important modernist architectural firms in post-war England. The Barbican’s distinctive tooled-concrete finish is the result of an extremely labour-intensive technique. After the concrete had dried for at least 21 days, workers used handheld pick-hammers or wider bush-hammers to tool the surface and expose the coarse granite aggregate. It required great precision: pick-hammering involved pitting the surface to an average depth of 1.25 cm and bush-hammering to no more than 0.6 cm deep. The residential blocks alone necessitated over 200,000 m² of concrete to be tooled. At the time of their completion, the Barbican towers were the tallest residential towers in Europe.
Follow Wood Street round to the right onto Fore Street then left onto Moor Lane (still Quiet Route 11). Go up Moor Lane, straight ahead over the first mini-roundabout. At the second mini-roundabout Quiet Route 11 continues straight ahead but we will turn right onto Ropemaker Street (Map Point 4). At the traffic lights with the main road A501 Moorgate, continue straight ahead into South Place. Take the first left into Dominion Street then at the end turn right into Lackington Street. At the end turn left onto Wilson Street. At the first traffic lights turn right into Sun Street (a Quiet Cycle Route) and follow this straight ahead then bending left to continue into Appold Street. As you cycle up here you will pass steps up to Finsbury Circus on your right.
If your 30 min bike hire period is now getting close to expiring, you may wish to drop off at a bike dock station near here.
Finsbury Circus Garden dates back to 1606 and is the oldest public park in London. Finsbury Circus was originally a fen on a moor known as Fensbury. This had been formed by the blocking of culverts cut into the city wall for the Wallbrook after the Romans had departed. In the early 15th Century the city wall was breached at this point and Moorgate was completed. By 1606 the level of the moor had been raised and laid out with walks, elm trees, and benches. The area then became London’s first public park. This Grade II Listed garden is what remains of Moor Fields, London’s first public park, dating from 1607. The present garden was originally laid out in 1815 to a design by Charles Dance the Younger. The garden is surrounded by elegant curved terraces containing other listed buildings. It’s well known for its mature London plane trees, bedding and fine Japanese Pagoda tree – the only one in the City. The Corporation of London acquired this open space by an act of Parliament in 1900.
Continue a short distance along Appold Street then take the second right into Primrose Street (Quiet Cycle Route signposted towards Spitalfields). Cycle along here going straight ahead into Spital Square at the traffic lights with the main road A10 Bishopsgate. Follow Spital Square round to the left (where a gated entrance to Lamb Street is ahead). Just on your right on this corner is Spitalfields Market.
There has been a market on the site since 1638 when King Charles I gave a licence for flesh, fowl and roots to be sold on Spittle Fields, which was then a rural area on the eastern outskirts of London. Being at the centre of a revival in the area, the eastern end of Spitalfields retained its old charm in Horner Square and Horner Buildings, which are Grade II listed buildings. The original Victorian buildings and the market hall and roof have been restored and Spitalfields is now one of London’s major markets. The market square is a popular fashion, arts and crafts, food and general market, open seven days a week, but is particularly busy at weekends.
Go past the gate on Spital Square and turn right into cobbled Folgate Street. Take the first left into Elder Street.
There are some lovely historic terrace houses around here – read more about their history at https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol27/pp81-87.
Continue up Elder Street, past the gate at the end, over Fleur de Lis Street to continue along a short section of Elder Street to come out on A1202 Commercial Street. Cross straight over this road when safe to do so (a crossing point is just on your right hand side) and continue into Quaker Street. At the first junction turn left into Wheler Street (signposted cycle route to Hackney) and head up and through the railway arch ahead of you (Map Point 5) to emerge onto Braithwaite Street by Shoreditch High Street train station.
Shoreditch is an arty area adjacent to the equally hip neighbourhood of Hoxton. Young creatives and trendsetters fill the fashionable clubs and bars that surround Shoreditch High Street, Great Eastern Street and Old Street. An eclectic dining scene features everything from trendy chain restaurants and smart gastropubs to artisan coffee shops and noodle bars. Vintage and design shops are plentiful (source hyatt.com)
Just on your left past the train station is Boxpark Shoreditch which opened in 2011 as the world’s first pop-up mall. The concept utilised the modern street food market and placed local and global brands side by side, to create a unique shopping and dining destination. Entirely constructed out of refitted shipping containers.
Small detour to Brick Lane and Markets. At the end of Braithwaite Street turn right onto the pavement running alongside the A1209 Bethnal Green Road and into Sclater Street ahead of you. At the end you will come to Brick Lane with Cheshire Street ahead of you. The Brick Lane Markets are located at the northern end of Brick Lane and along Cheshire Street, in the heart of east London’s Bangladeshi community. The actual market operates every Sunday from around 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The market sells a diverse range of items, from antique books to eight-track cartridge decks, and for many years it hosted a stall selling nothing but rusty cog wheels. The market has always been popular with and much photographed by art students, and bargain hunters from across London value it greatly.
Back on the main cycle route, from the end of Braithwaite Street turn right onto A1209 Bethnal Green Road then first left into Chance Street (if the main road is too busy there is a pedestrian crossing a little further along on your right). Head up Chance Street going straight ahead over Redchurch Street then Old Nichol Street to continue ahead into Camlet Street. You will come out at the historic Arnold Circus with a bandstand on a mound ahead of you (Map Point 6).
Arnold Circus and The Boundary Estate is a housing development in Shoreditch, formally opened in 1900. Soil from the foundations was used to construct a mound in the middle of Arnold Circus at the centre of the development, surmounted by a still-extant bandstand. The estate radiates from a centrepiece roundabout, Arnold Circus, formed around a garden with a bandstand. One of the roads that link into the circus is the northern end of Club Row, a part of Brick Lane market.
Follow the one-way roundabout around Arnold Circus and turn left into the fourth road after Camlet Street – Palissy Street. At the end turn left into Swanfield Street (signposted cycle route to Hackney).
At the end of Swanfield Street turn right into Virginia Road (Quiet Cycle Route 13). Follow this round to the left and at the end turn right onto Columbia Road (Quiet Route 13). At the roundabout by the corner of Ravenscroft Park, keep left to continue along Columbia Road and into the section made famous by the Flower Market.
Columbia Road & Flower Market is in the East End sitting on the edge of the city with Shoreditch to the west and Brick Lane and Spitalfields nearby. Columbia Road began its life as a pathway along which sheep were driven to the slaughterhouses at Smithfield. On Sunday the street is transformed into oasis of foliage and flowers. Everything from bedding plants to 10 foot banana trees are up for grabs. The air is intense with the scent of flowers and the chant of the barrow boys “Everthin’ a fiver”? A lot of the flower sellers grow their own plants or import flowers from around the world. We are one of the few streets in the country composed of sixty independent shops. Small art galleries sit next to cup cake shops, vintage clothes stores, English and Italian delis, garden and antique shops. There is also a wealth of great pubs, cafes and restaurants. The shops have a common thread, a love of the flower market and its history, and a refusal to be dictated to by a retail world where the sense of fun has all but gone.
Continue along Columbia Road until eventually it turns into a small cycle path just before the main road A1208 Hackney Road. Follow the cycle route over the traffic lights and into the park on the other side. The path bends to the right and comes out on Goldmsiths Row by Hackney City Farm.
For over 20 years, Hackney City Farm has been giving the local community the opportunity to experience farming right in the heart of the city. The farm offers children and adults the opportunity to get up close to a range of farmyard animals; see, smell and plant vegetables and other food plants; and learn new skills to live a healthier, happier life with a lower environmental impact. Usually open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 4pm, entry is free and donations are gratefully received. See more at http://hackneycityfarm.co.uk/
Turn left onto Goldmsiths Row and just keeping following this road (Quiet Route 13), going straight ahead at all junctions, until you reach Pritchard’s Road and the bridge over Regent’s Canal by the Sir Walter Scott pub (Map Point 7). You may wish to change your bike at the bike dock station just before this bridge.
Turn left here into Regents Row and a little further along on your left you will see a ramped entrance down onto the Regent’s Canal towpath. Take this and continue straight ahead along the canal back under the bridge you just came off, heading towards Victoria Park along the canal towpath with the canal on your right hand side.
Regent’s Canal is 13.8 kilometres (8.6 miles) long and was built during the early 19th century. However, by the early twentieth century, with trade lost to the railways and roads, the canal had fallen into decline. Today it is used for pleasure cruising and the canal’s towpath has become a busy cycle route for commuters. National Cycle Route 1 includes the stretch along the canal towpath from Limehouse Basin to Mile End.
Follow the canal towpath all the way to Limehouse Basin, passing the following on your left hand side as you cycle this way. You may wish to change your bike at the bike dock stations at the South end of Mile End Park on your way, near the Leisure Centre on the B140.
Victoria Park is one of London’s most important historic parks and its oldest public park, visited by millions of Londoners for nearly 170 years as a place of healthy recreation, sports, play and relaxation. The park is the largest in Tower Hamlets at 86.18 hectares and has one of the highest visitor numbers of all the London parks with around 9 million visits per year. A wide range of formal and informal sports, sponsored activities, events and festivals take place throughout the year. Victoria Park is a key link in a green corridor that stretches from the River Thames at Limehouse, along the Regents Canal and through Mile End Park, along with the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park virtually next door. https://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/lgnl/leisure_and_culture/parks_and_open_spaces/victoria_park/history.aspx
Just after you pass Victoria park on your left you will cross a bridge over the Hertford Union Canal (Map Point 8) branching off to your left to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (see our Olympic Park cycle route). For this route continue ahead over the bridge towards Limehouse Basin, passing Mile End Park on your left further along.
Mile End Park is a linear park of some 32 hectares and was created on industrial land devastated by World War II bombing. Some of this land is separated by roads, railways and waterways. The Park follows the Regent’s Canal from Victoria Park to Limehouse Basin, and is separated from the southern edge of Victoria Park by the Hertford Union Canal. The Green Bridge, a pedestrian bridge over the Mile End Road, which bisects the Park close to Mile End tube station, opened in July 1999. The award winning bridge was designed by Piers Gough. The park is home to The Ecology Park, the Ecology Pavilion , The Arts Park and The Art Pavilion, The Play Pavilion and Children’s Park, Mile End Park Leisure Centre, Mile End stadium, Mile End Climbing Wall, the skate park and Urban adventure base. Nearby are an extreme sports centre and Revolution Karting, an electric Go Kart track as well as the Ragged School Museum. https://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/lgnl/leisure_and_culture/parks_and_open_spaces/mile_end_park/mile_end_park.aspx
Eventually Regent’s Canal ends at Limehouse Basin (Map Point 9).
Limehouse Basin is the gateway between the River Thames and over 2,000 miles of navigable canals and rivers. It connects to the rest of our network along the Limehouse Cut – the oldest canal in London and one you may recognise from a certain Mission Impossible film sequence.
Once a dock, today Limehouse is a marina, home to narrowboats, yachts and visiting ocean-going pleasure craft. Yet with shops and cafes, it still makes for a great spot for a family day out or afternoon stroll. Look out for the road swing bridge at the entrance to the Thames. When tall masted boats either arrive or leave the basin, Narrow Street traffic is stopped. Red lights and a siren indicate to the traffic that they must stop, then the barriers come down before the bridge swings open. https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/places-to-visit/limehouse-basin
Follow Regent’s Canal towpath all the way to the very end, then round to the left in front of the apartment buildings at Limehouse Basin Approach. Follow the basin round to the left of the buildings, then take the ramp up off the water level onto the road, Basin Approach. Turn right onto the road, then straight ahead through the buildings (don’t follow the path to the right alongside the water at this point). Follow the road round to the right then head towards the bridge between the far buildings which takes you over the canal and into Ropemakers Field. Follow the path through Ropemakers Field straight ahead off the bridge until you come to A1203 Narrow Street. Turn right onto Narrow Street and cycle along here, marked Cycle Route 13.
Above: Canary Wharf – very close to Narrow Street
Narrow Street – a combination of tides and currents made this point on the Thames a natural landfall for ships, the first wharf being completed in 1348. Lime kilns or oasts (“lymehostes”) used in the production of mortar and pottery were built here in the fourteenth century. The area grew rapidly in Elizabethan times as a centre for world trade and by the reign of James I nearly half of the area’s 2,000 population were mariners. The area supplied ships with ropes and other necessities; pottery was also made here for the ships. Ship chandlers settled here building wooden houses and wharves in the cramped space between street and river. Narrow Street may take its name from the closeness of the original buildings, now demolished, which stood barely a few metres apart on each side of the street. In 1661, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary of a visit to a porcelain factory in Narrow Street alighting via Duke Shore Stairs:
At the office all the morning, and at noon Mr. Coventry, who sat with us all the morning, and Sir G. Carteret, Sir W. Pen, and myself, by coach to Captain Marshe’s, at Limehouse, to a house that hath been their ancestors for this 250 years, close by the lime-house which gives the name to the place. Here they have a design to get the King to hire a dock for the herring busses, which is now the great design on foot, to lie up in. We had a very good and handsome dinner, and excellent wine. I not being neat in clothes, which I find a great fault in me, could not be so merry as otherwise, and at all times I am and can be, when I am in good habitt, which makes me remember my father Osborne’s rule for a gentleman to spare in all things rather than in that. So by coach home, and so to write letters by post, and so to bed.” Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 19 October 1661.
On the south side of Narrow Street is a rare example of an early Georgian brick terrace. With the exception of the westernmost property (The Grapes public house) it was standing derelict and abandoned, but in 1964 the writer Andrew Sinclair bought and saved one of the houses and persuaded his Cambridge friends to buy the others. (Early Georgian houses can be distinguished from late ones in the way that the windows are not set back from the brick frontage.) The Grapes (formerly The Bunch of Grapes, and known to the young Charles Dickens) was notably bought in 2011 by actor Sir Ian McKellen, director Sean Mathias and Evening Standard owner Evgeny Lebedev. The street is home to a number of good pubs and restaurants, including The Narrow, a gastropub run by Gordon Ramsay.
Cycle all along Narrow Street to the corner to the right just before it ends on the main A1203 Limehouse Link road. On this right hand corner of Narrow Street, look for the pathway that runs straight ahead alongside Keeper Wharf. Follow this path around the back of this building and onto the Thames Pathway. Turn right to follow the Thames Pathway along past the Rotherhithe Tunnel Air Shaft in Kind Edward Memorial Park, then around the edge of Shadwell Basin to the far side and into the small Wapping Woods (Map Point 10).
Follow the Discovery Walk path alongside the Ornamental Canal water channel through Wapping, to Spirit Quay, then Hermitage Basin then out onto Wapping High Street. This section is all part of Cycle Route 13.
Wapping is situated between the north bank of the River Thames and the ancient thoroughfare simply called The Highway. Wapping’s proximity to the river has given it a strong maritime character, which it retains through its riverside public houses and steps, such as the Prospect of Whitby and Wapping Stairs. Wapping’s proximity to the river gave it a strong maritime character for centuries, well into the 20th century. It was inhabited by sailors, mastmakers, boat-builders, blockmakers, instrument-makers, victuallers and representatives of all the other trades that supported the seafarer. Wapping was also the site of ‘Execution Dock’, where pirates and other water-borne criminals faced execution by hanging from a gibbet constructed close to the low water mark. Their bodies would be left dangling until they had been submerged three times by the tide. Perhaps Wapping’s greatest attraction is the Thames foreshore itself, and the venerable public houses that face onto it. A number of the ‘watermen’s stairs’, such as Wapping Old Stairs and Pelican Stairs (by the Prospect of Whitby) give public access to a littoral zone (for the Thames is tidal at this point) littered with flotsam, jetsam and fragments of old dock installations. The area is popular with amateur archaeologists and treasure hunters. This activity is known as mudlarking; the term for a shore scavenger in the 18th and 19th centuries was a mudlark.
Turn right onto Wapping High Street then left into St Katharine’s Way (Cycle Route 13). Follow St Katharine’s Way all the way into the main historic dock area (Map Point 11).
St Katharine Docks took their name from the former hospital of St Katharine’s by the Tower, built in the 12th century, which stood on the site. An intensely built-up 23 acre (9.5 hectares) site was earmarked for redevelopment by an Act of Parliament in 1825, with construction commencing in May 1827. Some 1250 houses were demolished, together with the medieval hospital of St. Katharine. Around 11,300 inhabitants, mostly port workers crammed into unsanitary slums, lost their homes; only the property owners received compensation. The scheme was designed by engineer Thomas Telford and was his only major project in London. To create as much quayside as possible, the docks were designed in the form of two linked basins (East and West), both accessed via an entrance lock from the Thames. Steam engines designed by James Watt and Matthew Boulton kept the water level in the basins about four feet above that of the tidal river. The area now features offices, public and private housing, a large hotel, shops and restaurants, a pub (The Dickens Inn, a former brewery dating back to the 18th century), a yachting marina and other recreational facilities. It remains a popular leisure destination. The east dock is now dominated by the City Quay residential development, comprising more than 200 privately owned flats overlooking the marina. The south side of the east dock is surrounded by the South Quay Estate which was originally social housing. The dock is still used by small to medium-sized boats on a daily basis. http://www.skdocks.co.uk/
Follow St Katharine’s Way to cross over the red metal road bridge over the dock and through the tunnel under the concrete hotel ahead. Turn right at the end, by Tower Bridge, to head up to the main road. Push your bike over to the other side of Tower Bridge road at the traffic lights and return at the bike dock station in the Tower of London Park where this route ends.
Overview of Route:
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