The London Canal Museum is housed in a former nineteenth-century ice warehouse that was once used by Carlo Gatti for his ice cream. It is a fairly small museum hidden around the corner from Kings Cross, just off the Regent’s Canal.
What this museum may lack in size, it makes up with personality. As soon as we arrived we were greeted, to the toddler’s delight, by the rear end of a butty-boat. Children can climb on it and find out more about the conditions that boat people lived in (spoiler alert – cramped at best and a hardship at worst.)
Our young Londoner delighted in jumping around, opening drawers and pushing buttons as he imagined himself a resident on a canal boat. It was a welcome change for him to be greeted with a ‘yes’ when asking to board a canal boat. As well as playing and climbing, we learnt a lot about canal dwellers and their lifestyle. The downstairs area also leads through to the Regent’s canal and in the summer months you can take a boat trip (although these won’t be running for the foreseeable due to Covid-19).
The downstairs area within the Canal Museum also includes an exhibit on the little-known ice-trade imported from Norway and stored in two huge wells beneath the museum. You can still peer down into the large echoing space where the ice used to be stored. It now sits empty.
The upstairs features the stables with a life size horse as well as various items that used to be transported along the canal ways. The Museum is family friendly and has plenty of nooks where children can get busy making things, exploring or learning. The children’s Activity Zone downstairs was a little understocked on our visit, and we were not blown away by the resources (a white board with canal themed magnetic letters and lots of colouring pencils and crafts). But we did enjoy the cut-out model boats (we had to request these specially from reception).
The venue is not really buggy friendly but you can leave your pram at the entrance and explore with your hands free. There are toilets (including accessible loos) and light refreshments sold on site. The gift shop is well stocked with a variety of goodies to accommodate all tastes and pockets. Children can also take part in the children’s trail around the museum that is led by Henrietta, the museum’s horse (who can be found upstairs in the stables!).
At the time of our visit, pre Covid-19 we enjoyed spending a couple of hours delving into the history of the canal and putting our life in Hackney (next to the canal) into better historical context.
The Canal Museum is re-opening to the public after the Covid-19 lockdown on the 17th of July and will have new measures in place including new screens at the entrance, hand sanitiser and limited numbers for entry. The staff are really friendly and the visit is well worth the £5 entry fee. More info and booking via their website here.