Famous for a certain marmalade-sandwich loving bear, Paddington is in an often overlooked corner of west London. Ok, so it might not have quite as much going on as nearby Notting Hill or Portobello, but there are still plenty of interesting free and cheap things to do in the Paddington.
From breakthroughs in medicine to beautiful gardens, and plenty more in between here’s our guide to this to see and do in W2. Transport links are great, served by a major mainline station, and you can get there on the underground on the Bakerloo, Hammersmith & City, Circle and District lines.
Follow the Paddington Bear Pawprint trail
We couldn’t write about Paddington without mentioning the furry guy himself. Paddington Bear pops up all over the area, starting with the official shop in the station. But you don’t need to spend too much time looking at merchandise, just pick up a map to help you on your way.
Instead, take a stroll along the Pawprint Trail, on the hunt for the various Paddington statues around the area. The trail launched in 2014 to raise funds for the NSPCC charity. The trail intersects with some of the other locations in this guide, so if you’re pushed for time you can double up or keep a look out for a Paddington Bear or two on your wanders.
See The Paddington Basin Bridges in Action (and find the floating park)
Paddington has had a lot of redevelopment in the past couple of decades. Two of the most interesting additions to the area are the Paddington Basin Bridges. These are no ordinary bridges, they’re more like large-scale, interactive sculptures. The Rolling Bridge, designed by architect Thomas Heatherwick, was installed in 2004. It rolls into action at specific times: every Wednesday and Friday at midday and Saturdays at 2pm. The structure is an impressive 12 metre bridge, made up of eight triangular segments that curl up into a semi octagon on the side of the canal towpath.
The second, more recent addition is the Fan Bridge, designed by Knight Architects, which spans 20 metres across the head of the basin. It currently rises on Wednesdays and Fridays at the same times as the Rolling Bridge, and is just as impressive. The deck of the bridge is made up of five beams, which open in sequence to emulate a Japanese hand fan. While you’re there, check out the floating pocket park – a mini island of floating pontoons to take a relaxing moment surrounded by greenery and cool water.
Get Food at Merchant Square
If you’re feeling peckish after a visit to the moving bridges, stick around Merchant Square for a bite to eat. There are plenty of options from bars, restaurants and cafés like Gails’s and KuPP as well as street food vendors including Nepali/Tibetan food from Aloo Tama, Chinese food from Rice Guys and falafel and salads from Simply Falafel.
Explore Alexander Fleming’s Laboratory Museum
Alexander Fleming’s discovery of antibiotic penicillin in 1928 was a major breakthrough in international medical history, and earned him a Nobel Prize in 1945. He made this discovery at St Mary’s Hospital, which has restored his laboratory to how it was almost a century ago and is open to the public. Entrance is £4.00 and you can visit on Mondays to Thursday between 10 am and 1pm to explore Fleming’s laboratory and find out more about his work.
Stroll Along the Grand Union
You can walk out of the train station right on to the path of the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal at Little Venice. It’s a lovely place for a stroll, and you can grab a cuppa or stop off for refreshments at one of the many cafés along the way. One you can’t miss is the very Instagrammable, brightly coloured Darcie & May Green, designed by pop artist Sir Peter Blake. It’s an Australian eaterie on board a barge, serving up Aussie brunch, pizzas, evening meals and Sunday roasts.
Visit Norfolk Square Gardens and Talbot Square Gardens
A short walk from the station and you’ll get to Norfolk Square Gardens (aka Paddington Bear’s Garden – yes, him again!) It’s a small, but charming garden square which is also home to beautiful plants, benches, a giant chess board, a ping pong table and a noughts and crosses stand too. Nearby Talbot Square Gardens is another leafy London square, perfect for picnics or a place to stop with a book.
Pop in to the Puppet Theatre Barge
Technically this is in Little Venice, but it’s close enough and if you’re strolling along the canal from Paddington, you can climb about the Puppet Theatre Barge. It’s the only floating puppet theatre in the UK, and has been entertaining people with puppetry shows for children an adults over 30 years. The interior has an old, Vaudeville feel to it, with low lighting and old puppets on the walls. Performances are a mix of traditional storytelling, with original works and even plays by Shakespeare and Lorca. It’s open all year round, but travels during the summer, and it’s heated during the winter months.
Captain your own boat for a canal trip
If you’re out with a group, and fancy doing a tour on one of London’s waterways, you can hire a small boat from GoBoat London. It’s a self-drive boating experience, but no previous boating experience is necessary as you’ll get training on arrival. Each boat holds up to 8 people, including children and you can bring a picnic and even take your dog. The GoBoat crew will give you a map and then you and your crewmates can decide on the route.
It’s a nice activity to do for a birthday or if you’ve got friends or family visiting. Of course it’s cheapest if you have a full boat for a gentle trip along Regents’ Canal past Little Venice, Regent’s Park and London. You can hire for an hour (£89.00), 2 hours (£129.00) or three hours to go as far as Camden Lock (£169.00). It’s pretty popular, so book online in advance.
Try Paddle Boarding at SUP City
If you’re up for trying something new, have a go at paddle boarding with Active 360 at SUP City in Paddington Basin. You’ll learn the basics on dry land before joining a group lesson. Already know how to paddle board? Ok show off! how about putting those balance skills to test with SUP Yoga Yep, that means swapping a soft Yoga mat for a paddle board on the canal. Just try to end up doing the downward facing dog off the side.
Group lessons £59.00 for 2 hrs ( £45.00 for returning members)
Find the Sculptures of Local Heroes at St Mary’s Square
Alexander Fleming isn’t the only person honoured in Paddington. Take a walk to St Mary’ Mary’s Square to find large two dimensional steel sculptures of notable people with a connection to the area. They’re part of a UK-wide Portrait Bench project, and around the corner from the new development of Paddington Basin, you’ll find striking representations of British-Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole, Paddington Bear creator Michael Bond, and mathematician and codebreaker Alan Turing.
More ideas: See our article 101 Free Things To Do in London.