A booming blend of high rise, retail and restaurants located on the waterfront, Canary Wharf and Docklands may not be at the top of everyone’s London hit-list, with locals and tourists alike thinking it is mainly for city workers who work in the skyscrapers.
However, scratch beneath the surface of Canary Wharf and Docklands and you’ll discover rooftop gardens, art installations and some of the best shopping spots in London, without the usual queues and hubris. Combined with great transport links (and even some interesting ones like the Emirates AirLine), here is our guide to the best things to do in Canary Wharf and Docklands in East London
Things to do in Canary Wharf
1. Crossrail Roof Garden
Although overshadowed in popularity by the Sky Garden, the fact not so many people visit Crossrail Roof Gardens is actually a blessing as there is no need to book in advance and whilst the views aren’t as spectacular, it is a jarring and joyous juxtaposition of nature against the sleek sky-scrapers of Canary Wharf. Opened in 2015 and accessible seven days a week, Crossrail Roof Gardens also have a varied series of events from half term programmes for families through to pop up art installations or trails.
2. Crossrail Place at Canary Wharf
Below Crossrail Roof Gardens on the ground level, you’ll find Crossrail Place, an eclectic mix of retail shops, cinemas, gyms and restaurants. There are some really good foodie places to try here from the diner style food at Breakfast Club to Taiwanese Tea at Yi-Fang. Based on the queue length, the stars of the show at Crossrail Place in terms of dining appears to be their branch of BBQ favourite The Big Easy as well as the asian flavours of ramen joint Ippudo.
3. Pergola on the Wharf, Canary Wharf
Pergola’s latest dining space (replacing the sadly defunct Streetfeast / Giant Robot site), Pergola on the Wharf is located right next to the Crossrail botanical garden, with the floral theme continuing as you step inside. With ample indoor and outdoor dining space, Pergola on the Wharf is a swish casual dining affair, with brunch and dinner options, plus two bars at the rear with a good beer selection on tap and lots of cocktails to choose from. The balcony at the back of the Pergola is a particular favourite with stunning cityscapes of the docks and nearby Billingsgate Market.
It is also nice to a real mix of people here from family lunches to birthday bashes and city workers all enjoying the cuisine and cityscapes through the huge windows.
4. Museum of London Docklands
Many people visit the main Museum of London in the city centre, but they also have a smaller outpost in London Docklands, which also has free admission and is open seven days a week.
Focusing on the River Thames and the development of the docks and local area, the museum is suitably located in a former port warehouse and opened to much fanfare in 2003, featuring artifacts from the main museum as well as the Port of London Authority archives – it all looks ship-shape!
5. Hit the water at Canary Wharf
Canary Wharf with its surrounding quays and docks is the perfect place to hire a boat (of sorts) and experience the modern metropolis from the water – there are a couple of hire places, Skuna and Go Boats.
Go Boats have several sites across London including Paddington, Kingston and now Canary Wharf. Based in Bellmouth Passage, boats can be hired for an hour or more with prices starting from £89, and you are allowed to take your food and drink on board (including booze, within reason).
Skuna offer something a little different – floating BBQ boats and hot tub boats. Many is the time have we’ve alighted at the Docklands Light Rail at West India Quay to see a hot-tub hen party of BBQ boat bucks party float on by, much to the bemusement of people on the footbridge and quayside. Although a more unique experience than GoBoats, prices are more expensive with a floating hot tub starting from £225 and BBQ boats from £149.
6. One Canada Square
One of the most iconic skyscrapers in London which can be seen from all over the capital, it is the third largest in the UK and whilst not open to the public (stick to the Shard), it is pretty cool seeing it close up, especially as you approach via the DLR. A financial powerhouse and beacon of industry, this whole area of the Docklands was once the main seat of commerce in the capital outside of the Square Mile so you can see how the money has been spent as waterfront bistros jostle for space with boutique stores.
7. Jubilee Park, Canary Wharf
A little oasis of calm hidden away below the looming towers and skyscrapers, Jubilee Park is a little like Kyoto Gardens in Kensington, West London with long, snaking waterways and fountains with several statues and art installations. Popular with city workers on their lunch-break, this is suitable serene spot to eat your takeout, if you don’t fancy sitting inside the mall directly.
8. Canary Wharf Malls
Reminiscent of the underground malls of Montreal, the shopping centres in Canary Wharf are practically all underground making it probably the best place for wet weather shopping in the whole of London (it also never gets too crowded, unlike say Oxford Street on a hot summer’s day).
There are several interconnecting malls including Jubilee Place Mall and Churchill Place Mall. On your first visit, it can be a little easy to get lost as all the tunnels and walkways can look quite similar after a while. You’ll also find lots of regular high street chains like Waitrose, M&S and Boots, as well as one off chocolate shops and high end clothing companies – something to suit all tastes and budgets. And did we mention the only Krispy Kreme donut outlet in London that doesn’t have a huge queue…?
9. Billingsgate Market
Although it may sound (or even smell) a little ‘fishy, this historic wholesale fish market is also open to the public, although the regular traders may not appreciate you getting in the way to walk with caution. It is the largest inland fish market in the country. Be warned that the main trading period is usually around 4am to 6am (closes at 8am) so you have to be up with the lark to catch Billingsgate Market in full swing – open Tuesday to Saturday inclusive.
10. Canary Wharf temporary art installations
Canary Wharf is proud of its parks and gardens as well as its permanent art collection and statues dotted all around – it also regularly hosts temporary installations and pop-ups. During our last visit, we stumbled across an incredible installation by Camille Walala, Captivated By Colour, which had taken over a whole walkway tunnel (sublime!)
11. West India Quay / London Quayside Quarter
Located just north of Canary Wharf, West India Quay has a row of 19th century Grade I listed warehouses along the waterfront that were once used to store imported goods from the West Indies, such as tea, sugar and rum. Nowadays the area (also known as London’s Quayside Quarter) has been redeveloped with bars, restaurants, a multiplex cinema, hotel and the Museum of London Docklands.
12. Eat Korean street food
If you are a fan of fried chicken then you simply cannot miss out on Canary Wharf’s latest restaurant offering – Seoul Bird. Here you can try buckets of delicious Korean Fried Chicken which we recommend you pair with a spicy gochujang mayo and some homemade Korean iced tea. This is a popular spot so food waiting times can be a bit long at peak hours.
Things to do in Docklands
13. The Gun pub, Docklands
One of London’s best riverside pubs with unrivalled views of the Greenwich peninsula and giant O2 arena, the historic Gun pub is a fantastic Fuller’s Brewery outpost with vintage interiors, waterside dining and a large beer garden overlooking the River Thames.
Hidden in the backstreets and just a 5 minute walk from the shiny skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, this beautiful bar offers excellent all day dining and a pop-up bar in the beer garden. The pub is named after the cannon which celebrated the opening of the West India import Quay in 1802. Lord Nelson also used to live nearby and the story goes that he’d often meet Lady Hamilton for secret rendez-vous’ at this very establishment (the toilets are named in their honours, with the gents becoming the Nelsons.
14. Traffic Light Tree by Pierre Vivant
Art in the heart of Docklands – the Traffic Light tree is a popular piece of public art in Poplar (try saying that after several beers) by the French artist Pierre Vivant, located on a roundabout just outside Billingsgate Fish Market.
Comprising multiple traffic lights (75 in total) all blinking and flashing at random times, this illuminating installation has been located in various parts of London city centre before finding a permanent home in London Docklands. It was also once voted as one of the UK’s favourite roundabouts by motorists in an insurance company survey – hopefully this means no-one has crashed here yet!
15. Mudchute Farm
A day on the farm doesn’t necessarily need to take place outside of London. Along with Hackney City Farm (also in East London), you can see farm animals and other livestock at Mudchute Farm on the appropriately namely Isle of Dogs, based over 30 acres of parkland – it is free to visit and there is also a cafe called Mudchute Kitchen where you can dine overlooking the stables and courtyard.
16. Emirates Airline, Docklands
Not an airplane as such but more of a cable car in the capital. A bit of a transport anomaly in London, the Emirates Air Line opened in 2010, ready for the 2012 London Olympics to transport punters from the Royal Docks to the Greenwich Peninsula over the River Thames (or vice versa).
It is also the closest thing we have to a funicular or cable car that London possesses, and is a distracting diversion albeit in a rather odd location. After the initial flurry of inquisitive visitors, the Emirates Air Line never really ‘‘took off” (sorry not sorry) and its future is still to be determined (it reportedly operates at a loss) so go before it closes down.
Emirates Airlines also features in our 16 things to do in East London guide >
17. The Thames Barrier
An engineering marvel opened in 1982 to protect London from flooding, the Thames Barrier located just across from the Royal Docks consists of several interlocking barriers that open and close depending on the water flow and tide of the river Thames.
It is a great place to visit on your bike or walk as part of the epic Thames path. It also has a free to visit viewing deck (and cafe) on the far side of the Thames (alas not so easy to visit by the Tube or public transport). Whilst it isn’t necessarily an attraction, it is worth a visit if in the area, if only as it looks like something out of a sci-fi movie and it has featured in several films and TV shows including Doctor Who, Spooks and Top Gear.
18. Trinity Buoy Wharf
Similarly to Greenwich Peninsula, this oft-overlooked outpost in London Dockland’s has had a renaissance in recent years, with a huge investment in new housing developments here – we just hope the bohemian nature and regular art pop-ups experienced in Trinity Buoy Wharf doesn’t suffer as a result.
As well as incredible views of the Greenwich (the best spot to get pics of the O2), they have a retro American diner here called Fatboy’s Diner, plus in the summer, there is sometimes a beer garden overlooking the Thames. Visit Trinity Buoy Wharf now before gentrification ruins it.
19. Chrisp Street Market
In the shadow of Canary Wharf’s towers and supposedly the oldest covered street-market in the UK, this is a world away from the high end spending you’ll see in the shopping malls nearby. A genuine and authentic East-end market that is open 6 days a week (closed Sundays), this traditional market sells mainly fruit and veg and fresh goods.
The streets around the market also have some burgeoning urban graffiti / street art layouts including a giant chihuahua on the side of a nearby tower block – read more about East London’s best markets >
Places to stay near Canary Wharf / Docklands
Wombats City Hostel
Highly rated award winning hostel with both private rooms and dorms, onsite bar and a courtyard.
Novotel London Canary Wharf
Modern hotel featuring a roof terrace with 360 views across the London skyline, on-site gym, pool and contemporary restaurant and bar.
Radisson Blu Edwardian New Providence Wharf Hotel
Contemporary hotel with rooms and suites that have river views, onsite restaurant, cocktail lounge and a terrace bar. Other amenities include a fitness centre, a spa and a business centre.
More London blog posts
- Best walks in London – South Bank riverside walk (with map)
- Bermondsey Beer Mile – ultimate guide with map
- Borough Market guide – London’s most famous food market
- Columbia Road Flower Market, London – a complete guide
- Top things to do in King’s Cross
- Things to do in Wapping, London
- Best Sunday markets in London
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