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A walk through Wapping is a wonderful way to spend a day in London, offering stunning views along the River Thames and oozing history in every nook and cranny. Despite all the new apartments and investment in the area (once one of London’s most notorious and dangerous areas, awash with pirates and the scourge of the sea), Wapping now has a nice combination of coffee shops, Thames trails and new venues located alongside some of the oldest and most historic pubs in the whole of London.
Nestled between the gleaning towers of Canary Wharf and historical Tower Bridge backdrop, Wapping has a wide range of activities and things to do, from weekend markets to riverside walking trails. Here is our guide to the best things to do in Wapping.
Things to do in Wapping, London
1. The Prospect of Whitby
The oldest riverside pub setting in London dating back to the 1520s (500 years young!), the Prospect of Whitby is a traditional British boozer (pub) with incredible views overlooking the River Thames. If possible, try to get a seat in the beer garden out the back of the main bar, as the views are better here than the outside section to the left of the main entrance.
Due to a fire, the current pub building was actually rebuilt in the 19th century and acts as a nice resting spot if you are walking towards either the city or Canary Wharf. Serving traditional British fare like fish and chips, bangers and mash accompanied by a wide selection of draft beers and lagers on tap, this certainly is a welcoming ‘prospect’
2. St Katharine Docks
A magnificent marina in the shadow of London’s iconic Tower Bridge, St Katharine’s Dock has numerous waterside restaurants and cafes, all with stunning glimpses of the superyachts assembled around the quay – this is the best way to feel part of the millionaire’s playground at only a fraction of the cost.
From the usual chain restaurants like Honest Burgers and Ping Pong dim sum through to unique oyster bars and the weird and wonderful medieval banquet (no, really!), St Katharine’s is a charming area to spend an afternoon or just walk around the docks and see another side of the capital
3. Dickens Inn
This former 18th warehouse was never actually ever frequented by Charles Dickens himself, but this doesn’t stop The Dickens Inn in St Katharine’s Dock (Tower Hill) being one of the most popular and photographed pubs in London.
Indeed, in peak tourist season, it can be nigh on impossible to get a table outside and there could possibly be a queue outside the door. It is however one of the prettiest pubs in London (and expensive!), with its cottage style exterior and rows of flowers and hanging baskets adorning the frame – it almost rivals The Churchill Arms in West London for its floral facade.
The views of Marble Quay and the River Thames from the upper levels of The Dickens Inn are pretty special (certain sections are dining only) so if you can bag yourself a coveted outdoor spot, stay for sunset and a gaze longingly at the multi-million pound yachts on display in the dock.
4. Tobacco Dock
An exhibition and events centre that has played host to various expos and festivals, you know you’ve reached Tobacco Dock when you see the huge ships ‘docked’ out front (in reality, they are permanent features). A grade I listed building opened in 1812 along Wapping Lane that originally acted as a goods yard and storage depot (mainly for tobacco – hence the name). It has seen many uses over the last couple of centuries including a shopping centre in the 1990s and the main filming location for OMD’s Messages pop video in the 1980s.
Now reborn as a bustling events space renowned for its beer festivals (just don’t fall in the nearby Hermitage Basin after!). Tobacco Dock is often closed during the week so best to check their website before you make a special visit.
5. Skylight Bar
Tobacco Dock’s newest drinking area is Skylight Bar, an alfresco rooftop beer garden located on the 4th floor atop their unused car park. This is the perfect spot in Wapping for a sunset drink, and expect to find day beds and garden booths, delicious street food, and three bars serving beer, wine, spirits and cocktails.
They also have croquet lawns, Pétanque courts, large screens for big live events, an indoor cinema and Live DJ’s on Saturday’s, whilst during the winter months it is home to igloos and a rooftop ice rink! The bar is open Thursday to Sundays – check out their website for more details and to book a table.
6. Wapping Docklands Market
London’s newest Saturday market opened in April 2021 on a quayside, and is a super little market with a host of artisan food stalls and independent crafts. We visited on their second week of opening and were blown away by the set-up, from the live jazz-band to the waterside coffee van (and the cheese stall looked particularly delicious). Head over to the London Docks by Wapping Wall every Saturday 10am – 4pm, just a short walk from the Prospect of Whitby pub.
7. Wilton’s Music Hall
A grade II listed music hall and one of London’s best known live music venues, Wilton’s Music Hall is like stepping back in time, a glorious throwback to the ballroom dances of yesteryear. Originally built in the 1820s, the hall fell into a state of disrepair over the years but was brought back to live at the start of this century. We’ve visited on a few occasions both to visit some of the events (we once went to a jumble sale in the main dance hall) as well as having drinks in the main bar. Highly recommended.
8. Wapping Pubs
As well as The Prospect of Whitby, Wapping’s likely most popular pub, there are several other historic bars and riverside drinking spots worth a pint or two:
The Town of Ramsgate
Oozing maritime history and decked out like a vessel itself, The Town of Ramsgate has a small but ample riverside beer garden overlooking the River Thames. There has been an inn of some form or another here since the 14th century and became known as the Town of Ramsgate from 1811. Keep an eye out for the Wapping Old Steps next door. If you visit the pub on a low tide, you’ll see the stake to which mutinous pirates were tied to, resulting in their drowning as the Thames tide rose. Talk about a hangover with history.
The Turk’s Head
A gastropub along Wapping’s Green Lane, this traditional tavern is famous for its French bistro and ornate tiled exterior, with a nice beer-garden overlooking the nearby Wapping Gardens and St John’s church yard. It is also said to be the inn where the condemned prisoners were given their last drink, on their way to the nearby Execution Dock (make it a large one!)
Named after a notorious pirate from the 17th century, William Kidd (we Kidd you not – sorry), this traditional British boozer has a large beer garden overlooking the River Thames and nearby Rotherhithe. A sun spot in the afternoon, the darkened interior is like stepping back in time and is a perfect pub to whilst away an afternoon
The Narrow – Gordon Ramsay
This bar/restaurant is located in a Grade II-listed building and has amazing panoramic views of the Thames. Stop by for a drink or artisan British cuisine with rustic Mediterranean accents.
9. Shadwell Basin
Primarily used as an outdoor pursuits and sporting activity centre (check out the canoe polo game we witnessed last time we visited in the accompanying picture), Shadwell Basin is a disused dock with some nice cityscape views of the downtown area and a pleasant place to walk around.
Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre organises courses and clubs for kayaking, dragonboat racing, windsurfing, canoeing, sailing and rowing, as well as climbing and high ropes.
10. Wapping Hermitage Basin
The best way to explore the back streets of Wapping is to go along the Hermitage Basin (kind of like canals in Wapping). Start in the Hermitage Riverside Memorial Garden, and walk towards the famous Wapping Knot sculpture by Wendy Ann Taylor, which was installed in the late 1990s as a nod to the area’s maritime history (it is also a great photo opportunity to frame The Shard in the middle of the knot). The main passageway here was opened in 1821 to give smaller boats a second route to the main Wapping docks.
From here, you can walk all the way along the Hermitage Basin to Tobacco Docks and then also continue to Wapping Woods (more of a common than an actual forest) – you’ll also see lots of wildlife along here, particularly swans, ducks and coots.
11. Wapping beaches / walkways at low tide
During low tides, there are plenty of areas along the banks of the Thames in Wapping that become accessible for walks, although they are quite pebbly so best for dog-walking or a pleasant stroll next to the water rather than sunbathing or setting up shop for the day.
You’ll also often see people digging away looking for artefacts (‘mudlarkers’) as many incredible historical finds had been both along the banks of the Thames in Wapping (although any significant finds are meant to be reported to the relevant authorities). One of the best ways to access the shore in Wapping is down the passageway, next to the Prospect of Whitby pub – film fans will also recognise this as the setting for the final scene in the 2020 Charlize Therzon movie The Old Guard (on Netflix).
12. Hermitage Riverside Memorial Garden
One of London’s best parks and a hidden gem, the riverside setting for this park takes in glorious views of the River Thames including Tower Bridge and the Shard and is popular with picnickers and sunbathers in the summer months.
Originally conceived as a memorial park to commemorate the East end victims killed in WWII, there are several sculptures and exhibits to be found in the Hermitage Riverside Memorial Garden including a dove installation overlooking the River Thames. Peaceful and serene, this is a pleasant spot to spend an afternoon and can be a welcome respite if nearby St Katharine’s Dock is too busy.
13. Wapping St John’s Church Yard
Whilst exploring Wapping High Street, make sure to do a little diversion via St John’s Churchyard (once Wapping’s oldest church built in the 1750s) and see the ornate figurines on the outside of the former church. Now mainly repurposed as housing, only the shell and tower of St John’s survived bombing during the war.
We’ve tried to make this Wapping itinerary ‘whopping’ (ahem) but have we missed anything? Please let us know via the comments section below.
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