London 2012: Exploring the Docklands

london-olympics

Of ships and kings in London’s Docklands

The London Olympics are nearly upon us and the city is preparing to turn on a party. East London around Stratford has been redeveloped with state-of-the-art stadiums, a giant shopping malls, the world’s biggest McDonalds (oh no!), high speed train links and the new gondola ride across the River Thames from the Royal Docks to the O2 Centre in north Greenwich.

London Olympics

Many visitors will be staying in East London to be near the Olympic action and a good choice is London’s Docklands. So let’s take a look at what to do and where to stay to make the most of your time in London.

The redevelopment of the Isle of Dogs back in the 80s is a story in itself. Former council estates (I think Americans would call these ‘Projects’) were razed and people moved out to make way for a gleaming second financial district of skyscrapers and expensive apartments. This is what Canary Wharf looked like 10 years ago:

As you can see from the next photo, taken from the Observatory atop the hill in Greenwich Park (DLR Cutty Sark), Canary Wharf has come a long way since then. People will be flocking to the new Westfield in Stratford but don’t forget the extensive (and probably quieter) shopping options here. Not to mention plenty of bars and restaurants in the restored old Docklands warehouse buildings (DLR West India Quay).

Tucked away in one of these is the Museum of London Docklands, a branch of the Museum of London (in Aldersgate). Yet another one of London’s fabulous FREE museums, The Museum of London Docklands is in the shadow of the shining Canary Wharf towers but through its exhibits and the beautifully restored building displays the history and humanity of this area. It charts the history of London as a port, from Roman times through empire boomtime and wartime destruction. There’s raw ambition, suffering and exploitation alongside fabulous riches.

Museum of London Docklands at night (pic: Gordon Joly)

If you’re on a budget and looking for London hotels from Travelodge the one in the Docklands is in a good location for exploring East London.

The Docklands are connected to other parts of London by public transport but if you want to hire a bike you can discover older pathways – along the canal system that was once the primary route of trade transportation. Go down to Limehouse Basin and see where the Grand Union Canal empties into the Thames. Now reflected in the windows of expensive apartments of course.

East London canals

From Canary Wharf you can embark on the Thames itself – riverboats whisk you through Tower Bridge and to the Tower of London. At the bottom of the Isle of Dogs (DLR Island Gardens) walk or cycle through the Victorian tunnel right under the river to Greenwich and enjoy all the delights of the village, the park, the Queens House and the historic Observatory. Other attractions such as the Fan Museum and the Rangers House will keep history buffs happy for hours.

As you explore give a thought to where this area has come from. Once a deprived wasteland after centuries of industrialisation and neglect; now a shiny new financial district and Olympic Park.

By Natasha von Geldern

See here for my top 10 things to do in East London.

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About Natasha von Geldern

Natasha von Geldern is the World Wandering Kiwi, a freelance travel writer, editor and inveterate traveller who is passionate about making the pages of the atlas real one trip at a time.

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