Crossrail Place Roof Garden. Photo by Laura Olcelli

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You’re a repeat London visitor and have shamelessly done it all – multiple times. Selfie opposite the restored Big Ben; perfunctory pit-stop at Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard; then a few hours at the British Museum before hopping on a pod of the London Eye.

However, Go World Travel readers are well aware that there are less canonical yet equally awesome alternative spots worth visiting in the UK capital. Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs is one of them. Simply hop on the Jubilee line, DLR, or the new Elizabeth line that opened in May 2022, and here’s a preview of what awaits (as well as what not to expect).

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Witness the Ongoing Transformation First-Hand

Canary Wharf has been undergoing a tremendous transformation. It was and still is London’s second financial hub. But while twenty years ago, the ratio between financial and non-financial tenants was 70:30, the numbers are hitting a balance today.

Also, since 2020, people have been able to actually live on the highly sustainable estate of Canary Wharf, in some of the most breath-taking buildings of the new east. Throughout its diversification, it remained a totally clean and safe place; something appealing to visitors and locals alike.

Discover the Charm of the Past and Present

View of Canary Wharf from Wood Wharf. Photo by Laura Olcelli
View of Canary Wharf from Wood Wharf. Photo by Laura Olcelli

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Canary Wharf has always divided opinions: it’s superb for some; soulless for others. Whatever your stance is, you shouldn’t stop to its present-day glossy and glassy façade. Its evolution throughout time is always staggering. At West India Quay – named after its founders, a group of merchants who traded goods from the Caribbean – you can learn about this metamorphosis at the Museum of London Docklands.

Still at West India Quay, you’ll find the Crossrail Place Rooftop Garden: a cozy botanical garden in the sky with species that were brought to London from both the east and west. The planting still reflects their geographical origin, with the Greenwich Meridian cutting through the east-west division.

Pick Your Favourite Skyscraper

If skyscrapers are your magnet, let Canary Wharf attract you. The tallest and oldest one is One Canada Square; it’s been around since the early 1990s and is still shining. Then there’s the new Landmark Pinnacle: the tallest residential skyscraper in western Europe, with amenities that can make you feel like a child on Christmas day – any day.

One Park Drive, which is reminiscent of a cylindrical beehive, is the most original of all. The competition is set to continue.

Enjoy an Art Treasure Hunt

Captivated by Colour: Adams Plaza Bridge transformed by Camille Walala. Photo by Laura Olcelli
Captivated by Colour: Adams Plaza Bridge transformed by Camille Walala. Photo by Laura Olcelli

Download the Canary Wharf Art Map and immerse yourself in London’s largest collection of outdoor public art. It includes over 100 pieces from the likes of Gillie & Marc, Richard Hudson and Camille Walala. But wait, there’s more. Each January, the estate hosts the Winter Lights festival: just when the holiday blues are about to kick in, you can magically dive back into a glowing wintery atmosphere – plus more artwork. It’s on for a couple of weeks, from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. daily. And it’s free.

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Have a Cocktail on the Wharf

At cocktail o’clock, one of the best destinations is The Lowback at Hawskmoor: a floating bar that serves drinks with a twist. Like the Reformed Pornstar (technically, a milk punch that goes through a 20-hour preparation process), or Grasshopper (a retro dessert-replacer cocktail you might not be able to find elsewhere).

On a sunny day, The Sipping Room’s alfresco terrace overlooking the docks is another place to be (although the vibe is equally charming indoors). And, in all weather, you can also opt for a self-drive wood-fired hot tub boat.

Check out Canary Wharf from a Different Perspective

Canary Wharf skyline from Millwall Outer Dock. Photo by Laura Olcelli
Canary Wharf skyline from Millwall Outer Dock. Photo by Laura Olcelli

You can rejoice at views of the Canary Wharf skyline from several spots in London, like Greenwich Park, the Sky Garden in The Walkie-Talkie building, or Alexandra Palace. You can find more near Millwall Dock.

Simply head towards South Quay and have a relaxing walk along this quiet L-shaped basin, full of reminders of the past, present and future. If you’re into water activities, kayaking, SUP and sailing are all available at the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre. The sky might be grey on most days, but enlightened by the Canary Wharf surroundings.

Adventure Yourself in the Isle of Dogs

From Millwall Dock, reach Crossharbour and notice the contrast between Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs (also called the Island), where high-rises gradually give way to humbler constructions. No, this is not an actual island. And no, you won’t see an invasion of dogs either! Its toponomy is a mystery.

There are speculations the name might derive from the place where former kings used to keep their hunting dogs or from the number of dead dogs transported by the currents to its banks. Others say the name is a corruption of Isle of Ducks or Isle of Dykes (the former, generally referring to the fauna that inhabited the marshland so prone to flooding; the latter, meaning an embankment).

No one knows for sure. But you will find Mudchute Park and Farm: a 32-acre city farm with sheep, llamas and co. live with the fancy Canary Wharf skyscrapers in the backdrop.

Go All Around the Island

From seven to whenever stroll or run all along the perimeter of the Island. Along the Thames Path, you’ll have views of The O2 and Greenwich on one side and of the City on the other.

At the southern extremity of the Isle of Dogs, the path culminates in the fascinating Greenwich Foot Tunnel that, crossing underneath the River Thames, leads you to Greenwich. Before continuing the journey, try the oldest local pub, The Ferry House, established in 1722. As they say there, “dogs are welcome; humans tolerated”.

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Author Bio: Laura Olcelli is a freelance travel writer and journalist currently based in Sydney, Australia, and a regular contributor to Matador Network, Intrepid Times and more. She has a PhD in English focused on travel literature and has published widely about literary criticism applied to travel writing, including the award-winning book Questions of Authority: Italian and Australian Travel Narratives of the Long Nineteenth Century. Laura was born in Italy, has lived in five countries and travelled to over 50.

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