Things to do in Canary Wharf, EAST LONDON

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Canary Wharf is both a leading financial centre and a tourist destination in its own right.

The complex is home to seven skyscrapers with a height of more than 150 metres and contains about 1.5 million square metres of office space.  It is built around the now disused West India Docks, one of the  world's busiest docks from the start of the 19th century until the outbreak of World War Two.

These days, Canary Wharf is one of the United Kingdom’s two international financial centres, alongside the City of London.  Over 150,000 people work here, earning an average salary of over £115,000. Canary Wharf also offers urban living at its best: stunning modern architecture, impressive public spaces, great transport links, and world class shopping, restaurants, bars, gyms and other amenities.

Canary Wharf is home to the impressive Museum of London: Docklands and Billingsgate Market.  The excellent Mudchute City Farm, the O2 Arena and the attractions of Greenwich are found nearby. 

Here are Canary Wharf's 10 best things to do.

1. One Canada Square (the Canary Wharf Tower)

Canary Wharf is best known for its tallest building, the 235-metre One Canada Square. 

The tower held the record for being the tallest structure in the United Kingdom from 1990 (when it overtook Tower 42 in the City of London) until 2010 (when surpassed by The Shard in south London).

One Canada Square

One Canada Square is a 50-storey glass and steel structure with a distinctive pyramid roof.  This Cesar Pelli-designed building, constructed at a cost of £525 million, is serviced by 32 elevators and is 100% let to tenants such as Bank of New York Mellon, NatWest Bank and the Trinity Mirror Group.

Perhaps the most exciting area is the Level39 Incubator, which describes itself as a community of 1,250 leaders in cybersecurity, fintech and retail tech. In fact, the project has grown so much since its 2013 launch that it now occupies the 39th, 24th and 42nd floors!

Canary Wharf’s ground floor lobby offers regular art exhibitions and is now home to the trendy One Canada Square Bar (offering great weekend brunches, live music, and ‘bottomless Fridays’). 

Unfortunately, the Canary Wharf tower does not offer a public viewing gallery. Your best chance of seeing it is during one of London's annual Open House weekends.

Other skyscrapers

Canary Wharf’s other skyscrapers include:

  • the 200-metre 8 Canada Square (the fifth tallest in the UK, and home to HSBC’s headquarters),
  • the 200-metre 25 Canada Square (primarily occupied by Citigroup),
  • One Churchill Place (156 metres),
  • 25 and 40 Bank Street (both 153 metres) and
  • 10 Upper Bank Street (151 metres).

2. Public Spaces and Art

Canary Wharf has four main public spaces. 

Canada Park Square

Canada Square Park, to the east of One Canada Square, is a grassed area surrounded by trees, restaurants and pop-up bars.  Big-screen tvs are erected here in the summer, so that you can relax on the lawn watching sporting events like the Wimbledon tennis championships. 

The area also hosts frequent concerts, such as the July 2016 country and western concert ‘Nashville Meets London’.  In the winter, the area becomes home to a covered ice-skating ring, Luminocity – with over 8 kilometres of LED lights laid underneath the ice. 

Cabot Square

Cabot Square, to the west of One Canada Square, is dominated by an impressive central fountain and is surrounded by pop-up cafes and restaurants in summer.  This is a great family space. 

Westferry Circus

Westferry Circus, to the far west of the estate, is a beautifully planted walled garden in the centre of the eponymous roundabout.  You can hardly hear the traffic, and will be wowed by the perfectly cropped grass in the middle of the area. It is a stone's throw from the Riverside Plaza Hotel, the Thames and a number of great waterside restaurants.

Jubilee Park

Finally, Jubilee Park is found to the south of One Canada Square (between the two main entrances to Canary Wharf tube station).  Filled with trees, grassy areas and water-features, this is a great place to explore.  You might even forget where you are, until you look up. 

Public Art

Adorning Canary Wharf’s public spaces are found 66 pieces of public art.  Highlights include:

  • Giles Penny’s Man With Open Arms, found amongst the topiary on West India Avenue, a bronze of a man leaning back with open arms.
  • Robert Worley’s Avatar, located in Westferry Circus, a large golden sculpture resembling a cross between a hawk and a dalek.
  • Jon Buck’s Returning to Embrace, on the 10 Cabot Square forecourt, a bronze showing an embracing couple staring into each other’s eyes. 
  • Sophie Smallbone's Colour East, on the concourse of Canary Wharf's tube station, pictured.

3. Shopping

Canary Wharf has two main shopping complexes. 

The slightly larger Canada Place Shopping Mall runs from Westferry Circus, underneath Canary Wharf and to a large Waitrose and John Lewis store.  For its part, Jubilee Place Shopping Mall runs from Montgomery Square (where you will find a large M&S Simply Food) to Heron Quays DLR station.

Three smaller complexes—including Churchill Place and the new Crossrail Place—mean that Canary Wharf offers well over 200 shops in total.

Shops for men

High end men’s fashion is found in abundance, with shops such as Hackett, Aquascutum, Hugo Boss, Paul Smith, Dunhill and Gant all found in the Canada Place complex. 

Men can also be preened and pruned at Ted's Grooming Room (a haircut complete with excellent coffee, hot towels and arm massage costs £34/£38) and Penthaligon's.

Shops for women

Women’s clothes shops are not so well represented (most Canary Wharf workers are men).  But at least there’s a Hobbs, Karen Millen and Les Trois Soeurs Bridal. 

Other shops

Also represented are high street shopping brands such as Ted Baker, GAP, Zara, Dune, River Island, French Connection, Oasis and Banana Republic. 

Other high-end shops include Tiffanny & Co, Bang & Olufsen, Coach, Mont Blanc, Watches of Switzerland and Goldsmiths. A new entrant is high-end speaker retailer Devialet.

4. Eating

Canary Wharf offers restaurants and cafes to suit all tastes.

American

For those after an American diner experience, you won’t do much better than the newly opened Big Easy on Crossrail Place.  This barbeque and crab shack offers live blues music every night and a selection of over 500 whiskies.  

Or you could try the Manhattan Grill at the London Marriott, offering grain fed black Angus beef from Creekstone Farms in Kansas.  Expect to pay about £30 for your meat at peak times (a £15 menu served Mondays to Fridays).

Another great option is the Breakfast Club, an American diner experience offering classics such as pancakes and bacon, eggs benedict and huevos rancheros before noon.  If you are visiting on the weekend, be prepared to queue!

Asian

For Asian fare, the best options are Royal China and Roka.  Royal China is set on the Thames and offers great views of passing Thames Clippers and speedboats by day or night (especially from the popular outdoor seating area).  Dumplings are a speciality.  We particularly enjoyed the prawn dumplings, chicken buns and chicken and pineapple fried rice.  

Roka, though much pricier, never disappoints.  It offers high quality Japanese fare in a slick restaurant overlooking Canada Square Park, and offers weekend brunches.  Make sure you book in advance. 

Another good option is Wagamama, found in Jubilee Place, and offering good value Japanese food and efficient service.

British

For British cuisine, we recommend Boisdale, Tom’s Kitchen and the newly refurbished Tea Merchant.  Boisdale does it all: arranged over two floors, it has a restaurant, grill and oyster bar, whisky bar, Cuban cigar library and is best known for being a live music venue (Jules Holland is the patron of music here).  Specialties include Dumfriesshire blackface haggis and roast grouse.  Don't miss the 16 square metre walk-in Humidor!

Tom’s Kitchen does British favourites and comfort food better than anyone else, using the best seasonal produce.  And the Tea Merchant offers good pub food at honest prices. 

The Ivy in the Park is coming to Canada Park Square in Autumn 2018. The newest of the chain's 32 eateries, its international menu includes British classics like The Ivy Shepherd's Pie. The main restaurant and bar will seat 146 guests, with space for a further 88 on two outdoor terraces.

Indian & Other

Finally, Chai Ki, on Crossrail Place offers good-value modern Indian cuisine at the Toddy Shop Bar during the day and at its trendy restaurant in the evenings.  We recommend the restaurant’s butter chicken and coconut prawns.  On Tuesdays they offer G&Ts for £5 all day.

Another good bet is Havez restaurant, a spin-off of the Taz chain. Found on the waterfront to the south of the main Canary Wharf complex, this joint offers high-class Anatolian cuisine. For a more informal occasion, check out their cafe.

5. Other amenities

Canary Wharf’s other amenities include the Third Space Gym and the Everyman Cinema. 

Third Space

The Third Space Canary Wharf is Europe’s largest health club, offering 100,000 square feet of training space. 

Its state of the art equipment include cardio, functional and combat zones; a sports hall that is predominantly used for football, basketball and badminton; a 23-metre uv-purified pool; a 13-metre climbing wall, with six auto-belays and 25 routes of between 4+ to 7B (set by the well known climber Steve McClure); a 90-bike cycle studio; and over 200 classes each week.  Other amenities include Re:Spa, offering a full range of beauty, massage and sports rehabilitation options. 

Little wonder that this place has been named as Britain’s best gym.  But be warned: membership is not cheap (c. £140 per month). 

Other gyms

Canary Wharf has a host of other gyms for its alpha-male office workers to de-stress. First amongst them is the Virgin Active Canary Riverside, on the banks of the Thames, which offers the latest equipment, around 10-15 daily classes, and a swimming pool with wonderful river views. Membership is c. £110 per month.

A less expensive option is PureGym, in the same building as Cineworld.  And Delta Fitness, a boutique personal training studio to the west of the Canary Wharf complex, is getting good reviews. 

Everyman Cinema

Film buffs will be excited by the Everyman Cinema, located on level -2 of Crossrail Place, which opened in summer 2015. It offers new and classic films in 3 stylish cinemas, kitted out with armchairs and sofas.  You’ll also be able to enjoy alcoholic drinks or tasty snacks during the film, delivered direct to your seat. 

For a more traditional (and cheaper!) cinema experience, try Cineworld West India Quay. 

Hotels

Canary Wharf offers a range of excellent hotels and serviced apartments to suit most budgets. We particularly recommend the London Marriott West India Quay, the Novotel and the (budget) Point A Hotel. Check out our Canary Wharf Hotels page for more information.

Other amenities

A little-known fact about Canary Wharf is that it has its own floating church, St Peter's Barge. Offering Sunday and midweek services, London's only floating church has an average congregation of about 85. MAP

6. Crossrail Place

Canary Wharf's latest attraction, Crossrail Place, opened on 1 May 2015.

It will house Canary Wharf's Crossrail station from 2018. For now, its main attraction is the 5 acre roof garden found on its top level.

Because Canary Wharf is located on the prime meridian, the garden is divided into East and West sections.

East meets West

The East section features plants from Europe, the Caribbean and Australasia including strawberry and sweet gum trees and soft tree, golden tree and New Zealand tree ferns. The West section contains plants which originate from the Fear East, including the Japanese Maple, veitch bamboo and the northern Japanese magnolia.

The wooden and glass structure surrounding the roof garden is designed to evoke a ship coming back to London laden with exotic specimens. Its inspiration comes from the Wardian Case, used to transport plants back to Europe and named after Dr Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward.

The roof garden regularly hosts community events, such as displays of the martial art Capoeira. 

A Giant Robot?

Other attractions include restaurants and shops such as the Big Easy Diner, Notes Coffee Shop, Sticks 'n' Sushi, and Bespoke Cycling underneath. 

The Giant Robot is worthy of special mention: found at the east end of the Roof Garden, this large space houses a number of street-food stalls (including those selling tacos, bao buns, steak and chips and chicken wings) and converts into a club in the evening.  There is a large pleasant eating area stocked with the latest magazines and papers. 

Film buffs should also try the Everyman cinema, found on the lower levels of Crossrail Place. This is cinema in style, complete with armchairs, sofas and drinks delivered to your comfy seat.

7. The Museum of London, Docklands

The Museum of London Docklands is dedicated to the history of the Docklands and the Thames, and their importance to London as a trading and global financial centre. 

Housed in an early 19th century sugar warehouse, the Museum’s galleries are arranged by chronological order.  They start with the Thames Highway, which explores London’s status as a port from the arrival of the Romans in 43 AD to medieval times. 

The East India Company and more

Next comes Trade Expansion and Legal Quay, charting the formation of the British Empire’s great trading companies, in particular the East India Company, and the quays established by Queen Elizabeth I in the 16th century for the collection of customs duties. 

The City and River gallery addresses the early part of the 19th century and the building of a massive new docks complex on the Isle of Dogs. 

Sailortown recreates an East London street from Victorian times, and First Port of Empire relives the glories of the Docklands in their heyday—handling massive volumes of goods from modern steam-powered iron ships. 

The Blitz

The timeline is completed by the Docklands at War exhibit (exploring the impact of the Second World War and the London Blitz, complete with full-sized air raid shelter) and the New Port New City gallery (describing how the Docklands has reinvented itself as a financial centre for the 21st century).

Larking around ...

Other attractions include the interactive Mudlarks children’s gallery (a large soft-play area with model river and large climbing frame), and the award-winning London, Sugar & Slavery exhibition. 

The Museum's latest temporary exhibition, Roman Dead, displays a sarcophagus and Roman remains recently unearthed in Southwark. 

The Museum of London: Docklands offers great things to do for the whole family.

Finally, don't forget to visit our page on more East London children's attractions.

where? Museum of London: Docklands, 1 Warehouse West India Quay, East London E14 4AL. T. +44 20 7001 9844. MAP

when? 10am to 6pm, 7 days a week. Closed 24-26 Dec.

£$€¥ Free.

8. Events and festivals

Canary Wharf hosts a number of festivals and events each year.

Sports events

  • The complex is the venue for the Canary Wharf Squash Classic tournament each March (2018: 5-9 March; 2019: dates tba). First held in 2004, this is an event for 16 male professional players with a prize fund of $100,000. The format is best of five games.  Games take place in a specially constructed court in the East Wintergarden.  2018's entrants included Egypt's world champion Mohamed El Shorbagy. 
  • The Vitality Big Half (a new half marathon featuring Sir Mo Farah and Callum Hawkins) was hosted by the Canary Wharf estate in March 2018. 
  • The London Marathon winds its way around Canary Wharf (which is reached after about 19 gruelling miles).  Come and cheer on world class athletes or fun runners raising thousands of pounds for charity.  
  • In the summer months, big screen televisions are erected in Canada Square Park. They show sporting events such as Ascot, Queen's, Wimbledon, the Tour de France and Formula 1 races.

Fashion, food and more...

  • Between November and February, Canada Square Park becomes home to a large and popular ice rink. In 2016/17, the rink was covered for the first time and the entertainment enhanced by an impressive sound and light show.
  • Canary Wharf hosts a fashion event four times a year. Held over a weekend, don't miss models showing off the latest highstreet fashions on catwalks specially erected for the event.  There's another perk: discounts of up to 30% are offered in virtually all of the complex's clothes shops.  Other attractions include pop-up boutiques and live music.
  • Canary Wharf also live-screens Shakespeare plays from RSC performances in Stratford-upon-Avon about four times a year. 2018 sees screenings of Twelfth Night (13 March), Macbeth (1 May), Romeo & Juliet (14 August) and The Merry Wives of Windsor (9 October) in the East Wintergarden.  Tickets cost £10.
  • From April until September, a monthly Lunch Market is held in Cabot Square and Montgomery Square.  Hundreds of tasty dishes are served up by 25 stalls. 
  • Between 29 October and 11 November 2018, Canary Wharf hosts the Remembrance Art Trail.  Eleven works of art by Mark Humphrey will be exhibited around the estate.  For example, Lost Soldiers (an exhibit of soldiers' helmets) will be on display at Adams Plaza.  The lobby of One Canada Square will also host an exhibition inspired by former officer and para-canoeist Nick Beighton; it will show how servicemen can overcome trauma and loss. 

9. Transport and new developments

Canary Wharf is found on the jubilee tube line, the most recently constructed on the London underground network (and which now runs all-day services on weekends).

It will also operate crossrail services from Crossrail Place from late 2018. Developers have noticed: 10 new towers are currently being built on the Canary Wharf complex.

Transport

Canary Wharf's Jubilee Line train station is 300 metres long and has a ceiling height of over 30 metres.  Designed by Foster+Partners, it won a raft of architectural awards (including the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust Building of the Year Award).  The Observer newspaper described it as "a cross between Canterbury cathedral and the set of Aliens."

In addition to the Jubilee Line, Canary Wharf is also served by the Docklands Light Railway, which offers efficient driverless trains and frequent services to Bank, Stratford, Lewisham (and Maritime Greenwich) and London City Airport. 

For those after more of a transport experience, head down to Canary Wharf Pier.  Here you can catch public boat services to Greenwich, the O2, Tower (for the Tower of London), Bankside (for the Tate Modern), Westminster and the London Eye.  Single tickets cost up to £8 (but you get a 30% discount for using an Oystercard).

The service is surprisingly fast: you get to Westminster in 32 minutes, with the efficient crew docking and leaving the various stops with remarkable speed.  Don't miss the views of the Tower of London, St Paul's Cathedral and the skyscrapers of the City of London (on your right) and Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, the Shard and the Tate Modern (above you/on your left). 

Crossrail

Crossrail, Europe's largest construction programme, will open for trains to central London in September 2019 (having suffered a nine-month delay) and be fully operational a year later. Crossrail will link Essex with Reading, offering vastly reduced journey times: getting to Liverpool Street from Canary Wharf will now take 6 minutes (down from 21); journeys to Paddington will take 17 minutes (down from 33); and travelling to Heathrow airport will take 39 minutes (down from 55).

Officially named the Elizabeth Line, this £15 billion project will increase London's transport capacity by 10%.

New Developments

There are a number of new developments under construction in Canary Wharf. The most ambitious of them is the New District, designed by Allies and Morrison. When fully constructed it will house 3.6 hectares of public spaces and gardens, 3,300 new homes, 2 million square feet of office space and 380,000 square feet of retail space.

Another new development is Spire London, a 771 foot residential skyscraper with 861 suites and one, two and three-bedroomed apartments. Located opposite the Museum of London: Docklands, this 67-storey development will be western Europe's tallest residential tower.

Other new developments include Lincoln Plaza, two Wardian Towers, the 239-metre high Landmark Pinnacle, the Madison, the Pan Peninsula and Providence Tower. In fact there is so much construction going on that one wonders who will be buying and living in the thousands of new apartments coming onto the market, especially if we have a hard Brexit.

10. Mudchute Park and Farm

The excellent Mudchute Park and Farm is found a 5 minute drive from Canary Wharf.

Built on the site of a World War 2 anti-aircraft gunnery, Mudchute is a great place for children and big kids looking to relax. With a total size of 32 acres, Mudchute is the largest urban farm in Europe.

Mudchute's generously sized enclosures are home to horses, ponies, sheep, goats, alpacas, pigs, chicken and pheasants.

Its main building contains a good cafe and farm shop (where you can buy organic eggs, great cheese, and animal feed (for £1)). It is surrounded by bird cages filled with a wide variety of feathered friends. They include canaries, diamond doves, Chinese painted quails, zebra finches, cockatiels (a smaller version of the cockatoo) and budgies.

Other attractions include a large carousel for children (£1.50 a go) and one of the 3.7 inch Ack Ack Anti-Aircraft Guns that was used on the site during the Blitz. It was at this spot that Captain Fletcher of the Royal Artillery won the only military cross for bravery awarded during the Second World War for action on home soil.

Entry is free, though donations to the charity that runs Mudchute are welcomed.

Mudchute Park and Farm is a five minute walk from Crossharbour DLR station or a 10-15 minute walk from Mudchute DLR station. MAP

More things to do in Canary Wharf

(1) Billingsgate Fish Market

Billingsgate market, to the north east of the Canary Wharf complex, was established in 1699 and sells everything fish.

This is the country’s largest fish market, through which over 25,000 tonnes of fish, crustacean and related products pass each year. The market is huge, covering 13 acres (with 98 stands, 30 shops, a 1,500 tonne freezer store and an ice-making plant!).

The first thing you notice when you arrive is the overpowering smell of fish—please don’t visit if this is going to be a problem. You can then make your way around the shops and stalls to find a bargain on anything from jellied eels to dressed crab, oysters and lobsters. There’s also a lively café inside, where you can get a strong cup of early morning tea.

Three tips: first, don’t come if you aren’t interested in buying a significant quantity of fish (£50+); secondly, bring cash with you (some stalls do not accept cards); thirdly, don’t wear your best shoes—the floor is quite squelchy!

Billingsgate's opening hours are 4am to 8am Tuesday to Saturday.

(2)  Limehouse Marina

Head west from the centre of the Canary Wharf complex, through Westferry Circus (noting the immaculately cropped grass en route), and down a large flight of steps until you reach the Thames.  Take a right and follow the Thames Path for about five minutes, past a number of restaurants and the Virgin Active sports club on your right-hand side.  

Continue inland through Ropemakers Fields, following the signs for the Limehouse Basin.  Collecting water from the Regent's Canal and the Limehouse Cut, this pretty four-acre marina is flanked by swanky apartments and has a number of interesting small ships and canal boats. The wildlife, including swans, herons, carp and pike, is pretty good too. 

After circumventing the Basin anti-clockwise you will come across Gordon Ramsey's The Narrow, one of his finest gastropubs. 

We suggest this 30 minute walk as a post-prandial stroll.  There are a number of good pubs en route for light refreshment: we like The Grapes on Narrow Street.    

(3) The Idea Store

The Idea Store, the fourth opened in the Borough of Tower Hamlets, is a library with a difference. Found to the east of the Canary Wharf estate on Churchill Place, underneath the Barclays tower, the Idea Store offers books, cds and dvds for loan, children's story time, adult education classes and free internet access. Visitors are often surprised by the sleek and modern decor.

(4) The Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Walk south along the Thames Path from Canary Wharf and then continue south until you hit Island Gardens, a small park at the foot of the Isle of Dogs. You can then cross the Thames using the river's only foot tunnel, a 1215 foot long tunnel with a diameter of only 9 feet. You emerge at the Cutty Sark and will be able to enjoy the pleasures of Maritime Greenwich, one of London's world heritage sites.

(5) Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

Found a half-hour walk to the north of Canary Wharf, the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park is a peaceful nature reserve that will make you forget about the hubbub of central London. Constructed in Victorian times, and forming one of 'magnificent seven' cemeteries, the reserve offers tranquil woodlands, five wildlife ponds and grasslands. A lap of the 11 hectare cemetery takes about 20 minutes.

(6) Trinity Buoy Wharf

This eclectic little place, a five minute drive from Canary Wharf, offers London's only lighthouse, a lighthouse ship, a small recreation of Michael Faraday's workshop, the London Parcour Academy, a funky American diner and a lovely English cafe. Trinity Buoy Wharf is well worth a visit.