Four walks to discover the Royal Docks

Art & Culture

Four walks to discover the Royal Docks

The sun is out, the weather is warm, and the water is sparkling.

Let’s go for a walk, shall we? Here are four routes that take very different paths around, through, and along the Royal Docks.

Thames Barrier Park

Photos: Tian Khee Siong

Explore the west

Peppered with vivid historical detail, this trail by Fancy Free Walks begins in the heart of Silvertown among the striking wavy hedges of Thames Barrier Park. Moving west, the 4km route threads together key feats of engineering: the Thames Barrier, the Royal Victoria Dock footbridge — one of London's highest —, Millennium Mills' towering derelict flour factory, and the Emirates Air Line cable car.

If you've only passed through the Royal Docks before on the way to London City Airport, say, then this walk makes a cracking introduction to its western half. The locations themselves will hold few surprises for those familiar with the area, but Fancy Free Walks add a nice level of insight. Did you know, for example, that the Thames Barrier's mechanism was inspired by the taps on its inventor's gas cooker? There are some steps here, but otherwise this is an easy walk.

The Roundhouse

The distinctive form of the former Roundhouse pub is visible here on the corner. Photo: Sam Bush.

Find the lost pubs of North Woolwich

Over on the eastern side of the docks, the pubs of North Woolwich have stories to tell. There's Cundy's, which was a 19th-century trade union HQ. Then there's the eccentric history of The Royal Standard. Straddling the old boundary between Kent and Essex, each half of the pub was governed by different licensing laws, meaning one part had to call last orders while the other stayed open.

Many of these pubs have long gone, leaving only their tell-tale outlines on the buildings that remain. This Lost Pubs Treasure Trail by the Tate Lives project keeps the memory of these places alive. Use their handy guide to explore secrets of this part of London that would otherwise be forgotten.

'Liberty Grip'

Find this sculpture by Gary Hume next to the O2. Photo: Tian Khee Siong.

Walk The Line

Where the previous walk went deep into a neighbourhood, this sculpture trail goes wide. The Line takes in large and striking pieces of public art from North Greenwich to Stratford. You'll see Alex Chinneck’s inverted electrical pylon and Richard Wilson’s cutaway ship. Outside the Crystal building next to Royal Victoria Dock, you can find Consolidator #654321, a geometric work by Sterling Ruby whose abstract shape references traditional cannon monuments. The Line allows walkers to peel back layers of East London and experience some world-class art while you do so.

The website is something of a work of art in its own right, but you can also download just the map and the directions. The Line say their route is wheelchair accessible, but to watch out for the cobbles outside the House Mill in Bromley-by-Bow.

Royal Victoria Dock

Photo: Tian Khee Siong

Look out for the London Festival of Architecture

Finally, here's a map that's under wraps... for now. Artist and architect Anna Gibb has created an illustrated map along the dock edge for the London Festival of Architecture. It's an intricate and historical guide to the area's water-based history. Throughout June, you'll be able to collect a printed copy from RAW Labs or the Good Hotel and take it for a leisurely hour of exploration. Anna also plans to publish facts that didn't make the final cut on Instagram every day in June, so check her feed for more.

Over 30 events are taking place in the Royal Docks for the world's biggest annual architecture festival, from talks and exhibitions to supper clubs and art installations. Explore the full programme here.

Skateboarding is also an option

Photo: Tian Khee Siong.