Royal Docks and Greenwich: an East London arts loop that spans the Thames

Art & Culture

Royal Docks and Greenwich: an East London arts loop that spans the Thames

Forget the London Eye – the view from the Emirates Air Line is second to none. And on either side, you’ll find an emerging arts destination for East London.

This arts loop connecting Greenwich Peninsula with the Royal Docks encompasses both sides of the river and makes the most of the Thames’ wide skies. Here are some unmissable stops on a cultural day out.

Follow The Line

The Line is a sculpture trail that stretches right down from Stratford through the Royal Docks to finish in Greenwich Peninsula in the south, and it forms the heart of our loop. Begin on the western end of Royal Victoria Dock with Bird Boy. This childlike statue in a bird costume is by Laura Ford, and he floats forlornly on a pontoon overlooking the water.

Next, who doesn’t get a little excited when boarding the serene cable cars at Royal Victoria Dock? Glide silently across the river Thames, before docking securely on the other side in Greenwich. This is a vantage point like no other, offering a unique perspective not just on the docks and river below, but also further afield over the Thames Barrier, the Cutty Sark, the Royal Observatory, and all the way to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Laura Ford's Bird Boy

Standing watch over the water, this sculpture forms part of The Line trail.

Art in the air

To celebrate the fifth birthday of The Line, an intriguing new piece has been installed in the cars themselves by British-Ghanaian artist Larry Achiampong, called Sanko-time. The name refers to the Ghanaian Twi word ‘sankofa’, which means to go back to what was left behind, and using the past to learn for the future.

This 20-minute piece of audio accompanies the roundtrip over the Thames, making the crossing itself a work of art. Sanko-time incorporates oral history accounts from the Museum of London, field recordings from the Ghanaian capital Accra and from London, including school children from Greenwich. It’s a powerful narrative which features water sounds and hypnotic drum loops by Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen.

“This confluence of specific methods has allowed me to investigate the complex history of British Empire by exploring the relationship between London and the connecting waterways of the Meridian to Accra,” said Larry. Justine Simons, deputy London mayor for culture, said the work is a reminder of “how much work there is still yet to be done in our city”.

Larry Achiampong’s Sanko-time

This audio artwork has been installed in the Emirate Air Line cable cars themselves.

Peninsula picks

Once on the south side, visit NOW Gallery for contemporary art, or take a wander: Greenwich Peninsula has several large-scale outdoor works, including Antony Gormley’s mesmerising Quantum Cloud by the river. On the beach, the sliced sand dredger by Richard Wilson honours the area’s maritime history. Speaking of beach, don’t forget to take a closer look at the Thames itself. Over 40 whales have been sighted in the river over the past decade, alongside a number of dolphins and porpoises – and did you know that 3,500 seals live in the river? At low tide, many come ashore.

Slices of time by Emmanuelle Moureaux

Catch Secret 7" up next at NOW Gallery, from 14 October, where you can purchase one-of-a-kind vinyl singles and raise money for good causes.

London’s greatest gigs

If you’re in the mood for a really big day out, the O2 needs no introduction. London’s premier big-ticket concert venue has opened its doors again after lockdown for more intimate performances, ensuring social distancing can be observed. That’s also the name of the game for the Up at the O2 climb across the top, where visitors wear harnesses for a climb across the dome. From the top, enjoy 360° views of landmarks up to 15 miles away.

The O2 isn’t just a concert venue: there’s a cinema here too, and bars and restaurants that cater for families as well as groups of friends. Exhibitions, such as ABBA Super Troupers, are temporarily halted due to the pandemic, but the bowling lanes at Hollywood Bowl are back open and so are the trampolines at Oxygen Freejumping. At ImmotionVR, all headsets are thoroughly cleaned between guests, meaning visitors can again enjoy the immersive virtual reality experience in the deep seas or far out in space.

Up at the O2

Get adventurous for wide skies and a view of London like no other.

End up in Royal Docks original

What better way to end a busy day, than to step back into the Air Line and glide back across to the Royal Docks? And this time, if the sun has set, you get to enjoy the city lights below. Finish the evening on the water at the Oiler Bar. This characterful watering hole is authentically Royal Docks: it even had to close early for a few evenings during the recent heavy winds to avoid those glasses flying into the water. But most nights it’s smooth sailing on this converted World War refuelling barge, as guests enjoy the cold brews and still waters.

Oiler bar

This converted World War refuelling barge is a favourite spot for a chat overlooking the water.

As you enjoy the Royal Docks and Greenwich Peninsula, remember to follow the current guidelines to stay safe during Covid-19.