Things to do in East London

Historically associated with the working classes, pollution and the blitz, East London is now a cosmopolitan hub of finance, tourist attractions and entertainment venues.

Canary Wharf, at the top of East London's Isle of Dogs, is Europe’s financial capital and boasts great shopping and restaurants as well as London's second tallest building. The O2 Arena is the busiest indoor arena in the world, hosting A-list bands like U2 and the Rolling Stones and sporting events such as the ATP World Tennis Finals.

The 2012 London Olympic Games were held in Stratford, with the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park now open to the public. It is bordered by Westfield Stratford City, Europe's largest shopping precinct. The nearby 218-acre Victoria Park is East London's lung. And many of the city’s trendiest nightspots are to be found in Hoxton and Shoreditch.

These stand-out things to do are complemented by East London's smaller attractions, such as the Museum of Childhood, Brick Lane, the Museum of Docklands and Colombia Road and Spitalfields markets.

1. Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was home to the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The 2.5 square kilometre park includes the Olympic Stadium (now the home of West Ham United Football Club), the London Aquatics Centre (where you can swim in the Olympic pool for under £4!), and the ArcelorMittal Orbit (offering great views over London, and a slide back down to earth for the brave!).

Other attractions include the Lee Valley Velopark (complete with indoor, road and off-road cycling tracks), the Copper Box Arena (which regularly hosts professional basketball matches) and a number of other stadia, playgrounds and gardens.

2. The 02 Arena

East London's O2 Arena is the world's busiest indoor venue.

The structure now home to the 02 Arena had an inauspicious start. It was conceived and funded by successive governments as an exhibition centre to house the Millennium Experience. But the cost was £789 million, visitor numbers to what was called the Millennium Dome were disappointing, and the exhibition was only ever to be open for a year.

Thereafter the dome lay empty for a period, and housed a number of temporary attractions, before being re-invented as an entertainment district known as the O2 Arena.


The Richard Rogers designed dome is 365 metres in diameter and has a highest point of 52 metres. Twelve 100-metre yellow support towers support its steel and tensioned fabric structure.

The interior was gutted in the £600 million reconstruction needed to turn it into the O2 Arena entertainment venue, with the re-vamped structure opening on 24 June 2007 with a rock concert headlined by Bon Jovi.


The 20,000 capacity O2 Arena is used primarily for music, hosting names such as U2, Bob Dylan, the Eagles, the Killers and the Rolling Stones.

The O2 Arena's line-up for 2017 is full of A-listers. Black Sabbath play at the end of January, Green Day in early February, the Kaiser Chiefs in early March, Bruno Mars and Frankie Valli in April, Iron Maiden and KISS in May, Take That for 7 nights in June, BROS in August, and Deep Purple in November.

Sporting events are also hosted, such as the ATP World Tour Finals, certain NBA and NHL matches, and artistic gymnastics at the 2012 London Olympics.

Other atractions

IndigO2 is smaller music venue, with a capacity of 2,920. The complex also houses an 11-screen cinema, a bowling alley, exhibition space known as the O2 bubble, and various clubs, bars and restaurants.

The newest addition is Up at the O2, a 190-metre long walkway allowing visitors to walk up the dome’s roof to its highest point (offering views to the Olympic Park, London Shard, Greenwich and Thames Barrier). MAP

The O2 is East London's best entertainment district.

Expand to read more

3. Canary Wharf

Located on the East End’s Isle of Dogs, Canary Wharf is both a leading financial centre and a tourist destination in its own right.

Best known for its tallest building—the 235-metre One Canada Square, the country's second highest building after the London Shard—the Canary Wharf complex was built between 1988 and 1990.

Today, over 90,000 work here, at institutions such as Barclays, HSBC, JP Morgan, Citibank and Clifford Chance.

But Canary Wharf has a lot to offer the visitor too: its architecture is complemented by over 60 pieces of public art; it offers the superb Museum of London: Docklands for those wanting to learn about the East End; and it offers world-class amenities (like the Third Space Gym and the Everyman Cinema), shopping, eating and drinking.

4. Victoria Park

Victoria Park (aka the People’s Park) is sometimes called the lung of East London.

Found in Tower Hamlets, adjacent to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the 218-acre Victoria Park is split into two.

Its smaller east park is known for its Japanese Pagoda (built on an island in the middle of a popular boating lake), the Pavilion Cafe (serving delicious breakfasts and lunches), its ornamental gardens and its large children's play area.

The larger west park has a number of sports pitches, cricket nets, tennis courts and one of the capital's largest children's playgrounds (the slides are particularly good!). It is here that the annual Lovebox music festival is held.

Other west park attractions include the impressive and recently restored Burdett-Coutts fountain.

5. Liverpool Street

Liverpool Street is home to the City of London, one of the UK's two international financial centres

It is here that you will find the Bank of Englan, and its excellent museum, where you can learn about the history of the banknote and see gold bullion. You'll also be wowed by a host of stunning skyscrapers—such as the Gherkin, Cheesegrater, Walkie-Talkie and Heron Tower.

Another must-see attraction is Spitalfields Market, a short walk from Liverpool Street station, and packed full of market-stalls, high-end shopping and fantastic eateries. The Liverpool Street area therefore has lots to offer the tourist.

6. Mile End

Located between Bethnal Green and Stratford, Mile End is fast becoming the most desirable place to live in East London.

Its main attractions include the 32-hectare Mile End Park, running from Limehouse Basin to Victoria Park, and offering attractions from go-kart racing to children's play areas and an eco-pavilion.

Other top things to do include the little-known Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, one of the magnificent seven Victorian graveyards, Mile End's excellent climbing wall, and an increasing number of gastropubs such as the Morgan Arms.

Those looking for a proper East End market won't be disappointed when they visit Roman Road.

7. Bethnal Green and Whitechapel

Bethnal Green and Whitechapel, located to the east of Liverpool Street, boast a number of top London attractions.

Start your visit with a trip to one of the world-famous Brick Lane curry houses, and then check out some of the trendy bars, nightclubs and graffiti nearby.

Another good option is to go to the Columbia Road flower market on a weekend, where you'll find traditional east-enders hawking flowers and plants of all descriptions, boutique clothes shops, artisan coffee and food outlets, and a relaxed vibe.

A third popular attraction is the Museum of Childhood, just outside Bethnal Green tube station, which is part of the Victoria and Albert Museum. This has lots to offer children and grown-ups.

8. Emirates Air Line

The Emirates Air Line is a 1-kilometre gondola line that crosses the Thames from the Royal Docks in East London to the Greenwich Peninsula.

Opened in June 2012, just before the London Olympics, at a cost of £60 million, the cablecar travels at 6 m/s and has a maximum elevation of 90 metres.

The Emirates Air Line is fast-becoming one of East London's most popular things to do, offering superb views over London day and night.

9. More things to do in East London

East London offers a host of other attractions, things to do and activities:

(1) Broadway Market. Broadway Market, a street leading from London Fields to Regent’s Canal, is a food market that was re-launched in 2004 and which is held between 9am and 5pm each Saturday. A great variety of fare is on sale, ranging from organic meat and veg to fresh fish, newly baked bread, jellied eels, cakes, olives and cheese. Other attractions include the vintage and designer clothes stalls and shops, welcoming local pubs (such as The Doce and the Cat & Mutton), and a walk down the Regent's Canal. MAP

(2) Sutton House. Sutton House, found on Homerton High Street, Hackney, is a Grade II* listed Tudor mansion owned by the National Trust. Built in 1535 by the secretary of state to Henry VIII, Sir Ralph Sadleir, the house remained in private ownership until the 18th century, when it became a boys’ school. The House is full of original features, such as oak-panelling, a Tudor kitchen and a tranquil courtyard. There are lots of other things to do: Sutton House offers an excellent café, space for art exhibitions, regular community events and family fun days.MAP

(3) The Thames Barrier. Opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1984, the River Thames Barrier is the second largest flood barrier in the world. Located 3 kilometres to the east of the Isle of Dogs, the barrier can be closed at high tide to prevent greater London from being flooded from surges from the North Sea (particularly likely when a storm coincides with a spring tide). The barrier is made of rotating cylinders, which cross a 570 yard stretch of river. They are held in place by ten steel gates, each 20 metres high and weighing 3,700 tonnes. The total cost was £534 million (£1.3 billion at current prices). In total, the barrier has been closed about 130 times. The UK authorities predict that it will provide meaningful flood protection until around 2060. The small visitor information centre provides information about the barrier and the River Thames (including a ten minute video and working scale model). There is also a café providing light meals at reasonable prices and a picnic area. But the main thing to do is to marvel at this beautiful feat of modern engineering. MAP

(4) Trinity Buoy Wharf. Trinity Buoy Wharf is one of East London's most eclectic attractions. Found a five minute drive from Canary Wharf, Trinity boasts London's only (now disused) lighthouse: arranged over two floors, there's a display of ringing bells on the first floor and great views over the Thames towards Canary Wharf and the O2 Arena from the upper floor. Just outside is a small shed that has been carefully decorated to resemble Thomas Faraday's workshop.

Other attractions include a lighthouse boat, an American style diner (in a silver aluminium trailer), a nice cafe (with a model cab on top of it), various strange machines, and the London Parkour Academy. (For the uninitiated, Parkour is the sport of moving quickly through an urban environment by running, jumping and climbing; visitors to the centre can usually see some impressive spins through the windows!). Trinity Buoy Wharf is also home to the Faraday School and a number of artists workshops (housed in converted shipping containers).

(5) Epping Forest. Found between Wanstead and Epping, Epping Forest is a 2,400 hectare ancient woodland and former royal forest. Measuring about 19 by 4 kilometres, the forest was used by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I (and visitors can explore a hunting lodge commissioned by Henry and renovated by Elizabeth I in 1589). We recommend the High Beech area, found adjacent to the Epping Forest Visitor Centre, which offers a 1 kilometre easy access trail, lots of much longer walks, and a couple decent cafes and the King's Oak Pub (complete with large beer garden with a great children's play area). Another good option, closer to central London, is Hollow Pond, a lovely 2 kilometre circumference lake, with varied waterfowl, a little cafe and lots of other walking options. Finally, don't forget to visit our page on East London children's attractions.

(6) Canvey Island. Okay, this isn't in East London. But it is the closest beach to East London, so we're rolling with it. Canvey Island, at the mouth of the Thames, offers pebbled beaches, a superb seafront cafe in an art deco building called The Labworth, two outdoor tidal swimming areas for children, a small funfair, a good old-fashioned amusement arcade (complete with two-penny coin pushers) and (at the eastern end of the seafront) a fantastic children's playground (complete with zip-line). Another great thing to do here is crabbing. But the real highlights are the sea air, the views across the estuary towards Kent, watching the large and small ships sail by, and relaxing in the sunshine. The journey takes about 45 minutes by car from Mile End.

Expand to read more