A car-free adventure throughWoolwich, Docklands and GreenwichLondon
From bolted steel sculptures on the riverfront in post-industrial Woolwich to elegant Italian-style architecture in glorious Greenwich, here is an unapologetically urban odyssey via boat, rail, bus, foot and cable car. This packed itinerary celebrates London’s maritime heritage and sees the city from new angles. You could fit most of it into a fun, but hectic afternoon, spread it over a more leisurely staycation, or pick and mix the bits that take your fancy. For those who want to stay in the area, there are more tips at the end. A travelcard, oyster card or contactless debit card will come in very handy.
1. Start from Stratford
Until the 2012 Olympics, Stratford mostly meant the town in Warwickshire where William Shakespeare was born. Now people outside east London have heard of the other Stratford, home of the Olympic Park. The park is full of sporting opportunities and almost next to the station.
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- Stratford has some of the best transport links in London: several tube lines converge here, including the 24-hour Central and Jubilee lines.
- Trains from all over London and the East of England arrive at the railway station’s twelve bewildering platforms and trains to Stratford International, next door, come from Kent and beyond – via Eurostar – from France.
- From Stratford Underground Station, take the lift or escalator to “The Street” in Westfield Shopping Centre (full of places to eat). Head right at Fountain Square, towards John Lewis, then left at Jamie’s Italian; at the end of the passage, cross the road into the Olympic Park.
- You can explore the Olympic Park or slide down the UK’s tallest sculpture, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, with views over the cityscape stretching 20 miles on a clear day.
2. Drive the DLR to Woolwich Arsenal
To celebrate the 30th birthday of the Docklands Light Railway, Transport for London published a list of 30 things to do and see in East London. This itinerary takes in more than half of them, including the suggestion to “grab the front seat and enjoy the view”. Since the trains are driverless, you can pretend to be the driver – if you want.
- The Woolwich branch of the DLR flashes past the mighty Thames Barrier (you’ll see more of this later) and the Tate and Lyle factory, largest sugar refinery in the EU and 140 years old in 2018.
- 20 minutes and ten stops after Stratford, the train arrives – via a tunnel under the Thames – in Woolwich, for centuries a crucial military and navel centre.
- The area is full of new buildings, springing up ahead of the Crossrail station, due to open fully at the end of 2019 with trains into central London every five minutes.
- Turn right out of the DLR station, past the old Royal Arsenal Gatehouse. Cross the road, go past the Guard House restaurant and keep straight along a pedestrian walkway with canons. There’s a farmer’s market here twice a month.
- At the riverside sculptures, turn left beside the water and follow the Thames Path in this general direction until you come to the Woolwich Ferry.
3. Ferry over the Thames
With its old-fashioned wooden benches, smell of oil, sound of gulls and coils of rope, the Woolwich Ferry has a strong sense of maritime heritage. This stretch of the Thames has very few crossings so, to carry the lorries over to North Woolwich or back again, Transport for London operates the Woolwich Ferry. There’s been a ferry here since the 14th-century and it currently transports two million passengers a year. You won’t usually find too many other foot passengers, although the ferry is being upgraded and may become more of a tourist attraction soon.
- It’s currently free, runs every 10 minutes Monday to Friday (every 15 minutes at the weekend) and takes about five minutes to reach the other side. To board the ferry, don’t cross the road where the lorries queue. Just turn right on the pavement and keep walking – onto the boat.
- On the rare occasions (like very foggy mornings) when the ferry isn’t running, the nearby Woolwich foot tunnel, with its brick towers, wood-panelled lift and ¼-mile tiled walkway, is an equally unusual experience and comes with its own urban myths.
- When you reach North Woolwich, walk off the ferry again and head for the nearest bus stop. Catch bus 474 towards Canning Town (every 12 minutes) to the stop called “Thames Barrier”. On the way, the bus passes London City airport and a 12-metre sculpture of the goddess Athena (looking like a silver gymnast) on a nearby roundabout.