Once upon a time Canary Wharf, on London’s Isle of Dogs, was only for city workers, the domain of blue button-downs during the week and a ghost town at weekends. It definitely wasn’t one of London’s most obvious tourist destinations.
But much has changed in recent years and today this corner of London, filled with glass and steel skyscrapers, has transformed into a lively neighbourhood with over 300 restaurants, shopping malls and bars.
And it’s no longer just for business people either, nearby residential development means that Canary Wharf has transformed into a local community. This means that there are lots of things to do in Canary Wharf whether you’re visiting solo, with friends or bringing the kids along. Read on to find out more.
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One of the best things about Canary Wharf is how busy it is. And by that we don’t just mean busy in a ‘people going to work’ way. Rather, the neighbourhood has a busy calendar of events which means that there’s always something fun happening.
Regular concerts and performances take place in the squares (Cabot Square often has table tennis tables and a mini golf course in the summer months) and there’s a magical outdoor ice rink during the winter. The annual Winter Lights Festival brings much needed colour to the dark days with light artwork installations placed around the neighbourhood.
Things to do in Canary Wharf with kids
This post has been written primarily with families in mind but the truth is that much of the attraction and activities listed below can be enjoyed if you’re visiting Canary Wharf with kids – or without!
Crossrail Roof Garden
Plus, the Crossrail Roof Gardens regularly put on events, particularly at half term. The gardens are also home to an 80-seater performance space. During the summer months, the gardens work with the Space Theatre to create ‘Bloom’, a programme of festivals, performance and music that are free to enjoy.
Take the Thames Clipper
Getting there is half the fun and one of the best ways to arrive at Canary Wharf is on the Uber Boat by Thames Clipper. Departing from central London you can grab a boat from London Eye, Westminster, Embankment or London Bridge (check the route map for details) and journey along the River Thames, arriving at Canary Wharf soon after.
Not only is this a fun way to travel, you can enjoy great views of some of London’s best sights along the way!
Visit Jubilee Park when the sun is out and you’ll see city workers enjoy a picnic lunch on the grass. This green space is home to waterways and fountains, winding paths, and a handful of sculptures. It’s the perfect place for some time out.
Canada Square Park
Set in the heart of Canary Wharf, Canada Square is surrounded by three of the tallest buildings in the UK, including One Canada Square. This iconic skyscraper was, for a time, the tallest building in the UK until The Shard came along and surpassed it.
This public square really comes to life in the summer months with a packed calendar of events that includes summer concerts and live music, film screenings, a free family festival and more.
See the website for details.
Mudchute Park & Farm
Mudchute Farm could not be more different to modern Canary Wharf and yet it’s just around the corner. This London city farm – one of the largest inner city farms anywhere in Europe – is set within 32 acres of countryside in the heart of East London and is home to over 100 animals. Mudchute is a community charity, a working farm, stables and home to a range of educational activities.
Tours of the farm and the animals are available (pre-booking required) and animal encounter sessions can also be booked. Otherwise you can just visit and enjoy the farm and park and spend some time in the onsite cafe, the Mudchute Kitchen.
There is no visitor parking at Mudchute, your best bet is via public transport. The Crossharbour DLR station is a 10 minute walk away.
Open Water Swimming at Canary Wharf
New in summer 2022 was the opening of Canary Wharf’s first open swimming venue. The venue, operated by Love Open Water, sits in Middle Dock and offers swimmers the chance to do some laps in a completely unique setting.
It’s worth noting that this is definitely more of a ‘swim laps’ kind of venue rather than a ‘splash around’ kind of place. There is a 250m, 400m and a 600m loop available and access to the swimming area is via a set of metal steps. At the bottom there is a floating deck, with a ramp that leads into the water to a depth of 0.5m. There are no shallow or standing areas so you need to be able to swim.
That said, if you do love swimming then this really is one of the top things to do not just in Canary Wharf but in London. There’s no other swim venue quite like it in the city. Children aged 10 and over are welcome to swim but they must be accompanied by an adult. All swimmers must be members of NOWCA. Sessions start from £8.
GoBoat Canary Wharf
If getting in the water seems like a stretch too far, why not hire a GoBoat for an hour or two instead? GoBoat London operate electric boats that you can hire for 1 or 2 hours when you can explore the London Docklands and Canary Wharf from a different perspective. Route maps are provided and take you past sights including harbour Quay Gardens, Billingsgate Fish Market, Blackwall Basin and The O2.
No licence is required and the boats fit up to 8 people, including children. All you need to bring with you is a picnic and a sense of adventure!
The Museum of London Docklands
Taking top prize for families is the Museum of London Docklands. This family-friendly museum in the heart of Canary Wharf offers floor after floor of exhibits and exhibitions about the area’s history.
Situated in one of London’s oldest dock warehouses, a visit here is a great way to learn about how the West India Docks began and how they transformed into the financial hub of today.
For young children (from babies up to 8-years-old) there’s Mudlarks, a brilliant interactive space that allows kids to discover the stories told within the museum in a fun environment. Entry to the Museum of London Docklands is free, and the museum is open every day.
Adams Plaza Bridge
Don’t miss Adams Plaza Bridge that has been reimagined by French artist Camille Walala. Walala transformed the bridge for the London Mural Festival but it has since become a permanent part of Canary Wharf’s public art collection. It’s perfect for taking fun photos!
Children’s Art Trail
If you are visiting Canary Wharf with kids then download the dedicated children’s art map and tour a selection of the 100 pieces of artwork that are on permanent display all over Canary Wharf, both outside and indoors.
The Children’s Art Trail features 12 pieces that the curators believe will interest young minds, and includes a map to show their locations. We particularly love the Traffic Light Tree (see below!).
Detective Mystery Trail
Another idea for exploring the area with children is to take a self-guided murder mystery tour of Canary Wharf’s streets solving clues and eliminating suspects as you go. This trail is approximately 2 miles long and takes about 1.5 hours to complete.
Everyman Cinema Canary Wharf
Canary Wharf is also home to an Everyman Cinema, a cool independent cinema chain that shows a wide range of films from blockbuster to indie flicks and a good range of family movies too. For film inspiration, take a look at the best family movies set in London.
Canary Wharf Christmas Ice Skating Rink
Every winter at the end of October a huge ice skating rink opens in Canary Wharf promising 18 weeks of skating fun. The rink is covered (and there’s a giant mirror ball!) so you can skate come rain or shine. It’s particularly popular over Christmas so make sure to book in advance.
Traffic Light Tree by Pierre Vivant
In the Docklands just outside the main gate to Billingsgate Market is the Traffic Light Tree, an eight-metre-tall stoplight designed by French sculptor Pierre Vivant. The sculpture changes its 75 sets of lights in random order – which can cause much confusion to drivers!
IFS Cloud Cable Car, Docklands
Previously the Emirates Airline Cable Car (the sponsorship deal with the airline ended in October 2022), the IFS Cloud Cable Car flys 90 metres above the River Thames offering visitors views of the London skyline, Greenwich Peninsula, the Royal Docks and The O2.
Board in North Greenwich or the Royal Victoria side (return flights are available). A one-way trip takes approximately 10 minutes. Make sure to book online and take advantage of the 15% discount.
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
From Canary Wharf you’re only an 18 minute tube ride away from Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The parks is home to oodles of things to do with kids from fun playgrounds for younger children to the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the world’s longest tunnel slide – perfect for daredevil teens!
From Canary Wharf it’s only 12 minutes by ferry to visit the Cutty Sark in Greenwich. The world’s only surviving extreme clipper now sits in Greenwich and is a brilliant place for families with children of all ages.
Filled with interactive games and displays, family-friendly performances, hands-on exhibits, the rig climb experience, and the very popular Cutty Sark afternoon tea, you can easily spend an afternoon here.
Where to eat in Canary Wharf
Canary Wharf is a great place to eat with food trucks and pop-ups bringing character and great flavours to the area. One of the best places to pick up lunch is Kerb West India Quay, where 15 independent vendors cook up a huge range of meals. Unfortunately they’re only open on Thursdays but there are lots of other options if you visit on other days.
The Breakfast Club
Crossrail Place, just below Crossrail Roof Gardens, has a handful of good restaurants to choose from including Ipuddo for excellent Japanese ramen and The Breakfast Club, an fun diner-style restaurant that serves everything from breakfast burgers and blueberry pancakes to burgers and fried chicken cooked half a dozen different ways. It does a mean weekend brunch and has a good kids’ menu too.
Market Halls Cargo
Market Halls Cargo is a fun food hall with shiny interiors and large windows overlooking the waterfront. Choose from 8 street food kitchens including perfect pasta from Pasta Evangelists, authentic Malaysian street food from Gopal’s Corner, delicious dim sum by Baoziinn, and knock out sushi from Inamo Sukoshi. Possibly the most interesting stall for kids, however, is the DumDum Donutterie, which creates “the donuts of all donuts”.
The Big Easy
Always popular, the Big Easy is a great place to eat in Canary Wharf. Come here for tasty Bar.B.Q. chicken, the fresh East Coast lobster, heavenly Mac n’Cheese, and the sunny terrace. During school holidays, the Big Easy has regular offers for kids and sometimes children eat free. Check the website for details.
Boasting possibly the best crispy crunchy fried chicken in town is Seoul Bird. But it’s not just us who thinks so, this place is always busy so be prepared to wait.
There’s a kids’ menu too.
Where to stay in Canary Wharf
Although it might not be an obvious choice, Canary Wharf is actually a very good place to stay for families visiting London. You might be tempted to stay in one of the capital’s more famous neighbourhoods such as Westminster or Kensington, but you get much more bang for your buck in Canary Wharf and definitely more space. Fraser Place offers family accommodation, including apartments that sleep four or six people.
Check more accommodation ideas here on using the map below:
How to get to Canary Wharf
Canary Wharf is located in east London in the borough of Tower Hamlets.
Canary Wharf is located in Zone 2 and is easily reached on the London Underground on the Jubilee Line (to the Canary Wharf tube station) or the Docklands Light Railway.
The Elizabeth line also runs from Canary Wharf to stations including Whitechapel, Liverpool St, Farringdon, Tottenham Court Road, Paddington and London Heathrow.
You can also travel by the Uber Boat by Thames
Photos from Despoitphotos.com