London is obviously a global city with an amazing history and plenty of easy to name tourist destinations and landmarks, but because it is such a sprawling metropolis there are plenty of spots that fly under the radar.
Spending only a weekend in London will put you on a whirlwind tour with very little let-up except for relaxing on a park bench in Hyde Park or enjoying a pint at the closest pub to your hotel. But if you have a bit more time, there are plenty of other pearls that slowly reveal themselves to you like an oyster opening its mouth (this is a good reminder to get the London Oyster Travel Card/App for getting around the city by bus or tube).
East London might not have the same cachet as the other typical directions away from the centre of the city, but there are plenty of interesting spots, one of which has to be the intriguingly named ‘Isle of Dogs’. It is a drip shaped peninsula that the Thames River stretches around and has created plenty of theories for its name.
A Bit of History
The ‘Isle of Dogs’ has had that nickname for centuries, although it was primarily called ‘the Island’, even though it is not one at all, completely connected in the north to the rest of the city. Of course, going back to the sixteenth century, London was nowhere near as large as it is today, and the area was mainly farmland. Being surrounded by the Thames meant that plenty of water was close by, which always brings people together for one reason or another.
Rumours were that it was named as such because it was where Edward III kept his racing Greyhounds (or where Henry VIII kept his hunting dogs), or that it was originally called the Isle of Ducks because of all the waterfowl living in the marshes. Another misnomer was that because of attempts at irrigation, it was once called the ‘Isle of Dykes’.
Most interesting is that it was an insulting term used in the Ben Jonson and Thomas Nashe, which was titled ‘The Isle of Dogs’ and insulted the nobility (for this slap in the upper classes’ face, Jonson was thrown in jail for a year).
As the Victorian era gave way to the twentieth century, the farms disappeared and were replaced by Council Housing. In fact, it had the highest concentration of this type of residence in all of England for a long period (and is certainly where the wealthier men of the city would house their straight, gay or trans sugar baby encounters).
The Isle of Dogs’ rehabilitation began with the development of Canary Wharf office complexes, which became easy to access for business people and commuters with the introduction of the Docklands Light Railway in the 1980s. It easily connects to the Underground as well, so if you are thinking of getting an Airbnb in London, this neighbourhood can be both convenient and affordable.
Business to the North…
Most people arriving in this neighbourhood will almost certainly be coming from the north, either by the Docklands rail line, or A1206. Either way, you will first be passing through a towering mess of skyscrapers that make up Canary Wharf, something you would expect to see in New York or Shanghai, not in London.
It is also the name of Jubilee Line Underground station in the heart of the complex. If you happen to work in one of the cubicles here, you might not think there’s much interest in walking about and craning your neck upwards (instating looking down on your mobile to text or play sex rpg games), but it is by far one of the most modern areas in a city that is best known by tourists for its long history.
One Canada Square is the third tallest office building in the nation, and as there are plenty of workers, you will find plenty of restaurant options as well. There is also the Museum of London Docklands on West India Quay, and while the history of the development of London can be interesting all by itself, the fact that the museum is housed in several former nineteenth-century sugar warehouses adds to its intrigue.
Concerts to the East
One peninsula over from the Isle of Dogs – and one tube stop further east – you will find The O2 arena, London’s premier spot for big-name entertainment. For a brief period, it was the busiest arena in Europe, with artists from all over the world frequently making this their mark for London crowds. Michael Jackson was scheduled to perform 50 shows here, but he died only three weeks before the first one.
If you are in London for a short time and it’s mainly because you are planning to see a show at the O2, finding a place to stay on The Isle of Dogs – or at least enjoying yourself with dinner and drinks before or after – is a sensible shout.
Greenwich to the South
If the business world to the north and the council housing in the centre doesn’t exactly scream London to you, then by all means hop on the Docklands Railway and head under the river to immediately arrive in Greenwich. Not only are there plenty of interesting and enjoyable shops and eating options, but the actual Cutty Sark clipper ship is the main square, ready for boarding. If you walk a bit further you’ll reach the Royal Observatory at the massive and beautiful Greenwich Park. It doesn’t take much to realize that this Royal-decree greenspace has plenty of advantages over its sibling in the West, Hyde Park. Not only can you stand right on the Prime Meridian (effectively dividing the world into east and west), but has settlements going back to Roman times.