What's it all about?
Wapping is one of East London’s most atmospheric riverside areas. On the north side of the Thames between Tower Bridge and Limehouse, ranged along the wilder, wider stretch of the river, Wapping is characterised by a real Dickensian feel, and old warehouses, wharves and cobbled streets combine to dramatic effect. A thriving part of London’s Docklands until the devastation of World War II, the area then went into decline. But in the 1980s the cobblestoned streets and red-brick buildings started to realise their potential once again. Galleries began to spring up in disused tea and spice warehouses: most notably the avant-garde B2 Gallery. The grand Olivers Wharf was revived, attracting celebrity residents that included Sir Alec Guinness and Cher, and setting the trend for many other warehouse conversions. Nearby St Katharine Docks was refurbished with luxury homes, a marina, hotels and office space. Wander down to Wapping’s riverside today and, surrounded by handsome brick warehouses and cobbled streets, you’ll feel like you’re in touch with London’s vibrant maritime history as well as its thriving present.
- Wapping has long been a launching point for exploration and it was from the Prospect of Whitby that arctic explorer Hugh Willoughby set off in 1533 to discover the North-East Passage.
- Look for Wapping Old Stairs, Pelican Stairs, Watermen’s Stairs: all ancient points for alighting on boats and ferries, and a mere handful of those that once existed.
- By the Town of Ramsgate pub, you can enjoy a drink to adjacent Wapping Old Stairs, where Captain Bligh and Judge Jefferies, James II’s judge, once consorted.
- In some parts of Wapping you're walking over water. The London Dock was filled in 1969.
Architecture and property
The wharfs are the finest properties in Wapping, most notably the grand Olivers Wharf, the first warehouse redevelopment in Wapping. Along Wapping Wall there are other warehouses and factory conversions, peppered with surviving Georgian properties such as those at Pier Head, where residents include TV host Graham Norton. Set back from the river are 1950s and 1960s local authority housing blocks, as well as more recent 1980s housing towards St Katharine Dock around Kennet Street, and near Shadwell Basin and Tobacco Dock. Wapping is undergoing further redevelopment and new housing includes Metropolitan Wharf: a ‘creative village’ of loft apartments, and 136 Wapping Wall.
For house price information please visit our resource centre.
Eating: Il Bordello is a traditional Italian trattoria on Wapping High Street, while River View is a Chinese restaurant with outdoor seating, while Indian cuisine is served at local favourite Laksha Bay. For business or pleasure, Smith’s Wapping is an upmarket brasserie offering splendid views of the Thames from its floor-to-ceiling windows, while al-fresco options also abound at St Katharine Docks, including the Italian-influenced River Lounge, tapas bar Bravas and dim sum restaurant Ping Pong. For a caffeine and cake fix, the award-winning independent coffee shop White Mulberries also has outdoor seating with wonderful views over the marina.
Drinking: Wapping has a good quota of destination pubs, the most famous being the Prospect of Whitby. Dating from 16th century, this riverside inn that was once the haunt of pirates and ne’er-do-wells has a pewter-topped bar and barrels and ships’ masts built into its structure. The Town of Ramsgate claims to be the oldest pub on the Thames and inside you really feel like you’re on board an old tea clipper. Turner’s Old Star is another atmospheric old-school London boozer, named after the famous landscape painter who built the pub in 1830 and installed his mistress Sophia Booth as the landlady.
Culture: Wilton’s Music Hall is the world’s oldest surviving Grand Music Hall, it’s a shabby chic symphony of distressed paint, exposed brickwork and gas lamps. As well as a theatre, there’s a gallery and the Mahogany Bar, and the venue carries a varied programme of performance, cabaret and pop-ups. At Jamboree in the Courtyard of Cable Street Studios across The Highway in Shadwell, there’s cabaret and music nights focusing on jazz, folk and Americana.
Sightseeing: Wapping is in an enviable location to access some of London’s most iconic sights, including Tower Bridge – its exhibition takes in high-level walkways, dizzying glass floors and the spectacular Victorian engine rooms – and the Tower of London, where you’ll find the Crown Jewels, 1,000 years of royal history and the iconic ravens. Docked opposite is retired navy cruiser turned floating museum HMS Belfast offering a unique insight into life on board a World War II warship.
- For grocery needs there’s a big Waitrose on Thomas More Street close to The Highway. For something a bit more artisanal, head to Wapping Sourdough, a family-run bakery on Thomas More Square selling high-quality loaves and pizza slices.
- The John Orwell Sports Centre on Tench Street has a large state-of-the-art gym, indoor and outdoor sports pitches and courts and a programme of exercise classes. A Fitness First gym and pool is on Thomas More Square.
- Tobacco Dock has become a huge, hireable venue and hosts events such as food festivals and rooftop film screenings.
- Make the most of the river by visiting Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre, which offers sailing, rowing, powerboating and canoeing, as well as a climbing wall and high ropes.
In Wapping breathing space is provided mainly by the Thames Path, but there are a few green spaces, and you’ll get good river views from some, most notably Waterside Gardens (believed to be the site of Execution Dock where pirates such as Captain Kidd met a grisly fate), and Hermitage Riverside Memorial Garden. Inland are the little green sanctuaries of Wapping Rose Gardens and Wapping Woods. Towards the eastern boundary of Wapping is the King Edward Memorial Park where there are kids’ play areas, tennis courts and football pitches.
Among a steady stream of new developments, the Berkeley Group’s London Dock is perhaps the biggest, transforming the huge 15-acre ex-News International site into apartment blocks and landscaped public space.
Overground: Wapping station links to Shoreditch High Street, Dalston Junction and Highbury and Islington to the north, and Canada Water, New Cross and Clapham to the south.
Tube: Tower Hill is a short walk away and is on the Circle and District lines.
DLR: Shadwell DLR station is within walking distance and Tower Gateway DLR is also close by.
Bus: The 100 (travelling through St Paul’s, the City and Blackfriars to Elephant and Castle), D3 (to Docklands and Bethnal Green) and N551 (from Trafalgar Square due east to Gallions Reach) all pass through Wapping.
Cycle: The local cobbled streets of Wapping provide quiet, if bone-shaking, cycling routes. Cycle Superhighway 3 tracks along Cable Street to Tower Gateway.
Getting away: London City Airport is easily accessible via the DLR and by road.
Part of Tower Hamlets local authority, Wapping has nurseries including Dreammaker Day Nursery and Matilda Day Nursery, and two primaries in Hermitage Primary School and Shapla Primary School. At secondary level you’ll find Wapping High School and Bishop Challoner Catholic Collegiate School.
Please see our education resource for more information on schools in this area.
Pop into your nearest branch of KFH to talk to one of our local experts.
Did we miss something? If you have any local expertise to improve our area guide, then please email us on areaguides@.kfh.co.uk