diamond geezer

 Monday, August 08, 2016

7 Best Secrets of the Royal Docks

They're docks, they're proper royal, and this summer there's no better place in London to visit. Here's seven reasons why.

The Royal Docks are London's unique and historic water space, once the largest enclosed docks in the world, now a vibrant 21st century destination. Top of the heap is the watersports centre at the western end, WakeUp Docklands, where wakeboarding and paddle boarding can be experienced for an almost-reasonable fee. If you're too scared to participate, never fear, enjoy the spectacle by laying down your towel on Newham's very own summertime Urban Beach, a bucket-and-spade friendly sandpit complete with actual deckchairs. Or grab a BBQ skewer from The Oiler Bar, an ex Royal Navy refuelling barge, where filling up with craft beer is now the order of the day. You'll come for a stroll round the waterside and stay all day, guaranteed.

If you love sustainability, and who doesn't, The Crystal is an unbeatable space. Rising from the waterfront in 2012, this strikingly spiky building boasts the highest standards of energy efficiency, whilst also housing a Siemens-sponsored exhibition on the future of cities. Entrance to this worthy collection of forward-looking exhibits was previously free, and worth every penny, but now costs £8. This deters all but the hardiest of environmental supporters, and the gullible, but those who pay up do at least get the echoing galleries pretty much to themselves. In better news, the café lies outside the exclusion zone and serves bistro-style sandwiches, so remains popular.

Nowhere else in North London has a cablecar, providing the perfect way to arrive at the Royal Docks from the more interesting side of the river in Greenwich. Sail above the scenic Thames, looking down over car parks and the industrial backyards of Silvertown, while sharing your elevated pod with a random couple from abroad and some on-screen marketing collateral. Touch down opposite the Tesco Express and look around you at the thrilling tourist opportunities that prevail, then perhaps head straight back again. Even better, if you book in advance there's now a special "web-only" price, which costs exactly the same as you'd pay with Oyster except is only available online.

The SS Robin is the world's oldest complete steam coaster and the last of her type in the world, a truly amazing survivor from a truly different age. Built at Orchard Yard on the River Lea, she now rests high and dry on a pontoon in the docks, less than a mile from Orchard Yard where she was built. Conservation work has been going great guns, and has now reached the "we need a serious sponsor" stage, so unfortunately you can't go on board any more. But you can still walk up to the security gate and gaze across at her, then retrace your steps to the Britannia Village Market for chilled wines, beers and dairy produce, which may be some consolation.

For an exhilarating highwalk above the docks, head to the Royal Victoria Dock Bridge. This mighty span was erected in 1998, and rises 15 metres above the water to allow yachts, if there are ever any, to pass underneath. The lifts might be working, else it's a lot of steps, but the must-see view across the water more than makes up for the perspiration. Look one way and there's Docklands, but look the other and there's London City Airport's runway lined up down the water, and a stream of jets touching down or taking off. The latter scream regularly overhead, which is wildly exciting if you're visiting, but increasingly less fun for those who live here, so thank goodness you're going home later.

A full programme of exhibitions and conferences fill the great halls at ExCel, many of them expensive collections of trade stands, or else corporate shindigs to which you're not invited. But occasionally something free and utterly brilliant turns up, like the annual London Triathlon which played out in the water and along the dockside over the weekend. Thousands of lycra-covered competitors splashed up the docks and back, cheered on by doting family members, before leaping onto their bikes for a workout and ending with a lengthy jog. You'd have loved the spectacle, but sorry we didn't flag the event in advance because there weren't tickets to flog, so stick it in your diary for this time next year.

When all's said and done, every good day out needs a place to feed and water. That's where the Royal Docks comes into its own, with a selection of top eateries to satisfy the emptiest of palates. Top restaurant Nakhon Thai has been packing them in for years with its tom yum kung, while the Top 1 Forever steakhouse at least provides local hotel guests with an alternative to another raid on the minibar. Enjoy a Real Gourmet Burger or All Day Breakfast from the truck village by the cablecar terminal, or stroll through ExCel's central walkway and revel in the digestive choices offered. Twin Costa enclaves take pride of place, along with conference favourites Potato Factory, the inimitable Chozen Noodle and several concessions which fill baguettes with meat. Nom nom nom.

Finally there are the enormous Stothert & Pitt cranes which stand guard at the water's edge, and whose preservation provides a dash of lofty heritage around the Royal Docks. If you're counting, sorry, that's the eighth best thing we've mentioned, but we decided to stick seven in the title because the rules of clickbait decree that odd-numbered lists maximise social media interaction. Also we confess that nothing in the list is really a secret, but we like to use the word a lot because it makes our posts sound more exciting. And obviously these aren't really the best attractions in the Royal Docks, they're just some places we thought we'd write about, but rest assured that our publication of unnecessarily definitive 'best of' lists will continue until everyone stops clicking on them.

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