Saturday 13 May 2017

London Royal Victoria Docks Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 5.6 km (3.4 miles), terrain: flat

London Running Routes:
Best London Running Routes: Overview
Thames Embankment
Docklands-LimehouseRegent's Canal and Camden Town  
Hampstead Heath  
3-Parks Route: Hyde Park, Green Park, St. James' Park  
Regent's Park  
Hyde Park   

Heathrow Harmondsworth Moor  

Richmond Park
Notting Hill
Victoria Park
Wimbledon Common Trail Run
Royal Docks/ExCeL Route 
Kew / Brentford Thames Run  
For more running routes, see Route List.

I might also call this route "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." The old Royal Docks area in the far east-end of London used to be a busy port. It landed all the food needed to feed the growing city. But after World War II, the docks were used less and less, and the mills and warehouses surrounding the big basins were abandoned.

Since then, the area has been largely revived, but it's still a mixed bag of impressive modern buildings, old neighborhoods, marinas, industrial lots, the City Airport, parks, a university, construction sites and flat-out ruins. In other words, this route provides some amazing variety.

Lots of water and variety on this run!
The area is also the location of ExCeL, one of London's biggest convention centers, with a lot of hotels around it. So if you're hanging out in the area, attending a conference, here's a run you should like.

This run circles the Victoria Docks basin, with a little parkside loop along the Thames added in.

NOTE: There is another basin, Albert, just east of Victoria, and I tried circling it too, for a bigger run. But it is in more precarious shape, with big sections still blocked off for future construction. After several multi-kilometer detours after being forced to turn around, I gave up. So this route makes-do with just the loop around Victoria basin.

The Royal Docks were the main shipping docks for London in the early 20th century, one of the busiest ports in the world. It was mainly used for the import of food, with refrigerated warehouses lining the long, tide-free basins. Declining after WWII, they finally closed in 1981.

The area is served by two branches of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), an elevated track that winds its way through the East End. In fact, four stations line the route directly. So you can get there easily from the City of London.
Start of the run at the western ExCeL entrance
We'll start the route at the main entrance of ExCeL, the Western Terrace. But you can, of course, start anywhere you please.

Standing there at the big square at the entrance, you can see what a great job has been done reviving the docks, at least this one: Royal Victoria. Modern achievements of architecture and technology surround you: the massive ExCeL building, a couple of hotels, some old warehouses converted into restaurants, statues, a floating hotel ship and the lofty Royal Victoria footbridge, which spans the basin.
The footbridge
We'll turn east, keeping the basin water to our right side, and run along the pedestrian promenade along the side of the ExCeL building.
A dog show has just ended at ExCeL: heading east
Keep going till you finally pass ExCeL. You'll now pass a couple of hotels.

Straight ahead, you'll see a car bridge crossing the basin, the Connaught Bridge. There is a little separate pedestrian bridge next to it, so take that and run south, across the basin.
Crossing Connaught Bridge
At the other side, cross under the car bridge and continue southwards. London City Airport is directly across the fence to your left, and you'll likely see/hear a jet or two as you go by. The airport was one of the first attempts to re-purpose the docks. Its one runway is squeezed between two basins.
London City Airport along Albert basin
You'll need to cross two roundabouts until you reach the south side of N. Woolwich Road.

The DLR tracks are right above you here. Now turn right and run beneath the tracks through the nice pedestrian park-scape.
Under the DLR tracks along N. Woolwich Road
Continue westwards until you come to the Pontoon Dock station above you, at the 2-kilometer mark. The Thames Barrier Park is just to the left, behind the station, so let's loop through it. Head to the left through the parking lot and take one of the stairs or the ramp up to the park.
Relaxing greenery in the park
You can loop the park, which lines the Thames River. It also gives you a great view of one of the architectural marvels of London: the Thames Flood Barrier, stretching across the whole river. It looks a bit as if someone tried to build another Sydney Opera House on top of a bridge.
The Thames Barrier at low tide
Loop back to Pontoon Dock Station again, now the 3-kilometer mark. And continue westwards for about 300 meters until you come to Mill Road, turning north (to the right). Head northwards up Mill Street, past old, working-class homes towards a big smokestack straight ahead. Nice new apartments have been built to the left side: great location!
Along Mill Road
On the right side, the huge industrial ruins of the Millennium Mills opens up. The area is fenced off, with a big sign declaring "London's Atelier", but this grand vision never got off the ground.

The Millennium Mills ruins
Continue straight ahead to the water. You're now at the south shore of the Victoria basin, and there are a few outdoor restaurants here, and the other end of the footbridge.

Turn left and continue running westwards along the waterside, with nice waterfront homes and huge, leftover cranes lining the water, passing the 4-kilometer mark.
The promenade, with landing jet
Keep running along this nice promenade till you get to the west end of the basin. This is the liveliest part of the area, with water-skiing, floating bars and nice places to relax. This is definitely the spot to hang out on nice evenings!
Water skier shows how it's done
Now head north along the western shore, and you'll see the crystalline shape of a modern glass building on the left, called -- naturally -- the Crystal.
At the cable car station
And just past it is the Emirates cable-car ride that constantly transports people up and over the Thames, taking them next to the O2 Dome in Woolwich.

Now you're back at the north shore of the basin, at the Royal Victoria DLR station. So all you have to do now is turn right and head eastwards towards the starting point, running past a few of the convention center hotels.


  1. Really enjoyed this route. Plenty of different scenery for 3.4 miles, running through park and by dock basin away from traffic was a bonus. Very good route description with useful photos.
    Thank you!

  2. I'm glad you liked it! It's nice to have something interesting to visit outside the trade fairs

  3. Heading up there tomorrow so looking forward to trying this. Thanks for the suggestion and the photos.

    1. Have fun in this fascinating corner of London!

  4. As of this date the promenade at the Eastern end (North side of water, by the Excel) is blocked off for development.

  5. Thanks for the heads-up! --Keith Hauser