Tower Hamlets is the London borough east of the Tower of London and comprises part of the traditional ‘East London’ region. The area is more familiarly known to Americans as East London or possibly Whitechapel for its Jack the Ripper historical connection. After several trips to London in the past three years, this recent trip was my first time venturing to a hotel in East London when I decided to stay one night at Holiday Inn Commercial Road before flying off to Slovakia.
Why was I walking around East London for only one day?
I skipped out on the last flight segment of my round trip ticket from Stavanger, Norway to San Francisco. That ticket allowed me to fly home to California from Europe in peak season late July for $570 round trip. I spent a week in Krakow, Poland in July and adored the city and especially the beer prices at $2 per pint in most restaurants. Fish dinner and a couple of beers generally priced around $12 to $14 at restaurants in Krakow.
After returning home to Monterey, I read Slovakia, the relatively small country south of Poland, has even lower beer, food and hotel prices. In August I changed my September trip from a planned mountain hiking tour in the expensive Italian and Swiss Alps to a hiking tour in the High Tatras of Slovakia. Wizz Air is one of the few airlines that flies to eastern Slovakia with flights from London Luton Airport to Poprad, gateway to the High Tatras and Kosice, Slovakia’s second largest city in the eastern part of the country. The change of airports from London Heathrow to London Luton required me to spend one night somewhere around London. So, I made the best of my situation and decided to tour a part of London I had not visited before.
Loyalty Traveler – Hotel Review Holiday Inn London Commercial Road
[Update: This Holiday Inn changed its name to Holiday Inn London Whitechapel in 2017.]
Holiday Inn Commercial Road is located in the Tower Hamlets borough of London. That is a name I had never heard of before arriving at Whitechapel Underground Station from London Heathrow on the Piccadilly line. Whitechapel is a name I knew from Jack the Ripper stories. Google Maps shows the Holiday Inn in a region of East London between Whitechapel to the west, Stepney and Limehouse to the east, Shadwell and St. Katherine’s and Wapping to the south by the River Thames.
Holiday Inn Commercial Road, East London neighborhoods – Whitechapel, St. Katherine’s and Wapping.
Excited to see London for the few hours available for me to venture around neighborhoods, my first walk took me through Whitechapel along streets filled with Bengali sidewalk market stalls to Old Spitalfields Market and Brick Lane, a popular dining and entertainment area. I describe the scenes walking around Whitechapel in this post.
Loyalty Traveler – London East End impressions from a one day stay.
I had a two-hour walk from the Holiday Inn south-southwest to the River Thames the morning before I left East London to catch a bus to London Luton for my flight to Kosice, Slovakia. In contrast to the commercial activity of Whitechapel, the area of Wapping and St. Katherine’s are upscale residential flats along quiet canals in an area of the London Docks destroyed in World War II and rebuilt as luxury residences in the 1980s and 90s. The contrast between a five minute walk north of the Holiday Inn and five minutes walk south of the Holiday Inn blew my mind. The variation in lifestyle between neighborhoods in London in such close proximity to each other is one of the aspects of this city that draws me in to explore and familiarize myself more deeply to its streets.
For years my wife had a London poster on our bathroom wall with the quote,
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” Samuel Johnson.
St. Katherine’s and Wapping photoessay
In my research for this article I came across the Tower Hamlets government website’s own list of walking tours for the area. As is usually the case, I only have a vague idea of where I am going when I step outside the hotel in a foreign city. I walked out of the Holiday Inn and walked in the direction to the River Thames.
Directly across the street from Holiday Inn Commercial Road is Watney Market, at one time one of east London’s largest street markets. Watney Market link is writer John Rennie’s website eastlondonhistory.com with numerous articles about East London. Even better than wikipedia for an insider’s view to London. This post includes links to several other blog articles and London resources I came across while constructing this piece to explain in better detail the stories behind some of the places I saw on my walk to Tower Bridge and Tower of London.
Watney Market sign at Commercial Road entrance, East London.
Wife wanted me to stop by Harrod’s and buy her something on this one day trip to London. Forget Harrod’s. Her presents from London were street market deals I found.
Shadwell Overground. I have photographed London Underground signs many times on my trips, but this is the first time I noticed a London Overground sign.
Walking south from Shadwell Station, the neighborhood quickly changes from commercial businesses on the streets to low rise residential buildings for the few minutes walk to Wapping Woods and Ornamental Canal. I followed Ornamental Canal heading in the direction of St. Katherine Docks.
To explain why there are both night photos and day photos in this post is due to the night before, after walking around Whitechapel and Brick Lane for a few hours, I wanted to see the River Thames and started walking south shortly after dusk. I popped into a market and bought a big bottle of Stella planning to celebrate my night in London by the River Thames. I never made it to the big river. When I came across a pretty residential canal area, I kicked back on a bench, drank my beer and tripped out on the fact that I was sitting by a beautiful canal in central London in a quiet residential area staring at the Shard and watching swans swim around in the water.
After only a couple hours sleep on the plane and going on 30 hours since I had been horizontal in bed, the beer made me drowsy and I used my iPhone maps to steer me back to the hotel. After a good six or seven hours of sleep I headed out for a two hour morning walk to photograph the canals I had walked the night before and stand beside the River Thames before heading out to London Luton Airport.
Ornamental Canal near Wapping Woods.
The Shard, the tallest building in London and the UK at 1,016 ft, is one of the views that kept popping up from all angles as I walked along the canals of Wapping to St. Katherine Docks. The Shard is on the south side of the Thames in Southwark and Wapping is the north side of the Thames.
Tower Hamlets streets north of Holiday Inn around Whitechapel are densely commercial areas of London, while the streets south are sparsely populated residential luxury flats along the canals. Tobacco Dock sign, seen in photo above, were docks built in 1811 to hold tobacco cargo from the USA.
Tobacco Dock was converted into a shopping center in 1989, but quickly failed. Today the area is gated and opened primarily for private catering events. That story is described by John Rennie in Escaped tigers and white elephants … the Tobacco Dock story (March 7, 2013).
The Three Sisters is one of two replica ships at Tobacco Dock. The Three Sisters was a 330-ton ship built in Blackwell Yard in 1788 and conducted trade between the UK and Americas until 1854, taking manufactured goods west and returning with tobacco and spices from the Americas. View from the Mirror is another Time Out recognized blog by a London taxi driver with an extensive article on Tobacco Dock.
Residences beside the canals of Ornamental Quay at the intersection with Spirit Quay. The photo is the direction of Tobacco Dock.
A quick glance at real estate prices indicates prices are around 600,000 to 1.5 million GBP for a flat in this neighborhood. An article I saw recently on London real estate stated market prices have declined significantly for London’s high end properties during this post-Brexit summer.
Spirit Quay, St. Katherine’s and Wapping, East London. Tower Bridge is seen in the distance.
Take me to the River Thames
After a bit of navigational difficulty getting around the canals due to few bridges, I eventually found myself standing beside the Thames in The Hermitage Riverside Memorial Garden. This working class area of London along the docks of the River Thames suffered some of the greatest destruction in the city during The Blitz 1940-41 of WWII. London was bombed by the German Luftwaffe for 57 consecutive days beginning September 7, 1940 and periodically for months after that. About 20,000 to 30,000 civilians were killed in London and more than one million homes destroyed. Hermitage Wharf in Wapping was bombed December 29, 1940. The Memorial Park was created as part of the real estate development plan for the Thames riverside.
Peace dove gardens unveiled for London’s Blitz dead – (July 18, 2008) EastLondonAdvertiser.co.uk.
Uncertain which Peace Dove photo to show, I include both photos I snapped with the first showing the dove’s empty space and the second revealing the omnipresent Shard view from another location in East London.
“The memorial sculpture was designed by Wendy Taylor CBE. The symbol of the dove is intended to suggest hope, rather than dwell intrusively on the dead. Its representation as an absence signifies the loved ones who were lost.” – excerpt from The Hermitage Riverside Memorial Park sign.
River Thames looking east from Hermitage Riverside Memorial Park.
River Thames looking west from Hermitage Riverside Memorial Park.
Upon leaving the Memorial Park I saw signage for the Thames Path.
The Riverside Walkway is open 8am-11:00pm. The walkway winds around residential riverside flats and there are gates that are locked at night to keep people out of the riverside residential terraces.
Gate on Thames Riverside Walk path.
St. Katherine Docks
St. Katherine Docks is an area beside the River Thames directly east of the Tower of London. St. Katherine’s by the Tower was a medieval hospital from the 12th century. During the Regency Period of London in 1825, this area was approved by an Act of Parliament for redevelopment to create docks for London’s shipping trade. The hospital and 1,250 residences of Tower Hamlets slums were demolished and St. Katherine Docks opened in 1828. The warehouses of St. Katherine Docks were destroyed in the bombings of WWII and the area was mostly derelict until 1990s redevelopment into upscale housing and London’s only city center marina.
The Dickens Inn is a 200 year old tavern that was relocated 70 meters from its original site to accommodate the 1990s redevelopment of St. Katherine Docks.
As I walked out of St. Katherine Docks, Tower Bridge was beside me.
And the walls of the Tower of London were a delight to gaze upon once again.
This was as far west as I could walk on this trip. My personal achievement was learning a little more about London through East London Tower Hamlets walks, since on my previous trips the Tower of London and Tower Bridge were the most easterly points I ever walked in London.
A sense of urgency took hold of me with a 30-minute walk back to the Holiday Inn Commercial Road and repeated time calculations in my head as to whether I would make it to Luton Airport in time.
Tower of London.
I made it back to the hotel in 30 minutes, walked to Whitechapel Station in 10 minutes, caught the Underground train to Victoria Station in about 25 minutes, walked to the Victoria Coach Station in about 15 minutes, waited 10 minutes before boarding a bus to Luton Airport and arrived at Luton Airport after 75 minutes on the bus. The Wizz Air counter was not even open yet two hours before my flight. A few hours later I was walking around Kosice, Slovakia on a Saturday summer night experiencing another culture in another country.
I am a big fan of overnight stopovers on airline tickets
Many readers come to Loyalty traveler for news of airfare deals to Europe and other places. I am a big fan of airline tickets that allow an overnight stopover close to 24 hours on the way to a ticketed destination or on the journey back home. Icelandair, LOT Polish and TAP Portugal are three airlines that commonly have low fare tickets to Europe that force an overnight stopover in Reykjavik, Warsaw, Lisbon or Porto. Icelandair allows a person to schedule up to 7 nights on a stopover for a few dollars and TAP Portugal allows three nights at little additional cost. Finnair will put you in Helsinki for the night and many other airlines include up to 24 hour transit layovers on international tickets, especially in China with China Eastern and China Southern flights. I look for tickets with 20 to 24 hour layovers since I figure that one day in a city allows sufficient time to see quite a bit and experience the lifestyle and culture in that place for the added price of a hotel night.
London is a city where I have had several overnight stays, sometimes due to a long transit layover I planned and other times, like this trip, where I changed my travel plans between the time I purchased a ticket and my return trip. In this case, I was scheduled to take the last flight from London Heathrow to Stavanger, Norway on SAS. I found Stavanger so boring when I visited for one night last July that I did not want to go back there. I found a far cheaper airline ticket to Slovakia from London without wasting a couple days in transit in Norway. I made sure to pack only carry-on bags. I simply got off the plane in London Heathrow and skipped the last flight segment to Stavanger.
One night in London is not a lot of time to see much of the city, but as you can see from my articles, there was plenty in London I did see in my brief 24 hours on the ground.
London – Slovakia – Austria trip report, September 2016
- Slovakia on my mind
- My late summer trip Kosice, Slovakia to Salzburg, Austria
- Hotel Review Holiday Inn London Commercial Road (East End London)
- London East End impressions from a one day stay
- East London Canal Walk Holiday Inn Commercial Road to Wapping, St. Katherine Docks and Tower of London
- Two cozy days in Košice, Slovakia
- Kosice, Slovakia – The Singing Fountain Spievajúca fontána
- Hotel Review Suite Boutique Hotel Chrysso Kosice Slovakia
- Lomnické sedlo, Slovakia – Roof of the High Tatras
- High Tatra Peaks Slovakia on a Clear Sky Morning
- Grand Hotel Stary Smokovec Slovakia 1904, Historic Hotels of Europe
- Slovakia as a tourist destination? I’m lovin’ it!
- See the world through ‘We Are Happy From’ videos
- Slovakia recap after 10 days
- Bratislava, Slovakia highest SPG reward redemption rate I recall finding (I had a reservation here, but ended up canceling to stay two nights at DoubleTree Slovakia for 4,000 HHonors points + 30 EUR).
- Hotel Review DoubleTree Bratislava Slovakia
- Bratislava, Slovakia where you can afford real life one hour from Vienna
- Slovakia and Austria cheap travel on buses and trains
- Hotel Review Ramada Salzburg City Centre