Great Inventions And Great Changes In A Great City

Brunel Engine House

The ten Discover London Trails were developed by London’s Smaller Museums and Galleries Group with support from ALM London (Archives Libraries and Museums London). Covering different regions of the capital, they link smaller museums and galleries with other attractions of interest in half and full day trails.

Plaster bust of Isambard Kingdom Brunel on show at the Brunel Engine House Museum. On loan from National Railway Museum, York

Trail Summary

Your first glimpse of Docklands will be the distinctive glass structure of the 800-foot high Canada Tower, its classical pyramid reflecting the changing colour of the sky. The Tower, designed by Argentine architect Cesar Pelli, is currently the tallest building in the UK.

The trail begins at the awe-inspiring Canary Wharf station on the Jubilee line (also accessible by the Docklands Light Railway). Marvel at recent developments before visiting the new Museum in Docklands covering the history of the area by themes of River, Port and People.

The Roman Gallery at Museum in Docklands © Museum in Docklands

Back on the Jubilee Line one stop to Canada Water, you change for the East London Line to Wapping to begin your unique insight into the Great Briton, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

You will travel through the Thames Tunnel, the oldest section of London Underground’s tunnels, before visiting the Brunel Engine House in Rotherhithe for the history of this great feat of engineering.

Plaster bust of Marc Isambard Brunel on show at the Brunel Engine House Museum. On loan from National Railway Museum, York

Walk from Rotherhithe along the Thames Path for approximately 25 minutes to Butler’s Wharf for the Design Museum, a display of international design and architecture, with a focus on modern design history. Walking a little way beyond Tower Bridge, you see City Hall before visiting the Victorian Engine Rooms at the Tower Bridge Exhibition.

The trail ends at Tower Hill station.

Museum in Docklands © Museum in Docklands

The Trail in Detail

Take the Jubilee Line or Docklands Light Railway to Canary Wharf and walk to the new Museum in Docklands. This Museum explores the history of London’s river, port and people from the Roman settlement of the port through to the recent regeneration of London’s former Docklands.

Twelve major galleries are located within a splendid late Georgian warehouse on West India Quay in the Canary Wharf district. The centuries of social and economic change the area has seen are shown within the galleries; there are also stories of the people who helped to build and shape the city and those who continue to do so.

Animal Emporium at Museum in Docklands © Museum in Docklands

A lively mix of traditional displays and multi-media technology animates the 2000-year storyline. Artefacts, engravings, paintings, testimonies and photos drawn from the outstanding collections of the Museum of London and Port of London Authority emphasise the skills and ingenuity of the Docklands community. Temporary exhibitions and events showcase the regions rich cultural heritage.

The area around the museum in West India Quay has been completely transformed and you can now enjoy refreshment at one of the cafes and restaurants overlooking the river.

Papier mache box lid with a longitudinal view of the Thames Tunnel. Photo: Bryan Jones. Courtesy of the Brunel Engine House

Take the Jubilee Line one stop to Canada Water and change for the East London Line to Wapping. You pass through the Thames Tunnel, the historic feat of engineering built between 1825 and 1843.

A triumph of ingenuity and perseverance by Sir Marc Brunel and his son, Isambard Kingdom, in the face of floods, financial losses and human disaster, it was opened as a pedestrian route in 1843 and sold to the railway company in 1865. This oldest section of London Underground’s tunnel is also the site of the first underwater shopping precinct and underwater fairground.

Interesting posters line the walls of the platforms and there is a plaque to Brunel in the ticket hall. Walking back down to the platform by the stairs, you will appreciate the scale of Brunel’s original shaft.

Returning now to Rotherhithe station, take the first carriage and look out for the interconnecting arches between the two tunnels where the shops actually were. Alighting the train, turn round at the top of the stairs before the escalator. You’ll notice the plaque installed by the Institution of Civil Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers, marking the International Landmark Site and the first tunnel under a river anywhere in the world.

Turn left out of the station into Brunel Road, immediately left again into Railway Avenue and, walking towards the River, you will see the Blue Plaque marking Brunel’s award winning brick shaft installation.

Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Next to this is the Brunel Engine House Museum, a scheduled ancient monument, telling the dramatic story of the engineer’s heroic struggle against the elements to build the celebrated Thames Tunnel you have just travelled through. There are regular guided tours of the tunnel organised by the museum, which should be booked in advance.

The Thames Tunnel was the first project of the great career of Isambard Kingdom Brunel whose other major achievements include the Great Western Railway at Paddington Station and Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol.

The museum is in a charming conservation area with cobbled streets and old wharves and the Mayflower jetty and pub, from where the pilgrim fathers sailed for the New World, are opposite the Museum.

The Design Museum

From Rotherhithe, walk along the Thames path for approximately 25 minutes to Butler’s Wharf. This area was the largest warehouse complex on the Thames when completed in 1873.

The wharf, which mainly dealt in foodstuffs, closed in March 1972. The buildings have now been comprehensively and attractively converted, by Sir Terence Conran, into luxury apartments and quality restaurants.

Vertigo, 1958 (Director: Alfred Hitchcock) Design: Saul Bass © AMPAS

The Design Museum is the first museum in the world to be devoted to the design of everyday, mass-produced, consumer goods. The building itself is an imaginatively restored 1950s banana warehouse, created by the Conran Foundation and opened in 1989.

This stylish museum has a regularly changing exhibition programme covering a wide range of themes. Its collection includes product and graphic design, fashion, furniture, architecture and engineering. There are everyday objects including office equipment, cars, radios and TV sets, as well as household utensils from the past. The riverside café offers spectacular views of the Thames and Tower Bridge. There is also a shop selling unusual 'design' gifts.

a photograph of a large silver spherical building on the banks of the Thmaes in LOndon with Tower Bridge in the distance

City Hall and Tower Bridge © GLA

Walk just beyond Tower Bridge to see the striking round glass building of City Hall – home to the Mayor of London, the London Assembly and Greater London Authority. The design brief for the building was to create one that would be a new landmark for the Capital and the landscaped area, immediately around City Hall, is the first of a series of integrated public spaces being opened in phases.

Engine Room. Courtesy of Tower Bridge Exhibition

On your way across Tower Bridge to Tower Hill station at the end of the trail, visit the Tower Bridge Exhibition and discover the history of the Bridge and how it was built. See the Victorian Engine Rooms, home to the original steam engines that used to power the Bridge, and enjoy breathtaking views from the high-level walkways.

The Discover London Trails were created by the Campaign for Museums and supported by ALM London.

  • Back to top
  • | Print this article
  • | Email this article
  • | Bookmark and Share


  • 1 mile
  • 2 miles
  • 3 miles
  • 4 miles
  • 5 miles
  • 10 miles
  • 20 miles
  • 50 miles
  • Any time
  • Today
  • This week
  • This month
  • This year