Museum of London Docklands exterior

©Will Jones/Lonely Planet

Museum of London Docklands

Top choice in East London

Housed in an 1802 warehouse, this educational museum combines artefacts and multimedia displays to chart the history of the city through its river and docks. The best strategy is to begin on the 3rd floor and work your way down through the ages. Perhaps the most illuminating and certainly the most disturbing gallery is London, Sugar and Slavery, which examines the capital’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.

Highlights include Sailortown, a recreation of the cobbled streets, bars and lodging houses of a mid-19th-century dockside community. There are also fascinating displays on the docks during the two world wars and their controversial transformation into London's second financial district during the 1980s.

There’s a lot for kids, including the hands-on Mudlarks gallery, where children can explore the history of the Thames, tip the clipper, admire a block model of the docklands and try on old-fashioned diving helmets. The museum has special exhibitions every few months, for which there is usually a charge.