People drinking outside next to a London canal

The waterways of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

The most famous of all the local waterways has to be The River Lea. It’s one of the largest rivers in London and runs directly into the River Thames.

Throughout history the waterways have been used for a number of purposes – from providing gravel and minerals for extraction to the transportation of goods. Over time the use of the waterways declined, leading them to become neglected and unpopular with the local communities.

But since the London 2012 Olympic Games, the waterways have seen a new lease of live and have been cleaned and restored by the London Legacy Development Corporation and the Canal and River Trust.

Within Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park there are around 6km of waterways stretching north, south and west towards Bow and Tower Hamlets. They have become a popular and vibrant focus for many popular events, and are now regularly used by businesses looking for a unique location for their bar, restaurant or community space.

To find out more about each of the waterways within Queen Elizabeth Olympic park, we’ve listed the main rivers that make up the 3.7 miles of waterways within the park below.

City Mill River

The City Mill River flows north to south through the park, with The River Lea at its north end and the Bow Back Rivers at its south. At each end of the river is a lock, introduced in the early 20th century. The river was originally used for the production of chemicals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The water from the river would flow into the City Mill which was later demolished around 1930.

Old River Lea

The Old River Lea is the original natural channel of River Lea, running west of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The river acts as a border between the borough of Hackney and Waltham Forest and between Hackney Marshes and Leyton Marshes.

Bow Back River

In the 12th century, several waterways were constructed as a result of draining Stratford Marshes. These waterways helped to power watermills and the Bow Back River became one of the waterways to connect the River Lea to the River Thames.

In the 17th century, the Bow Back River network played a primary role in providing drinking water for London whose population was quickly expanding.

Bow Creek

Bow Creek flows south of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and is the waterway that runs directly into the River Thames. Bow Creek is one of the oldest waterways in the country.

Waterworks River

The Waterworks River is an artificial waterway that was created in the mid-18th century.

The waterway has undergone a number of changes - in the 1930s it was widened as part of a flood alleviation plan and sections that run through Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park have since been landscaped to create a more natural setting for wildlife and plants to thrive.

During the 2012 Olympic Games, the river became a border between the London Aquatics Centre and the Olympic Stadium.

Explore the waterways in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Fancy seeing them for yourself?

There are a number of ways to explore Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for yourself, but by far one of the best is by boat.

During the summer months, there are a number of boat tours that sail from the London Aquatics Centre, through Carpenters Lock and along the River Lea. You’ll explore the Lee Navigation until it joins City Mill River where you can spot the London Stadium, ArcelorMittal Orbit and other Olympic venues.

If you’d rather explore by yourself, then why not hire one of the swan pedalos from the pontoon adjacent to the London Aquatics Centre.

For more information on private boat tours or swan pedalos, visit the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park website.