The centre was built by Sir Robert McAlpine and first opened in November 2000. In May 2008, it was acquired by Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company. Phase II was completed on 1 May 2010. This expansion created The International Convention Centre London (ICC London) adding to ExCeL's event space, as well as further meeting space and banqueting facilities.
The Royal Victoria Dock closed to commercial traffic in 1981, but it is still accessible to shipping. The centre's waterfront location allows visiting vessels to moor alongside the centre (for example, the 2005 London Boat Show was visited by HMS Sutherland).
The exhibition building itself consists of two column-free, rectangular, subdividable halls of approximately 479,493 square feet (approximately 44,546 m²) each, on either side of a central boulevard containing catering facilities and information points. There are also three sets of function rooms, one overlooking the water, another above the western end of the central boulevard, and the third on the north side of the building. These are used for smaller meetings, seminars, presentations, and corporate hospitality. There are six hotels, more than 30 bars and restaurants, plus 3,700 parking spaces on the campus.
British International Motor Show 2006 & 2008 attracting over 400,000 visitors to the venue and included a Music Festival with live performances in a 5,000 capacity purpose-built arena each night of the motor show.
Between 27–29 April 2007, the 2007 London Guitar Show (LGS). The show featured two masterclasses on the Saturday with Steve Vai, in which time he answered questions asked by fans through the LGS website prior to the show, and from fans at the masterclass.
Between 13–15 July 2007, the Star Wars Celebration Europe; the first Star Wars fan event of its kind held outside the United States which attracted nearly 40,000 visitors over the three days.