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UK: London – Thames River

Like most of the great cities of the World, London is bisected by a great river, in the cast the River Thames. The Thames is part of the longest river in England, it has 45 locks, is home to over 25 species of fish, boasts three areas of outstanding natural beauty and it’s the only river in Europe to have a national trail follow its entire length.

Starting as a small trickle in the Cotswolds the River Thames travels over 210 miles through the heart of some of England’s most picturesque towns, right into the centre of London and eventually, out into the North Sea.

The River Thames has been the hub of commerce for London ever since the city sprung into existence and has played a key role in many of the historical events that have taken place in the United Kingdom’s capital. A boat trip along this famous river will take you past many of London’s greatest sights.

Boat cruises

Several companies offer boat cruises, from hop-on-hop-off style to high-speed trips to dinner cruises along the Thames. 

Uber Boat by Thames Clippers provides high-speed service along the Thames. This River Bus service currently serves 24 piers, from Putney Pier in the west to Barking Riverside Pier in the east. A partnership with Uber means that you can get your tickets through the Uber App.

For a more leisurely experience on the Thames, you can try the Bateaux London, With this cruise, you can have a meal, enjoy some music and explore the sights of London from the river.

We decided to take the more traditional and less expensive river cruise with City Cruises. For $22 you get a full-day hop-on-hop-off ticket. With a hop-on hop-off Thames river cruise you can join the boat tour at any of the four piers (located at Greenwich, the Tower of London, the London Eye, and Westminster)

The cruise

We joined the boat at Westminster pier. Before starting your cruise you can visit the Palace of Westminster (the House of Parliament) and the Westminster Abbey

The House of Parliament and the tower holding Big Ben, London, UK
The House of Parliament and the tower holding Big Ben
The iconic twin towers of Westminster Abbey in London, UK
The iconic twin towers of Westminster Abbey

On the opposite side of the Thames from the House of Parliament is County Hall, a listed building and the former headquarters of the Greater London Council (GLC). Today, it is an entertainment centre, housing Shrek’s Adventure London, the SEA LIFE London Aquarium, and the Namco Funscape amusement arcade.

The building also houses two hotels—a 5-star Marriott Hotel and an affordable Premier Inn.

Right outside the old County Hall building is the London Eye.

The London Eye and the former County Hall - now an entertainment centre - Thames RIver, London
The London Eye and the former County Hall - now an entertainment centre

The journey continues down the Thames past the Southbank Centre and the famous OXO building. A short distance further on is the Globe Theatre, a reconstruction of the theatre that sat close to this location during the lifetime of William Shakespeare. Today, the theatre puts on Bard’s plays during the summer months.

Just after passing the Globe, a reminder of London’s past, you will see one of the newest additions to London’s skyline, the Shard (or Shard of Glass). This 72-storey skyscraper was inaugurated in 2009. The Shard stands 309.6 metres (1,016 feet) high and is the tallest building in the United Kingdom, and the seventh-tallest building in Europe.

The Shard, or Shard of Glass is one of the newer additions to the London Skyline
The Shard, or Shard of Glass is one of the newer additions to the London Skyline

There are 35 bridges which cross over the River Thames from Tower Bridge to Hampton Court Bridge. Not all the bridges are old – in fact, many are quite modern, including London Bridge. As the boat cruise approached the square mile of the City of London, we saw the remains of a bridge that isn’t there anymore – the old Blackfriars railway bridge.

The red stanchions of the old Blackfriars railway bridge on the River Thames, London
The red stanchions of the old Blackfriars railway bridge

The most recognisable bridge in London is without a doubt Tower Bridge. There are some people who think this is London Bridge – it isn’t – that is a boring, modern bridge upstream.

Tower Bridge’s gothic design makes it feel really old but this suspension bridge was built between 1886 and 1894. 

Tower Bridge is one of the most recognisable sights in London
Tower Bridge is one of the most recognisable sights in London

Right next to Tower Bridge is the Tower of London. Tower of London, by name the Tower, royal fortress and London landmarks. Its buildings and grounds served historically as a royal palace, a political prison, a place of execution, an arsenal, a royal mint, a menagerie, and a public records office. It is located on the north bank of the River Thames. The City Cruises has a pier next to the Tower of Londo, so you can hop off here and visit Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.

The White Tower - the most famous castle in the world - Tower of London, London, The United Kingdom
The White Tower - the most famous castle in the world

From the Tower of London, the boat cruise heads east along the River Thames passing several interesting pubs and buildings, and the modern development of Canary Wharf, with over 300 shops, cafes, bars and restaurants, a year-round events programme, one of London’s biggest roof gardens

Canary Wharf on the River Thames in London
Canary Wharf

The final stop of the River Cruise is the delightful district of Greenwich with its market, and interesting shops, bars and restaurants.

There are a number of interesting places to visit in Greenwich including the Cutty Sark, a historical British clipper, the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory, the Naval College and the Queen’s House.

The Cutty Sark in its dry dock in Greenwich, London, United KIngdom
The Cutty Sark in its dry dock
The Royal Observatory
The Royal Observatory
The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Planning your  London Thames Cruise

getting there By Tube

The nearest underground stations are St. James’s Park (a five-minute walk away) and Westminster (also a five-minute walk away).

getting there By Train

The nearest stations are Victoria (an 18-minute walk away) and Waterloo (a 16-minute walk away).

getting there By Bus

Routes 11, 24, 88, 148 and 211 

Best time to visit London

The best time to visit London is March through May when the temperatures are mild and the city’s parks are green and blooming. However, late spring – along with summer – is also prime tourist season, and hotel and flight prices reflect the surge.

Other places to visit while in London

1. TOWER OF LONDON

Tower of London, byname the Tower, royal fortress and London landmark. Its buildings and grounds served historically as a royal palace, a political prison, a place of execution, an arsenal, a royal mint, a menagerie, and a public records office. It is located on the north bank of the River Thames.

2. WESTMINSTER ABBEY

Westminster Abbey, London

Westminster Abbey has been the site of coronation for all British monarchs since 1066 and is home to the ancient Coronation Chair, which is found in St George’s Chapel.

It is also the final resting place of 30 kings and queens with memorials to Edward the Confessor, Richard II, Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots and more royal tombs found within the abbey.

3. PALACE OF WESTMINSTER

The Palace of Westminster is a Victorian Gothic masterpiece designed by Sir Charles Barry and A.W. Pugin to replace the medieval parliament buildings, which burnt to the ground in 1834. The result of their work is one of the great buildings of the Victorian era and acts as home to the Houses of Parliament

4. MARITIME GREENWICH

The ensemble of buildings at Greenwich, an outlying district of London, and the park in which they are set, symbolize English artistic and scientific endeavour in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Queen’s House (by Inigo Jones) was the first Palladian building in England, while the complex that was until recently the Royal Naval College was designed by Christopher Wren. The park, laid out on the basis of an original design by André Le Nôtre, contains the Old Royal Observatory, the work of Wren and the scientist Robert Hooke.

5. LONDON EYE

At 135m, The London Eye is the world’s largest cantilevered observation wheel. It was conceived and designed by Marks Barfield Architects and was launched in 2000.

6. TOWER BRIDGE

An iconic London landmark and one of Britain’s best loved historic sites, Tower Bridge is open to the public 363 days a year. Within the Bridge’s iconic structure and magnificent Victorian Engine rooms, the Tower Bridge Exhibition is the best way of exploring the most famous bridge in the world!

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