As a regular visitor to the incredible city of London, I thought I’d seen it in pretty much all its forms. The famous and imposing sights in the city are scattered all over, making it somewhat of a mission to get from one to the next. The amateur traveller probably takes the underground. The tube might be convenient, but you miss out on the bustle of the city streets and the people-watching. Let me let you in on a secret… London is best seen by boat.
The meandering River Thames slices through the centre of London, trying to be an obstacle in the path of travellers. On one side, you have the bustling Southbank, the iconic London Eye and the SeaLife Aquarium. On the other; Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament, to name but a few. So how do you get around London while still enjoying the sights of the city?
On a Budget
The Thames Clipper is a public transport ferry service that connects many piers along the river Thames. The service is speedy, with frequent departures (every 10 minutes or so) and you can easily pay by Oyster. Start at North Greenwich Pier on the East of the city, next to the O2 arena. The first stop is Greenwich Pier, home of the Meridian Line (at the Royal Observatory) and the National Maritime Museum. Two stops later is Canary Wharf, where you will see the city skyscrapers and home of the big banks. The next major site is Tower Bridge, so head to the back deck for a photo op as you glide through under it. Get off at Tower Pier to visit the Tower of London or City Hall. If not, keep your eyes peeled for the docked HMS Belfast; her features are impressively close as you cruise by beside her. Consider getting off at Bankside Pier to visit the Tate Modern, or to cross the famous Millennium Bridge (pedestrians only) for a short walk to St Paul’s Cathedral. Disembarking at Embankment Pier puts you in the heart of London; a 10 minute walk from Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden and Piccadilly Circus. Otherwise, go to the end of the line and get off at Westminster Pier. Stand under Big Ben, then cross the bridge towards the London Eye for a better view of the Houses of Parliament.
Pushing the Boat Out
Pardon the pun! But if you’re looking for a unique experience, perhaps to celebrate a special occasion in the city, then do consider a lunchtime river boat cruise. We recently joined Bateaux London Cruises for a Sunday Lunch trip along the Thames. The 2.5hr journey started and finished at Embankment Pier, first floating up river past Battersea and Chelsea. We turned around and headed down towards Canary Wharf, where we U-turned again, bound for the centre of London. The price starts at £59pp, and excludes all drinks but we thought it was a worthwhile experience. The service was prompt and the 3 courses were all excellent. A live band played jazz music and there were decks to the sides and aft of the boat for anyone wanting some fresh air or good photos of the landmarks we passed. There was no commentary or information en-route, but a simple map was provided highlighting some of the major sights we would be seeing on our journey. I can imagine that the dinner cruise would also be pretty, especially as the city lights start to twinkle.
What’s your favourite way to see London? If you enjoyed this, you might also like to read Seven Secret Sights in London. We’d love to hear your thoughts, so get in touch via social media or leave a comment below.