When you think of travelling as a tourist around London, you automatically think of the Tube. It’s convenient and iconic, so why wouldn’t you use it? You might also plan to use the London buses, and if you want a sightseeing tour, there are lots of operators of hop-on, hop-off open-top bus tours you can take. But when it comes to the river Thames, you probably haven’t considered a boat as a means of transport. A river tour might be on your agenda, but did you know that millions of commuters also use the river to get themselves to and from work?
The Thames Clippers run thirteen high-speed catamarans between Putney Bridge and Greenwich, stopping off at various landmark locations along the river, and some of the best views in London are to be had from the water. Cruise past the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, stop off to ride the London Eye and visit the world-famous Sea-Life aquarium, or use the boats as a way to get to Shakespeare’s Globe theatre for a special evening. Or just sit back and relax with a glass of something cold from the Clipper’s bar as you scan the famous skyline of London – St Paul’s, the OXO tower, the Shard and Canary Wharf.
Once you’ve passed under Tower Bridge (a very cool way to see London’s most famous bridge) and spotted HMS Belfast, the speed is ramped up and you get a thrilling ride through east London’s old wharfs, many of them now converted to smart apartments and hotels. Not so the Samuel Pepys though, and you might do well to take a tour guide book to the river with you so you can point out some of the buildings so crucial to British trade in history. As the Thames Clippers are also a commuter service, there isn’t a tour commentary, but soon to be introduced is an app which will tell you all you need to know about the sights along your route.
Your final destination is Greenwich, and The O2, where you could easily spend a whole day and more. You’ll find some of the activities at The O2 on Helen’s blog, and you could even take a ride on the Emirates Air Line cable car.
Alison recently rode the Air Line with her four-year-old and everyone loved it. Each crossing takes around ten minutes, and the ride is gentle enough not to unnerve any smaller passengers (or scaredy-cat grown ups!). As you rise up over the Thames, you get a fantastic view of the O2 (see if you can spot anyone climbing the structure!). Alison’s daughter loved waving to the passengers in the cable cars coming in the opposite direction and they chose to stay on the cable car and return to the south side again (you can hop off at the Royal Docks, where you can wander along the river and have lunch in a nice pub). A return ticket for the Emirates Air Line is £10.70 for adults and £6.20 for children, which includes access to the Emirates Aviation Experience where you can learn more about being a pilot and working for Emirates, with fun simulators and displays.
When your day in North Greenwich is over, you can hop back on the Thames Clipper. A family River Roamer one-day ticket costs £32.50 and allows you to get on and off as many times as you like. Here are just a few of the London landmarks you can visit:
- The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
- The London Eye and Southbank Centre
- The London Dungeons
- London Aquarium
- The Cutty Sark
- Shakespeare’s Globe theatre
- Millbank Millennium Pier
- Tate Britain
- Tate Modern
- The Golden Hinde
- HMS Belfast
- Tower Bridge
- The Tower of London
- City Hall and the Shard
- Tower Millennium Pier
- The O2
- Emirates Air Line
- Greenwich Market
- National Maritime Museum
- The Royal Observatory
- Thames Barrier
Once you’ve finished with the sights, the Clippers put you at the heart of London with all its restaurants, and just a short walk from theatreland and the West End, so it’s definitely worth considering in your transport plans, especially on a sunny day – although most of the 150 capacity seating on the boats is under cover inside the boat, so you won’t get wet.
Check out the links above for reviews of the various London attractions, and how they cater for families.