Exploring London on a Duck Tour

Exploring London on a Duck Tour

When you live in a historic, varied place like London, there’s no shame in turning tourist once in a while. The children had been clamouring to go on a guided tour for ages, so when London Duck Tours invited us on one of their amphibious adventures, the answer was a unanimous ‘yes’.

“I’m actually kind of scared, because it looks like we’re climbing into something from World War II”

I overheard an American youngster saying this when we were about to board the DUKW, our transporting vehicle for the 75 minute tour. And he was right. The ‘Ducks’ in London are military vehicles dating back to WWII, and were used on D Day, to transport troops across the Normandy beaches. Since then, they’ve been rebuilt, with rooves added, so that the international tourists who now ride in them aren’t exposed to the British weather.

London Duck Tour

London Duck Tour

The tour starts out on London’s Southbank, on a street that runs between the Royal Festival Hall and the London Eye, near Waterloo Station.

Lodon Duck Tour

Riding in the DUKW prompted a lot of smiles and waves, from inside as well as from passers-by. You couldn’t get away from the fact that the trucks had originally been designed for beaches, not roads: it felt a little like sitting in a car that’s straining along in first gear. With the roll-down plastic windows there’s very little insulation (top tip: wear your woollies). If it had been raining, it might have been more difficult to see out of wet windows. But luckily, the sun burst forth on the morning of our tour, and we were able to gaze out onto the splendours of the UK capital through an open window.

London Duck Tour

London Duck Tour

London Duck Tours

London Duck Tour

London Duck Tour

It was a quiet day on the roads, so we had a good view of the House of Lords, Westminster Abbey, the lions around Nelson’s Column, Admiralty Arch and Pall Mall. Our guide was an old-school gent with a drooping moustache and a plummy voice. He took pains to point out some of the more exclusive parts of London’s history, like the RAC and Carlton ‘gentlemen’s’ clubs, as well as the Ritz. After reaching Hyde Park Corner and Wellington Arch, site of the Battle of Waterloo, we trundled down the side of Buckingham Palace (no tour buses are allowed to drive past its front), and then on via 55 St James Street, an art deco building that is the headquarters of London Underground.

And then, we took a turn and nudged shiftily down the side of the MI5 building. After a quick change of driver, the DUKW charged down the shingle, its engine screaming, and hurtled into the Thames. It was unnerving, especially as the water was practically at nose-level and our guide  had to keep reminding people not to lean out. If another vessel sailed anywhere near us, the DUKW was sent heaving over the waves. But once we’d got used to it, the ride was a pleasant way to see London, and Westminster, from a different angle.

London Duck Tour

London Duck Tour

London Duck Tour

London Duck Tour

Another DUKW, heading down the Thames

After the voyage down the river, the DUKW emerged, took a few moments for all the water to gush out of its undersides, then took us back to the starting point.

Like everything in London, the tickets for the Duck Tour are pricey: £26 for adults, and £18 for children. But if you can afford it, the novelty value of the trip (you don’t often get to drive and sail in the same vehicle), and the quality of the guide’s commentary, make it worthwhile. At seven years old, my son was just old enough to take an interest in the historical facts. They were rather lost on my four-year-old daughter, but she still enjoyed the ride. If you’re a tourist in the capital, I’d recommend this as a fun way to see London (so long as the weather’s on your side……)

London Duck Tours leave from Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1  which is near to the London Eye (between Jubilee Gardens and The Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall) and a short walk from Waterloo tube and rail stations. We took a Classic Sightseeing Tour; others are available, including James Bond and Pirate Adventure Tours.

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43 Comments

  1. January 12, 2017 / 2:03 pm

    Oh this looks brilliant, I’d definitely do this next time I’m in London with the girls. I’d noticed these around but didn’t know they were on a tour or that they were used on D day, fascinating stuff.
    Nat.x

    • Nell
      Author
      January 15, 2017 / 8:37 pm

      Yes I had no idea either! It’s a fun thing o try out, Nat x

  2. January 13, 2017 / 5:39 am

    These are so cool! You kids faces are priceless! I once booked a tour on a similar vehicle. It was supposed to go to Pearl Harbor and Waikiki in the island of Oahu. The company canceled the tour since the vehicle had mechanical problems. So, one of these tours is long overdue for me.

    • Nell
      Author
      January 15, 2017 / 8:38 pm

      Oh dear! I hope you manage to go on one some day x

  3. January 16, 2017 / 7:27 am

    I always wave when I see people in these. They do look fun but as you say, pretty pricey for a family. And I’ve learnt something – I didn’t realise that tour buses weren’t allowed to drive past the front of the palace!

    • Nell
      Author
      January 20, 2017 / 10:07 am

      I didn’t know that either. Makes sense though!

  4. January 17, 2017 / 8:03 am

    Looks like great fun – never done he du k boat but have done the rib experience eh oh was great #citytripping

    • Nell
      Author
      January 20, 2017 / 10:21 am

      Ooh, I haven’t tried the rib experience. One for the list!

  5. January 17, 2017 / 8:44 am

    I’ve always fancied doing this – I know my kids would LOVE it – certainly beats a traditional open top bus x

    • Nell
      Author
      January 20, 2017 / 10:22 am

      Yes, it was something a bit unusual!

  6. January 17, 2017 / 9:03 am

    Quiet roads and sunshine, it seams like the perfect way to see London. #CityTripping

    • Nell
      Author
      January 20, 2017 / 10:22 am

      It was great!

  7. January 17, 2017 / 9:25 am

    Wow what an experience! And how awesome to learn that they reinvented these WWII boats into a tourist activity! Although, preparing my mind from driving on a street to entering the river would mind-boggle me haha! #CityTripping

    • Nell
      Author
      January 20, 2017 / 10:23 am

      Yes, it did take a bit of mental adjustment!

  8. January 17, 2017 / 11:03 am

    I’ve always wondered about the Duck Tours — they look so fun. Can’t wait to try one. #citytripping

    • Nell
      Author
      January 20, 2017 / 10:23 am

      They’re fab Jen. x

    • Nell
      Author
      January 20, 2017 / 11:11 am

      That was my favourite too!

  9. January 17, 2017 / 6:10 pm

    We did this in Seattle and loved it! Yes, it’s very touristy, but that’s not always a bad thing! Did you know the duck boats from WWII were built in New Orleans, Louisiana? Pretty cool! #citytripping

    • Nell
      Author
      January 20, 2017 / 11:13 am

      I never knew that! Thanks for telling me. I was fascinated by the history behind these vehicles.

  10. January 17, 2017 / 9:00 pm

    I’ve done duck tours in a couple of other cities and they’re always really fun – inevitably I haven’t done the one right on my own doorstep but that would be great to try. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

    • Nell
      Author
      January 20, 2017 / 11:14 am

      It’s always the way, isn’t it?

    • Nell
      Author
      January 20, 2017 / 11:17 am

      Sooo many things to do in London!

  11. January 17, 2017 / 9:46 pm

    I should really do this! I can imagine the part when it goes from the road into the river would be a little nervewracking – but exciting at the same time. A great way to see London (and hurray for empty roads)! #citytripping

    • Nell
      Author
      January 20, 2017 / 11:18 am

      Yes, we were lucky to have that.

  12. January 18, 2017 / 4:58 am

    I remember seeing your photo on Instagram – so much fun! I love doing touristy things in NY so I can relate – used to never do them until I had kids and so glad I do now. The moment when the duck goes from land to water sounds crazy, can only imagine! #citytripping

    • Nell
      Author
      January 20, 2017 / 11:18 am

      Yes kids are a great excuse to have some fun!

  13. January 20, 2017 / 2:44 am

    I know what tour I am taking with my friend’s family, next time I visit London. Looks like fun, hurtling down to the Thames 🙂 Thanks for sharing #CityTripping

    • Nell
      Author
      January 20, 2017 / 11:32 am

      It really was!

  14. January 22, 2017 / 8:46 pm

    Those things really do sit low in the water, don’t they? I’m sure my kids would love this unusual tour too. Thanks for this, and for teaching me an alternative plural of “roof” (I had no idea…) 😉 #CityTripping

    • Nell
      Author
      January 23, 2017 / 10:07 am

      How funny – I always thought it was rooves, but I’ve just googled and found out that this way of spelling (and pronouncing) it is hardly used these days! That’s what comes from a childhood spent devouring Victorian literature …. 🙂

  15. January 23, 2017 / 12:31 pm

    We went on a Duck Tour when we were in London and loved it! My boys were so excited when we raced down the ramp into the river!

    • Nell
      Author
      January 24, 2017 / 2:24 pm

      That bit was thrilling.

    • Nell
      Author
      February 2, 2017 / 12:35 pm

      Thank you. It was fun!

  16. February 1, 2017 / 8:42 pm

    This sounds like so much fun. I love the idea of seeing the city from the water and road all in one trip #awanderfulchildhood

    • Nell
      Author
      February 2, 2017 / 12:36 pm

      It certainly was quirky!

  17. February 2, 2017 / 8:30 pm

    What lovely pictures! I do love London ! My eldest would really enjoy a duck tour -what a wonderful idea! maybe this is something we can plan on our next visit – thanks for sharing #AWanderfulChildhood

    • Nell
      Author
      February 3, 2017 / 10:59 am

      It’s a fun way to see the sights.

  18. February 3, 2017 / 11:12 am

    We took one of these rides in Singapore and it was so much fun, love the idea of doing it in London and splashing into the Thames! Great way to be a tourist in your own city #AWanderfulChildhood

    • Nell
      Author
      February 3, 2017 / 12:33 pm

      Yes, it’s worth doing every once in a while!

  19. February 13, 2017 / 5:26 pm

    This is a great way to see the capital. I’ve been on one abroad but didn’t realise that you could do it in London. #AWanderfulChildhood

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