Over half-term we took a trip with City Cruises, down the river that helped Roman Londinium trade and grow. London’s Thames harboured Dutch merchants during the Great Plague, and over the years has seen whales, porpoises and seals swimming past its banks. The river is flanked by beautiful buildings and historic places. Of course, you can always walk past The Palace of Westminster, the Shard, Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre. But they all look quite different when seen from below.
I’ve made a video of our day out with City Cruises, which you can see here:
City Cruises offer a range of tickets, with prices starting at £10 for adults, and £5 for children. We travelled on a 24-hour river pass. This allowed us to hop on and off the boat at any one of four piers: Westminster, London Eye, Bankside, Tower and Greenwich.
We began our journey at Greenwich, where boats set off every 40 minutes. When we arrived, mid-morning, there were just five minutes until the next departure and the boat was already very busy. Everyone had chosen to take advantage of the good weather and sit above deck, so there were no spaces left up there, only down below. The friendly City Cruises rep told us that, if we preferred to wait until the next departure, he’d make sure we were first on the boat. Along with a couple of other American tourists, we decided to take him up on his offer, and I took the children off to amble round Greenwich while we were waiting (the pier is right next to the Cutty Sark).
Fifty minutes later, we were safely installed in our prime seats. We set off on the Greenwich leg of the journey. This was less spectacular than the stretch past Tower Bridge and Westminster. Our guide made the journey interesting, with little snippets of information as we travelled past the docklands area. Did you know, for instance, that the word ‘wharf’ is actually an abbreviation of WareHouse At River Front?
30 St Mary Axe, aka the Gherkin, and 122 Leadenhall Street, aka the Cheesegrater, were the first of London’s iconic buildings to drift into the skyline.
London’s special mixture of modern and ancient was very visible from the river. We had an unparalleled view of Tower Bridge, built in the 1800s, and flanked by two leaders in innovative modern design: the 95-storey Shard building (on the left, below), and 20 Fenchurch Street (on the right).
From then, the familiar landmarks came thick and fast. It was a good opportunity to talk to the children about all the places we saw. My daughter declared that when she grew up, she wanted to work with the Mayor, at City Hall. I promised to take the children to the reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe, and we gazed up in awe at the looming brown tower of Tate Modern.
Excitement mounted as we sailed past the London Eye. Our tickets were for a combined cruise + attraction package. As Austin and Gwen had for ages been pestering me for a spin on ‘the Big Wheel’, I picked the UK’s most popular paid attraction as our pit-stop of choice.
We alighted at Westminster Bridge. After a walk through the thronging crowds and a queue of about ten minutes, we stepped on board one of the Eye’s pods as it moved slowly along the boarding platform.
Travelling on board the London Eye’s a funny old thing. You feel as though you’re barely moving but, all of a sudden, you’re sky-high, 135 m above London. Monitors inside the pod give information about the sights you can see and on a fine day, you can gaze out almost as far as the sea.
The children were tired by the time we arrived back down to earth, so I decided to head straight back to Greenwich, from the pier that was handily located right next to the Eye. As on the way there, the journey back took just over an hour. This time, we chose to sit inside, and I treated the children to an ice-cream from one of the boat’s café kiosks. You could buy drinks (including beer and wine), light snacks and sandwiches there. Most types of ice cream had sold out – but then, it was a very hot day.
Although we didn’t pay for the cruise, I thought the river pass was great value for money. The tour guides were knowledgeable and charismatic. The combination of the pass with an attraction ticket was better value than buying, say, separate tickets for the London Eye. I’d recommend this type of City Cruises trip as a good way to see the London’s riverside, and find out more about the city’s history.
You can find out more about other London attractions in our ultimate guide.
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