A day out on London’s Thames with City Cruises

A day out on London’s Thames with City Cruises

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.

Video

I’ve made a video of our day out with City Cruises, which you can see here:

The trip

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.

City Cruises

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).

City Cruises

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?

docklands

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.

City Cruises

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).

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

the Shard

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.

Tate Modern

Thames London

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.

London Eye

London

London Eye

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.

London Eye

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.

Westminster

London Eye

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.

Review

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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35 Comments

  1. June 12, 2017 / 2:37 pm

    Oh wow, what a brilliant thing to do! I love that you can combine it with the London Eye, we’d love to do both that and the cruise so may well book a package next time we’re down in London.
    Nat.x

    • Nell
      Author
      June 13, 2017 / 1:52 pm

      The two experiences went very well together. I’d recommend combining them!

  2. June 13, 2017 / 7:36 am

    We did a similar tour years ago (without kids) and I loved seeing the city from a new vantage point. Looks really great with kids too! And yes, ice cream is always the best solution to tired children. #citytripping

    • Nell
      Author
      June 14, 2017 / 9:44 am

      It does help 😉

  3. June 13, 2017 / 8:30 am

    Looks like such a good trip and great memories for your kids!! I love the London eye! Some say it’s too touristy, but I think it’s just magical 🙂

    • Nell
      Author
      June 14, 2017 / 10:13 am

      Yes, there’s something special about it.

  4. June 13, 2017 / 8:33 am

    I love the river and the cruises are one of my favourite things – we usually find ourselves going the opposite way, towards Greenwich, then have a wander round there but there’s nothing like cruising a long the Thames. I never knew that about wharf either! Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

    • Nell
      Author
      June 14, 2017 / 10:14 am

      Yes – one thing I love is that there are so many different ways to see the river, and the interesting places along its banks.

  5. June 13, 2017 / 9:22 am

    Looks like a better boat ride than the one we did…we got stuck with a boat where we had to sit inside because the boat was so fast…can’t remember the name now…Clipper? #CityTripping

    • Nell
      Author
      June 14, 2017 / 10:14 am

      Oh no!

  6. June 13, 2017 / 12:46 pm

    This sounds like a great activity. Boat tours are an awesome way to see a city. #citytripping

    • Nell
      Author
      June 14, 2017 / 10:35 am

      Yes, they’re quite special.

  7. June 13, 2017 / 3:03 pm

    I love seeing a city by boat. It’s by far the best way to travel to Greenwich. How thoughtful of your driver to suggest you wait for the best seats on the next boat. Such a good idea to combine the boat trip with the London Eye – my two would love doing them both on the same day. #citytripping

    • Nell
      Author
      June 14, 2017 / 10:36 am

      Yes, the London Eye helped break up the journey, and it was nice to be sailing to a ‘destination’ that the children could focus on.

  8. June 13, 2017 / 8:36 pm

    We’ve often done the city cruise down the Thames it’s a great way to see London and always a hit when we are showing visitors around. A good idea to combine with the London Eye! #CityTripping

    • Nell
      Author
      June 14, 2017 / 10:37 am

      Yes, I think it’s a perfect way to show visitors round the city. Pretty good value, too.

  9. June 14, 2017 / 8:39 am

    An excellent day out for the family. I love how London combines attractions into “passes” – it’s brilliant to be able to go on and off these boats and also have a ride on the London Eye. The ancient Thames River is such a great place to explore. #CityTripping.

    • Nell
      Author
      June 14, 2017 / 10:47 am

      Yes we’re lucky here in that the transport’s very integrated.

  10. June 15, 2017 / 10:11 pm

    Such an amazing way to see the sights. I would love to return with my little ones. I love
    The tourist attractions but I equally love the beautiful parks!

    • Nell
      Author
      June 20, 2017 / 2:09 pm

      I know – we had a big rest in the play park near the London Eye. Could have spent most of the day there, to be honest!

  11. June 16, 2017 / 6:20 pm

    Such a lovely way to explore the city and really great for kids. I love that you can combine with another attraction too, my boys love the London Eye.

    • Nell
      Author
      June 20, 2017 / 2:10 pm

      Yes, combining the two really worked as a day out.

  12. June 16, 2017 / 10:04 pm

    Even though I’ve done this a few time myself, I haven’t taken Monkey yet – or the hubby. It’s terrible isn’t int when you don’t really explore your own backyard! Must rectify that. It looks like you all had a brilliant day – I love the smiles 🙂

    • Nell
      Author
      June 20, 2017 / 2:10 pm

      I know what you mean. My kids had been badgering me to do this with them for aaaages!

  13. June 17, 2017 / 1:14 am

    I’ve really been wanting to do this, but never seem to get around to it! I’m definitely trying it out next time! #citytripping

  14. June 17, 2017 / 1:15 am

    Oh, I forgot to say how neat it was to read that Wharf was actually an abbreviation!

    • Nell
      Author
      June 20, 2017 / 2:20 pm

      Yes, I did like that quirky little fact!

  15. June 17, 2017 / 6:11 pm

    Love going down the Thames by boat – nothing can beat it!

    • Nell
      Author
      June 20, 2017 / 2:11 pm

      I know. Such a great day out.

  16. June 18, 2017 / 9:15 pm

    I always think one of the best ways to see a city is from a river tour… Most of the biggest cities are based around a river after all. I love London, I worked in the city for years, commuting to Teddington (which wasn’t as fun :D), it really is full of stunning buildings isn’t it? City Cruises sound great, and we will definitely make a note of them for future London trips! 🙂

    • Nell
      Author
      June 20, 2017 / 2:12 pm

      They’re pretty good value. I’d definitely recommend them.

  17. June 19, 2017 / 9:51 pm

    I think taking to the river is always a great way to see a city and get your bearings. I have to agree the price of this trip is really good, and it makes a big difference when you get good tour guides

    • Nell
      Author
      June 20, 2017 / 2:13 pm

      Yes – the guides were pretty knowledgeable.

  18. August 27, 2017 / 7:37 am

    Hopefully, I am NOT repeating myself – here I go – when www was pretty NEW, I ‘connectie’ with Dorothy, in the U.K., where she was a teacher and I was a teacher in Sydney/NSW. Dorothy and Ian had a boat and a website, called: “The Thames and Boaty things!”
    When I went to visit, Holland, where I was born, I also went to visit Dorothy and Ian who took me on such a lovely trip, on the Thames, in their “Harts’ Content” boat. Shall never forget having been taken to practical the source of the Thames, by this lovely couple!!!

    • Nell
      Author
      September 3, 2017 / 8:06 pm

      What a nice story.

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