A trip up or down the river gives you an entirely different view of London.
River Cruises along the Thames
A trip up or down the river gives you an entirely different view of London. You’ll see how the city grew along and around the Thames, and how many of its landmarks turn their faces toward the water. The Thames was London’s first highway.
Thames River Services, Westminster Pier, Victoria Embankment, SW1 (tel. 020/7930-4097; www.westminsterpier.co.uk; Tube: Westminster), concerns itself with downriver traffic from Westminster Pier to such destinations as Greenwich, St. Katharine’s Dock, and the Thames Barrier. The most popular excursion departs for Greenwich (a 50-min. ride) at half-hour intervals between 10am and 4pm daily in April, May, September, and October, and between 10am and 5pm from June to August; from November to March, boats depart from Westminster Pier at 40-minute intervals daily from 10:20am to 3:30pm. One-way fares are Â£9.50 for adults and Â£4.75 for children 15 and under. Round-trip fares are Â£12.50 for adults, Â£6.25 for children. A family ticket for two adults and as many as three children costs Â£32 round-trip. There’s no service on December 24, 25, and 26, or January 1. City Cruises (tel. 020/77-400400; www.citycruises.com) operates a near-identical service at similar prices from the same pier.
River Cruises along the Thames
A perfectly fine and better value, if slightly more functional, option for downriver trips from Embankment Pier to the London Eye, Bankside, the Tower of London, Canary Wharf, and/or Greenwich are the regular, fast water-borne commuter services operated by Thames Clippers. One-day, unlimited travel roamer passes are available.
Westminster Passenger Service Association (tel. 020/7930-2062 or 020/7930-4721; www.wpsa.co.uk; Tube: Westminster), which also uses Westminster Pier, offers the only riverboat service upstream to Kew, Richmond, and Hampton Court, with regular daily sailings from just before Easter until the end of October on traditional riverboats, all with licensed bars. Trip time, one-way, can be as little as 1 1/2 hours to Kew and between 2 1/2 and 4 hours to Hampton Court, depending on the tide. Cruises from Westminster Pier to Hampton Court via Kew Gardens leave daily at 10:30 and 11:15am, and noon. Round-trip tickets to Hampton Court are Â£22.50 for adults, Â£15 for seniors, Â£11.25 for children aged 4 to 14, and Â£56.25 for a family ticket; one child 3 or younger accompanied by an adult goes free. Round-trip tickets to Kew cost Â£18, Â£12, Â£9, and Â£45, respectively. Travelcard holders are entitled to a small discount on the quoted ticket prices.
Thames River Cruises
Bus Tours & Cycle Tours
For the bewildered first-timer, the quickest way to bring London into focus is probably to take a bus tour — but it isn’t cheap. The Original London Sightseeing Tour passes by many of the major sights in a couple of hours or so, depending on traffic. The tour — which uses a traditional double-decker bus with live commentary by a guide — costs Â£25 for adults, Â£12 for children aged 5 to 15, free for those 4 and younger. A family ticket costs Â£86 and includes up to 3 children. The ticket, valid for 48 hours, allows you to hop on or off the bus at any point on any of three different circuits around the city. Your ticket also entitles you to a free riverboat ride with City Cruises and a choice of free 90-minute walking tours.
Bus Tours in London
Tickets can be purchased on the bus or at any of the five start-points — Marble Arch, Trafalgar Square, Woburn Place, Piccadilly Circus, or Grosvenor Gardens — and from the Original London Visitor Centre, 17-19 Cockspur St., Trafalgar Square, SW1 (tel. 020/8877-2120 or 020/7389-5040; Tube: Charing Cross). Many hotel concierges and Travel Information Centres also sell tickets. For information or phone purchases, call tel. 020/8877-1722. It’s also possible to book online at www.theoriginaltour.com. Do so ahead of time, especially in low season, and you may secure significant discounts on the prices quoted above.
Cycling in London
Big Bus Tours-Â 48 Buckingham Palace Rd., SW1 (tel. 020/7233-9533; www.bigbustours.com; Tube: Victoria), operates a similar 2-hour tour, departing frequently between 8:30am and 4:30pm daily from 40 or so points around the center. The cost is Â£26 for adults, Â£10 for children aged 5 to 15; a family ticket (two adults with two children) is Â£62. Tickets are valid for 48 hours; you can hop on and off the bus as you wish. As with the Original London Tour, a river cruise and a choice of guided walks are included in your ticket price.
A much cheaper alternative is to seek out the two remaining London bus lines where old-fashioned Routemaster double-decker buses still operate. Only route 9 — which skirts Hyde Park and Green Park, and halts at Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square — and route 15 — linking Monument and St. Paul’s with Trafalgar Square and Regent Street — offer this “heritage” service. Although you can’t hop on and off at will — unless you’ve bought a Travelcard — you can enjoy your own self-guided London bus tour for Â£1.30 per person.
Big Bus Tours in London
If you prefer two wheels to four, the London Bicycle Tour Company (tel. 020/7928-6838; www.londonbicycle.com) guides groups around three separate circuits of the capital, originating from its home-base at Gabriel’s Wharf, on the South Bank. The Central London Tour costs Â£15.95 and takes approximately 2 1/2 hours, passing Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and St. Paul’s Cathedral en route. It leaves daily at 10:30am; tours of the Royal West and East London are on weekends only, and cost Â£18.95 for the longer, 3 1/2-hour circuits. Between November and March booking ahead is essential. Hybrid bike rental is included in the tour price.