From London Eye Pier to Greenwich and beyond:
Viewing London from the Thames via the Thames Clipper River Bus
London, England is a delightful city to visit and explore. During my several visits there over the years, I’ve discovered the city via foot and bus. When British friends suggested a day trip along the Thames via river bus, I jumped at the opportunity. With my friends acting as tour guides and pointing out landmarks, the river cruise provided a brilliant new view of the city.
We boarded at the Embankment Pier. The Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, and Convent Garden are nearby. The Embankment is the result of a 19th century civil engineering project which reclaimed marshy land from the Thames River. It incorporates a sewer and underground railway over which a road and riverside walkway have been built.
We travelled west to London Eye Pier, the western end of the blue line. The London Eye, the London Aquarium, and the London Dungeon can be found at this stop. We stayed on the boat as it began its eastward journey and continued on to the end of the line at North Greenwich. We did our hopping on and off on the return journey.
We continued past Blackfriars Pier. From 1221 to 1538, the Blackfriars Monastery, a wealthy and influential institution, was located on the riverside. Temple Church is a 10 minute walk to the northwest and St. Paul’s Cathedral is a 10 minute walk to the northeast.
Bankside Pier, the next stop, is where you’ll find the Globe Theatre, the theatre built in 1599 by Shakespeare’s playing company, and the Tate Modern art gallery. One stop further, London Bridge City Pier, is the Shard. This 1,016 foot tall building is almost twice the size of any other building in London and offers panoramic views of the city from levels 68, 69, and 72. At this stop you also find the HMS Belfast, a museum ship which was once a Royal Navy light cruiser.
The Tower Millennium Pier offers access to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, one of the world’s most famous fortresses, founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th century.
Canary Wharf offers access to the Docklands area, once a series of docks serving as the hub for British seaborne trade. The Upper Pool docks closed in the 1960s. Redevelopment of the area into new commercial and residential space began in the 1980s. The Museum of London Docklands provides a look at the history of the port of London from the times of Roman settlement to modern regeneration.
After cruising past Greenland and Masthouse Terrace piers, we reached Greenwich Pier. The ensemble of buildings and the park in which they are set are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The buildings include the Queen’s House, the old Royal Naval College, built by Christopher Wren and the Royal Observatory, home of Greenwich Mean Time. Here you will also find the Cutty Sark, a British clipper ship built in 1869.
At the most eastern end of the blue line, North Greenwich Pier, you find the O2 exhibition arena, originally built as the Millennium Dome. At this stop you also find the Emirate Air Line over the Thames, London’s first and only urban cable car experience. At this stop we transferred to the Weekend Woolwich Shuttle and continued one stop further past the Thames Barrier, before beginning our return journey.
The Thames Barrier, one of the world’s largest movable flood barriers, has been operational since 1982. Its purpose is to prevent all but the easternmost boroughs of London from flooding due to high tides or storm surges. The Barrier is made up of 10 gates buried 24 metres into the river bed. When needed, the rotating cylindrical gates are raised to stop the flow of water. Due to changing tidal levels, the Barrier is being raised with increased frequency.
Coffee shops, restaurants, and pubs near each pier offer opportunity to satisfy hunger and quench thirst. We chose the following refreshment stops:
The Grapes has been in operation since 1583. It is now owned by actor Sir Ian McKellan, whose notable film roles include Gandalf in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The pub was once frequented by Charles Dickens. Drawings of Dickens and Dickens’ characters adorn the walls. And on one corner ledge, in front of the drawings, sits a statue of Gandalf.
The George Inn at 77 Borough Street, Southwark, is an authentic 17th century coaching inn. It is the last remaining galleried inn in London. The current building dates to 1676. Although the northern portion of the building was torn down in 1874, the southern portion remains original. It was in the Parliament Room in this section where we ate dinner, a very good traditional meal. William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens both frequented this inn. It is mentioned in Dickens’ book Little Dorrit.
There are several types of tickets available on the Thames Clipper, including single and return timed tickets. To spend the day hopping on and off, purchase the River Roamer or Family River Roamer. The route from London Eye Pier to North Greenwich takes just under an hour. Departures are approximately every twenty minutes during the day. The Weekend Woolwich Shuttle operates only on Saturdays and Sundays. Monday through Friday, the bus runs to and from Woolwich at select times, during rush hour. For complete timetable and ticket information, refer to the Thames Clipper website.
It is not possible to hop off and visit all the attractions at each stop in one day. Choose one or two or three and save the rest for another time.