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Travel / Tours / London / Cruise
Guide to sightseeing boat cruises on the River Thames in London
  Westminster Bridge area
  Hungerford Bridge area
  Waterloo Bridge area
  Blackfriars Bridge area
  Millennium Footbridge area
  London Bridge area
  Tower Bridge area


This page provides information about sightseeing boat trips on the River Thames in London.

Boat trips are available from the following points:
- Westminster Pier (on the north bank, near Westminster Bridge) (map)
- Embankment Pier (on the north bank, near the Hungerford Footbridge) (map)
- Waterloo Pier (on the south bank, in front of the London Eye) (map)
- Bankside Pier (on the south bank, near Southwark Bridge, in front of the Globe Theatre) (map)
- Tower Pier (on the north bank, in front of the Tower of London) (map)
- Greenwich Pier (on the south bank, near the Cutty Sark) (map)

If you take an Original Tour open-topped sightseeing bus trip you can take a free cruise with the company City Cruises. For practical details about this cruise and the sightseeing bus tour of London, see: Travel/Tours/Company/TheOriginalTour

City Cruises start from
Westminster Millennium Pier, near Westminster Bridge

Embankment Pier - from here are point-to-point cruises
to Waterloo, Bankside, Tower and Greenwich piers

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Westminster Bridge is the oldest bridge in central London. It is an iron bridge which was opened in 1862, replacing a former stone bridge. It is painted green because this is the colour of the seats in the House of Commons. Lambeth Bridge (on the other side of the Houses of Parliament) is painted red because this is the colour of the seats in the House of Lords. For more information about the Houses of Parliament, see: Travel/Tours/London/Parliament.

Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament
(north bank)

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Hungerford Bridge (sometimes known as Charing Cross Bridge) is a railway bridge which connects Charing Cross and Waterloo East stations. There are pedestrian walkways on either side of this, known as the Golden Jubilee Bridges (also known as the Hungerford Footbridges).

County Hall used to be a local government building, but now houses the London Aquarium as well as hotels and apartments.

The London Eye (also known as the Millennium Wheel) was opened to the public in 2000 and has become one of London's most popular visitor attractions. You can enjoy fine views across London from inside one of the pods. One revolution of the wheel takes about 30 minutes. The height is 135 metres (443 feet).

County Hall
(south bank)

The London Eye
(south bank)

Victoria Embankment is the area on the north bank of the Thames between Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge. This was reclaimed from the river in the 1860s, in order to create a modern underground sewage system and to reduce congestion on the roads to the north (The Strand and Fleet Street).

Cleopatra's Needle was presented to the UK by Egypt in 1819. Transporting this obelisk proved to be very difficult and expensive: it was finally brought to London in 1878. Two sphinx statues were added at the base - one of these was damaged during the first German air raid on London in 1917, during the First World War. Similar obelisks were also given by Egypt to France (located in Place de la Concorde in Paris) and to the US (located in Central Park in New York). The building behind Cleopatra's Needle is part of the Savoy Hotel. This is one of London's top hotels, opened in 1889. It was built by Richard D'Oyly Carte, who owned the Savoy Theatre and made much of his fortune from the popular Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

The Southbank Centre is a cultural centre. During the summer there are often free street performances on the pavements outside. The Royal Festival Hall is a concert hall which was opened in 1951 to celebrate the Festival of Britain (this hall is closed until June 2007 because of building works). Concerts are also performed in the neighbouring buildings, in the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room. Behind the Queen Elizabeth Hall is the Hayward Gallery, where modern art exhibitions are staged by the Arts Council.

Cleopatra's Needle / Savoy Hotel
(north bank)

Royal Festival Hall
(south bank)

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Waterloo Bridge is also known as the Ladies' Bridge because it was built during the Second World War using mainly female labour.

Just after Waterloo Bridge on the south bank is the National Film Theatre (an arts cinema complex managed by the British Film Institute) and the National Theatre (plays are performed on three stages here). On the north bank is Somerset House, where there is an art gallery (Courtauld Institute Gallery), a collection of Russian exhibits (the Hermitage Rooms) and a decorative arts museum (the Gilbert Collection). The attractive courtyard contains a fountain which is replaced with an ice rink during the Christmas period.


National Theatre
(south bank)

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Shortly before Blackfriars Bridge on the south bank is the Oxo Tower, built in 1932. There is a ban on outdoor advertising along the Thames, but this company overcame this by using the windows to spell out its name (Oxo is a brand of gravy stock cubes). On the lower floors there are some art and design shops, and at the top there is a restaurant.

Blackfriars Bridge was opened in 1869. It is named after a 13th century monastery which used to be located on the north bank. On the stone pillars there are carvings of inland birds on one side and of ocean-going birds on the other.

The London Chatham and Dover Railway Bridge was removed in 1984, but the pillars still remain in place. Next to this is the Blackfriars Railway Bridge.

The Oxo Tower
(south bank)

Blackfriars Bridge
(road and railway bridges)

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The Millennium Footbridge (designed to look like a "blade of light") is a pedestrian bridge which runs between St Paul's Cathedral on the north bank and the Tate Modern on the south bank. It opened in June 2000 but had to close two days later because it swayed too much when large numbers of people were crossing. The bridge was reopened after dampeners were added to correct the problem.

The current St Paul's Cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed the previous structure. The dome was inspired by St Peter's Basilica in Rome.

The Tate Modern is in a building which was previously the Bankside Power Station (designed by the same man who created Battersea Power Station). This oil-fired power station became uneconomic when oil prices rose and was closed in 1981. It has been transformed into a modern art gallery, opened in 2000.

The Millennium Footbridge
and St Paul's Cathedral (north bank)

The Tate Modern art gallery
(south bank)

The Globe Theatre is a replica of a theatre that was built in this area of London in 1598-99 (during the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First). The Globe was where many of William Shakespeare's plays (including Macbeth, Hamlet and Othello) were first performed. This copy, opened in 1997 following an initiative by the American film producer and actor Sam Wanamaker, was built using similar building methods and materials to those which would have been used for the construction of the original theatre. There is a museum, and traditional plays are performed here (visitors can choose either seats around the outside or the open-air standing area in front of the stage).

Southwark Bridge is a road bridge with five spans. Cannon Street Bridge is a railway bridge which links Cannon Street and London Bridge stations.

Globe Theatre
(south bank)

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The Romans established Londinium in 43 AD at the place where they could build a wooden bridge across the river. London Bridge remained the only crossing until 1750 (when the first Westminster Bridge was created). In medieval times many houses and shops lined both sides. The bridge had twenty arches and slowed the river, causing it to freeze during severe winters. The bridge was rebuilt several times. A stone bridge built here in 1831 was bought by an American company and moved to Arizona in 1971. Some people mistakenly think that Tower Bridge is called London Bridge.

London Bridge

... is the place where the Romans built the first bridge

The Monument is a column built in 1671-1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London of 1666. The golden section at the top represents the flames of the fire. Visitors can walk up 311 steps to reach a viewing platform near the top.

The area to the north of the Monument is known as the Square Mile. This is the financial centre of the City of London. One of the most prominent landmarks is the Swiss Re Tower at 30 St Mary Axe (often known as "The Gherkin" because of its shape). This was built on the site of the former Baltic Exchange, which was badly damaged by a bomb in 1992. Tower 42, previously known as the NatWest Tower, is the tallest building in the Square Mile (opened in 1980).

(north bank)

Tower 42 (left) and Swiss Re Tower (right)
(north bank)

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HMS Belfast is a warship which was built in Belfast (in Northern Ireland) in 1938. It was used by the Royal Navy until 1965, but is now open as a visitor attraction.

City Hall is headquarters of the Greater London Authority and the Mayor of London. The building was opened in 2002 and was designed by Norman Foster (who also designed the rebuilt Reichstag building in Berlin, see: Travel/Tours/Berlin/Views). The shape is designed to be energy-efficient.

HMS Belfast
(visitors board from the south bank)

City Hall
(south bank)

The Tower of London has been used at different times as a fortress, prison and royal residence. The Great White Tower in the centre was built by the Normans in 1078, and this was later surrounded by additional walls and a moat. When King Edward the Fourth died in 1483 his twelve year old son Edward became king - for his "protection" he was kept in the Tower of London together with his younger brother, but both of them disappeared soon after and are believed to have been murdered here. Prisoners were brought into the Tower by boat through an entrance which became known as the Traitors' Gate. Many of these prisoners were executed on Tower Hill, including two of the six wives of King Henry the Eighth (Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard). Visitors to the Tower of London can learn about the tower's history and can see the Crown Jewels.

The Tower of London
(north bank)

Traitors' Gate
(north bank)

Passing under
Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge was opened in 1894. A crossing was required that would allow tall ships to pass underneath to the port area of London. This was achieved by designing a bridge with a lower section which can be opened and closed. There is a museum inside. The bridge is still opened when required.

Tower Bridge
(view from the east)

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London used to be an important port. The river banks on the eastern side of London were taken up with docks (enclosed areas for loading, unloading or repairing ships), wharves (places where smaller ships could be tied up and unloaded) and warehouses (for storing goods). As ships became larger the port area moved further east to where the water is deeper. The former docks have recently been redeveloped for housing and new businesses.

Beyond Tower Bridge if you look to the west you can see the Square Mile (the historic centre of London's financial district in the City of London) and to the east is Canary Wharf (a newly developed financial district in the Docklands). This contains the UK's tallest building One Canada Square, also known as the Canary Wharf Tower - this is 235 metres (770 feet) high. There are two other skyscrapers next to this: the HSBC Tower and Citigroup Centre.

The Square Mile
(north bank)

Canary Wharf, on the Isle of Dogs
(north bank)

Some boats continue further east towards Greenwich, or to the Thames Barrier. For information about these, see: Travel/Tours/London/Greenwich.

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* Visitor information
London Eye:
London Aquarium:
South Bank Centre:
BFI Southbank (including the National Film Theatre):
National Theatre:
Oxo Tower:
St Paul's Cathedral:
Tate Modern:
Globe Theatre:
HMS Belfast:
Tower of London:
Tower Bridge Exhibition:

* Weather forecast for London

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London tourist information
Photos from a London sightseeing bus tour: Travel/Tours/London/Sightseeing
Practical details of a London bus tour and cruise: Travel/Tours/Company/TheOriginalTour
A visit to London with a disabled tourist: Ideas/Diary/Akemi
Houses of Parliament: Travel/Tours/London/Parliament
Public transport in London: Travel/Transport/London

Festivals on the banks of the River Thames
Thames Festival: Ideas/Album/ThamesFestival
October Plenty: Ideas/Album/OctoberPlenty
Frost Fair: Ideas/Album/FrostFair
Twelfth Night: Ideas/Album/TwelfthNight

Other places to visit on the River Thames
Greenwich: Travel/Tours/London/Greenwich
Windsor: Travel/Tours/England/Windsor
Hampton Court: Travel/Tours/England/HamptonCourt

Home page: Home

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