London River Cruise


River cruises along the River Thames are popular
and expensive. Taking a regular blue and white river bus
and downloading this video guide is a less costly option. Board the boat at Westminster pier which is
located beside Westminster Bridge just across the road from Big Ben’s clock tower and a
short distance from Westminster underground station. Across the river, County Hall was home to
the Greater London Council until disbanded by Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1986.
The building now houses the London Dungeon and Sea Life Aquarium. Next to it, the other side of the bridge,
St Thomas’s Hospital, where Florence Nightingale once worked, has been healing the sick since
the 12th century. The big wheel, known as The London Eye, was
opened on New Year’s Eve 1999 and rotates about once every thirty minutes. From the
top it is possible to see 30 miles in all directions on a clear day. The 32 pods represent
the 32 boroughs of London. Opposite it, on the same side of the river
as Westminster Pier, The Ministry of Defense building stands on the former site of Whitehall
Palace, inhabited by the kings and queens of England until most of it it burned down
in 1698. Happily the wine cellar commissioned by Henry the Eighth is still intact. At the waters edge, the stone pylon topped
by a golden eagle is a memorial to Royal Air Force wartime casualties. The next building, Whitehall Court, is a favourite
with photographers. Ahead, Hungerford Bridge carries trains serving
the South East of England into Charing Cross Station. Footbridges attached to either side are known
as the Jubilee Bridges. They were opened in 2002, fifty years after Elizabeth the Second
became queen. Embankment Pier, where the boat usually stops,
is situated close to the underground station of the same name. The tree lined Embankment makes for a pleasant
riverside walk. Most of the gardens on the other side of the road reached down to the
water’s edge until 1865 when it was built. The project involved incorporating a road
with a railway beneath. In recent years a cycle super highway has been added. Across the river from the pier, where the
Lion Brewery once stood, the Royal Festival Hall was built for the Festival of Britain
in 1951. Next to it, along the South Bank, The Queen
Elizabeth Hall is a typical example of brutalist architecture. It incorporates the smaller
Purcell Room which serves niche interests such as Chamber Music, Jazz, Poetry Recital
and Mime. Meanwhile, just along from the Embankment
Pier, Cleopatra’s Needle, the oldest point of interest on this cruise, was presented
to the British by the ruler of Egypt in 1819 and shipped to the UK on a pontoon in 1877.
Delivery was delayed because the British Government, although gracious enough to accept the gift,
was unwilling to pay for its’ transportation to London. Inland, art deco Shell Mex House, built for
a petroleum company, lies close to the Savoy Hotel, a bastion of luxury opened in 1889
and paid for by income gleaned from performances of Gilbert and Sullivan operas staged in London.
One of it’s first managers, Cesar Ritz later opened his own hotel. Next, Waterloo Bridge, opened in 1817, two
years after the Battle of Waterloo. It was rebuilt by a predominantly female workforce
during the 2nd World War and because of this it is sometimes known as the Ladies Bridge. The Tower Lifeboat Station, as with all lifeboat
stations around Britain, is funded by public donation and manned by volunteers. Across the road beyond it, Somerset House
occupies the site of a former Tudor Palace commissioned by the Duke of Somerset, brother
of Henry the eighth’s third wife, Jane Seymour. Unfortunately he was executed at the Tower
of London before it was completed. Over the river, it’s possible to undertake
a guided tour of the National Theatre, arguably good value given that there are three permanent
stages. ITV News is broadcast from the tower block
beside it. Moored alongside the Embankment, the HMS Wellington,
which once saw action during the second world war, is now the headquarters of the Honourable
Company of Master Mariners. Standing almost anonymously on the bank beside
it, a small arch commemorates the Silver Jubilee of King George V’s reign. As the boat approaches Blackfriars Bridge
it passes the Oxo Tower, the windows of which were cunningly designed in the form of a company
logo to overcome a ban on illuminated advertising. Soon after, Sea Containers House is followed
by the Doggett’s Coat and Badge pub which is named after the world’s oldest rowing race
held annually on the River Thames. Slightly inland, the tall glassy building,
Number One Blackfriars, is better known to most Londoners as The Vase. Opposite, a short distance before the Victoria
Embankment finishes by Blackfriars Bridge, the former City of London School, once a prolific
producer of Members of Parliament, and Sion College, now converted into offices, are adjacent
to art deco Unilever House whose curved facade follows the contour of the road. Blackfriars Bridge was opened by Queen Victoria
in 1869. Just through it the red columns are all that remain of a former rail bridge dismantled
in 1985. A second railway bridge, built in 1886, is
now incorporated into Blackfriars station where the platforms extend out over the river. After the bridges, former Bankside power station,
with it’s tall brick chimney, features on the right bank. Now the Tate Modern, it is
an extremely popular and free art gallery. Beyond it, the unmissable 92 story high Shard,
becomes increasingly prominent. The pedestrian Millennium Bridge, the first
new bridge across the River Thames in London for more than 100 years, was closed a few
hours after first opening because structural problems resulted in a severe wobble. Since
then it has been known as the wibbly wobbly bridge. A multi million pound revamp has,
we are told, rendered it safe. To the left, riverside City of London School
was, of course, formally located the other side of Blackfriars Bridge. Behind it,
domed St Paul’s Cathedral, completed in 1710, took 35 years to build. Not far from the Tate Modern, the Globe Theatre,
modeled on the original used by William Shakespeare in the early 17th century, specialises in
productions of the great bards works. It’s basically an open air theatre with very little
roof covering so maybe best avoided on rainy days. Ahead and to the left, the tall buildings
of London’s financial centre which include the Gherkin and Walkie Talkie will feature
on the skyline throughout the remainder of this cruise. The journey continues towards Southwark Bridge,
London’s least used bridge. Just past it, the Anchor Public House, from
where Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of London, was also frequented by William
Shakespeare and Samuel Johnson, compiler of the first serious English Dictionary. There
has been a pub here for more than 800 years. Next is a bridge carrying trains into Canon
Street Station which like Charing Cross Station back by Hungerford Bridge also serves the
South East of England. After passing beneath it look right to see
a replica of the Golden Hinde in dry dock. Sir Francis Drake, hailed as a pirate by the
Spanish, sailed round the world in the original from 1577 to 1580. This replica has completed
the same feat. The church just beyond, parts of which date
from the 12th Century, was upgraded to become Southwark Cathedral in 1905. There is no charge
for admission. London Bridge ahead, although not particularly
impressive, was the first bridge to span the river into London. Originally constructed
in 55 AD, it’s been replaced a number of times since. Through it, almost immediately to the left,
The Monument, built to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666, and St Magnus the Martyr Church,
which was the entry to the bridge until 1831, can be seen fleetingly between riverside buildings. A little further on the arched facade of Billingsgate,
once home to the world’s largest fish market which closed in 1982, is followed by the old
Customs House. The Pool of London, the stretch of water downstream
from London Bridge, is where most ships unloaded their cargo when London was a thriving port.
Activity more or less ceased by the 1960’s after the advent of shipping containers and
the area was redeveloped mainly for residential use. Many of today’s river side apartments
are actually converted warehouses. There is a hefty charge to visit the viewing
platform on the 72nd floor of The Shard. Across the river the Walkie Talkie also has a viewing
platform called the Sky Garden. Not as high but high enough and it’s free. Book a visit
via the web site. HMS Belfast, a warship which saw active service
during the second world war, is now a popular floating museum. It was built at the Harland
and Woolf Shipyard in Belfast. And so was the Titanic. Just beyond, before Tower Bridge, the roundish
glass building is City Hall. On the opposite bank, construction of the
more famous Tower of London started around 1078, a few years after the Norman conquest.
It has been expanded, upgraded and refurbished ever since. Formerly a royal residence, it
has also been used as a prison, treasury, armoury, zoo and public records office. Now
one of London’s top tourist attractions where the crown jewels are on display, it is home
to half a dozen or so ravens and, if rumour is to be believed, several ghosts. Tower Bridge, which some visitors mistakenly
think is London Bridge, opened 1894 and is the last completely new road bridge to have
been built across the River Thames in London. It opens about a thousand times each year.
To know when, consult the timetable on line. This cruise finishes at the Tower Millennium
Pier near the Tower of London. Some boats continue to Greenwich, a UNESCO
World Heritage Site, which some passengers may wish to visit. The Old Royal Naval College there, designed
by Christopher Wren, is free to enter. The Queen’s House, designed by Inigo Jones,
was completed in 1635. The queen was Anne of Denmark, wife of James I. Again, entry
is free. There is also no charge to enter the National
Maritime Museum, the largest of it’s kind in the United Kingdom. Taking a walk up the hill to The Royal Observatory
is rewarded by some rather nice views over London. For keen shoppers there are a couple of fairly
decent markets while gastronomes may be interested in visiting one of the few remaining shops
selling Pie and Mash, once a staple meal of London’s East End. And, of course, unmissable beside the river,
the famous Cutty Sark was built specifically to bring tea from China. As well as returning from Greenwich by boat,
it’s also possible to return to central London aboard one of the driverless trains of the
Docklands Light Railway. Head for Tower Gateway Station which is just across the road from
the Tower of London.

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