The twists and turns of the Thames River through the heart of the capital make it London's best thoroughfare and most compelling viewing point. Once famous for sludge, silt, and sewage, the Thames is now the one of the cleanest city rivers in the world. Every palace, church, theater, wharf, museum, and pub along the bank has a tale to tell, and traveling on or alongside the river is one of the best ways to soak up views of the city.
"On the smallest pretext of holiday
or fine weather the mighty population takes to the boats," wrote Henry James in 1877. You can follow in the footsteps of James, who loved the boat trip from Westminster to Greenwich, or make up your own itinerary.
Frequent daily tourist-boat services are at their height between April and October.
In most cases you can turn up at a pier, and the next departure won't be far away. However, it never hurts to book ahead if you can.
Westminster and Tower piers are the busiest starting points, usually with boats heading east.
The trip between Westminster Pier and the Tower of London takes about 30 minutes, as does the trip between the Tower and Greenwich.
A full round-trip can take several hours. Ask about flexible fares and hop on/off options at the various piers.
Tate to Tate Boat. The playfully polka-dotted Tate Boat ferries passengers across the river from the Tate Britain to the Tate Modern. It's Embankment Pier stop is next to Hungerford Bridge, which takes you directly over to the London Eye on the South Bank. Departs from the pier at either museum. 020/7887–8888. www.tate.org.uk/tatetotate. £6.50 one-way; £12 round-trip. Daily every 40 min during gallery opening times; approximately 18 min. one-way.
Bateaux London. What better view to enjoy over a meal than London from the river? Bateaux London offers semi-formal lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner cruises, with surprisingly good food. Variations include jazz lunch cruises on Sundays and London Eye combo packages. Booking is essential. Departs from Embankment Pier, Charing Cross, WC2N 6NU. 020/7695–1800. www.bateauxlondon.com. £32–£43 lunch; £29.50–£39.50 afternoon tea; £75–£155 dinner. Sailings most days, times according to season. Afternoon cruises only on certain days in winter. Call or check online for schedule. Departures: noon (lunch), 3:15 (afternoon tea), 7:15 (dinner). Check times on the day. Boarding from 30 min before departure.
London Showboat. This cruise lives up to its name, with four-course meals, snazzy cabaret acts from West End musicals, and after-dinner dancing. Departs from Westminster Pier, Westminster. 020/7740–0400. www.citycruises.com. £80. May.–Sept., Wed.–Sun. 7:30 pm; Apr. and Oct., Thurs.–Sun. 7:30 pm; Mar., Nov., and Dec., Thurs.–Sat. 7:30 pm; Jan. and Feb., Fri. and Sat. 7:30 pm; boarding starts 15 mins prior to departure.