Nearly two million commuters (a number that is rising fast) now travel to work on London's river each year, using stylish catamarans with on-board coffee bars, airline-type seats and bicycle racks for those who pedal on from boat to office. These frequent scheduled services run up the River Thames from Woolwich (which has a free car ferry across the river to North Woolwich) to Waterloo and Embankment in Central London, and downriver from Putney via Chelsea Harbour and Embankment to Blackfriars. Taking both trips will allow the voyager to see the many famous sights along the river.
However, there are some 25 major piers and terminals along the London river, and commuter services are supplemented by a wide variety of tourist boats, most of which offer a running commentary on the sights and history of this vibrant capital city as the Thames weaves its way through the heart of historic London and the chosen journey unfolds. Some of these sightseeing services extend the distances that can be travelled on the river down to the Thames Flood Barrier and up to Kew (for the world-famous Kew Botanical Gardens) and Hampton Court (Henry VIII's wonderful palace).
Most tourist cruises concentrate on the central area, from Westminster Pier (close to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey), Waterloo Millennium Pier (for the London Eye and South Bank arts complex), Tower Pier (Tower of London) and Greenwich Pier (National Maritime Museum, Queen's House, Old Royal Observatory and former Royal Naval College). It is possible to buy 'hop on, hop off' River Rover tickets that permit travellers to disembark at any pier to explore, before resuming their tour. These are also valid for the Docklands Light Railway, to enhance a day's exploration of the River Thames and its environs.
WHEN TO GO
Any time (but note that specific tourist services are reduced in winter).
TIME IT TAKES
Around 100 minutes from Putney to Woolwich (end-ta-end on the commuter service, including one change).
A ride on the riverside London Eye (more correctly the Millennium Wheel) for a bird's-eye view.
The famous clock tower at the Palace of Westminster, housing the world's largest four-face chiming clock – the tower is generally referred to as Big Ben, the name of its main bell.
Tower Bridge, the iconic bascule bridge that is recognized the world over as a symbol of London.
The Tower of London, the beautifully preserved Norman (and later) complex beside the Thames that is one of the world's major tourist attractions.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
The oft-quoted tale of the American entrepreneur who bought London Bridge thinking he was getting Tower Bridge simply isn't true – the reconstructed 1831 original now sits happily at Lake Havasu City, Arizona.