London was built beside the Thames and the river remains the city’s main artery. Taking the boat is a quick way to cross the city–and certainly more pleasant than the busy trains of the London Underground. The City Cruises Thames River Pass makes for a relaxing way to see the major landmarks that line the river banks while navigating between London destinations. The hop-on, hop-off service calls at five piers: Westminster (for the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey), London Eye, Bankside (for Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe theatre - Summer only), Tower of London and Greenwich.
One of the country's most important historical landmarks, Westminster Abbey has served as the coronation church of the British monarchy since the 11th Century and was the venue of Prince William & Kate Middleton's 2011 Royal Wedding. Still a working church, Westminster Abbey is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is intrinsically linked to London's history, with hundreds of graves and memorials to historic figures such as Sir Isaac Newton and Elizabeth I.
Playing a major role in London's history, St. Paul's Cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren as part of the City's reconstruction following the Great Fire of London in 1666. From royal weddings to state funerals, surviving the Blitz and more, St. Paul's Cathedral is a breath-taking London landmark and easily one of London's most recognisable buildings.
You don’t have to be literature buff to enjoy an open-air performance at this atmospheric theatre on the banks of the River Thames. The timber-framed thatched-roofed theatre is a reconstruction of the original Globe Theatre that stood on a nearby site around the turn of the 17th century. Outdoor shows run throughout the summer season between May and October and over the Christmas period–get tickets in advance on the theatre’s website. Before the show, don’t miss a visit to the theatre’s fascinating exhibition about the history of the building and its reconstruction.
You can reach HMS Belfast on your hop-on, hop-off riverboat tour, by disembarking at the Tower pier and then crossing the river over Tower Bridge. This will afford you some great views as you head over to the WWII battleship. Today, HMS Belfast has retired from service so you can now explore the decks, gun turret, engine rooms and the interactive exhibition on the boat which tells the story of this historic boat and the Royal Navy sailors who crewed her.
At the far eastern end of your City Cruises Thames River Pass hop-on, hop-off sightseeing tour, step off the boat at Greenwich Pier. Alongside the river, you’ll find the dock of the world’s last remaining tea clipper, the Cutty Sark. This historic sailing ship is open to tours that pass underneath the ship’s hull. Visitors can poke around on deck and below, take the ship’s wheel and explore the interactive exhibits which bring Britain’s seafaring past to life.
From the Cutty Sark, head further along the Greenwich shoreline and you can cross the grand lawns and imposing porticos of the Royal Naval College and National Maritime Museum to reach Greenwich Park. This sweeping green space is cut through by the Greenwich Meridian and rises to a peak which is home to the Royal Observatory. The exhibition here offers a fascinating glimpse into the science of astronomy and the lives of some of its most influential pioneers. The trip out to Greenwich can be an hour’s boat ride from some central London locations, so why not make a day of it? If it’s sunny, pack a picnic and enjoy the lovely park around the observatory, which features tree-lined paths, a large children’s playground and a small boating lake. On less clement afternoons, wander into Greenwich village where you’ll find bustling restaurants and local boutiques to explore.
Another brilliant day trip from London can be enjoyed by taking the train to Richmond or Kew to explore the gardens and greenhouses at the Royal Botanic Gardens. These gardens are London’s largest UNESCO listed site and make for a wonderful day out on warm summer days, when you can enjoy a picnic and relax among the scented flower beds and exotic plants, shrubs and trees. Wandering among the steamy exotic planting of Kew’s iconic glass Palm House can brighten up even the most gloomy of winter days. Children will love the treetop walkway and the modern structure of the Hive which houses an interactive exhibition designed to highlight the plight of the honeybee.
The second sporting highlight courtesy of your London Explorer pass is a tour of England’s home stadium, Wembley. A tour here will give you insider access to the players’ tunnel, Royal Box, press room and the England changing room – a must for any young England fans, but fascinating even if you’re not a football aficionado.