River buses are a novel way to get around the city of London which not many tourists know about. Plenty of people know about the London Underground and bus services, and even the tourist ferries or open-top bus tours. But when the summer weather turns the city to a sticky, sweaty nightmare, sometimes half an hour on the water is just what you need to put life back in your veins.
Thames Clippers are fast, frequent and cheap, running along the River Thames from Putney in the west to Royal Woolwich Arsenal in the east. They make stops at some of the most popular tourist destinations in London along the way, including Millennium Pier for the London Eye, SEALIFE London Aquarium and the London Dungeon; Millbank Pier to see work in progress at the Tate Britain; Bankside Pier for the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre; London Bridge City Pier for Borough Market, the Strand and HMS Belfast; Tower Millennium Pier for Tower Bridge (a great way to snap some spectacular bridge photos) and the Tower of London; North Greenwich Pier for the O2 (a huge entertainment complex where some of the biggest concerts in London are shown) and the Emirates Air Line (also known as the Dangleway, this cable-car ride across the river is a cheap and fun way to get to Greenwich from East London); and Greenwich Pier for Greenwich – home of the Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory, where you can stand on the line marking Greenwich Mean Time. You can get a delightful experience with M by Montcalm Shoreditch London Tech City
There are five different river bus routes, so do your research online before hopping on a boat. But if you do end up on the wrong route, you’ll find it much easier to get back on track than you would if you got on the wrong bus or train – after all, there are only two directions you can go on a river!
There is also usually a kiosk on board where you can buy coffee, tea, soft drinks and snacks. As these are commuter ferries, there is no guided commentary and you’ll have to point out the sights yourself – but you’ll pay far less than you would for a guided river tour or even an open-top bus ride, leaving you free to spend your savings on far nicer things; when you splurge on a Celebration Package London becomes an even more glamorous place to visit. Children under five travel free. If you can’t get enough of the riverboat life, you can purchase a River Roamer ticket for £16.50 which entitles you to unlimited daily travel on Thames Clippers riverboats for one flat payment – book online to save money versus paying in cash on the day. If you have an Oyster card, feel free to touch in and out just as you would on a bus or the Tube; if your Oyster has a travel card on it, you can get a 30% discount on your ferry ticket when you buy it on the pier.
River buses have step-free access and all but two piers are wheelchair-accessible, which makes this an excellent choice for disabled visitors to London – since the Tube can be hit-and-miss when it comes to accessibility. Besides that, a ferry ride is simply a nicer experience all round than hurtling through underground tunnels; with the wind in your hair, you can really get a feel for how the city is laid out and soon you’ll feel just like a local, at one with the city and the river. Spring for something a little different, leave the packaged, guided tours behind and have your own adventures.