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Concerning ships my preference goes to sailboats so that I visited in Greenwich the famous clipper "Cutty Sark" before the restoration and the fire that damaged her in 2007.
I did not visit the HMS Belfast because I got some experience of what a warship looks like when as a young man I participated to a day cruise on a Belgian Minesweeper. The sea was rough and I had to leave the table of the officers for an obvious reason. After that experience I opted for a military service with the Land Forces.
For somebody who has never been on a battleship I would highly recommend the visit of the HMS Belfast, a powerful 6-inch light cruiser (187metres long, total 20 guns), who served Britain for 32 years and played a role in WW II as support for the D-Day landing in Normandy. HMS Belfast was part of the Eastern Naval Task Force, with responsibility for supporting the British and Canadian assaults on 'Gold' and 'Juno' beaches.
When passing alongside her on the Thames I try to imagine how German soldiers felt facing that huge armada of 2700 vessels plus all the smaller craft when at 5.30 am on 6 June 1944 HMS Belfast and all the others opened fire on them.
HMS Belfast is now part of the Imperial War Museum and is the first ship to be preserved for the nation since Nelson’s Victory (at Portsmouth). She opened to the public on 21 October 1971.
Open daily: 1 March - 31 October 10.00 am -6.00 pm (last admission 5.00 pm)
1 November - 28 February 10.00 am - 5.00 pm (last admission 4.00 pm)
Closed 24, 25 and 26 December.
Admission Prices 2013
Adults £14.50; Senior +60/Student £11.60
Child (under 16) FREE
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
Along the River Thames
The River Thames runs through London and is the reason why London is located where it is. So many of the buildings that one associates with London are built along its banks: the river has certainly seen most of the great historical events of the past 2000 years of London's history.
In Central London you will find a wide choice of passenger boats plying the piers between Westminster and the Thames Barrier. Palaces, docks, cathedrals and churches, great bridges, theatres and museums all jostle for attention. Here one can spend many happy days exploring the city’s rich past
Take a boat trip
Update March 2014: ticket prices checked and updated
The best way to see London’s River Thames is possibly to take a boat trip along it. There are several companies offering these, all pretty similar. Trips depart from a number of central London locations along the river, including Charing Cross Pier (by Embankment tube station), Westminster Pier (by Westminster Bridge and the tube station of the same name), Tower Bridge and Waterloo on the south bank. Some trips are quite short and focus on the central stretch of the river, while others go as far west as Kew Gardens or as far east as the Thames Barrier.
Depending on how long the trip you chose is, the sights you will see from the boat will probably include
~ London’s bridges, including the iconic Tower Bridge (not to be confused, as some tourists do, with the more mundane London Bridge)
~ great views of some of the most famous sights, such as Parliament, St Paul’s cathedral and the Tower of London
~ the restored warehouses in the eastern part of the city, now among the most sort-after London addresses for those that can afford to live here
You’ll also get a good insight into all the activity on the river itself, with other sightseeing boats, river police, barges and privately-owned vessels etc. passing regularly. Commentary is usually provided in a number of languages, and refreshments available on board. In the evening some of the companies run dinner or disco cruises, and boats can also be hired out for groups to enjoy a private customised tour.
Fares vary depending on the route you choose but are typically between £8 and £14 for an adult (one way), with discounts for children, senior citizens and family groups. There is also a hop on, hop off, option, the Red Rover - see the City Cruises website for more information.
The website below lists a large number of companies offering tours, but the best bet may be simply to turn up at one of the piers and see what’s on offer, though at busy times you may have to wait a while for a place on a tour (and booking online in advance does save you a couple of pounds). Most recently we have used City Cruises and been very happy with the experience which was a Sundowner special with drinks and canapes included. See my separate Nightlife tip for more information.
Golden Hind(e) Galleon.
The cruise ships on the Thames pass close to the replica of the Golden Hind docked in St Mary Overie Dock. The Golden Hind was an English galleon best known for its circumnavigation of the globe between 1577 and 1580 under Captain Sir Francis Drake.
The original name was Pelican. Drake renamed it when entering the Strait of Magellan.
Special is the fact that after this circumnavigation the Golden Hind was maintained for public exhibition in Deptford during about 100 years until she rotted away.
What you see here, oddly located between an office building and a pub (Old Thameside Inn), is a full-size replica launched in 1973. Even more surprising, this replica is perfectly seaworthy even if the bright colours might give the impression it was only made for the show (but usual colours in the 16th c.). It has circumnavigated the world like the original and travelled 140.000 miles!
A second replica has been permanently moored in the harbour of the sea port of Brixham in Devon.
Visits: daily 10 - 17.30h. Price: 6£, reduced 4,50£.
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel
Thames Circular Cruise
Cruises on the River Thames offer a different perspective of the city. We took a 50 minute circular cruise from Westminster Pier to Tower Bridge and back. You can sit inside or outside on the boat accompanied by descritions of key London sights. Multi-lingual audio tours are also available.
There are also point to point cruises offering "hop on, hop off" access to various sights around the city.
Adult 7 GBP
Child 5 GBP
Family (up to 2 adults and 3 children) 19.50 GBP
- Family Travel
- Historical Travel
Update March 2014: website updated, small changes to text
HMS Belfast served in WW2, playing a leading part in the Normandy Landings. She is now moored on the Thames near Tower Bridge as a unique reminder of Britain’s naval heritage. A visit to the ship makes a good day out, especially for families – we took a young nephew there many years ago and he loved imagining himself as a sailor!
The ship has been restored to reflect the different the campaigns that she served in, with 9 decks to explore. Areas you can visit include the Boiler Room, Engine Room, Wheelhouse, Ship’s Company Dining Hall, Mess Deck and Admiral’s living quarters.
There is a café on board where you can get cooked meals, hot and cold drinks, snacks, sandwiches and confectionery.
A few points to note about getting around HMS Belfast:-
Wheelchairs: unfortunately only limited areas of the ship are accessible for wheelchair users, though modifications have been made to provide a limited tour including the Quarterdeck, the Boat Deck and the café. Access to the ship is via a gangway with a wheelchair lift.
Safety: children under 16 have to be accompanied by an adult. Please make sure children (and you!) have suitable footwear – there are lots of narrow metal steps so flip-flops and high heels just wouldn’t be safe.
The ship is also used for corporate events and conferences (hence my recent visit) and if you’re travelling to London with a group of children you might like to know that school classes and youth groups (age 8-18) can now sleepover on board. HMS Belfast's sleepover ("Kip in a ship") provides the opportunity to experience what it is like to live and sleep in the renovated mess-decks. The children sleep in original bunks, with authentic lockers and shower facilities. Meanwhile, you’ll be pleased to know, there are separate cabins with en-suite for accompanying adults. Breakfast, a session with an Education Officer and exploration of the ship are included in the price. See Kip in a ship for more information.
The ship is open daily (except over Christmas), 10.00am – 6.00pm (till 5.00pm in winter). Admission costs £15.50 for adults with children under 16 going free and concessions £12.40. Audio guides are free and available in English, French, German and Spanish
- Museum Visits
THAMES RIVER CRUISE
A trip to London would not be complete without a THAMES RIVER CRUISE. There is commentary along the way, informing you of the places of interest that you are passing by. On Hans' trip to London for the VT Meeting, he went with Carmen and Stace on the Thames Circular Cruise.
Many of London's tourist sights can be seen from the River. These include the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the London Eye, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge.
According to the Brochure, "Circular Cruise Fares" are as follows:
Student & Seniors 5.80
Group rate for 10 or more people is available
- Family Travel
The Thames is a very long river. It flows through Henley, Reading and various other towns on the way to the sea. At these points it is very much just a normal river. However by the time it reaches East London, the river has become tidal, and when the sea rises, the water rushes back up the Thames. In periods of heavy flow, this can cause major flooding. It has not been unknown for The Houses of Parliament to flood! The Thames Barrier was built to stop the back flow when the tide rises from happening. Most of the time the Barrier appears to just be a series of pillars in the river, but if needed, hidden metal gates rise up from the river bed stopping the surge of water from the sea.
Even though the Barrier is now over 20 years old, I still find it quite futuristic looking and a sight often missed by tourists that visit London (partly because it is a fair way from the centre). Some people reckon it is best seen by boat, but I like the side on view as seen here, where you can see the boat "City of London" sailing through one of the central gates in the barier. The birds in the foreground are Cormorants. My second picture just shows the Barrier with no boat.
The Barrier measures over 0.5 km from bank to bank. The four central openings in the barrier are 61m and these are the main navigable openings. The four main gates that fill these four navigable openings are huge and over 20m high and weigh (together with their counterweights around 3700 tonnes each!) Adjacent to the four main gates are two similar but smaller gates (just 31m across). The remaining four gates are not navigable and these are the omes next to the riverbanks.
There's a good web page: http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/regions/thames/323150/335688/341764/ that describes the Thames Barrier in great detail.
- Hiking and Walking
- Sailing and Boating
Splash your Cash!
We didn't go on a river cruise on this trip (far too cold brrrrrr) & we couldn't find another 40 people to book with. The cruise costs 8.95 + vat & sails with a minimum of 40 people. A luncheon cruise is available for 27.95. If you prefer to take a bus tour you ticket price will incude a river cruise but on a much more modest vessel.
If you have plenty of cash you can charter the boats for Weddings or Parties check out the website for prices.
- Women's Travel
the river Thames
The river Thames runs from the sea to Teddington and is just under 100 miles.
Despite it s murky appearance, it has over a hundred fish species including salmon.
There are plenty of different cruises to do on the Thames, just use seach engine on your server and type "cruises river Thames" and choose the one for you.
Walk Along the Thames
The Thames River runs through the city and splits london into north and south. Along the south bank you can almost walk alongside the whole river and you'll see many sights. I suggest doing this at night time as you'll see all the lights of the city reflecting against the water. Some of the highlights of the river are Tower Bridge (the one the American's thought they were buying when they bought london bridge (which the original now resides in arizona), the tower of london, the millenium bridge leading to st pauls and the city; westminster bridge from which you can see the london eye, big ben and houses of parliament. plus many restaurants and bars along the riverside, the tate modern and a spectactular view from any of the bridges.
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
Thames River cruise
For a different perspective on London, take one of the many boat cruises that leave from either Westminster pier or Embankment pier.
We had a beautiful sunny day so we went on the Catamaran Cruiser round trip from Embankment to Greenwich as it was included on the London Pass. Our cruise was narrated by a person (who pointed out at every opportunity that he was doing commentary for the tips) who did provide some interesting information about the sights along the river.
Along the way you will see the London Eye and Houses of Parliament as it swings back to Westminster before heading to Greenwich, the Tower of London, OXO tower, the very modern city hall and much of the Gherkin and St. Paul's, go beneath the Tower Bridge, London Bridge and the wobbly bridge (Millennium Bridge). Passengers can get off at Greenwich or stay on board for the return journey.
Seating was on the open air top deck and I believe there may have been more seating below deck. Try and get a seat along the railing if you want to snap photos.
Alternatively, you can also use the Thames Clipper, which is a commuter service that goes as far as the O2 which is just past Greenwich. No commentary on this boat but it's more economical, you can save even more on the fare if you have a travelcard or Oyster card for London transport.
Photo opportunities at the Golden Jubilee Bridges
One of my favourite views of the City skyline is from the Hungerford Footbridge facing downstream, this is the left hand side looking from Embankment or the right hand side from the South Bank. I need to explain this because there are in fact two separate bridges running either side of the original 1846 railway bridge. Since 2002 these have been known as the Golden Jubilee Bridges. The downstream view shows Cleopatra's Needle, Somerset House, St Paul's Cathedral, the Oxo Tower and two of the highest buildings in London, the Swiss Re Building (the Gherkin) and Tower 42 (the old Nat West Tower). Great views on a clear day, unfortunately it was a bit overcast when I took these photos but they have come out fairly well. Also at the present time (Jan 06) many of the buildings on the South Bank are being refurbished so the view is not very inspiring.
Photo opportunities at the Golden Jubilee Bridges
The Hungerford Footbridge is in fact two separate bridges running either side of the original 1846 railway bridge carrying trains into Charing Cross Station. Since 2002 these have been known as the Golden Jubilee Bridges. The upstream facing bridge gives great views of both the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament. These photos are even darker that the one's I took looking downstream but I will return in the summer and get some better ones. Look out for the two vessels moored on the Embankment side which are actually floating bars.
River cruising on the Thames.
We travelled from Westminster/Waterloo to Tower Pier at a cost of £6.90 with City Cruises and this is a good way to see London by seeing it from the river. The Thames is full of interest and other craft were constantly moving around on the river including other tourist boats , a police boat and luxury private craft.
We thought the commentary on board was interesting and the boat was well appointed and appeared to be disabled friendly.
The firm have an excellent website and it is full of good information including details of longer voyages.
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