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River Thames Sightseeing Cruises

Sightseeing cruises along the River Thames

Blackfriars bridge London This sightseeing article is a continuation of the Sightseeing cruise from Westminster to Greenwich. Cruising up river you pass under Blackfriars Bridge. This was also the place where the very first railway bridge over the river was built, the Alexandra Bridge. Blackfriars bridge was built in the 19th century, adjacent to this old one, which was taken down as Blackfriars went up. Evidence of the Alexandra Bridge can still be seen as you pass under. All that is left is gaudy red columns, topped with gilt and green garlands that run parallel to the Blackfriars Bridge. It was demolished due to its inability to support more modern trains and the pillars were left because their removal may have undermined the foundations of the bridge next to it. A striking ruin in central London.

london boys schoolThere are several interesting buildings to be seen from the river at Blackfriars. On the north bank the huge white building on the corner is the Grade II listed building that has been occupied since the early 1930s by Unilever. Unilever took it over when the company was formed (from the Lever Bros Company makers of soap and margarine). They still have their London headquarters here 70 years on. Next to this building and facing the river bank is a beautiful Victorian building in the style of Italian Renaissance. It was formerly the City of London School for Boys. At the end of the 19th century this school was located on this beautiful riverside site and many famous boys have passed through its doors which include the early 20th century Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith and the author Kingsley Amis. The school was unusual for its time because not only would it take boys from all religious persuasions (which was very unusual for a public, fee-paying school to do) but it also promoted a progressive and practical curriculum. It was the first school to teach science, English literature and commercial subjects. The school still exists today and still has the same values and principles as it had in the 19th century. It moved to a new modern building close to St. Paul's Cathedral in 1986 and the old building is currently occupied by an investment bank.

River Thames sightseeing the OXO towerAcross the river on the southern bank you can see the famous OXO Tower. The building was constructed at the end of the 19th century as a power station but was taken over in the 1920s by the makers of the Oxo beef stock cube and used for cold storage. It was pretty much rebuilt then in the Art Deco style and its clever incorporation of the company's logo into the very structure of the building (the OXO windows) enabled the company to overcome advertising restrictions of the time. It has stood as a famous London landmark ever since. Under threat of demolition in the 1970/80s it was bought by the GLC who then sold it on (at a loss) for development into retail and leisure facilities. It now houses many interesting design shops ranging from fashion to furniture and jewellery to home accessories. There is, too, an exhibition area for architecture, design art and photography, and, on the roof, is probably one of the best restaurants in London, the Oxo Tower Restaurant at Harvey Nichols with its wonderful terrace and outstanding river views. From the OXO Tower it is possible to walk back along the Thames Path to the Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre. Walking in the opposite direction from the OXO Tower you will reach the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Royal National Theatre at the South Bank by Waterloo bridge and, further on, as you approach Westminster bridge, the London Eye and the London Aquarium. On the way be sure to visit Gabriel's Wharf which is located just before the London Television Centre. This area is a great place for unusual designer art and fashion. Many of the small shops have the artists in situ and their work can be displayed around the wharf for you to admire and maybe even buy. The area also has plenty of choices for eating and drinking and very close is Gabriel's Wharf Lookout Point for amazing views of the river and the London skyline

Golden Jubilee bridgeAs you go under the railway bridge (Hungerford) and pedestrian Golden Jubilee Bridge that leads to Charing Cross station you get a really good view of the London Eye, the 450' high ferris wheel. It goes at a speed of 1 mile per hour and on a clear day it is possible to see for 30 miles. On the opposite bank you can see a strange looking modern building which is Charing Cross Station. The architect, Terry Farrell, intended it to look like a train coming out of a tunnel but the popular opinion of Londoners is that it looks, for all the world, like a massive juke box. Immediately past the bridge you will see an old paddle steamer moored up named, The Tattershall Castle. This is a floating bar, restaurant and nightclub which is fun to visit for something different - at reasonable prices and fantastic views.

As you cruise up towards Westminster bridge, one of the most famous icons of London, Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster (or Houses of Parliament) comes clearly into view. Look to see if the Union flag is fluttering over the House as this indicates that the House is in session. At night the flag is lowered and if the House is still sitting a light shines on the clock tower. Not a sight often seen so be lucky! The palace is where the two Houses of Parliament meet to carry out their business. These two Houses are the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The building is a neo-Gothic style which was constructed in the 19th century on the site of the old Palace of Westminster. This site was thought to have been used as a royal Westminsterresidence before the Norman conquest. King Canute and Edward the Confessor all resided in palaces on this site, although nothing remains of these. The oldest parts of the Palace are Westminster Hall and the Great Hall and come from the reign of William II at the end of the 11th century. It remained the principal residence of the monarchy right up to the times of Henry VIII in 16th century. However, some historic buildings remain including the medieval Westminster Hall erected in 1097. Much of the original palace was destroyed in 1834 by fire and it was after this that the current building was erected. All that remains of the old palace are Westminster Hall, the Jewel Tower, the crypt of St Stephen's Chapel and the cloisters. the clock, known as Big Ben, is actually the name of the bell that chimes the hours. The Tower itself is known as The Clock tower. Tours of both the Houses of Parliament and the Clock Tower are possible.

It is at Westminster pier that the boat stops. So disembark here for a closer look at some of the sights mentioned. But don't forget that the last boat leaves to return to Greenwich from Westminster at 16.30.

2007 travel guides