This strange building, referred to fondly as “The Gherkin” is a stunning and slightly surreal sight rising like a bullet of 24,000 square metres of diamond shaped glass to tower 41 stories above the historic Financial District. The swirling, striped pattern on the exterior is not only part of it’s visual appeal, it is an integral part of an energy-saving system, allowing air to circulate through spiralling wells, top to bottom. While it no doubt would afford stunning views of London from the large conical dome at the very top, it is unfortunately not open to the public. Still, just looking at it from a distance is rewarding enough.
Truly an iconic landmark of London, the design and finish of this bridge echoes the architecture of London’s most historic buildings. The decision to build the Tower Bridge was made in 1884, but it took 8 years to be completed, the design made more difficult because of the need for boat traffic to be able to pass through. The result was this “bascule bridge”, which in French means “see saw”. In the past, the bascules were raised by the use of steam hydraulics, but was converted to electricity and oil. It is possible for visitors to still view the Victorian Engine Rooms, and a stroll across the Upper Level Walkway affords some truly amazing views of the mighty Thames River and Greater London.
A spectacular icon of London, this sedate version of the popular Ferris Wheel was built in March of 2000 by the EDF Energy Company. Known as The Millenium Wheel back then, it attracts 3.5 million people a year who step up into capsules to see London up to 40 kilometres in all directions. The wheel design was seen as a metaphor for the end of the 20th century, with each rotation representing time turning into the new millennium. Each rotation takes about 30 minutes, so each capsule travels very slowly, at about 26cm per second, which makes it a safe and comfortable tourist attraction, allowing passengers to step on and off without the wheel having to stop.
Chilling historic fiction (aka “Wench Novels”) written about this famous London landmark were a staple of my teenage years, inspiring my fertile imagination. The immense, square facade of the Tower of London was built in 1066 as an aggressive symbol of oppression. Elizabeth I (Mary Queen of Scots), daughter of Anne Boleyn and future Queen of England was imprisoned here for a year on suspicion of supporting Protestant rebels. Infidels and political prisoners were brought into the Tower of London by boat, through an arch in the rocky wall off the Thames, called “Traitors Gate”, most of them never to emerge again.
It has none of the glamour or visual appeal of the Tower Bridge, but today’s London Bridge is an important part of London’s history and was built purely for functional reasons. My fascination with it comes from it’s historical place in Literature, with the Nursery Rhyme “London Bridge is Falling Down”. Built out of wood and clay in the 1st Century, it was rebuilt many times as it fell victim to misfortunes, including fires and attacks. The 11th Century saw it rebuilt in stone. By 1300 it played an important part in the daily lives of residents, housing 140 shops, some 3 stories high.
There are some places in the world that everybody knows about, and when hearing the name, know exactly where it is. The Thames is one of those places.
There is no doubt that the Thames is easily one of the most historically celebrated waterways in history. It’s origins can be traced back 15,000 years, when it was formed by receding glaciers, creating an aqueous “super highway”, perfect for transporting the adventurous souls of the far-distant past.
Imagine the Thames we know today, but filled to the brim with leaping fish, twisting and turning in serpentine curves through a countryside thick with herds of roaming wildlife! That’s what the Aboriginal settlers found in approximately 7,500 BC, when the banks were so abundant with game that it was called “The Antlered River”. French fur traders, attracted by the amount of wildlife, began using it, and thus began the use of the Thames as an important transportation route, a source of power, and then as a picturesque place for wealthy elite to build their homes. Let’s skip over the part where the Thames became dirty, polluted and unsightly….. fast forward to present day, where it is now a source of pride to the British, with over 2,800 acres of parkland.
Though certainly an extremely “touristy” thing to do, a trip down the venerable Thames River is a must-do for every first-time visitor. First of all, it is a fun & relatively cheap way to spend an afternoon, and secondly, it gives you a great sense of how London is “knit together”. We chose to embark from the downtown core of London, at Embankment Pier Station. It was easy to find and there were staff on hand at the Pier to ensure you get into the proper line-up for the trip you have booked. We booked our tickets on-line and simply brought the print-out ticket confirmation with us, and there was no problem. We had only to wait about 5 minutes before our Thames Clipper eased up alongside the Pier, and being right at the front it was easy to find a great seat. The skyline of London is nowhere more spectacular than seen from the perspective of a boat on the Thames.
As you motor at a stately speed from wherever you embark, you can complete a round trip in about 45 minutes, which will encompass many of the highlight landmarks which you must at least lay eyes on, even from a distance, when in London. Though it did not go as far down as Big Ben, which was a little disappointing, it does proceed all the way to the “02” Stadium, which blooms like a spiked white mushroom on the banks of the Thames. The eclectic mix of stunning new designs interspersed with the historic designs of London’s victorian era make for an interesting journey. It’s a comfortable ride with plenty of windows, an area out back to stand in the open air if you wish, and an on-board coffee kiosk that makes great lattes to sip on as you take in the rich, historic views along the shoreline. A highlight for me was London Bridge, - who does not know the Nursery Rhyme “London Bridge is Falling Down”? I only knew one stanza of that rhyme, and really had no idea what it was about. Clicking on the link above will take you to an excellent website about the history of Nursery Rhymes, which can really be very fascinating. Tower Bridge & the foreboding sight of the “Tower of London” & “Traitor’s Gate” also were key moments of my afternoon on the Thames. We hope you have enjoyed following along on our Photo Essay to see the sights of our afternoon on the Thames Clipper.
Deborah Thompson is Co-Founder of New Jetsetters with over 20 years experience writing about luxury travel. The first time Deb saw the turquoise blue waters surrounding Bermuda from the air as a child, she was smitten. Already in love with the written word and writing itself, a black leather-bound diary was soon filled with treasured memories of the charming island and her stay at the luxurious Elbow Beach Hotel. Since then she has travelled far and wide, and written dozens of stories and reviews on exotic locations from around the globe. Find out more about Deborah below: