Thames Sightseeing, Brunel’s River Cruise

(68 customer reviews)

Embankment underground station, London (river exit)

Guided by Andy W. or Maribeth or Robert

Walk Times

Day Walk Type Start Time End Time
Saturday Weekly 10 am 1 pm Winter Summer Reserve Online
Sunday Weekly 10 am 1 pm Winter Summer Reserve Online
Friday Weekly 10 am 1 pm Winter Summer Reserve Online
Thursday Weekly 10 am 1 pm Winter Summer Reserve Online

NB This Tour leaves promptly in order to catch the boat.

This is more than just a sightseeing cruise, this is an exploration of London attractions along the river Thames, an adventure through time with Brunel supremo* Robert and his merry band of handpicked (and mentored by Robert) guides.

It All Comes Down to the Guiding

You will have a London river cruise with live commentary and guided tour included. What’s not to like, what better way to explore London.

*An internationally recognised authority on Brunel, Robert was the founding director of the Brunel Museum. (Robert is to the Brunel Museum what Brunel was to the Great Eastern.) The author of the standard books on the subject – Brunel’s Great Eastern and The Brunels’ Tunnel – he has lectured all over the world on the greatest civil engineer in history. For good measure, he’s wrestled naked in front of a wood fire.**

**When Robert came down from Oxford he was, in the first act of his career, an actor; his first film credit was playing DH Lawrence in DH Lawrence High Priest of Love – so, yes, like Alan Bates, Robert’s been on the big screen wrestling naked in front of a wood fire!

MUCH MORE THAN JUST A SIGHTSEEING CRUISE

This is much more than just a sightseeing cruise, this is an exploration of London attractions along the river Thames, an adventure through time with Brunel supremo* Robert and his merry band of handpicked (and mentored by Robert) guides.

It All Comes Down to the Guiding

Meet Your Guide

Here’s a little podcast in which Robert talks about the tour.

And here’s one where he talks rather more about himself – running away to the circus and being an international banker and taking your sword into your Oxford exams and castrating bulls, etc. etc.


Tour Practicals

Meeting time: 10 am every* Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday

*To be on the safe side always check the date on the calendar. Or heed the top-level announcements that read: Click for dates this walk does not take place.

Meeting point: Embankment Tube (riverside exit)

Price: £20 per person (full adult); £15 for Super Adults (over 65s), full-time students and people with the London Walks Loyalty Cards; £10 for Concessions Loyalty Card holders (full-time students and over 65s); £5 for kids 8-15 (tinies, under 8s, go free).

The price does not cover:

•    Thames Clipper boat ticket (the London Walks Group Discount is very handsome)

•    Zone 2 journey London Underground (Oyster recommended)

Itinerary

Once the group has assembled at Embankment Tube, we will make our way past the monument to WS Gilbert (light opera with Sullivan) and down to the Pier. Your Thames Clipper sightseeing voyage starts here. The best views in central London will glide past your window. The chimes of Big Ben. London’s attractions and famous landmarks all laid before you. And the story of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, voted second Greatest Briton (after Churchill) and our most famous engineer. Little man, big hat, big cigar, big chains, big ideas.

view of the thames, London Bridge and the Shard

To Westminster Pier

Under Hungerford, our first Brunel Bridge, past the monument to Bazalgette – the man who built the sewer and moved the river. On your right, Royal Horseguards, a five-star hotel that started out as a property scam. The building with green roofs and all the flags is the Ministry of Defence. Here is the first of the four white ensigns on your trip. The golden eagle is the memorial to the Royal Air Force ‘Per Ardua ad Astra’ and the bas relief in bronze is the memorial to the Battle of Britain. The woman on the chariot is Boadicea, mother of all rebels, next to the mother of all parliaments (Charles Barry and Pugin).

To Waterloo Bridge (1942 Sir Giles Gilbert Scott), known as the Ladies’ Bridge

Westminster Bridge (1862) a seven-arch, cast-iron bridge designed by Thomas Page, Gothic details by Charles Barry. Cast iron good for arches (compression), but no tensile strength, so Brunel didn’t like it. At this end of Parliament, the seats are green, and the bridge is green. At the far end, House of Lords, the seats are red, and Lambeth Bridge (1932 Humphreys, Blomfield, Forrest) is red. Just colour coding for the intellectually challenged. Old Scotland Yard and through the gap a glimpse of Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral. The first Waterloo Bridge (1817 Rennie) was broken up and bits given to Commonwealth countries. The present bridge built by women.

 

 

To Blackfriars Railway Bridge (1886 Brunel & Wolfe Barry) our second Brunel Bridge

Wonderful views of the famous dome St Paul’s Cathedral (Christopher Wren). Royal Festival Hall is on the site of the Festival of Britain held 1951, exactly one hundred years after the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park (1851), first international trade fair, sponsored by Prince Albert. Blackfriars Road Bridge is red & white. Peeping through the arches, the orange piers of Cubitt’s railway bridge for the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (grand pediment in gold, green, red and blue crest). The grey bridge with canopies is Blackfriars Railway Bridge, our second Brunel bridge, built by Henry Marc Brunel and Sir John Wolfe Barry. Three generations of engineers in the Brunel family. Gold rosettes on the road bridge, and above the onyx columns, swans! Travelling under bridges, you see all the details. Blackfriars railway station is the first railway station in the world to span a river

To Shakespeare’s Globe

This is the famous millennium bridge, the Wobbly Bridge. Do you know the command before a regiment crosses a bridge? A sign ‘Break Step!’ Is still on Albert Bridge. Otherwise ’sympathetic resonance’ shakes it apart  – it happened in Manchester. But this isn’t a bridge, look at it, it’s a hammock! Low stanchions give wonderful views up and downstream.

Millenium bridge with St Pauls in the background

We go past Tate Modern, previously Bankside power station, the most successful visitor attraction in London. In the background, you will see the Shard, the tallest building in the United Kingdom.

 

Entrance view of the Shakespeare’s Globe

London’s biggest thatched roof. White half-timbered building, rebuilt by American actor, Sam Wanamaker. Brunel also built a theatre, an underground theatre, which was the entry hall to the Thames Tunnel. Here there were sword swallowers, fire eaters, Indian dancers, Ethiopian serenaders, Chinese singers. Brunel’s theatre is half the size of Shakespeare’s Globe, but built above the ground and then sunk under its own weight. A giant one thousand tonne pastry cutter, but for the engineer the world’s first caisson.

To Tower Bridge (1894 Brunel & Wolfe Barry) our third Brunel Bridge

Downstream of the Tower pier, as we see the Tower of London, above a bricked-up arch is written in white letters “ENTRY TO TRAITOR’S GATE”. Difficult to see from the north bank, and from the south bank you look right across the river, but you get the best view from this boat. Actually, I suppose traitors got the best view, but you will enjoy it more…

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in the world, and our third Brunel Bridge (Henry Marc again), but the Victorians hated it. They thought it dishonest. The bridge is made of steel but clad with masonry to fit in aesthetically with the Tower of London. The conceit is that Tower Bridge is the drawbridge for London, but the Victorians thought if you build a steel bridge, it should look like a steel bridge. If you want it to look like a masonry bridge, build it out of masonry.

To Masthouse Terrace

We pass six famous riverside pubs. Town of Ramsgate where condemned men had their last drink (before left at Execution Dock where the tide covered them three times); Captain Kidd named for a notorious pirate who was hanged here twice (the rope broke); The Angel where Captain Cook planned his first voyage (now haunted by hanging Judge Jeffries); the Mayflower from where the Pilgrims sailed; Prospect of Whitby (named for the coal ships); and The Grapes, Sir Ian Mckellen’s local (Gandalf’s staff is behind the bar). We pass the King’s Yard, where Samuel Pepys worked, and Drake’s Steps, where Queen Elizabeth knighted her explorer, privateer and the first Englishmen to circumnavigate the globe.

We disembark at Masthouse Terrace where Brunel built his last ship, SS Great Eastern, the first iron ship in the world and the first luxury cruise liner.

Walk to Island Gardens DLR

I’ve brought you here for the view. This is sometimes called the ‘English Versailles’. Not a hundredth the size of Versailles, but an English attempt at grand perspective and formal architecture. There’s a column for every ship that was at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Perched on the hill and looking down on everything, the Royal Observatory, established by King James to solve the longitude problem.

Train Journey to Rotherhithe

From Island Gardens we journey by elevated railway through the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf (Docklands Light Railway ‘the coolest of the top 10 train journeys in Britain’: Daily Mail). The new financial centre, dubbed ‘Manhattan on Thames’, is a temple of stainless steel and marble. Then a train journey through the doric columns and classical portico of Brunel’s Thames Tunnel, one-time shopping arcade, fairground and underwater banquet hall, now the oldest tunnel in the oldest subway system in the world.

Our journey ends at Mayflower pub where The Royal Society met on Brunel’s birthday and the jetty where the Pilgrims embarked.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 Do I need to buy my ticket for the Thames River Cruise in advance? 

No, you can buy the tickets on the day.

Do I need a Travel Card for this tour? 

You need a ticket/card for Zone 2 journey Island Gardens to Rotherhithe

What the guide says

A sightseeing voyage by Thames Clipper. Relax with the best views of central London as Big Ben chimes and London’s attractions and famous landmarks unfold before you: historic Westminster and the famous Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and the palaces of Greenwich and the Tower of London.

See how Tate Modern, now a palace of art, was once a palace of industry. Past three famous cathedrals: Westminster,  St Paul’s and Southwark, and under three famous Brunel bridges to three theatres at Shakespeare’s Globe. Here is HMS Belfast, the ship that fired the first shots at the Normandy Landings.

Hear the story of Brunel’s Shakespeare Room in his London home, opposite Buckingham Palace. Pass over and then through Brunel’s Tunnel, birthplace of the subway and oldest tunnel in the London Underground. On to Canary Wharf and the launch ramps of Brunel’s last great ship, the world’s first luxury cruise liner built ten years before the Cutty Sark.

A short river walk, the launch site of Brunel’s Great Eastern on one shore, Greenwich Pier on the other, there, in one view you span centuries of British maritime history, the Royal Observatory where East meets West at 0* the Meridian, then on to our train under the river for afternoon tea or lunch at the Mayflower.

Reviews

“I have been on several London walks but this was simply the best, with a boat ride thrown in and an amazing surprise at the end! Our guide was knowledgeable and great fun. I would and have highly recommended this to anyone, whether or not they are particularly interested in Brunel”  JoJ70

68 reviews for Thames Sightseeing, Brunel’s River Cruise

  1. Katie

    Robert is a charismatic and very knowledgeable guide!

  2. Craig

    This tour just wasn’t for us. We were with young adults and it was just too slow moving and the topic didnt interest us much. The tour guide, Martin, was knowledgeable and told the Brunel story with enthusiasm, but ultimately it felt like a bunch of random, only mildly interesting facts. Also it was tough to listen when he was shouting over the hordes of schoolchildren on an Uber boat. At the beginning it took a while to collect the money from people and get to the boat. Furthermore, there were a couple train rides near the end of the tour with no real payoff. Also the cost of the modes of transit added up. I think London history buffs and older people might enjoy this tour more than we did. But we ended up wishing we had done something else.

  3. Fiona Martin

    We had a wonderful day on the Thames river with Maribeth and hearing all about Brunel, the three generations. We saw a series of interesting sights such as the Tate Modern and Greenwich Observatory, plus enjoyed hearing about the Brunel family. We finished at the Mayflower pub and had a lovely lunch there. A terrific day, thank you Maribeth.

  4. Hayley Bell

    I wanted to say how much I enjoyed the Brunel Walk and Talk with Andy W on Saturday 15th June. The weather was cold and rainy but it didn’t matter because Andy was very entertaining and so knowledgable. I learned a lot. Taking a boat ride was an extra bonus. I thoroughly recommend Andy W’s tours and will definitely do another next time I’m in London

  5. Wendy

    Robert was an excellent guide and so knowledgeable about everything we saw and about many things we didn’t see. Probably the highlight of our 3 days in London. Memories to treasure especially the excellent lunch in The Mayflower with fascinating folks. Thank you Robert.

  6. Susan

    If we could give this ten stars, we would. ************ Robert is an exceptional guide, and this tour goes well beyond expectations. We knew nothing about Brunel before signing on, but were curious about the engineering genius behind some of London’s important infrastructure. We learned a great deal about the bridges, tunnels, ships, and cables that built the modern city of London and connected it to the wider world, but along the way we also took unexpected and enjoyable detours into Shakespeare, the Cutty Sark, Restoration comedy, pirates and gallows, and so much more. Professional actor, author, museum director, graduate in English literature, modern Renaissance man—Robert is, above all, a master-storyteller, whose warmth, wit, and deep interest in the subject combine with a sensitivity to the interests and needs of those he is guiding. He was able to answer all our questions with specific information, rich backstory, and/or humorous anecdotes. We chose to go on this tour early in our trip, and what a great decision. A river cruise, a fascinating walk through a part of London we’d never otherwise have seen, a delicious lunch in a richly historic pub at the end, followed by a stroll (on our own) along the South Bank — what a wonderful way to begin our holiday. But it would be equally terrific to end your trip with this panoramic tour. Thank you, Robert, for going well above and beyond, and for making this trip so memorable for us.

  7. Leona

    The insightful knowledge shared by our guide Martin perfectly complements the scenic cruise along the River Thames. As a foreign visitor, I knew very little about Brunel and so have learned a lot from the tour! Highly recommend.

  8. John Keating

    Martin gave a very informative tour, and engaged with every member of the group.

  9. Harley Coombes

    A group of us assembled but our guide forgot to turn up. Robert kindly jumped into the breech and led the remaining six of us on an absolutely marvellous tour. His knowledge and energy were inspiring and thought provoking making the day a complete success for my wife and I and assuredly for the others too. A wonderful day spent soaking in the history of the Thames! Thank you Robert

  10. Jill A.

    This was one of our favorite tours with London Walks. Robert is so knowledgeable and passionate about Brunel and his legacy. We loved the combination of walking, gliding on the Thames in a boat, and riding the tube to catch a glimpse of Brunel’s tunnel structures. We joined Robert and fellow walkers for a delicious lunch at the Mayflower and continued to soak up stories and tales from Robert. As the participants dispersed, we joined another couple and walked along the south side of the Thames to complete our truly amazing day.

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