Thames Sightseeing, Brunel’s River Cruise

(36 customer reviews)

Embankment underground station, London (river exit)

Guided by Andy W. or Maribeth or Martin or Robert

Walk Times

Day Walk Type Start Time End Time
Saturday Weekly 10.10 am 1 pm Winter Summer Reserve Online
Sunday Weekly 10.10 am 1 pm Winter Summer Reserve Online
Friday Weekly 10.10 am 1 pm Winter Summer Reserve Online
Thursday Weekly 10.10 am 1 pm Winter Summer Reserve Online

N.B. this walk will not take place on the following dates:

24-12-2022 25-12-2022 31-12-2022 01-01-2023 23-04-2023

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. You will have a London river cruise with live commentary and guided tour included, 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!

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: 10.10 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: £15 per person (full adult); £10 for Super Adults (over 65s), full-time students and people with the London Walks Loyalty Cards; £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

36 reviews for Thames Sightseeing, Brunel’s River Cruise

  1. Hazel

    We had a great walk with Martin in what conspired to be very trying circumstances.
    For a walk that relies on the rail system, to be turning up on a day when there were tube strikes and reported delays on the DLR did not bode well. But it worked in our favour as we ended up as the only 2 people on the walk (great for us, perhaps not so great for Martin!).
    The trying circumstances continued as the river boat we were due to catch had a fault and we had not only a delay, but the replacement meant we missed the small up river section of the ‘walk’. However, Martin did a grand job of filling us in on what we missed.
    The benefit of being the only people is that you can freely ask questions you might otherwise keep to yourself in a large group.
    Aside from all the historical and social information, Martin looked after us, reminding us to tap our Oyster/credit cards on AND off the various modes of transport, before depositing us at the Mayflower pub where we enjoyed a lovely lunch.
    Although the transport issues turned out not to impact our walk as much as we feared, Martin had plans B and C formulated to get us back if necessary.
    Excellent.

  2. Wendy Marshall

    Martin led our walk. There was not a lot of detailed bridge history shared but I did learn a lot about the Great Eastern, and Brunel’s tunnel. There were 12 of us, but he was able to keep the information flowing as well as answering individual questions. He did not have the frequent walker cards for sale, nor the app to use for contactless payment, luckily we all had cash. I did enjoy the tour. Thank you, Martin.

  3. Andre Routh

    Robert gave an excellent tour that showed great depth of knowledge, insight, and humor! He has a strong theatrical voice that was easy to hear even when the ambient noise levels were high. We saw things that we didn’t even know existed. What a great city! We should all know about the Brunel Dynasty.

  4. Andrea and Valentin Garger

    Robert was fantastic on our tour today. He was highly informative, very engaged with the group and absolutely delightful as tour guide. We covered everything that was on the program and more, he could answer questions without hesitation and in a depth that is remarkable. We enjoyed the tour immensely and can highly recommend it to anyone looking at the program. Great job Robert and thank you again!

  5. Steve and Valerie

    Robert was an excellent and very informative guide. He brought the whole tour to life with his fascinating facts and anecdotes, from the moment we got on the boat to the excellent optional lunch in the Mayflower at the end. I would certainly recommend this walk with Robert as guide to anyone who wants to learn about the history of London and the part Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel played in it.

  6. Ray and Jennifer Sams

    Whenever we visit London we try to include London Walks, all of which have been excellent over the years with many interesting walks and excellent guides.

    A special thanks to Robert Hulse for a most enjoyable and informative “Brunel’s River Cruise” last Saturday 23rd July. His enthusiasm for the subject is infectious and I discovered so much more about Brunel than in ever knew. Having visited Hearts Content in Newfoundland about fifteen years ago and seen the commemorative plaque to the first ever undersea cable it all brought it to life for me.

    The whole tour was excellent with the variety of walking, river cruise and train topped off by lunch with Robert in the Mayflower pub in Rotherhithe making it an all-round very special experience.

    An extra thanks to Robert for his advice to take the Thames River Walk from Rotherhithe back to London Bridge which allowed us to see other interesting parts of London we never knew about.

    Looking forward to further London Walks on our future visits to London.

  7. Laura Gallagher

    “This walk was an adventure!!

    We walked, had a boat ride, rode the trains and underground.

    I’m trying to take a London Walk tour every Saturday to orientate myself to London.

    This tour was not only informative it really brought me to multiple areas I have never ventured.

    Robert is a huge wealth of information on Brunel and much more. He was amazingly charming and interesting.

    Robert offered to bring us to his local Pub, The Mayflower. DO NOT pass up this invitation! This Pub will delight you, it’s all that you could imagine a Pub from 1700’s would offer.

    I feel as if I will remember this walk into old age, it was amazing!”

  8. Robert and Sarah Lebar (Erith)

    Sunday 5 June 2022 – Superb walk and very knowledgeable, friendly and entertaining guide.

  9. Liz K.

    Delightful tour on a dreary weather day. Andy was entertaining and knowledgeable. London Walks are a highpoint of any visit to London.

  10. Favof Hart

    Andy was a 5 star guid! Been on at least 20 of your walks. I think this was the best.

  11. Marianne

    This is without doubt the best walk I have been on in London . Robert is very knowledgeable, and manages to captivate his audience. He also has a very good sense of humour. In other words : a perfect day.
    This walk is highly recommended!

  12. Adela Deanova

    One of the best London Walks that I have been on! Robert led the tour and he was very knowledgeable and able to present the stories about Brunel in a very engaging way. About half the tour is on the boat, so you get to see the beautiful London waterside and to see the sights from a different point of view. Then the tour also takes you to the east part of London around Island Gardens, where you might not otherwise get a chance to go if you just stay in the center. Robert actually spent almost four hours with us on the walk, not two, and at the end of the walk we ended up in the Mayflower pub, eating a lovely meal, and Robert regaled us with some singing (having been a professional actor 🙂 All in all a success, I even got Robert’s book about Brunel’s tunnel and I look forward to visiting the museum!

  13. Anne Marie

    An absolute pleasure being guided around London with lots of information about Burnel bridges, the Burnel family and much more by knowledgeable and charming Robert. No better way to spend the Saturday afternoon. Highly recommend this walk with Robert!

  14. Andy McPhee

    A really enjoyable and informative morning. Andy’s knowledge delivered with humour was first class. A great mix of boat, walk and DLR train ride made the time fly. Many thanks to Andy and the London Walks organisation.

  15. John Fitch

    Thanks Andy, Brilliant ‘Walk’ the mix of boat,rail and a little walking hit the spot! I am a Londoner who has been on virtually every walk,some more than once🥱but this one is right up there with the best of them!

  16. Steve

    A very informative and enjoyable morning out cruising on the river, walking, and then a bit riding the DLR and the Overground! Andy kept our group entertained with his knowledge of Brunel in particular, and London in general. Ended with a couple of pints overlooking the Thames at the Mayflower Pub!

  17. Heidi

    Andy’s walk today was informative and fun. I highly recommend this walk if you’d like to learn something different about London. I loved the Thames boat and the tube rides too. Thanks Andy!

  18. Leslie Taylor

    Outstanding tour of Brunel bridges and major works with Robert — I learned so much and had a great time. This was so much more than a typical walking tour. Robert is very organized and herded (politely) the group of 15 onto a Thames boat and gave excellent descriptions of Brunel’s bridges. After we disembarked, Robert described the development of Brunel’s Great Eastern steamship and its somewhat disastrous launch. So much fun to learn and be entertained at the same time. And some of us had a lovely lunch at the Mayflower Pub at the tour’s end. Thank you, Robert

  19. Milo, Jim, and MEG

    Amazing tour, Andy is a very friendly and knowledgeable guide.

  20. Laura, Cesar and Irene

    What a fantastic tour! Not only highly interesting and entertaining, but also particularly varied for the combination of boat, walking, train – it felt like going for a real adventure. Listening to Robert, and having a chat after the tour, was a true privilege. His knowledge about Brunel and in general about London, literature and many other things, is amazing. Definitely a highlight of our London holidays – warmly recommended!

  21. Portia

    On the river, beside the river – and under the river – this is a walk (and cruise) not to be missed! As if Brunel’s bridges were not enough, you will be amazed by the launch site of the engineer’s Great Eastern steam-ship and the story of its construction. And, Brunel’s tunnels under the Thames were a revelation. With Robert as your guide you are in for a treat. (Lunch at the Mayflower pub after the walk, capped a perfect morning on the river.)

  22. Maria Higgins

    Thoroughly enjoyed this Clipper river ride/walk/train ride experience on 2nd April. Robert was very knowledgeable about the Brunel family and good fun to boot! The tour finished in The Mayflower pub in Rotherhithe where we enjoyed a delicious meal in a friendly atmosphere. What a lovely way to spend a Saturday with friends! I would highly recommend this tour.

  23. Fiona Reid

    I really enjoyed this walk and boat ride yesterday. Robert was knowledgeable and charming. The talk on the great Eastern boat and all the information about Brunel was very interesting. The whole tour was full great bits of information. It made me want to go to revisit some of the places he pointed out. The last stop, lunch at the great Mayflower pub was a very good way to end the tour.

  24. Geraldine Gallagher

    I really enjoyed this walk and boat ride yesterday. Robert was knowledgeable and charming. The talk on the great Eastern boat could have been a little bit shorter but the whole tour was full of nuggets of information. It made me want to go to some of the places he pointed out from afar and I hope I will. The last stop, lunch at the great Mayflower pub was a very good way to end the tour.

  25. Jane & John

    We really enjoyed this ‘walk’. Excellent balance of boat (Thames Clipper), train & walk. Andy was an enthusiastic, knowledgeable, informative & humerous guide. We’ve been on a few London Walks now & find out something new every time. Highly recommend it!

  26. Monica Benson

    Very disappointing as I had high hopes. We all sat inside despite sunshine outside. The boat kept stopping to let other passengers on or off, and then moved so quickly past buildings that I couldn’t really appreciate them as in a walking tour. We disembarked and then listened to an overly long talk about the Great Eastern – several of us felt the guide was playing for time. At That point I left. The boat I got to return to Westminster was much better and very reasonable at under £7. Sat in the sunshine and heard a commentary. No stops

  27. Val Golding

    Really interesting and informative walk (and river trip). Andy is an enthusiast and shares it with his audience – we learned the origin of several well-known sayings, some of them not really printable here!

  28. Terry

    From start to finish, Andy our guide was wonderful and so informative.
    We learned so much in such a short time. His delivery was simple and effective, with a touch of charm.

  29. Caroline

    We learned many little things which amounted to a lot. Have been to London many times but didn’t know these places existed. Robert was absolutely great, knowledgable and fun which is a great combination. Would thoroughly recommend

  30. Menna Hill

    Great tour on Sunday 13th February with Robert.

  31. Glen Collins

    Loved the walk, the boat & train.
    Andy was very knowledgable & what he doesn’t know about the Brunel family probably isn’t worth knowing.
    There is something for everyone on this tour.
    We even got half price boat trip.

  32. Dorrie Susser and Bob Norkin

    What a great day! One of us has been doing London Walks for over 50 years; we both agree that this is one of, or, maybe, the best we’ve ever done. Robert is supremely knowledgeable about Brunel, also charming and knowledgeable about so much more – we learned a lot and felt we’d made a friend! If you go, plan for a Saturday when he guides – it’s an unmissable adventure!

  33. Oliviana Mingarelli

    We had a great time on the Brunel sightseeing tour with Robert. He was really knowledgeable, and provided us with a really unique perspective. The river cruise and the walk, even in the rain, were great fun. A must for history buffs!

  34. Maggie Mainland

    Excellent day out. Delivered in an amusing way and very informative
    Thank you Andy

  35. Vivien

    I had a great time! Martin was amazing and so passionate. I felt like I was transported back in time!

  36. Mrs Brown

    We loved this walk! (including the bits that were actually boat rides and light railway rides). We were very fortunate to have Martin all to ourselves and so could really indulge in all the drama and history of the tour – he was very knowledgeable and attentive to our comments and questions. We were lucky to have great weather when we went but think this would still be a fab trip whatever the weather (with the right clothing obvs!)
    Thanks Martin

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *