A Thames River Cruise is a highlight on a trip to London and is a real must when you’re planning your itinerary. City Cruises offer daily tours and a handful of different Thames experiences and routes to choose from, offering a unique perspective of London. Not to mention stunning views of the London skyline – and sunsets on a good day!
We went down to their pier and spoke to one of their veterans, Gary Hancock, a boat captain, who has worked on the river for over a quarter of a century and who has his fair share of Thames tales! From the funniest questions he’s been asked, to his top London tips, Captain Hancock reveals all in our exclusive interview…
London Pass: So tell me a bit about yourself and your life on the Thames
GARY: I’ve actually worked for City Cruises on and off for the last 20 years… But I’ve been working on the River Thames for the last 34 years – time flies when you’re having fun!
LP: What kind of views can you get from the Thames; you can really see London from a totally unique perspective can’t you?
GARY: Well, if you’re travelling from Westminster to Greenwich and you get to Canary Wharf, with a clear view you can see back to Tower Bridge. Literally, the River bends in big horse shoes and people don’t believe that you can look back and see the all the landmarks when you’re that far along. You can even see the Gherkin and the Shard.
LP: You must get some stunning sunsets?
GARY: In the summer it is really beautiful when the sun’s setting and you get this orange colour just as the sun disappears over the horizon.
LP: So where is the best place to be along the river to catch one of these sunsets?
GARY: I think down Greenwich Pier, or down by the Naval Colleges in Greenwich. Greenwich is a very historical and important place. People often forget there are a lot more places to go than the obvious – they just think of the main ones: Cutty Sark, Royal Observatory… But there are lots of nooks and crannies to be explored, tucked away in Greenwich. You can spend a whole day down there.
LP: There’s also a nice market isn’t there?
GARY: Greenwich indoor market: that’s great for cuisines all round the world and is inexpensive, too. So if you’ve got children and are travelling as a family, or if you’re on a budget, it’s great!
LP: So is that your top tip; you must go to Greenwich!
GARY: My top tip would be, yes, go to Greenwich but go early in the morning and spend a day down there; plan your trip out – because it can’t be done in a couple of hours! The Cutty Sark is a must-see, especially since the multi-million pound re-development.
Greenwich is a beautiful area; you’ve got the Naval College and the Queen’s House – and as you come into Greenwich Pier the view hasn’t changed in over 300 years, we sometimes take the boat in a bit further just to see it. It’s even depicted in Canaletto’s painting A View of Greenwich from the River – it still looks the same now as it did then. As you look up, you’ve got the Old Royal Naval Colleges, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and you’ve got the Queen’s House and Greenwich Park and the statue of General James Wolf in the Royal Observatory.
LP: So what would be the best trip for a tourist to take on a City Cruise boat?
GARY: If you’ve got limited time, I would do the 45 minutes non-stop circular cruise from Tower pier – but you can’t go to Tower Bridge without going in the Tower!
LP: Definitely, it’s most tourists’ favourite London landmark – and I’m not surprised, it’s got such a diverse history, plus it’s right on the river…
GARY: It’s funny when a tourist asks about the Tower of London being an old prison, they never believe me when I tell them that the last people imprisoned there were Ronnie and Reggie Kray . They look at me like I’m mad!
LP: You must have had some funny questions from passengers on your boat – what is the funniest thing you’ve been asked?
GARY: I think the funniest thing was when we were at Westminster and someone asked me for the time, just as we were going under Big Ben… Big Ben’s another great landmark, and you can’t miss it either! Someone also asked me once where the rails were that the boat was running along… Like it was an underwater Disney ride!
LP: They’ve definitely not been on a City Cruise boat before then!
GARY: I get a lot of people who buy the ticket and don’t know where they’re going either – they don’t care where they end up or what they see, they just want a trip along the Thames!
LP: So how much longer do you think you’ll be working on the Thames for? Indefinitely seeing as you love it so much?
GARY: Until I feel the time is right – there are still watermen out here in their 70s!
City Cruise boats are all-weather, modern boats with open upper decks and heated lower decks with seating and refreshments. For more information, visit their website.