A boat trip on the River Thames reveals the real London

by kozmik

Spend a few days exploring the River Thames and you will get to know the true London from a unique perspective as unknown sides to the capital become gloriously clear.

Take to the water on the River Thames and you will get to see a side of London unknown to many. In fact, I would say to get to know the authentic real London, you have to head for the river. Yet it is only in the last few years that the powers that be have woken up to the great potential of the highway which flows past the ancient city's historic centre and beyond.

With more than 20 piers to choose from along the river, you are now spoilt for choice about where and when you get on and off the frequent cruisers that have transformed the facilities for visitors, tourists and commuters.

London Bridge

London Bridge was for many centuries the only bridge across the Thames and it is still possible to get more than a little of the flavour of the bustling medieval city if you stay near here. My suggestion is the London Bridge Hotel just south of the bridge. Here you will be within walking distance of many of London's attractions. The rooms are very clean, the washrooms are spacious and the front desk is exceptionally helpful in assisting you to get the most from your London visit.

Tate Modern

On your doorstep are some of the sights and sounds of London, from the O2 Arena which has quickly become the leading concert venue in London to the Tate Modern, another instant success on the London scene with an astonishing five million visitors a year.

The top floor of the Tate Modern offers refreshments, meals and splendid views across to the city on the other side of the river from the stylish top floor restaurant. The only better view hereabouts, strictly for the energetic, is to proceed across the Millennium Bridge and enter St Paul's Cathedral.

This site of both a Roman temple and four cathedrals now commands views across the whole of London once you climb over 300 steps to the very top of its glorious dome. Sir Christopher Wren took his inspiration direct from Renaissance Italy.

The George Inn

One of my favourite London pubs, The George Inn, is just south of London Bridge on Borough High Street, where the setting is not dissimilar to Chaucer's time, it is London's last galleried coaching inn, and is now a National Trust property. They do a very good line in pub food served in authentic old London surroundings. Just around the corner is Borough Market, London's oldest market and another taste of how medieval London used to be.

The Globe Theatre and the Golden Hinde

You will find that the whole of this side of the river, called Bankside, has been sympathetically restored over the last decade and more. It evokes the first Elizabethan era like no other part of London.

Attractions include the newly recreated Globe Theatre where you can take in a performance in the manner of the Elizabethans, the theatre faithfully follows the original design right down to the 'open to the elements' stage and audience pit for the 'groundlings'. Also close by is a full size replica of Sir Francis Drake's ship, the Golden Hinde, to be found at St Mary Overie's dock, Cathedral Street, near the Tate Modern.

You can embark from the Tate Modern on your own vessel to the Tate Britain, about three miles upstream, the separating point between 'modern' and earlier seeming to be around the year 1900, both galleries are well worth a visit for their treasures and also the seductive ambience, art has become sexy in London and attracts a trendy urban crowd.

Festival Hall and the London Eye

Your boat next takes you past the newly refurbished Festival Hall, a place where Londoners now love to hang out in the evening over a drink or two, and the London Eye, a truly spectacular 20 minute ride that takes you 400 feet up into the air to survey the scene far below.

Marriott County Hall

For 5-star luxury right in the heart of Westminster there is the Marriott London County Hall hotel, this was once the seat of local London government, now it boasts the largest gym and swimming pool in any London hotel. River views of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye are all spectacular from your riverside room. You are very close to the West End with all its theatres  from this ultra convenient location.

Cadogan Pier for the Sloane Street shops

Cadogan Pier, Chelsea, will be your point of disembarkation If you are attracted to upmarket shopping. Making your base in Knightsbridge will put you close to both the river and the delights of Harrods, Harvey Nichols and the trendy boutiques of Sloane Street with the very latest styles and fashions on show from Europe's premier designers, all conveniently gathered in one street, brands to die for like Versace, Louis Vuitton and Salvatore Ferragamo for the ultimate in ladies' shoes.

My recommendation for your hotel is the Millennium Hotel London Knightsbridge, right on Sloane Street, with its clean uncluttered lines and impeccable service. You may need to book ahead as this is a very popular hotel for dedicated shoppers and people up in town to take in the shows. You are in the heart of the shopping district. While the open spaces of  Hyde Park beckon when you want to leave the big city behind and relax by the Serpentine lake.

One London curiosity to check out while you are here is Sloane Square underground station at the foot of Sloane Street. A large black pipe over the platform funnels the underground river, the Westbourne, from the Serpentine to the Thames at Cadogan Pier. Something the commuters are blissfully unaware of.

In London, all roads and streams lead back to the eternal river. Get to know her and she will reward you with intimate knowledge of London's secrets.