Most of us know that the best way to travel between central London and Greenwich is via a Thames Clippers boat ride. Whether as a commuter or day tripper it's more glamorous than being underground, has a better view than the bus and is cheaper than a taxi. Plus no other form of public transport allows you to purchase a G&T* for quaffing en route.
But what about the other stops along the route? What else is there to discover on the "RB1"? Our friends at Thames Clippers gave us a River Roamer day ticket so we could find out.
Boarding at Embankment around 10am on a gloriously sunny winter Saturday, we joined a throng of excitable passengers hanging out on the back of the boat. Even though comfy seats are located inside the cabin, most people want to experience the trip on the river from the open deck — especially as that's where you'll get the best photos of Big Ben, the London Eye and the Tower of London.
Wishing to explore the lesser-known attractions along the route, we opted to be the sole passengers disembarking at Masthouse Terrace. Where's that? Um, sort of a third of the way around the Isle of Dogs. You can just about see Greenwich from here and there are views all the way back to The Shard. An amble around reveals incredible industrial heritage that persists amid upmarket warehouse conversions and the odd terrace of original dockers' cottages. A short walk away is Island Gardens DLR station where locals play football against an impressive Canary Wharf backdrop and the excellent Mudchute Farm is a stone's throw away. Crossing the river via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel we emerge into Maritime Greenwich but head straight for the Meantime Brewery. Here we sink a pint of bar-tender recommended Yakima Red in the garden and download the Thames Clippers app which gives live boat departure information so we can plan our next embarkation with adequate time for a toilet stop.
Next it's out to North Greenwich, clocking Trinity Buoy Wharf (home of Thames Clippers) as we round the peninsula and approach The O2 looking formidable from the water. Striding away from the entertainment complex towards the Thames Barrier there is time and space to admire the Cable Car, the Gormley exploding man and — er — the London Soccer Dome. This bit's being developed right now but push on and you'll find The Pilot pub and if you fancy a nature ramble, keep to the Thames Path and discover Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park.
With a limited shuttle service to and from Royal Arsenal Woolwich at weekends we missed the boat for that excursion so doubled back to Greenland pier instead for a route around Rotherhithe peninsula. We happened upon the Ship and Whale pub — harking back to Greenland Dock's whaling fleet days — dipped into Russia Dock Woodland, strolled back to South Dock and the Wibbley Wobbley floating pub, before a walk around the marina spotting traces of old dock heritage. Then it was back to the pier.
With the winter sun on the wane and the temperature dipping we boarded a boat going east for a final round-trip purely to enjoy the scenery, get some last photos and enjoy the sensation of being on the river. The boat was beautifully quiet up to North Greenwich**, the light quite different at this time of day, with crew very happy for "round-trippers" to stay aboard while they prepared for the return to central London — an ideal time to get a G&T in. Inevitably things get busy at Greenwich with all the day trippers piling aboard but snug in the cabin with a seat guaranteed it's just under 40 minutes back to Embankment, sailing into the sunset.
While the front seat of a double-decker bus, back seat of a taxi or "driving" seat of a DLR train all have their own charms, none quite compare to the thrill of setting off on the deck of a Thames Clipper — hearing the engines rev, seeing the Thames foam in its wake and watching the ever-fascinating London landscape roll by.
River Roamer tickets are available every day from 9am until end of service. Adult tickets cost £15 and £32.50 for a family (2 adults and up to 3 children). Get a third off adult tickets with a valid Travelcard or save by buying online, currently £13.10 for adults and £29.50 for a family.
Londonist is proud media partner to Thames Clippers – the fastest and most frequent fleet on the River Thames.
Words by Lindsey Clarke, photography by Peter Berthoud.
*And coffee and snacks and other drinks.
**Top tip from the Thames Clipper crew and backed up by our experience — if you're visiting Greenwich on a weekend either be prepared to leave before 3pm or allow a little extra time to head eastbound to North Greenwich and/or Woolwich. The queue to go east will be more or less non-existent, but from around 3pm it seems everyone in Greenwich is trying to board a boat into Central London.