What’s the best way to see London? Some say from the river is the best place, on a boat trip. Something I’ve done in other cities around the world, but never in my own capital city to my recollection. The other Saturday I changed that by going on a Thames RIB Experience – not your average relaxed river cruise, but rather a guided tour and James Bond experience rolled into one. Honestly, it was the most fun I’ve ever had on the Thames!
Thames RIB Experience from the Tattershall Castle (lunch stop!)
A number of these speed boat tour companies have cropped up in recent years on the Thames, each offering something similar but in their own style. We went with the bright yellow RIBs of the Thames RIB Experience, who offer trips that can be booked through Buy a Gift. It was a present, and I was joined by LincsGeek and his brother and sister-in-law for the hour long jaunt along the river, starting and finishing at Embankment Pier in the centre of town.
Once in an oversized waterproof jacket and our life jacket (£75 if you pull the red cord by accident so be warned; I can see that could be very easy to do!) we boarded the small RIB. Seating just 12 people, we were joined by our driver (captain… pilot…?) and a tour guide who, armed with a microphone, gave us a running commentary of the sights of London as we meandered along the river. I say running commentary… think horse racing rather than football… he spoke with great speed as he obviously wanted to fit everything in on both banks as we went by! He was obviously very knowledgable, and it was great to have that element to the trip.
Palace of Westminster and the London Eye
The Palace of Westminster
The Tower of London
From the RIB we could see loads of famous London sights. We headed towards Westminster first, so we could see the Palace of Westminster and London Eye from the water, before turning around and heading out towards Greenwich. On the way we had unobstructed views of the Tower of London, including Traitor’s Gate, Tower Bridge, London Bridge, The Globe Theatre, the Shard, HMS Belfast, HMS President (the one that’s been painted as The Dazzle Ship by Tobias Rehberger), the Naval Collage at Greenwich, the O2, and the Thames Barrier, amongst many (many) other places. We also spotted a new addition to my list – people walking over the top of the O2, “Up at the O2”, I hope to do that next time I’m in London.
Going under Tower Bridge
Once we were safely under Tower Bridge, and therefore outside the speed limit set on that part of the River Thames, the driver opened up the throttle and the bow lifted out of the water as we bounced along the Thames, shifting from left to right to give us a real speed boat experience. It was fast and bouncy and loads of fun. LincsGeek and I giggled as we were thrown out of our seat a little (there was a handrail in front to hold on to, which we did more solidly after the first “air”). The driver was having fun with us as he changed direction quickly, zigzagging along the wider parts of the Thames. We would slow back down so our commentator could point a few more bits out, before speeding up again. We particularly loved the reaction of one of the other ladies on the RIB; she had her waterproof coat hood done up tightly around her face and was trying to hide – I think the driver noticed and made sure she got splashed once or twice which made the rest of us laugh a lot.
The Thames Barrier
As we headed back into the centre of London having turned around the other side of the Thames Barrier, they put the James Bond theme music on loud so we had the full effect of heading towards Tower Bridge with the front of the boat out of the water. A bit corny, yes probably, but the perfect soundtrack to our RIB experience. We all got a bit wet on this bit of the journey; those oversized jackets came in very handy. We didn’t get soaked or anything, just splashed with river water (keep your mouth shut; you don’t want to swallow ANY of that!!) – good job it was a hot day as it meant we didn’t get cold and dried off very quickly when we got off the boat. Sadly they ruined the soundtrack a bit by putting on Gangnam Style for the last bit, not sure why exactly, another film score would have been much better.
Heading back under Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge and The Shard
We did the “extended” tour, which meant we had an hour on the boat rather than the standard half an hour. Very well worth the extra time and money, we went from Embankment Pier on the Victoria Embankment, right up to and beyond the Thames Barrier, and back again. I would most definitely recommend the Thames RIB Experience to anyone visiting London; see London in a new way and have a proper giggle as you speed along pretending you’re James Bond. Loads of fun.
The Tate Modern and Millennium Bridge
Read the rest of my Bucket List – feel free to make suggestions!