Tuesday 7 July 2015

Visiting London

Having lived in and around London all my life, Visiting London is something I don't often do - visiting, that is, in the sense that a visitor, keen to see the sights, visits. Yesterday we had a visitor with us, in the shape of a three-year-old Wellington-raised grandson who has long been fascinated by the great London icons - the Tower, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, the Eye - and was eager to see them for himself. He'd already ticked off a few on this visit, and we thought we'd take him for a ride on the Eye as a post-birthday treat. Here's what happened, with a few handy tips for visitors - not necessarily three-year-olds.
 First we thought it might be a good idea to take the open-top bus tour, hopping off at the Eye. After ten minutes or more waiting in a shambolic quasi-queue (at Victoria) while the sales staff struggled to get their card readers to work, I found myself at last in a position to ask for three tickets. This, I was informed, would cost £90 - yes, £30 a head. You can take the wonderful Circle Line cruise around Manhattan Island (a journey that can reduce a man - well me anyway - to tears) for little more than half that. Welcome to London.
 Deciding against paying 30 sovs to enjoy the snarled-up London traffic and inhale the city's distinctive blend of particulates, we sped by Tube to the Embankment, crossed the rather beautiful footbridge to the South Bank, and took it from there. Here's a tip for three-year-olds: the London Eye looks fine in a view but, close to, it's too big to take in, the queues are epic, and the wheel turns way too slowly (also, at this time of year, once you're up there, most of what you see is trees - this is a wonderfully green city). Sam did not need to be told this; an icecream, a run around and a spot of lunch were clearly a much better idea.
 After that, we took to the water, taking a cruise boat from Festival Pier downriver to St Katherine's and then back to Westminster Pier (total cost for three: just over £30). This is the way to see London - from the river (especially on a warm summer's day) - and it was a novelty for us long-term Londoners too, as the city has only recently woken up to the possibilities of its river. In my childhood the London Thames was a toxic industrial drain, on which the city - then soot-black and skyscraper-free - understandably turned its back. Now, increasingly, it is the glory of London - and certainly the best way to get around. If only that skyline weren't so sorely disfigured by some of the most stupidly ugly buildings in the world. But, sitting happily near the prow of our boat, we took in the dome of St Paul's, the Globe Theatre, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the Monument... And, walking back through Westminster, the Abbey and Big Ben. All that was missing were bobbies on bicycles two by two, and the rosy red cheeks of the little chil-dren.


  1. It's a great trip to Greenwich by public transport boat. I've done it a few times with children and visitors. Best way to see Canary Wharf is from below the feet of its towers - really impressive and there's a spell of invigorating acceleration once you're clear of the Pool of London too.

    I was in Greenwich last week. The stately old admiralty buildings feel underused. I think we could offer it as a pop-up capital city for those countries too new or impoverished to have their own impressive civic centre. In the summer months when the university is on hols.

  2. Great idea Gaw - Greenwich fits the bill perfectly. I wonder if they've built a replica in Japan...