It was barely mid-day by now and we had already seen so much. Our ride on the Number 11 bus had introduced us to some of the city’s main sights from the comfort of the upper level of a double-decker bus. And our subsequent walking tour had taken us past Buckingham Palace, Whitehall and the Houses of Parliament where we listened to Big Ben ringing in the noon hour.
Noon rings out at “Big Ben”
But our whirlwind London sightseeing adventure was to continue. To get an even better feel for the city we were planning to go on a sightseeing tour with Thames River Cruises that departed from Westminster Pier. To me a sightseeing trip on the Thames River was just an absolute must for a stay in London. Soon the voice of our tour guide came on the speaker system, and he entertained us with bits of knowledge about London and with his dry humour.
Heading down on Westminster Pier to the cruise boat
From the boat we got a brilliant view of the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye, and we kept chugging eastwards past the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre. The modern office development above Charing Cross station came into view, and further along on the north bank we saw Somerset House, an impressive Neoclassical building from the late 1700s that used to house government offices and today is a centre for arts, heritage and entertainment.
The Parliament Buildings from the boat
Shortly after, on the south bank of the river, the OXO tower came into view. Originally built as a power station for the Post Office in the late 1900s, it was purchased by the company that manufactured Oxo beef stock cubes and was rebuilt in the late 1920s along the Art Deco style. Three vertical windows on each side of the tower are shaped like a circle, a cross and another circle, effectively spelling out the word “OXO” – an ingenious way to get around the advertising restrictions of the times.
The London Eye from the boat
The five wrought iron arches of the Blackfriars bridge appeared, and the gigantic dome of St. Pauls Cathedral peaked out above the buildings on the north side as a backdrop to the London Millennium Footbridge, a modern steel suspension bridge opened in June of 2000 that is for pedestrian use only. Walking straight north on this bridge provides a great scenic view of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
View of St. Paul’s Cathedral
The south side of the Thames River features the Tate Modern art gallery that is located in the former Bankside Power Station, a major tourist attraction since 2000. The gallery houses works of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Surrealism and contemporary art from the last 25 years. A short distance further east on the south bank of the river is Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, a 1997 recreation of The Globe Theatre whose original version was destroyed by fire in 1613. William Shakespeare was indeed one of the original shareholders of The Globe Theatre. The modern version is an open-air circular theatre with three levels of steep seating. Only the stage and some expensive seated areas are covered by a roof, and plays are staged from May to October every year.
Great views from the Thames River
The next major sight was coming up: the Tower of London, right next to Tower Bridge. The most well-known part of the tower is the original square fortress that was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. Over the years the tower has been used as a fortress, a royal palace and a prison. Even executions and acts of torture took place here. And for more than 700 years the tower has also been the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.
Tower Bridge, one of London’s most famous landmarks