From Westminster to Tower Bridge, London’s riverside is packed with landmarks. If you are used to travel by tube, sailing on the river can be a welcome diversion. A more relaxing experience and a perfect to take in all the views. We were recently invited for a press trip on dog-friendly Circular Cruise ferry boats on the Thames and we discovered some new things about London listening to an (entertaining) commentary.
Circular Cruises: a dog-friendly cruise on the Thames to explore London landmarks
I once came across a (not particularly authoritative though) chart of the most photographed landmarks in London. Not surprisingly, Tower Bridge was listed in the top 2, followed by the London Eye and the Tate Modern, and the Big Ben, of course. These iconic monuments are loved by everyone, however, personally, I have grown a bit bored of seeing them from the same angle over and over again. So the occasion of watching them from a different perspective, passing under the bridges instead of on them, and far from the crowds, felt like a breathe of fresh air (a bit like walking on the glass floor of the Tower Bridge Exhibition).
Circular Cruise’s service, which runs between Westminster Pier and St Katherine’s Pier, near Tower Bridge, with stops at Embankment Pier, Festival Pier and Bankside Pier, has a fleet of sightseeing boats and they are all dog-friendly (people are just asked to keep dogs on leash and off the seats at all times). A good one for a different experience with your dog, and other perks include being able to sit on the outdoor top deck and a live audio commentary from the captain (in direction of Tower Bridge only) while you sail on the river.
The route touches almost all famous spots you may want to see when in London, so full of photo opportunities.
Our trip was on a sunny weekend, with Gustavito and Glitch the Spanish rescue dogs joining. Maria made them wear their harnesses as a safety precaution (Gustavito once jumped into the Regents’ Canal from a hired boat, so you never know…). I hadn’t realised how many boats stop in Westminster. The pier and docks seem to enjoy some good traffic as we sailed from Westminster in direction of Tower Bridge.
During the 30-minute ride, Glitch and Gus perched on their mum’s knees (no dog sat on the seats!). Gustavito looked around with the breeze blowing his long hair, while Glitch curled up in Maria’s arms, wrapped in her warm fleece. It was a lovely sunny October evening, with the light of the afternoon drawing shadows on the buildings and the boat wasn’t too packed with people. It was a nice chance to sit back and relax while spotting details I had never stopped to look.
Things to know
- Circular Cruises’ name would make one assume that tickets are for a return trip, however they are one way. If you want to do the return trip and/or be able to hop on and off as you please, you can purchase the 24 hours ticket, which difference in price is not huge (£16 against £10.75 of the single fare).
- Sitting on the top deck is great, but due to safety reasons standing is prohibited (and the staff gets – rightfully – vocal with anyone breaching this policy, as the captain can’t drive safely if he doesn’t see where he is going!).
- Circular Cruises makes few stops. I was a bit confused when we left Westminster and no commentary started, but as I asked the captain, he clarified that they were waiting to reach the following stop before starting the commentary.
- The commentary was filled with great English humor and we had some good laughs. I won’t spoil it in case you visit, but some very remarkable jokes discussing the National Theatre and the London School for Boys in Blackfriars! One thing to note is that apparently they are not paid for the commentary, so a tips bucket is circulated at the end of the cruise encouraging a contribution (make sure to have some change with you!).
5 reasons to go
One question that you may be asking is: is it just for tourists? While the majority of people who boarded with us where indeed tourists, as a Londoner the experience had its appeal. In particular, I found Circular Cruise great for:
- seeing London from a different perspective
- escaping the crowds while enjoying Central London’s views
- learning something new
- having a laugh – unexpected good jokes to lighten up the afternoon! –
- ditching the tube and making the most of travelling around London with a dog (much much better than the tube)
Tips for your dog-friendly cruise
- Dress up warm – unless you travel in the (warm days of) British Summer
- Bring something to dry your seat – when we boarded, seats were wet (it had rained a couple of hours earlier) and sitting on a dry surface definitely makes it more comfortable
- Make your dog wear a dog harness and keep them close to you and under control to avoid any hazards. Plus paws off the seats as per boat rules.
- Bring your camera – there are so many lovely views you don’t want to miss it.
- Which brings to the next point, which is arrive ahead of boarding time to get the best seats (although the best seats may be personal preference) – you won’t be able to stand and walk around taking photos during the cruise.
- If you have non-native speaker guests over, bring them with you: multi-lingual commentary system is available on smartphones via Wi-Fi in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Mandarin.
- If you travel with a few people, check out their offers and group discounts for deals.
- There is a bar and toilets on board in case you need them.
Dog-friendly Circular Cruises | Key information
- Dog policy: well-behaved dogs welcome, provided they are kept on leash and off the seats.
- Departures from: Westminster Pier, Embankment Pier, Festival Pier, Bankside Pier, St Katherine’s Pier.
- Timetable: The full timetables (Summer and Winter) are available on Circular Cruise’s website here.
- Price and tickets: Tickets cost £10.75 adult single – £16 adult return , £ 7 child single , £10.75 child return. | You can buy your tickets online or at one of the ticket booths at the piers.
- Fleet: Circular Cruise has three vessels: Sapele (the one we took), Mercuria and the tinier and more characteristic Sarah Kathleen, which only runs in the Summer months.
If you are thinking about other riverboat services running on the Thames, check out the list in our water-based adventures guide.