Up in the air: Cruising ABOVE the Thames on Emirates Air Line
Given the hills and valleys which make up London, it’s actually surprising its taken this long for the city to get a cable car. When I first heard there was going to be a cable car being built over the Thames in between North Greenwich and Docklands, I did ask why? Although I kept hearing the word ‘Olympics’ as an excuse because it would ferry people between ExCel and the O2 Arena, I protested that the Olympic and Paralympics only lasted a month between them, so exactly when was it going to get used after that. I have loved taking cable cars or ‘gondolas’ on holiday abroad, but thought the London one should be situated somewhere more central.
However, when I thought a little more about it, I thought that part of the Thames needs a crossing. After you go east from Tower Bridge, the river noticeably widens and there are no bridges spanning it. If you’ve got a car, there’s the Rotherhithe or Blackwall tunnels or Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels for pedestrians, but none of these have a view.
When the Emirates Air Line actually opened in late June this year, I decided to go on it to check out the view. Although I was prepared to go out of my way to go on it, I actually ended up getting last-minute Olympic tickets to the women’s basketball at the O2. After the match, it was such a beautiful sunny day, my friend and I decided to go on it to get to our next destination – Tower Bridge. Although the long queue (due to the Olympic crowd) was very off-putting, we soon realised we didn’t need to queue if we had Oyster cards, so swiped our way through and were sitting on a cable car within minutes.
With comfortable seating for about 6-8 people, there are 360 degree views. The cable car is pretty stable, although shudders slightly when going over the tall columns holding it up. A friend who was initially a bit nervous actually felt fine once it got going so don’t let the jitters scare you off. The view was spectacular – the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf weren’t far away, the large roof of the O2, the Olympic park, the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, Thames Barrier and, even, St Paul’s Cathedral. You’re cruising at about 6-metres-per-second and the whole journey takes about 5 minutes (I lost all sense of time, but it was pretty quick).
Despite my fears it would only be useful during the Olympics, I am hopeful people will use it for other reasons besides a tourist attraction. For example, people visiting ExCel may find it easier boarding the 10 minute ride to access the Jubilee line at North Greenwich if the DLR is a slower route home (I know I will!). I suspect it will also come in handy during weekend engineering works – something we blissfully forgot existed during the Games. If the Air Line is considered a part of the transport network by Londoners, it will ensure its survival. But if you are a visitor to London, I can highly recommend it as an enjoyable excursion.
- You can board the Emirates Air Line at the North Greenwich Peninsula or Royal Victoria Docks near the ExCel Centre. Opening hours 7/9am-9pm in summer, earlier in the winter. Tickets: Adult singles £4.50, Child singles £2.30. Nearest station: North Greenwich or Royal Victoria (DLR). For more information, visit the Emirates Air Line website.
For a guide to what is on in London at the moment, click here.