1. Built environment
July 5, 2017

What’s the best way to cross the Thames in London? We’ve ranked all 63 options

By Ed Jefferson

There are, depending on how you count, about 60 ways of crossing the Thames in London. That includes everything within the M25, and also the M25 crossings itself – a definition which involves counting things that aren’t really London, but somehow feels right.

But! Which one is the best? Using special river crossing science we have once and for all determined the best, worst, and most unexceptional ways of getting between north and south London.

(Note: I’ve only included publicly accessible crossings: that is, stuff you can turn up and walk/drive/be driven/carried through/in. If anyone reading this has access to, e.g. the tunnel under the Thames barrier, please contact the author c/o CityMetric.)

Anyway. In reverse order:

63) The Dartford Tunnels

Connects: Dartford and Thurrock

They might be a fairly vital part of London’s transport infrastructure, carrying northbound traffic under the river between the two halves of the M25 (although technically, the crossing is the A282). But they’re also rubbish, because

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a) the only way of getting through them is driving or being driven (e.g. on the X80 bus);

b) there’s not much of a view; and

c) congratulations, you’re in Thurrock.

Still, the ventilation shafts do look a bit like they should have been in Blake’s 7.

62) The Blackwall Tunnels

Connects: Blackwall and North Greenwich

The tunnel in 1912. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty.

Once open to people and horses (supposedly the tunnel’s twists were to prevent horses bolting towards daylight at each end), now the non-driver’s only option is the 108 bus. The castle-esque grade II listed gateway building on the south side is quite nice, it has to be said.

61) Staines Railway Bridge

Connects: Staines and Staines

Enough said.

60) Kingston Railway Bridge

Connects: Hampton Wick and Kingston

Perfectly functional as railway bridges go but, if you’re just looking to cross the river, it’s much nicer to walk across Kingston Bridge, immediately upstream.

59) Richmond Railway Bridge

Connects: St. Margarets and Richmond

 See above, but for Richmond.

 58) M3 Chertsey Bridge

Connects: Chertsey and Chertsey

 Not even allowed to walk over it, because it’s a motorway, but not that big a loss considering it only connects two halves of a probably fictional place in Surrey. But if you must:

 57) Chertsey Bridge       

Connects: Chertsey and Chertsey        

If you’re tired or Chertsey, why not try: Chertsey.

56) Twickenham Bridge

Connects: St. Margarets and Richmond

Annoying because it isn’t actually that close to Twickenham, and sad because local protest (backed by the Daily Telegraph) derailed architect Maxwell Ayrton’s original plan to have two 70-foot towers on each end, which sounds great. 

55) Canary Wharf – Rotherhithe Ferry

Connects: Canary Wharf and Rotherhithe

Canary Wharf at dawn, as seen from Rotherhithe. Image: Getty

While, as a rule, crossing the Thames by boat is extremely good, paying the best part of a fiver to do it is extremely bad.

54) Fulham Railway Bridge

Connects: Fulham and Putney

Why is this named after Fulham when the nearby road bridge is named after Putney? Especially as it connects two stations with the word Putney in the name? Anyway, there’s a bit on the side you can walk along, so that’s nice.

53) Kew Railway Bridge

Connects: Strand-on-the-Green and Kew

Otherwise boring railway bridge that gets bonus points for a pretend version of it falling on the TARDIS in a 1960s episode of Doctor Who.

52) Cannon Street Railway Bridge

Connects: ???

Where do the trains from Cannon Street even go? No-one knows!

51) Waterloo & City line tunnels

Connects: Waterloo and the City

Bad and a bit Tory, but as the compiler of this list has been “dining out” on claiming it has the same personality as Miley Cyrus for some years now, he can’t complain too much.

50) M25 Runnymede Bridge

Connects: The M25

Carries both the M25 and the A30 (which debatably makes it two separate bridges). The best thing anyone appears to have to say about them beyond ‘the cars go over them’ is that some archaeologically interesting pottery was discovered when they upgraded it to carry the M25.

49) Shepperton to Weybridge Ferry

Connects: Shepperton and Weybridge

Has run for nearly 500 years because no-one can be bothered to build a bridge between two places no-one really wants to go (even the ferry was discontinued between 1960-1986).

On the upside, fictional passengers on this ferry were the first people to get zapped to death by Martians in War Of The Worlds and you have to ring a bell to get the bloke to come and take you over, which is a very small amount of fun.

48) Hampton Court Bridge

Connects: Hampton and East Molesey

Hampton Court Bridge, summer 1946. Image: Getty.

The last bridge out of Greater London to the west, as the other side is in Surrey. That’s the worst thing about this fairly average crossing, but it’s a shame it replaced the previous bridge in the 1920s: a contemporary critic called that “one of the ugliest bridges in England, and a flagrant eyesore and disfigurement both to the river and to Hampton Court”. Sounds brilliant.

47) Jubilee line tunnels (North Greenwich to Canning Town)

Connects: Canning Town and North Greenwich

Oh good you can change for the ExCel centre and go to the ExCel centre and wish you weren’t at the ExCel centre.

46) Chiswick Bridge

Connects: Chiswick and Mortlake

Bit boring unless you like boats: it’s near loads of sailing and rowing clubs and is close to the finish line of the Oxford-Cambridge boat race.

45) Battersea Railway Bridge

Connects: Imperial Wharf and Battersea

Very annoying because it doesn’t have an attached footbridge, which would be handy as it’s exactly halfway between Wandsworth and Battersea bridges.

 44) Kingston Bridge

Connects: Hampton and Kingston

Probably just getting bonus points because the ‘regenerated’ riverside is unexpectedly pleasant. Even the Sam Smith’s.

43) Docklands Light Railway tunnel (Woolwich Arsenal-King George V)

Connects: Woolwich and North Woolwich

Ideal for if being in Woolwich has made you give up on the concept of the UK entirely, but pretending to drive the DLR just isn’t the same when you’re stuck inside a tunnel. 

42) Walton Bridge

Connects: Shepperton and Walton-on-Thames

This very recently built bridge (the 6th on the site, opened 2013) places higher than it should for novelty value of being hung off two huge steel arches, painted cream: the colour was chosen to stop swans flying into it.

 41) Jubilee line tunnels (Waterloo to Westminster)

Connects: Waterloo and Westminster

Does it need to cross the Thames this much? Image: Wikipedia.

Can’t work out if this is the most Tory or the least Tory bit of the Jubilee Line. Presumably some actual Tories get the train from their southern constituencies to Waterloo? 

40) Jubilee line tunnels (Canary Wharf to North Greenwich)

Connects: Canary Wharf and North Greenwich

If you ever find yourself stuck at Canary Wharf trying to get back to town during the evening rush hour, make your journey less stressful by going one stop the other way to the relatively peaceful North Greenwich station.

39) Staines Bridge

Connects: Staines and Staines.

Actually, the riverside bit of Staines – sorry, Staines-upon-Thames, as we’re supposed to call it now – by the bridge is alright, at least in that there are a couple of pubs with outdoor seating. 

38) Bakerloo line tunnels (Waterloo to Embankment)

Connects: Waterloo and Embankment

Hardly seems like it was worth the effort of tunnelling under the river given it terminates fairly soon after at Elephant & Castle, but touch wood that the long mooted southern extension plan might actually happen sometime this century.

37) Northern line (City branch) tunnels

Connects: Bank and London Bridge

The business branch of the Northern line: 80 per cent of ties that cross the Thames do so via these tunnels, according to a statistic we just made up.

36) Jubilee line tunnels (Canada Water to Canary Wharf)

Connects: Canada Water and Canary Wharf

If the Jubilee line loves crossing the Thames so much why doesn’t it just become a boat and have done with it.

35) Richmond Bridge

Connects: Richmond and Richmond

London’s oldest extant bridge, having somehow managed to survive the Victorian tendency to rip everything up and start again. Perhaps everyone was too concerned by the law stating that any damage to the bridge carried a penalty of being transported to America for seven years. (Amazingly, we didn’t make this bit up.)

34) Kew Bridge

Connects: the North and South Circulars

The final stone of the present Kew Bridge was laid by King Edward VII using a silver trowel. Show-off. It’s a good job they replaced it, as a Victorian guidebook notes that its predecessor was “more steep than agreeable”. Good riddance. 

33) Putney Bridge

Connects: Fulham and Putney.

Good origin story: the first Putney Bridge was (supposedly) at least partly built at the spiteful insistence of prime minister Robert Walpole because he once needed to cross the river when the ferryman was too busy getting wankered in the pub.

32) Wandsworth Bridge

Connects: Fulham and Wandsworth

A haiku:

It is Wandsworth Bridge

Connects Wandsworth and Fulham

Just stay on the bridge

31) Barnes Railway Bridge

Connects: Barnes and Chiswick

Plus points for having a pedestrian walkway. Debatable points for having a famous jazz pub at one end. 

30) Grosvenor Bridge

Connects: Pimlico and Nine Elms

Quite a boring rail bridge, but you did used to get a good view of Battersea Power Station from it, before they built loads of flats in the way.

29) Victoria line tunnels (Pimlico to Vauxhall)

Connects: Pimlico and Vauxhall

Fun fact: the Victoria to Brixton extension was opened by the Queen’s cousin, who is 50th in line to the throne!

28) Lambeth Bridge

Connects: Westminster and the Albert Embankment.

A horse cools off before Lambeth Bridge in 1937. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty.

If anyone tells you it’s decorated with pineapples, ignore them. They’re pinecones. OBVIOUSLY.

27) Northern line (Charing Cross branch) tunnel

Connects: Embankment and Waterloo

The pleasure branch of the Northern Line.

26) Docklands Light Railway tunnel (Islands Gardens – Cutty Sark)

Connects: Island Gardens and Cutty Sark

Ideal for anyone too lazy to use the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

25) Rotherhithe Tunnel

Connects: Limehouse and Rotherhithe

London’s least used foot tunnel: less than 20 people brave it a day, because if the fume-heavy air doesn’t keep you away, cyclists zooming past you on the already narrow footpath will.

But if you don’t want to drive, you have to cycle or walk: TfL run no buses through it: none of the buses operating today would even pass the width restrictions. Still, you aren’t a true Londoner until you’ve braved this once.

24) Southwark Bridge

Connects: The City and Bankside.

The “oh yeah, and that one I guess” of central London bridges, this does mean it’s usually quite quiet. In Mary Poppins, it’s where someone thinks the dad has killed himself in a fit of despair. Mary Poppins is a much weirder film than it is given credit for.

23) Battersea Bridge

Connects: Battersea and Chelsea

The boring pragmatist’s choice of Battersea-based bridges, but it is the only London river crossing known to have killed a whale.

22) Thames Tunnel

Connects: Wapping and Rotherhithe

The tunnel was briefly opened to foot passengers during engineering work in 2014. Image: Getty.

The original tunnel under the Thames – and the first under any river apart from one which may or may not have been built in Babylon, 4,000 years ago – it was designed as a foot tunnel: a business model which failed because most people found the walk too alarming, what with the pre-electric lighting and the strong possibility of being mugged.

It was converted into a railway tunnel in the mid-19th century, which is a shame because a mad old Victorian foot tunnel would be a nice way to cross the Thames. But the Overground is also pretty useful, I guess. 

21) Vauxhall Bridge

Connects: Pimlico and Vauxhall

Unlikely co-star of the James Bond films since they started using the real MI6 building. Although probably not any more since the fictional version of MI6 got all blown up.

The first version was originally called the Regent’s Bridge, but it turns out Londoners don’t really care what you think your bridge is called.

20) Hampton Ferry

Connects: Hampton and Moulsey.

Unlikely as it might sound, this tiny and not massively useful ferry service (it only runs in the summer, for a start) is one of the ten oldest companies in the UK. A more advisable way to cross the river than driving a car over it, as was apparently done near the ferry’s route in 1963, when this section of the river froze during a particularly cold winter.

19) Blackfriars Bridge

Connects: Blackfriars and Bankside

Was supposed to be called the William Pitt Bridge after the Prime Minister – but again, Londoners ignored this and just used a more geographically helpful name. 

18) Chelsea Bridge

Connects: Chelsea and Battersea

The first bridge on the site was named Victoria Bridge (matching Albert Bridge to the west), but it was renamed because there was a worry structural problems would cause it to collapse and no-one liked the idea of something named after the Queen falling into the river.

17) Teddington Lock Footbridges

The only Thames crossing that involves a pause at an island in the middle. The Visit Thames website informs us that the two lockkeepers have recently rescued a duckling named Davina.

16) Waterloo Bridge

Connects: The Strand and Waterloo

Sturdiest of all London bridges. Gets the job done. If bridges could buy pints, Waterloo would always stand you one.

These days the southern end contains the British Film Institute, but those of a certain age will always bemoan the loss of the Museum of the Moving Image, where you could lie on a blue rug and pretend to be Superman.

15) Queen Elizabeth II Bridge

Connects: Thurrock and Dartford

While this has many of the problems of the Dartford Tunnels, being their southbound equivalent, it’s deserving of a much higher ranking just because of the sheer scale of it. The 4th longest bridge in the UK, and the first (and last) on the Thames after Tower Bridge, it dominates the local skyline and it’s a fairly startling thing to walk under, even if you’re (sadly) not allowed to walk over it.

14) Hungerford Bridge and Golden Jubilee Bridges

Connects: Embankment and the South Bank

The Golden Jubilee Bridges, 2011. Image: Getty.

The Golden Jubilee Bridges: less famous, albeit less wobbly, cousins of the Millennium bridge, but the busiest foot crossings in London: a core of the London experience is running late trying to leg it across the bridge dodging tourists and tat-sellers.

Along with Barnes and Fulham, this is one of only three railway bridges to deign to incorporate a pedestrian bit. Although see number 9.

13) Hammerton’s Ferry

Connects: Marble Hill and Ham

Named after originator Walter Hammerton, who ended up taking a case to the House of Lords to get a ruling that he was allowed to charge people a penny a trip across the river. Local legend claims there’s also a secret tunnel under the river at this point, despite there being absolutely no evidence that this is true. 

12) Woolwich foot tunnel

Connects: North Woolwich and Woolwich

It always just seems so improbable that you can just walk under a river. Even if there are sometimes slightly alarming damp patches and no cyclist in the history of the world has ever obeyed the instruction not to cycle through it.

11) London Bridge

Connects: The City and Borough

Got to give it some props for being the very first non-boat based way to cross the river: there’s been a bridge on this site for at least 2,000 years (well, on and off for the first 1000 or so).

The last but one bridge, replaced in 1967, still exists – it was bought by an American and shipped to Arizona, although probably not, as popular myth would have it, because he thought it was Tower Bridge. It has since starred in a TV movie where David Hasselhoff had to fight the ghost of Jack the Ripper, whose soul was sent to the US along with the bridge. Which is nice. 

10) Hammersmith Bridge

Connects: Hammersmith and Barnes

Has survived no less than three attempted IRA bombings: it was saved from the first one when a passing hairdresser noticed that smoke was coming from the suitcase containing the bomb, and promptly wanged it off the side of the bridge. 

9) Blackfriars Railway Bridge

Connects: Blackfriars and Bankside

Blackfriars bridge/station/something. Image: Getty.

Is it a bridge? Is it a railway station? NO-ONE KNOWS!

At any rate, Blackfriars is the only station with an entrance on both sides of the river. So if you’ve got a travelcard or don’t mind paying, you can cross the river by walking along the platforms.

8) Richmond Lock and Footbridge

Connects: St Margarets and Richmond.

Fun fact: the lock at Richmond was built because the 500 year old version of London Bridge that was removed in 1831 turned out have far more impact on the tide than anyone had expected, making large parts of the Thames impossible to navigate during low tide. Until they built Richmond Lock. Thanks Richmond Lock! 

7) Westminster Bridge

Connects: Westminster and Lambeth

Admittedly extremely bad for much of the day, what with the crowds of tourists and gangs of criminal Shreks, but very good at night, especially if you can time your crossing to catch Big Ben going bong. 

 6) London Millennium Footbridge

Connects: St Paul’s and Bankside

The bridge during the 2012 Olympics. Image: Getty.

Strange that of all the big London Millennium things, this is the one that’s held onto its name, given it was only open for three days in the millennium year: it was then closed to fix unpredicted wobbling. A shame they didn’t fix it in a way that allows them to turn on ‘wobbling mode’ for special occasions. 

5) Greenwich foot tunnel

Connects: Island Gardens and Greenwich

See the Woolwich foot tunnel, except better because at least one end is somewhere you might conceivably want to go to.

4) The Cable Car

Connects: Royal Victoria Dock and North Greenwich

Has anyone ever unironically called it the ‘Emirates Air Line’? It is extremely dumb and a useful transport link to less than a handful of actual humans, but it is still a cable car. The lack of use means it’s fairly easy to a carriage to yourself, or with a ‘special friend’ Even if they should get rid of the dreadful music that at some point someone decided to pipe in, presumably to fill the appalling silence created by the complete lack of passengers.

3) Tower Bridge

Connects: Tower Hill and Bermondsey

The site of the single best thing that has ever happened in London: during one bridge opening in 1952, the staff failed to sound a warning and the 78 bus sped towards the now opening bridge. The driver boldly decided his best bet was to floor the double decker and amazingly, cleared the gap. He was given a £10 reward.

2) Woolwich Free Ferry

Connects: North Woolwich and Woolwich

If you’re so tired of London that you’re worried that you might be tired of life, check whether getting on a boat helps. The clue to why the Woolwich Free Ferry is the best boat of them all is in the name. Even if they break enough that the BBC London Travel Twitter account has developed unlikely catchphrase: “There’s only one Woolwich Ferry!”

If it seems like a long way to go, you can always make a return trip either under the foot tunnel, or if you fancy a bit of walk, via the cable car. 

1) Albert Bridge

Connects: Chelsea and Battersea

The Albert Bridge by night. Image: Diliff/Wikimedia Commons.

It may not be hugely useful (it’s right next to the much larger and more structurally sound Battersea Bridge) but it’s survived multiple calls for demolition because it’s just really pretty. It’s appeared in at least three rom coms and an episode of Doctor Who. If London really wants a garden bridge it should follow through on the 1970s plan to pedestrianise the Albert Bridge and turn it into a public park.

Additional information: A reader informs us of a little-known 64th method: there’s an old police boat called ‘Predator II’ that shuttles between Trinity Buoy Wharf at Leamouth and the O2 pier at North Greenwich – it’s mainly for the use of Thames Clipper crews but can be summoned by the public for a small fee. No, we’re not redoing the rankings.

Ed Jefferson works for the internet and tweets as @edjeff.

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