The first helicopter sightseeing tour from central London has just taken off. Alexi Duggins gives it a whirl.
For a long time, a sightseeing helicopter ride that starts and finishes in London has been but a pipe dream. Well, unless you’re content with watching the opening scenes of ‘The Apprentice’. But we’re pretty sure that the view on most chopper trips isn’t sporadically interrupted by close-ups of Alan Sugar’s jowls. A few tower blocks away from Clapham Junction station, a new sightseeing service, The London Helicopter, allows you to hop into a chopper and take a 20-minute flight, following the river between the Isle of Dogs and Barnes. And, well, it’s quite something…
As with any good flight, there’s a pre-take-off safety briefing. Albeit with more focus than usual on avoiding the vehicle’s tail lest you be reduced to a meaty mush. Then you scoot across a dinky helipad, the rotors spin, you climb aboard, your chair rumbles like a sumo wrestling team has just plonked themselves down on the adjoining seats – and suddenly the city’s shrinking beneath you.
Strata Tower in Elephant & Castle becomes a futuristic lipstick. Trafalgar Square is a school playground. And away in the distance, the arch of Wembley is as imposing as a discarded alice band. In the suburbs of west London, driveways clutter together like crazy paving. By Barnes, the city has become a collection of bowling greens.
The highlight, though, comes at 1,000 feet – you’re at the same height as the tip of The Shard, the helicopter begins to draw up alongside it, and as you start to see inside the building, you find yourself thinking: We can’t fly this close to it, we’re bound to move away from… WHOA! WE’RE BUZZING THE SHARD!’ By the end of the 20-minute trip, you’ve crossed London at 100 miles per hour. The city has been laid dramatically bare for you. And it really is like being in the intro to ‘The Apprentice’. But with no added Sugar.
Sounds like fun? Visit thelondonhelicopter.com for more details.
Four more slightly cheaper ways to see the Thames…
For families (and history buffs): London Duck Tours
London Duck Tours use World War II landing craft, dolled-up for new careers as novelty tour vehicles on the Thames and painted bright yellow. Great fun. From £65 for a family of four.
For speed freaks: Rib Rides
Two outfits offer sightseeing tours in Ribs (rigid inflatable boats): Thames Rib Experience at Embankment Pier (www.thamesribexperience.com) and London Rib Voyages beside the London Eye. Around £36 to Canary Wharf, £50 to the Thames Barrier.
For workaholics: Thames Clippers
Multitask by commuting to work on the Thames Clipper riverbus service. These swish catamarans ply the Thames between Vauxhall and Woolwich, offering terrific views. You can even have a beer on board. Discounts with Oyster or Travelcards.
For party paddlers: Raving and kayaking
Rave River from Kayaking London is for over-18s who fancy a chummy evening paddle from Chelsea to Westminster in a two-person canoe with a floating sound system belting out ambient, trance and a bit of house music. June 21 and July 19 are the next dates available. £39.