It’s one of the most impressive shows in town, but uniquely this one’s best seen from the water! The Thames is lit up this winter as Illuminated River, longest public art project in the world and we’re itching to get our sea legs out and jump onto a Thames Clippers’ boat to check it out, as the River Bus service just introduced a series of epic art tours.
There are 17 bridges spanning the Thames between Albert Bridge and Tower Bridge (a fun office quiz, we got them all eventually!), from the mighty arches of Waterloo, constructed by women during the Second World War to the futuristic, formerly wibbly wobbly, Millennium Bridge. And the art project will eventually light 14 of them, but excitingly four of them have already opened to give us a sneak preview of the ambitious project conceived by internationally-acclaimed artist Leo Villareal and architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, delivered by the Illuminated River Foundation and ideally seen from the deck of a Thames Clippers’ boat, Champagne in hand (or hot chocolate, depending on the weather).
The artwork is transforming the bridges, with sensitively developed lightshows that pay attention to the heritage, wildlife and the built environment around them to create an unparalleled experience. In other words, it should be really impressive and offers a real celebration of London.
Take the Millennium Bridge, London’s first new pedestrian bridge for over a century and opened to great fanfare in 2002. The sleek modern design might seem unimproveable, but not when there’s light involved. Originally inspired by superhero Flash Gordon (would you believe?) the lighting scheme of the bridge was designed to include a ‘blade of light’. However, this has been totally revamped, adding pulses of light to mirror the movements of pedestrians crossing the bridge, highlighting their faces and casting silhouettes that enhance the bridge structure.
Likewise, Cannon Street, one of the oldest bridges in London yet never lit up until now, has its utilitarian structure softened with lighting that mirrors the motion of the trains as they pass above. The same level of careful attention has been paid by Villareal throughout the project, with each bridge receiving its own special treatment.
So how best to enjoy the show? The answer has to be hopping on a Thames Clippers’ boat. They’ll be laying on weekly guided tours of the longest art installation in the world, on Saturdays or Thursdays between Tower Bridge and the Millennium Bridge. You have to book online, but if you’re not one of the folks who commute via River Bus every day, it’s well worth the excursion. The boats traverse London East to West all the way from Woolwich to Putney (normally you just rock up and pay via Oyster or contactless at one of the 23 piers along the Thames) and, apart from the convenience and speed, the best bit about them: they’ve got licensed bars onboard! And you don’t get that on a Routemaster!
So this winter and spring, order some bubbles from the bar and enjoy learning about the history of the bridges we all know and love, the artwork and enjoy the best possible vantage point of the entire show over the course of your voyage. And at £7.50 for adults (£5 for children) it’s great value and will make for a truly fascinating evening.
Booking is simple, just go online and choose any available day until Tuesday 26th May.