A Guide to the Woolwich Ferry

London's Free River Boat Crossing

East London Skyline with Woolwich Ferry
••• Getty Images/Chris Mansfield

The Woolwich Ferry has operated across the river Thames since 1889 and there are references to a ferry service at Woolwich dating as far back as the 14th century.

Today, the ferry carries around 20,000 vehicles and 50,000 passengers weekly, which adds up to just over a million vehicles and 2.6 million passengers a year.

Where Is the Woolwich Ferry Located?

The Woolwich Ferry is a river crossing in east London across the Thames.

It links Woolwich, in the royal borough of Greenwich, with North Woolwich/Silvertown, in the London borough of Newham.

The ferry and pier on the south (Woolwich) side of the river is located at New Ferry Approach, Woolwich SE18 6DX, while on the north (Newham) side of the river it is located at Pier Road, London E16 2JJ.

For drivers, it also links two ends of the inner London orbital road routes: the North Circular and the South Circular. It is the final river crossing in London.

For pedestrians, there are DLR (Docklands Light Railway) stations near to each ferry pier. On the south side, Woolwich Arsenal Station is a 10-minute walk away (or there are buses), and on the north side, King George V Station is also a 10-minute walk or bus ride away. The north side also has London City Airport nearby.

Pedestrians can use the DLR to cross the river as Woolwich Arsenal and King George V are on the same branch of the Docklands Light Railway.

For another free alternative, there is a Woolwich Foot Tunnel (like the Greenwich Foot Tunnel). The Woolwich Foot Tunnel opened in 1912 as the fog often interrupted the ferry service.

If you take a short bus ride from the Woolwich Ferry North Terminal you can visit Thames Barrier Park.

Taking the Journey Across

The two sides of the ferry crossing do not lead to tourist areas, so it doesn't make many must-do London guidebook.

These are normal London residential areas so the ferry service is mostly used by workers and larger vehicles.

The journey is only 5 to 10 minutes as the river crossing here is about 1500 feet across. For drivers, there can be long queues to board so allow yourself a lot more time.

While the journey is short, make it a point to look back towards London as you'll be able to see Canary Wharf, The O2, and the Thames Barrier. Looking away from London, you can see the Thames estuary start to open out.

Woolwich Ferry Facts

There are three ferries but usually only one or two in service with one waiting in case of a breakdown - and that does happen. (One for off-peak and two ferries during peak times.) The vessels are owned by TfL (Transport for London) and are named after three local politicians: James Newman, John Burns, and Ernest Bevin. James Newman was Mayor of Woolwich from 1923-25, John Burns studied London's history and its river, and Ernest Bevin formed the Transport and General Workers Union in 1921.

While this is an official part of the TfL network, Briggs Marine has the contract to run the ferry service for seven years from 2013.

Who Can Use the Ferry Service?

Everyone can use the Woolwich Ferry whether you are a pedestrian, cyclist, driving a car, van or lorry (truck).

The ferry can accommodate the large vehicles that cannot fit through the Blackwall Tunnel to reach London.

There's no need to book tickets in advance -- it's simply a 'turn up and board' service which fortunately is completely free for both pedestrians and road users.

During Your Ferry Trip

There are no onboard services as it is such a short crossing. Most drivers stay in their vehicles, but it's not frowned upon to get out and stretch your legs for a few minutes.

Pedestrians board and go to a lower deck with plenty of seating but it's most enjoyable to look out to the river. There is a small area on the main deck for pedestrians to stand.

Note that everyone must disembark at the ferry pier, even if you want to get back on (as a foot passenger) and return.

Ferry Operating Hours

The Woolwich Ferry does not run 24 hours a day -- it runs every 5-10 minutes throughout the day from Monday to Friday, and every 15 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays.

For more travel information, check out the Woolwich Ferry official website.

Tides and Weather

The Woolwich Ferry is not usually affected by tidal conditions but does occasionally get suspended if there is an extremely high tide. Fog is a bigger problem, especially during the morning rush hour, as the service has to be suspended until visibility clears.