Docklands Light Railway review
When I went to Chessington World of Adventures as a kid (back in the days when it was still called a zoo) the first ride we went on was the Safari Skyway, because that was the only ride my mother wasn't afraid to go on. That was the only one that didn't have any loop the loops on it -- it just a monorail that trundled over the top of the cages at about fifteen feet in the sky while you sat there taking photos of the lions and tigers underneath. I can't promise you any lions and tigers on the Docklands Light Railway, but I can promise you a nice ride in the sky because this is London's equivalent of the Safari Skyway. It's a monorail that runs from the centre of the Square Mile (Bank) all the way out to Canary Wharf, Greenwich and London City Airport. I recommend boarding it at Bank and catching a train to Cutty Sark.
The DLR uses automated trains so they don't need drivers, they don't have guards either, and the only humans onboard are the passengers. And because there are no drivers that means there don't need cabins -- if you board the train right at the front then you can sit directly behind the windscreen. And I really do mean behind it. It is literally just you, three feet of floor, and then the big glass window by your knees. That's what makes these trains so great for kids: being able to sit three feet from the windscreen as it speeds through the tunnels.
It's a bit of trek down to the DLR platform at Bank because the monorail doesn't start above ground -- it actually starts deep underneath it. You have to troop down some stairs, descend a few never-ending escalators, traipse through some drafty tunnels, down some more stairs, another escalator, getting deeper and deeper underground, and after a quarter of a mile walking you'll probably be thinking this is the worst monorail in the world. When you finally arrive at the DLR platforms get on the first train to Lewisham (which goes to Cutty Sark) and try and bag the seat at the front.
Unfortunately there are only four seats at the front so the competition to occupy them can be fierce. In order to increase your chances you need to stand at the very far end of the platform and board it through the very first door. It's not possible to walk between the carriages once you're onboard so if you don't board it at the front then you'll have screwed up already.
Let's assume that you succeeded and you can see the concrete tunnel disappearing into the darkness. Soon you'll be shooting through that gloomy tube in your driverless train, red lights zipping past the windows, wheels screeching and squealing as it tilts round the corners, bends curving left and right, then all of a sudden the sunlight will come streaming through the front and it's as if you've surfaced for air, like you've ridden the wild water out of a whale's blowhole. It will be all light and squinting eyes as you adjust to the sunshine.
The first few stations are just the dirty outskirts of the city, full of bland flats and office buildings, but once you hit Limehouse the houses will start sinking beneath you as the train rises on the monorail. Then you'll be travelling at head height to the trees, peering into third floor windows, peering down at the bikes and lights and traffic jams. When you get close to Canary Wharf you'll see some gleaming marinas and the mustard-coloured spikes of the O2 Arena before steering through a gap in the skyscrapers towards its futuristic station. You might want to get off here and have a walk around (read my Canary Wharf review to see what it's like).
After that I recommend continuing on to Cutty Sark. That's the same place as Greenwich, by the way. (If you want to visit Greenwich then my big tip is don't get off at Greenwich station, get off at Cutty Sark station instead, which is closer to the attractions.)
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