The River Thames truly is the heart of London. The city has grown around the river since Roman times, becoming a major port city during the Industrial Revolution. Nowadays the river represents prime urban real estate as well as a major travel route for ferries, cruises, pleasure craft and freight. It’s one of the best ways to experience London as a tourist, with options ranging from cheap commuter ferries to guided tours and sunset dinner cruises, while the north and south banks provide plenty of entertainment all along its length.
Here are 7 of the best ways to enjoy the River Thames when you visit!
1.River festivals run all year round, but especially in summer. September’s Totally Thames festival runs for the whole month and includes art, music and special events. Take in a boat race from a riverside pub or watch the brave participants of the London Marathon at the height of summer. When the winter cold has drawn in, the Lord Mayor’s fireworks display on New Year’s Eve is the biggest show in town: book your tickets in advance and arrive early with a thermos of hot tea to await the countdown.
2.One of the most popular London sightseeing options is to travel by boat on the River Thames. You’ll see all the major landmarks including Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Shard and the London Eye from the comfort of your seat. It’s a much more peaceful way to see the sights than a bus tour through busy traffic. Take a guided cruise or simply hop on a ferry for a budget-friendly ride.
3.For an added thrill, speedboat rides on the river are a great way to get the adrenalin pumping. You’ll zoom past the landmarks and dodge slower boats with the fresh wind in your hair. Perfect for adrenalin junkies and those who like to pack all the sights into one quick trip!
4.Get some culture into your holiday with the rich array of cultural attractions along the central London stretch of the river. On the south bank there’s Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre – a recreation of the original Elizabethan building – as well as the Tate Modern, Southbank Centre, British Film Institute Southbank and National Theatre. Here you’ll find modern art, brand new theatre productions, exhibitions, cultural festivals and tasty street food markets. From the Tate Modern a special shuttle ferry takes you to the doors of its sister modern art museum, the Tate Britain, on the northern bank of the river.
5.Dig in to London’s long and fascinating past – the riverbanks were the setting for London’s first buildings, so some of the best historical sites are located on the river. Next to Tower Bridge in east London you’ll see the Tower of London; floating on the south bank is the ship HMS Belfast, open for public tours to experience life in the Queen’s Navy; further along, at Westminster, you’ll see the Houses of Parliament and the famous tower of Big Ben. Keep moving west and you’ll find Hampton Court Palace, a magnificent former royal residence.
6.Order your meal with a view on the side at riverside boutique hotels in the West End of London, where you can enjoy the best of London’s gourmet food scene as you watch the sun set over the glittering city lights. For a more casual, traditional dining experience, walk into a riverside pub and try a locally-brewed ale; or you can style it up on a twilight dinner cruise along the river.
7.See the river from the air and trace its path through London and beyond. There are plenty of options: you can ride the Emirates Cable Car from Royal Victoria to North Greenwich for just £4, or take a slower ride on the London Eye near Waterloo station. For extra fun, head to the O2 Centre (formerly the Millennium Dome) and climb to the top with Up At The O2. You can even take a helicopter flight for a completely unforgettable bird’s eye view of this amazing city.