A river cruise is a voyage along inland waterways, often stopping at multiple ports along the way. Since cities and towns often grew up around rivers, river cruise ships frequently dock in the centre of cities and towns. River day cruises are day excursions ranging from 30 minutes to a full day. They can be on boats carrying as few as 10 people or as many as a few hundred.
The Thames is older than London itself and has become the focal point for an entire 1500 square kilometre city.
On the banks of the River Thames, London has spread out to become one of the biggest financial, entertainment, and trade hubs in the world, and in part, this is due to the proximity to this large (and famous) river.
With many of the city’s biggest tourist sites being dotted along its banks, London’s River Thames has a lot of history. When staying at many of the luxury accommodations in London, you might very well find yourself staying in hotels just a stone’s throw from the river. Lucky you!
As one of the most iconic rivers in the world, you’ll undoubtedly want to find out a little bit more about the incredible history of the Thames as well as why – and how – it birthed the bustling city of London.
The river Thames is the perfect vantage point for some of London’s most iconic sites. From sightseeing trips with expert guides to fun dining experiences, find out about some of the best river cruises and canal tours in London.
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.
WAYS TO ENJOY THE RIVER THAMES
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.
5. Dig into 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 delicious 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 sunset 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. Have a view of the river from the air and trace its path through London and beyond. There are plenty of options;
- To ride the Emirates Cable Car from Royal Victoria to North Greenwich for just £4.
- Or to 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.
SITES TO SEE ON THAMES
If you’re planning on staying in the centre of the city, the river Thames offers a wide range of riverside attractions. For instance, the South Bank gives stunning views over the river whilst also providing ample theatre and film attractions in the guise of the National Theatre and British Film Institute.
Further down the river, you’ll find Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament overlooking the Thames, whilst stretching towards Tower Bridge is the ancient foodie paradise of Borough Market. The London Bridge area promises even more historic riverside intrigue, the Golden Hinde and Globe Theatre both being replicas of Elizabethan-era architectural icons.