Flowing through a great expanse of southern England, the River Thames is the country’s longest waterway. And despite coursing through a number of towns and cities, London is still the setting that most people associate with this famous river. Studded with a wealth of historic sites and cultural venues, with a year-round calendar of fun activities and events, the London stretch of the Thames holds many attractions for visitors to the capital. To avoid missing out, follow our guide to the best things to do on the River Thames in London.
1. Take in the sights from the water on a River Thames cruise. From on-board the cruiser, you’ll have the chance to see some of London’s most iconic landmarks, including the Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge. Thrill-seekers can opt for fly-by sightseeing and an adrenaline-fueled ride on one of the city’s speedboat tours. Both The Original London Sightseeing Tour and Big Bus London incorporate a classic Thames River Cruise.
2. Embrace the great outdoors as you follow the passage of the River Thames by bicycle. Either set out to explore independently on one of London’s riverside cycle paths – rent a Santander Cycles bike from various points along the river – or ride with a group of like-minded cyclists by joining The London Bicycle Tour Company.
3. If you’d rather be active out on the water, why not Kayak along the river? Away from the bustling city streets, kayaking on the Thames gives visitors the chance to see London’s iconic sights without wrestling with the crowds.
4. Some of the city’s greatest art galleries are also situated along the river, including Britain’s national gallery of international modern art, Tate Modern, and the original Tate gallery, Tate Britain. Amidst the staggering collection of artworks at Tate Britain, there are a number of paintings by Turner, many of which depict the great river.
5. Catch a Shakespearean performance and look back at the life of this famous playwright at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The National Theatre also put on performances of Shakespeare plays, alongside classics like Jane Eyre and other more eclectic pieces. The Southbank Centre has a more diverse theatrical and musical offering, with a wide range of film screenings at BFI Southbank.
6. To really get a feel for the city’s historic sites, you need to step inside. The Tower of London is a must-visit for history buffs, while the architecturally stunning St. Paul’s Cathedral looks as magnificent inside as it does from the banks of the river. Back on the water, step aboard HMS Belfast, a historic warship-turned-museum, and in Greenwich stop by Cutty Sark, London’s famous tea clipper.
7. By night, the river becomes even more enchanting as it reflects the city lights. Take in the views while you wine and dine on a river cruise, in a waterside pub, or up high in one of London’s most glamorous rooftop bars. Oxo Tower Restaurant, Bar & Brasserie is ideally situated for river views, with afternoon tea, modern British cuisine and cocktails. The Shard is another skyscraper overlooking the river and has a number of panoramic eating and drinking venues to choose from. Equally as memorable is a Thames Dinner Cruise, many of which host live jazz performances. There are countless riverside pubs to settle into, but one to look out for is the centuries-old inn, The Dove.
8. Whether you choose to go by day or night, the river views from the London Eye are certainly hard to beat, with the chance to take part in chocolate and wine tastings high above the city. A newer addition to London’s tourist attractions is the Emirates Air Line cable car, which transports visitors over the River Thames.
9. While many bridges cross the river, there are some that are really worth boasting about. One is Tower Bridge, which now features spectacular glass-floor walkways with views right down onto the water. Showcasing an entirely different cultural era is London’s Millennium Bridge. This contemporary structure between Tate Modern and St Paul’s Cathedral can only be crossed on foot.
10. If you’re here at the right time of year, catch one of the Thames’ popular annual events. Cheer on the rowers in The Great River Race and famous Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, and get involved in the interactive activities at Totally Thames festival, a month-long celebration of the arts.
Header image: Countless cultural and historic sites are situated on the riverside © iStock / zefart