Six Ways To Experience London's River Thames

14 November 2016

Not so long ago, the Thames was filthy - biologically dead and riddled with industrial waste. Now, thanks to a string of environmental measures, it's reckoned to be the cleanest urban river in Europe; home to over 100 varieties of fish and marine mammals (including salmon, porpoise, seals, otters and sometimes even whales and dolphins). You still (probably) won't want to swim in the Thames' murky brown water, but you should definitely find time to navigate a river that's been the lifeblood of the British capital since before Roman times. Beyond the typical sightseeing and party cruises, there's a raft of interesting ways to take in the iconic - and emerging - sights on both banks.

kayak on the thames Kayaking on the Thames. (Image: Getty)

Canoeing And Kayaking

From its headquarters at Limehouse Basin, a yacht-fringed marina just off the Thames in east London, Moo Canoes offers adventures in its quirky cow-print vessels. You can book two-man canoes on a self-hire basis, and explore the nearby canals, or sign up for a guided group jolly on the Thames. You'll either paddle east towards Greenwich, where you'll glimpse stand-outs like the Cutty Sark tea clipper and the Old Royal Naval College, or veer west towards Tower Bridge and central London. Be warned: because of the tides, these trips need to be planned and reserved weeks in advance.

Stand Up Paddleboarding

If sightseeing while sitting down doesn't float your boat, how about a bit of SUP (stand-up paddleboarding)? This zen-like past-time originated in the rather balmier climes of Hawaii, but Londoners have certainly embraced it. Active360 lead SUP activities in the city's leafy west, including in the waters around Putney and Kew Bridge. Once you've resolved your balance issues, you'll find yourself going blissfully with the flow, drifting past Thameside pubs, grassy gardens and embankments and palaces and stately homes. 

Canoeing in the early morning. (Image: Getty)

Rowing

One of the biggest events on London's calendar is the Boat Race, when broad-shouldered types from Cambridge and Oxford universities go head to head on the Thames. You can cover some of the same hallowed water, whatever your level of expertise, with the renowned Thames Rowing Club. Founded in 1860, it offers lessons between June and September from its base on Putney Embankment. It's also possible to hire rowing boats in Richmond, one of London's most charming riverside villages. Head to the boathouse by Richmond Bridge. 

river thames with boat Thames Clippers (Image: Visit Greenwich)

Thames Clippers

Putney is at the western-most limit of the Thames Clippers service, which offers a more 'local' way of seeing the river than those tourist-packed cruises. Popular with commuters desperate to avoid the Tube, this river bus ventures through central London, calling at piers like Blackfriars and London Bridge, with connections to eastern jetties such as Canary Wharf and Woolwich. Incidentally, two of the newest Clippers, twin catamarans Galaxy Clipper and Neptune Clipper, were built in Tasmania and shipped to London last year.  

London Duck Tours

It's possibly the most surreal way of 'doing' the Thames: in a DUKW-style amphibious landing vehicle. Dating back to World War II, but reconstructed to meet modern-day safety standards, these distinctive yellow vehicles tour the capital on both road and river. On the classic 75-minute sightseeing tour, you'll hear live commentary from knowledgeable guides as you pass the likes of 10 Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. The best bit of the tour, for many, however, is when the Duck splashes into the river near the M16 building, headquarters of Britain's spies. 

Thames Rib Experience

Talking of spies, do you recall the scene in the 1999 James Bond flick The World is Not Enough, when Pierce Brosnan's 007 chases a femme fatale down the Thames in a speedboat? Or, more recently, the white-knuckle boat ride that Daniel Craig's Bond embarked on in Spectre, as he pursued Blofeld's helicopter?  Either way, you can partake in a (fairly similar) high-octane Thames adventure on a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat), which zips along the river at a thrilling rate of knots due to its 740 horse power, V8 twin turbo thrust. Opt for the Ultimate Spy Experience and you'll hear anecdotes about 007 and his creator, Ian Fleming, to a backdrop of Bond theme tunes and eye-catching locations like the O2 arena and the futuristic Thames Flood Barrier. You can pay extra to ride the ‘Exterminator’, which was used in the filming of Spectre.

 


Feature image: Steve McKenna



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Steve McKenna

A regular contributor to some of Australia's leading newspapers and travel magazines, Steve McKenna has visited, written about and photographed more than 80 countries on six different continents. He fears he has an incurable case of wanderlust and is particularly fond of Europe, Asia and South America.