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Messing about on the River 2009

 

Forget London Underground this summer; the river is the way to go! For a truly historic mode of transport through the city, boats take passengers on relaxing, scenic trips up and downstream with the impressive buildings lining the Thames from Hampton Court to the Tower of London to The O2 telling a story of London through the ages. The routes are generously sprinkled with watering holes and riverside restaurants making the most of their lovely views and al fresco spots. There's a real holiday atmosphere down by the water on sunny days, especially around the South Bank and Greenwich, but at every twist and turn of the river you're never far from a traditional pub or cool bar. There's even some watery fun to be had away from the main thoroughfare with Jason's Trip running tranquil trips along Regent's Canal. Here are a few of our favourite journeys (with riverside stop-offs) to make sure you don't miss the boat.

 
Click here to book tickets for our selection of river cruises.

 
 
Messing about on the River 2009
 

Circular Hop-on Hop-off Trip - Crown River Cruises

Riverboat from Westminster to Tower Bridge and back
 
This fun trip allows you to traverse the banks of the Thames over a stretch jam-packed with famous landmarks and fabulous views. The hour-long round trip starts and ends at Westminster Millennium Pier (SW1A 2JH) with the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben standing proud the other side of the bridge, but the idea is that you can stop off along the way to make the most of all the waterside sightseeing opportunities. Somerset House on the Embankment, the cultural buzz of the South Bank with the Southbank Centre, National Theatre and, a bit further on at Bankside, the Tate Modern, plus HMS Belfast and City Hall between London Bridge and Tower Bridge make this route an awesome experience.
 
 
Crown River Cruises - Information
 
Recommended Riverside Watering Holes...
 
Oxo Tower Bar & Brasserie
Riverside haunts are all about soaking up the atmosphere and there's no better way to appreciate the cool vibe of the South Bank than with a cocktail in your hand. To reach the Oxo Tower the best thing to do on is to jump off the boat at Festival Pier and amble along the walkway, twinkling with fairy lights of an evening, just past Gabriel's Wharf. The Oxo Tower Bar & Brasserie is the crème de la crème of trendy hang-outs around here, boasting one of the best views in town from its slick 8th-floor setting, allowing you to indulge in a spot of sightseeing without moving a muscle. The breathtaking panorama, which offers an unparalleled lookout onto St Paul's across the river, is best experienced from the time just before dusk till it gets dark but, in the sunshine, go for alfresco drinking and dining out on the terrace. When evening comes the funky sounds of live jazz fill the air and the view just gets blurrily better with every gulp of Southbank Smash, a particularly tempting mix of cognac and Calvados with fresh apple, vanilla sugar and mint. If you really want to push the boat out, book a table at the outstanding restaurant.
 
Zakudia
Perched in the shadow of Southwark Bridge right by the Tate Modern on Bankside, this modern venue attracts a trendy after-work crowd, mainly in it for the cocktails but with a few shared platters floating around too. The main draw is the view and it's pretty stunning with floor-to-ceiling-windows and seating designed so that everyone can glimpse across the river to the City beyond. From laid-back jazz to live DJs leading up to the weekend, the vibe largely depends on the night you visit but Zakudia is also the kind of stylish but chilled-out place you can grab a table with a group of friends and make your own fun.
 
 
Messing about on the River 2009
 

Thames River Boats

Riverboat from Westminster to Hampton Court
 
From the heart of town - Westminster Millennium Pier is next door to Big Ben - you can wend your way out of the hustle and bustle and onto London's pretty outskirts. This route was well-travelled by Royal Barge and, 500 years on, you can follow in Henry VIII's wake to his favourite palace Hampton Court. The trip up-river, through the locks at Richmond and Teddington, takes a leisurely three and a half hours (tide dependent) but it's worth stopping off at Kew or Richmond for a riverside pint or some pub grub.
 
 
Thames River Boats - Westminster to Hampton Court - Information
 
Recommended Riverside Watering Holes...

The Bell and Crown
There's very little to separate the pubs along this exceptionally lovely stretch of the Thames but The Bell and Crown with its riverside conservatory and lots of outdoor seating is our favourite. It's a Fuller's pub and, with the brewery just down the road in Chiswick, the best local beer is served up here alongside a great seasonal menu of pub classics and modern dishes. The cheery atmosphere is spurred on by al fresco summer drinking (or cosy huddles in the conservatory when it's raining) and its prime spot by the river makes it the ideal destination for an outdoorsy crowd after a walk along the towpath or a wander around nearby Kew Gardens. And if you do find it full to overflowing, The City Barge and The Bull's Head are only a short step away.
 
The White Cross
Half an hour further on by boat you'll reach Richmond and a gem of a pub right on the river. The historic White Cross, an early-19th-century inn, has all the convenience of a town centre pub and all the charm of a rural setting with its stunning river views. We've overheard this stretch called the 'Richmond Riviera' but it's also got a bit of good-old wonky London to it with the pub elevated up from the pavement for when the river floods, which happens pretty regularly. At high tide the bar can be accessed by some stone steps to the side so you can still wet your whistle - there could be a bit of wading to do but it all adds to the experience. Expect to pay London prices for your beer but if you manage to bag a table outside, especially at sunset when the views are gorgeous, you won't want to move - and the food's good too. When it gets dark, fairy lights in the trees will guide your path back up the steps to the bar.
 
 
Messing about on the River 2009
 

Thames River Services

Riverboat from Westminster to Greenwich
 
Setting off east is a glorious trip with the striking Embankment on your left and the vibrant South Bank opposite. You'll pass sights galore before arriving at the first stop of St Katharine's Pier including St Paul's, Shakespeare's Globe and the Tower of London and passing under Waterloo Bridge, the Millennium Bridge and Tower Bridge - some of the city's best-loved structures. As you journey into east London, the fun of spotting sights continues plus there are some lovely riverside pubs around Rotherhithe - The Mayflower and, on the opposite bank, the Prospect of Whitby. Canary Wharf, the National Maritime Museum and the O2 characterise the last stretch.
 
 
Thames River Services - Westminster to Greenwich - Information
 
Recommended Riverside Watering Holes...
 
The Trafalgar Tavern
Sea-faring folk will feel right at home ensconced inside the Trafalgar Tavern, so if you've just sailed the high seas (or been on a river cruise), this is the place to rock up for your first pint on dry land. Greenwich has long been associated with navigation, home to the Royal Observatory and Greenwich Mean Time, and this pub has reflected this maritime standing since Queen Victoria ascended the throne and Charles Dickens graced its bar and munched on whitebait straight from the Thames. The pub's wooden floors and interior, naval paintings and river-fronted bay windows give it an old-style nautical feel but with the warm décor creating a touch of class throughout. At night the glittering lights of the City shimmer in the distance and the merriment spills out onto the riverside walkway during the summer months. You can still tuck into whitebait in the delightful restaurant but it probably hasn't been caught with a fishing rod out front.
 
Anchor and Hope
You can travel by boat all the way downstream to the Thames Flood Barrier but if you want to stop off just beyond here at Barrier Gardens Pier you'll need to be in a pre-booked group. This part of the capital is a far cry from the sights and sounds of central London, so you'll need to know where to go if you don't want to be aimlessly wandering around industrial estates. If you haven't been put off already, the Anchor and Hope offers a great chance to experience a riverside pub that is still an old-fashioned boozer with hearty pub grub (not a drop of balsamic vinegar in sight) and beer. The locals love this place and we probably won't be popular for giving away their well-kept secret but it's a friendly place and after a couple, you'll be one of the crowd and probably listening to a story or two too. It's elevated above its Charlton contemporaries by virtue of its outlook over the Thames and genuine taste of a Londoners' London, this is a top pick for enjoying the river on a sunny day. Be warned: if Charlton Athletic FC are playing at home, the pub could be packed.
 
 
Messing about on the River 2009
 

Jason's Trip

Canal Boat from Little Venice to Camden
 
We love this slightly quirky tour down the Regent's Canal aboard 100-year-old canal boat Jason, originally a cargo-carrying vessel but converted to run pleasure trips since 1951. Away from the hive of activity surrounding the Thames, you can discover an enchanting world of beautiful Edwardian streets as you glide through Little Venice. You then make your way around the edge of Regent's Park past London Zoo and into buzzing Camden Town with its vibrant market right by the lock.
 
 
Jason's Canal Boat Trip - Information
 
Recommended Riverside Watering Holes...
 
The Bridge House
Some places just don't need to do much to be cool and if you've already got a spot a stone's thrown from the canal and a thriving pub theatre upstairs then you've definitely got a head-start. The décor in the downstairs pub at The Bridge House is not to everyone's taste but its dark, showy feel is well-suited to the faded glamour of a theatre bar. The thing to do is to get here early doors and soak up the atmosphere; if you can, nab one of the lounge-y leather sofas or a space outside, which is bursting with revellers when it's warm. We recommend chilling with some pre-theatre cocktails and tucking into the food, which is pub-with-a-bit-of-posh, before wandering upstairs to catch a show. The Canal Cafe Theatre has a reputation for putting on great comedy and is home to NewsRevue four nights a week. Huddled around candle-lit tables, drinks in hand, the audience enjoys cabaret-style entertainment, making this one of the most atmospheric fringe venues in town. Strictly speaking, The Bridge House is not directlly on the canal so if you feel cheated and want a room with a view try nearby Café Laville (London, W2 1TH), which overlooks the water and serves up decent fish and pasta.
 
Canalside Bar - Jongleurs Camden
Camden is spilling over with trendsetters and a lively, bohemian spirit fills the streets, especially in the summertime, but if it’s waterside relaxation you want after wandering around the vibrant markets, the options are limited. For cheap as chips you can head along to the token Wetherspoon pub on the canal, incongruously named The Ice Wharf, but we suggest opting for a chain with a bit more character to its name. Jongleurs is a comedy club with a well-deserved reputation in excellent stand-up and it’s making the most of its prime location right on Camden Lock with the Canalside Bar next door and even an outdoor terrace for cheery alfresco beers. This is a great vantage point for watching the world go by with boats navigating the lock and people wandering over the bridge and up Chalk Farm Road. For something a bit classier drop by The Waterside anytime of the day for a coffee or a bite to eat and enjoy its tranquil edge-of-the-canal setting.
 
 
Messing about on the River 2009

London RIB Voyages

Rigid Inflatable Boat from London Eye to Canary Wharf
 
From Westminster Bridge to the Thames Barrier, the London RIB Voyages - or Rigid Inflatable Boat - tour takes in all the sights along the River Thames at high speed. The RIB is designed as a sea faring vessel so is built to withstand high speed and all weather conditions which means less meandering around on the river and rather more full throttle. RIB tours speed past sights including the London Eye, Canary Wharf and the Thames Barrier at a rate of 35knots and because numbers are restricted to 12 people per boat you get the personal attention of your guide. Choose from the James Bond Theme Adventure for a highly covert secret mission, the Captain Kidd's Canary Wharf Voyage (a 50 minute round trip from London Eye to Canary Wharf and back) or the slightly longer Thames Barrier Explorers Voyage which lasts an hour and 20 minutes. They also do special family outings and pirate themed trips where the tour guides - all professional performers - tell tales of high seas adventures on the river. To get on board check in 15 minutes before departure time at the London Eye Pier near Westminster Bridge.
 
 
London RIB Voyages - Captain Kidds Voyage - Book Tickets
London RIB Voyages - Thames Barrier Voyage - Book Tickets
 
Recommended Riverside Watering Holes...
 
The South Bank
While the area immediately around the London Eye is not known for its relaxing pubs (overpriced sandwiches and fairground food are more accurate), venture just a little further towards the sprawling Southbank Centre and you get a whole host of eating and drinking options. In summer the terrace outside the Southbank's Royal Festival Hall gets packed with sun seekers sipping on a glass of wine before going to a gig or concert - US band The National and Mercury Prize nominated Laura Marling are just some of the musicians playing there this August. Walk past Jeppe Hein's Appearing Rooms and you'll come to the Hayward's Concrete cafe and late night bar set back from the main riverside promenade. Downstairs on the main drag, close to the skateboard park and the second hand book stalls there's the BFI's riverfront bar and kitchen. Head back towards Waterloo and you'll find gastropub The Anchor & Hope or, if you're looking for a more traditional English pub experience, head to The Windmill where pints of real ale are the priority.
 
 
Messing about on the River 2009
 

Thames River Adventures

Kayak tour through London with sunrise & sunset
 
Even if you're not an early riser it's worth making an exception for a sunrise kayaking tour with Thames River Adventures to see the city before it wakes. Departing at 5am or 6am (ouch!) a sunrise tour is led by Danny Gillard, Niamh Walsh and their team of fully qualified instructors, taking in golden views of the Thames and London's Regent's Canal. It may not feel like it when the alarm goes off but once you're gliding along in the water you'll be glad you opted to get going while the rest of the city sleeps. If you really can't face the sunrise wake-up call tours are also available at sunset, during the day and for three or four days too. Taking in the sights from the water is a wonderfully peaceful (and environmentally considerate) way of seeing the city and day tours add a leisurely stop at a riverside pub to the experience. There are three tour routes to choose from, each lasting approximately two hours:
1.) Regent's Canal: next to Regent's Park, meet at the corner of Price Albert Road and Ormonde Terrace NW8 - departing close to Primrose Hill Footbridge, you'll paddle past London Zoo
2.) Hampton Court Palace: see the famous Tudor palace associated with King Henry VIII, departing from nearby Molesey Lock
3.) Tower Bridge: experience is necessary for this central London kayak tour on the Thames, departure times depend on the tides
Group sizes never exceed 6 people and all tours are led by a British Canoe Union Instructor so they are suitable for all levels (with the exception of the Tower Bridge route), and children aged 9 years old and upwards can take part.
 
 
More info: Thames River Adventures Map, Prices, Opening Times and Nearest Tube
 
Recommended Riverside Watering Holes...
 
Ye Olde Swan
If you're opting for the second of the Thames River Adventures tours in the Hampton Court Palace area, leave time to visit Ye Olde Swan an attractive Grade I listed 13th century inn beside the River Thames. Just across the river from Hampton Court Palace, it's said that King Henry VIII was a frequent visitor here and apparently the seal of approval for the inn from him is held in the British Museum. A popular destination in the summer, they even have their own jetty where you can moor your boat free of charge. If you haven't got your own mode of river transport you can hire boats from Taggs Boat Yard next door (for enquiries phone 020 8398 2119) by the day. The pub exterior is an olde looking black and white but inside is a mix of old and new. Conveniently located for a riverside stroll, the pub is close to a footbridge which crosses to the Island. Although just over half an hour to London (by train, arriving at Waterloo), the area around Thames Ditton has a lovely countryside appeal and olde worlde charm, and if that appeals then Ye Olde Swan is worth seeking out.
 
 
 
 
 
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