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Your essential guide to the River Thames in London

Welcome to Londonsriver.com

We love the River Thames and want to share what we have learned over the years. We want to answer the questions people often ask. Starting here:

Where should I go for the best view?

So many to choose, but here are our top three:

  • from the London Eye – a constantly-changing panorama of London
  • from the Jubilee pedestrian bridges (near Charing Cross)
  • from the top of Richmond Hill (by the Star & Garter)

… and through the new glass floors of the Tower Bridge walkways – watch the video on the right – you can't fail to be impressed…

Where can I take a boat tour?

Our favourite trip runs between Westminster and Greenwich, passing through Tower Bridge and linking the main historical sights. More below and on this page

Can I commute to work on the river?

Of course, if you live or work near the river. Thames Clippers operates the River Bus linking Putney, Central London, Docklands and Woolwich. Details here

Where’s the best place for dinner or a drink?

From fine dining to a quick snack or a drink on the go there are plenty of places to eat and drink on and around the  River Thames. Most riverside pubs are family friendly. For "pub grub" or just a pint while you take in the view, try the Founders Arms (by the Millennium Bridge and Tate Modern). Two other favourites are the White Cross at Richmond and the Cutty Sark at Greenwich.

For fine dining, try three courses for £27 on the restaurant ship Hispaniola (left) which has stunning views of the river, Westminster and the London Eye. Or how about the afternoon/early evening special of two courses for £9.95 at Côte Brasserie near London Bridge. Our other favourites are here.

If you've been exploring the South Bank, head for Gabriel's Wharf. Here you'll find drinks, pizza, sandwiches and half a dozen other choices for meals and snacks – all at prices that won't break the bank.

It's also worth looking out for special offers from many riverside pubs, bars and restaurants. Spring is the quietest time of year so operators have all kinds of offers to win your business such as complimentary drinks or two-for-one main courses.

Where have all the big ships gone?

Cruise ships moor at Greenwich, Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast in the summer. Coasters and North Sea freight ferries come to Dagenham, Erith and Dartford, while the new London Gateway terminal at Thurrock takes the world's biggest container ships. Southend Pier, the Labworth Café on Canvey Island or the seafront car parks at Sheerness are good places for ship-spotting.

How many bridges cross the river?

From source to sea there are 211 bridges (for road, rail, Underground and foot traffic) across the river, plus 27 tunnels,  6 ferries and 1 cable car.

And finally: how can we help?

If your business is on or near the river, we can help to get your message across, with a team of writers, designers, editors and film makers, offering a range of services at prices that won't break the bank. Let's talk – soon.

Spectacular. That's the only word to describe the new £1m glass floors fitted to the Tower Bridge walkways. Look down and see the people and traffic crossing the bridge – and, if you time it right, get a bird's eye view of the roadway lifting to allow a ship to pass through the bridge 140ft beneath your feet.  The schedule of bridge lifts is published on the Tower Bridge website. But be aware that lifts can be booked at 24 hours notice, so it's best to check shortly before you plan to visit. By the way, if you are planning to get married – or have a very special party – is this the ultimate venue?

Go-ahead for £4bn tunnel plan to boost water quality, but boroughs still object

Ignore the water's muddy colour – that's simply the silt lifted from the river bed by the tide. More than 120 kinds of fish have been found in the tidal Thames over the past 30 years – testament to the improvement in water quality of what, in the 1960s was seen as an environmentally “dead” waterway. Some are residents, others are occasional visitors, and some are simply passing through. But – and it is a big but – the quality of the water is threatened by frequent overflows of raw sewage into the river.

The problem is that London's drains combine foul sewerage and storm water drainage. It was a triumph of Victorian engineering when it was built – for a population of a couple of million, but it can't cope with today's population of 8million. So the sewers can overflow into the river after heavy rain.

A solution is in sight – but it will take six or seven years and cost more than £4billion. It includes a gigantic tunnel deep below the river bed which will collect the overflows. It will run from Acton in West London to Abbey Mills, at Stratford. There it will link with another tunnel, already nearing completion, connecting to the giant sewage works at Beckton. Here's our inside story of the supersewer tunnel. Construction of the scheme was approved in September 2014.

Many of the riverside boroughs and local amenity groups are furious about the plan. They say the construction will disrupt the lives of Londoners and damage the local environment. They tried to block the project in the courts – but in January this year the High Court blocked four attempts to obtain a judicial review of the project.

Meanwhile the Tideway Tunnel company has hired some of Britain's best engineers and business leaders to take the project forward. The company chairman is Sir Neville Sims, who was for years the head of Tarmac Construction. Andrew Mitchell, chief executive, knows more about tunnelling than any other CEO in the country – he was previously programme director of Crossrail, building the new Underground rail line from Berkshire to the Essex and Kent borders.

Anglers and many conservation bodies are also backing the project. Carlo Laurenzi, chief executive of London Wildlife Trust, said: “London needs to take action now. Our Victorian sewage system is failing, regularly spewing a mix of sewage, waste water and street pollutants into the Thames, harming a fragile ecosystem that is still recovering from the days when the river was biologically dead.

“The sheer scale of the problem means that the Thames Tideway Tunnel is the only practical way of effectively managing London’s rising tide of sewage and polluted waste water. It’s the reason why recreational, environmental and wildlife groups representing many thousands of Londoners are supporting the new Supersewer, under the banner of Thames Tunnel Now.”

Time to take a trip on the Thames

London's wonderful river – by Alex Hickman, whose family have worked here
for 300 years.  Best watched in full screen.          
VisitLondon

A trip on the Thames is the ideal way to see the sights of London – and it is so much more than a boat trip. On your journey through liquid history you will discover the river that built a city – and then powered an empire that ruled half the world. Watch the video above – best in full screen – and take a look at our River Trips pages starting here.

Our favourite cruise links three world heritage sites – Westminster, the Tower and historic maritime Greenwich, operated by City Cruises. With an all-day hop on and off River Red Rover ticket, we think this is a great day out on the river in London.

If time is tight, City Cruises also operates a circular tour which gives you the highlights in just 45 minutes. Or, with time to spare, take the up-river cruise to Hampton Court – it operates in the summer only, and takes about three hours.

If you want a relaxing way to travel to work have you thought about the River Bus? Read all about it here – including the links to Putney and Woolwich which provide an easy way to beat the rush hour.

The service, operated by Thames Clippers, will be strengthened later this year when two new 150-seater catamarans arrive – see the computer visual below. The firm has so far released few details, but they are being built by Incat, the world leader in fast ferries.

For a full-day trip down river and out to the estuary, along the Essex and Kent coasts we have to take an autumn excursion on board the historic paddle steamer Waverley – and for many this is the ultimate trip on the Thames.

She is the world’s last sea-going paddle steamer, magnificently restored at a cost of millions – with towering funnels, timber decks and gleaming varnish and brass. Once the pride of the Clyde she is now an eagerly awaited annual visitor to London’s River.

This is your only opportunity to see the working port, including the giant container ships at the new London Gateway,  call at Southend and Clacton piers or enjoy Oysters at Whitstable. On your return in the evening there is one final unforgettable experience: sailing through Tower Bridge, bathed in light, with the central section lifted just for you.

Read about her 2014 visit here. This year (2015) she will sail on the Thames from September 25 until October 11, and you can book on the Waverley Excursions website.

Visions of the future: what's the outlook for the  River Thames?

Visions of the Thames was the theme of a fascinating full-day forum organised by the Thames Estuary Partnership, the only body which brings together the full range of stakeholders in the tidal river.

Some of those visions presented were challenging, some predictable and others surprising – at times complementary and at times almost competing.

Who would have expected a major property developer to talk passionately about sustainability – and building around trees rather than uprooting them? Or the head of one of Europe’s biggest civil engineering projects to talk more about community benefits than engineering?

The speakers provoked lively debate – and provided a unique insight into the future of London’s River. Read about it here

2000 years of liquid history

London's River offers a unique historical pageant covering 2000 years. The story of our river is a story of treasure and treason, of heroic days and dark deeds that inspires, uplifts and can even terrify. It began with the Romans who invaded Britain in AD43 and by the following year were established on the banks of the Thames. They founded Londinium –for 400 years the most important city in the country – and built the first London Bridge. You can see the remains of the Roman Wall a few steps from Tower Hill Underground station.

Following the Norman conquest in 1066 the new rulers built a mighty fortress on the river bank. It survives to this day: the White Tower – centrepiece of the Tower of London. Discover its dark history here. Over the next 700 years London became the largest city in the world: a powerhouse of trade, culture, learning and law, discovery and exploration. Some of the world’s finest music has been written for the two cathedrals which overlook the river – St Paul’s and its older sister, Southwark – while  painters have been inspired by its historic sights; both famous names such as Constable, Turner and Monet, and countless others whose work has simply been enjoyed by family and friends.

Over 1,000 years the river grew into Britain’s main artery for international trade, as ships carried the riches of the world to London and embarked the people and the products that built the Empire. All backed by the world’s greatest military and naval power from the royal dockyards at Deptford and Woolwich and the mighty arsenal at Woolwich. From this seven-mile stretch of river, Britannia ruled not simply the waves but almost a quarter of the globe.

The wealth thus created enabled successive generations to build palaces and churches, fine homes, warehouses and markets, great factories and offices – a process which continues to this day in the City of London and along the riverside from one historic royal borough, Greenwich, in the East, the others, Richmond and Kingston, in the West. See Milestones in river history

Fighting spirit: when the river went to war

On our WW1 page you can read the story of Hannah, the brave factory girl who was blown up three times while making munitions, and survived to tell the King: “You get used to it, your majesty”.

We also have a page dedicated to the Forgotten Fighters of the war at sea. Such as brave Boy Cornwell, aged just 16,  who stayed at his post despite mortal injuries, and the secret operation that earned the Royal Navy three VCs, using speedboats built on the Thames. All this and more are featured in an exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, open until November 2018.

On our WW2 page learn how London boat-builder Douglas Tough and his friends helped to rescue 338,000 soldiers from the beach at Dunkirk. Discover how the river fought back with forts, fast gunboats and the secret weapon which ensured that the D-Day landings were an invasion, not a raid, sustaining the Liberation of continental Europe.

And for a glimpse of how Londoners coped with the Blitz in the Second World War, don't miss the heart-rending story of The Longest Night.

Churchill remembered, 50 years on

One of the most memorable days in the river's history was the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in January 1965. The wartime leader's coffin was borne from Tower Pier to Waterloo on board the Port of London Authority launch Havengore. More than 100,000 people lined the bridges and embankments, paying their respects in almost total silence – and the riverside cranes famously dipped in salute as the funeral procession passed by.

Fifty years later, on 30 January this year, the event was commemorated with a river procession led by the Havengore , now restored to a gleaming “as new” condition . The cranes have long gone from the Pool of London, but Tower Bridge lifted in tribute to the late, great statesman and warrior. Members of the Churchill family were on board with an honour guard of Queen's Watermen and the event culminated in a wreath laying ceremony on the river at Westminster.

The commemorations included this film (left) in which Churchill's grand-daughter Emma Soames retraces the State and private funeral of her much loved “grand-papa”.

Directed by Siobhan Kilroy and presented by the historian Dan Snow, it includes location shoots in both St Paul's Cathedral and on board Havengore, with original archive footage showing key moments from the day – including part of the funeral service, the procession through the streets and the salute from the cranes as the river procession passed by.

At the time Emma Soames was only 14 years old; she recalls how touched she was by the people’s grief and recounts personal, heartfelt memories of her grandpapa. “When he died, I lost my grandfather, I didn't lose the wartime prime minister,” she told Dan Snow.

Havengore was commissioned by the Port of London Authority in 1954 as its flagship and principal survey vessel – responsible for charting Britain's busiest waterway. Following Churchill's funeral she returned to her normal duties until being retired and was then sadly neglected. She was completely restored  between 1997 and 2008 and once more takes part in ceremonial occasions and private charter events.

But for millions, the lasting memory of this occasion, and this fine boat, will be the words of the BBC commentator Richard Dimbleby as she led the funeral procession that cold January day 50 years ago: “And so Havengore sails into history – not even the Golden Hinde has borne so great a man”.

New boats for port authority as river traffic grows

With river traffic increasing again, and the world's largest ships coming to the new London Gateway terminal, the PLA's survey work is even more important than when the job was done by Havengore.  So the Authority has ordered a new purpose-built survey catamaran – a CTruk MPC19 which is now being completed at Brightlingsea, Essex.

It will replace the Yantlet (Havengore's successor) when it comes into service later in 2015. The new boat will be powered by water jets, so that it can be positioned very accurately and operate in very shallow water. It will be fitted with the latest echo sounding systems and other survey equipment.

She will join another new vessel, the £7m Titan, which also goes into service later this year. Titan will have two 25-ton capacity cranes which will be used for removing wrecks, rubbish and debris – such as abandoned cars – as well as laying moorings and other essential maintenance work.

The PLA is in charge of safety, navigation and traffic control on the tidal River Thames from Teddington Lock out to the sea and also undertakes essential nature conservation work. Here's more about who owns and runs London's River.

 

Crowds flock to watch the Tall Ships parade – and will return in 2017

A million people flocked to the riverside to enjoy the 2014 Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival, the biggest gathering of classic sailing ships on the Thames for at least 25 years.

Some of the tall ships will be back later this year for the Sail Greenwich event, and in 2017 we can look forward to an even bigger event than last year's. That's when the maritime borough will be the host port for the Rendez-vous Tall Ships Regatta – the starting point for a transatlantic race to Quebec.

The Regatta will start from Royal Greenwich 13-16 April 2017 then heading for Sines in Portugal before crossing the North Atlantic to Bermuda and Boston, various ports in Canada and the Gulf of St Lawrence. The fleet is expected in Quebec City 18 – 23 July 2017, and will finally return to Europe in the autumn.

Denise Hyland, council leader of the Royal Borough said: "To be the host port for this international event is a huge privilege and we offer the ideal location - our stunning waterfront and historic maritime buildings  make a wonderful backdrop for these vessels."

Read about the Tall Ships – their history, what it's like to sail them and the experience of sail training – in our special feature.

Tidal river made London great, but now £10bn is needed to defend it from floods

London owes its prosperity to the tidal river. The Thames has one of the most powerful tides of any river in Britain. But those tides also pose a grave threat to its very existence.

The river is tidal for 95miles from the outer estuary – the Essex and Kent coasts – to Teddington Lock, between Richmond and Kingston. The power of the tide helped to make London one of the world's greatest port cities; the difference between high and low tide can be up to 8m (26ft),

The strong tides have helped ships and boats to navigate the river for more than 2000 years – sailing up river on the rising tide and down on the ebb.

But it’s not just the tide that affects water levels. The inland, non-tidal, section of the river is about 250km long from its origin in the Cotswolds – but after heavy rains, more water flows off the land into the river.

These fluvial flows reached record levels in the winter of 2013-14 – five times the winter average, flooding suburbs from Hampton to Hammersmith. Some local flooding returned in February 2015 – but this was caused by the river over-topping the banks at exceptionally high tides.

The most serious threat is a storm surge from the North Sea which could drown much of Central London if we did not have the Thames Barrier. It was such a surge that flooded the estuary and the adjacent east coast in 1953, when 307 people lost their lives.

The picture (right) is a simulation from the 2007 film, Flood, of the worst that could happen.

The Thames Barrier was built across the river from Charlton to Silvertown, completed in 1982. It closes when a storm surge looms or when strong fluvial flows down the river threaten to combine with high tides.

We think the barrier is one of the wonders of the modern world – and experts say it should continue protecting London until  about 2070. But the number of closures is increasing. In the 1980s there were just four, then 35 in the 90s.  But since 2000 the barrier has had to shut 75 times – of which 50 were in the three months of the winter of 2013-14.

The Environment Agency, which manages Britain's flood defence, expects the cost of flood protection for the River Thames and the adjoining coastal areas to be about £10 billion over the next 100 years.
A team of specialist companies has been brought together and has already started work on the first,
10-year stage of the programme.

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