London’s Waterways

The River Thames has long been the life blood of the city, bringing in supplies from newly discovered lands and allowing trade with all areas of the country, yet to modern day visitors to the city it is often overlooked in favour of brick and mortar attractions. The river sees much more than the densely packed city centre, it passes through beautiful countryside as it winds its way towards the sea. As well as the river there are also canals that you can explore as you discover this overlooked part of London’s capital.

Photo by Tony Hall
Photo by Tony Hall

The Thames

The river flows through the very heart of the city and for centuries has provided inspiration for writers, artists and composers. It is the backdrop to some of the most important buildings in the city and also to the many tourist attractions that are located on and around the riverbanks. The river has followed its path for around two thousand years and the city has grown and changed as the centuries have passed, now there are a number of water based sporting activities that you can take part in both on the river and on surrounding waterways whereas once the water was only important for trade and industry.

The Thames is a river that is ruled by the tides and the water level can rise and fall as much as 26 feet (8 metres) between low and high tide. Though it has a reputation for being a dirty river, a throwback to its past as the cause of the ‘great stink’ that used to hang over the city, the Thames is now one of the cleanest rivers in the whole of Europe, thanks to the number of clean up operations that have been carried out over the years.

A Day on the Thames

The Thames flows from the Cotswolds, down into the city of Oxford, then through Henley and onto Windsor before it reaches the heart of the city. There are a number of boat hire companies offering sightseeing tours along the river, as well as many riverside restaurants and bars where you can watch the boats go about their business on the water. There are also walking routes and cycle paths that wind their way along the riverbanks that you can lose a whole afternoon to.

Other London Waterways

Although the Thames is the best known of all of the waterways in London there are a number of others:

  • Bow Back Rivers: these backwaters are among the least known of London’s waterways and are part of the River Lee.
  • The Grand Union Canal: This is the longest single canal in the UK and links the city of London with Birmingham, an important waterway at the height of the Industrial Revolution.
  • London Docklands: Though this is now recognised as an important business district the docklands were originally build to provide extra access for shipping.
  • Regent’s Canal: This snaking canal links the Thames with Paddington at Limehouse and along its way takes in a varied landscape which includes ‘Little Venice’.

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