One of my favourite views of London is from the river – the Thames is at the heart of the city, and with so many choices of different boat trips in London with kids, it’s easy to fit at least one into your visit.
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And as well as the best-known sightseeing boat tours in London, there are historic London boat trips, self-drive options (as well as self-paddle) and more adrenaline-fuelled experiences to appeal to older kids.
You can make a virtue of necessity and travel to Greenwich with one of the London boat tours, rather than sitting on the tube, or even hop onto a boat between two art galleries for a cruise with culture. Here’s my pick of the best London boat trips for families to try.
Tips for London boat tours with kids
Sailing along the Thames is a fantastic experience, but it’s worth being aware of a few things before you board, especially for the London sightseeing boat tours.
- There’s often a chilly breeze out on the river, so while open-top sightseeing boats give great views, it’s one to save for sunny days – or wrap up warm.
- It’s often not the fastest way to travel – especially in central London, if boats are hopping between Westminster, the London Eye and Embankment. It’s about the experience rather than the speed though!
- Younger kids might not be quite so enthralled – while I can happily watch the scenery for hours, when my daughter was young, she appreciated our London boat trips a lot less, so like any journey, pack something to entertain littler ones.
- Most boat tours require face coverings for adults (unless exempt) and for children aged over 11.
- Many of the larger boats have more limited numbers, so if you’re boarding one without a timed ticket, it’s worth boarding towards the start of the route or getting there a bit early on busy days, otherwise there might not be space on the first boat.
- For more ideas on how to save money on days out in London with kids, including some boat tours, check out my tips
For ideas of more things to do on the Thames with kids, check out my pick of the best of London’s riverside attractions
City Cruises hop-on hop-off boats
There’s a whole range of different sightseeing boat tours from City Cruises, including ones with afternoon tea but also a 24-hour hop-on hop-off ticket, so you can get on and off the sightseeing boats at four different piers, if you want multiple cruises.
There’s commentary on board as they sail along the Thames, past landmarks including the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye, so it’s a fun, hassle-free way to spot a few highlights with kids – if the weather’s good, you can sit outside on the top deck.
The boats run regularly between Westminster Pier, London Eye Pier, Tower Pier and Greenwich, which each section taking around 30 minutes (except the first two stops which are just 10 minutes apart across the river).
For combined boat and bus tours, check out my pick of the best bus tours in London with kids
Terrible Thames boat tour
What do you get when you cross the creators of Horrible Histories with 2,000 years of drama along London’s riverbanks? The Terrible Thames cruise, new last summer, are running again from April 2022.
With tales of revolution, beheadings and pirates (and the stomach-turning reason why Queen Victoria’s pleasure cruise lasted only minutes), you sail from Tower Bridge to Westminster and back via Execution Dock, while prizewinning school-child Billy (or Billie) and their teacher perform and provide the commentary.
The cruise itself only takes 45 minutes but with songs, just the right amount of audience participation, plus a great balance of fun and facts, it feels like you get twice as much packed in – all including the usual Horrible Histories recipe of gruesomely ridiculous, gory sound effects, plus plenty of toilet humour.
Some genuinely quirky facts, plus it doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics, including London’s role in the slave trade. Departs from Tower Bridge Quay near St Katherine’s Dock.
We were invited along to review the new tour before its launch – my Horrible Histories-loving 8-year-old (and I) gave it a very firm thumbs up – check out the full Terrible Thames review here
Uber Boat by Thames Clippers
If you’re not looking for a long cruise, aren’t fussed about commentary on board or want a more spontaneous option, Uber Boat by Thames Clippers is unbeatable.
While you can choose the same route as most sightseeing boat tours in London, this operates almost the same way as a water bus, so it’s a fun way to get around London.
The boats leave from 23 different piers along the Thames with regular boats through central London, plus less frequent routes to take you west to Putney and east beyond Greenwich, as far as Woolwich (Royal Arsenal).
You can use contactless to pay (as well as your Oyster card), or book via their app, so there’s no need to plan your tickets way in advance. Or you can pick up a one-day unlimited River Roamer travel pass: if there are two adults in your group, the family pass means that kids go free.
Thames River Sightseeing Cruise
Another classic sightseeing London boat tour, Thames River Sightseeing also operates through central London – although stopping at a couple more piers than City Cruises – with live commentary.
There are also audio guides in multiple other languages, and an open deck to watch the sights on sunny days, as you cruise from Westminster Pier and Tower Bridge Quay, near St Katharine Docks, to Greenwich.
Check out some of the best things to do in Greenwich with kids here
You can also pick up a two-day family pass to cover all your boat trips in London with kids, currently £40, which is a bit of a bargain if you’re hoping to do a lot of cruising along the river.
Turks River Cruises
The London boat tours from Turks Launches have been cruising along the Thames for over 300 years, giving families a chance to discover a different stretch of river.
The eye-catching boats (most famously a Mississippi style stern wheeler) run most days between Richmond, Kingston and Hampton Court, passing beautiful Hampton Court Palace, Teddington Lock and the quirkily fascinating Eel Pie Island.
Kids get discounted tickets and under-twos travel free, with trips lasting between 35 minutes and 1 hour 45 minutes, depending how far you choose to cruise.
Book tickets to Hampton Court Palace, here, to combine both for a great family day out.
ThamesJet Speedboat Experience
If you want something more thrilling than a gentle pootle along the river, check out an adrenaline-fuelled RIB speedboat experience instead.
ThamesJet – another City Cruises offering – whisks you from Westminster to Canary Whaft and back again in 50 minutes.
Keep your eyes open and you’ll still spot plenty of sights, but will come away with your heart racing too. For safety reasons, children need to be at least 1.35m tall (4ft 5in) to travel on Thamesjet.
It’s also worth knowing that at present, the company isn’t lending waterproof jackets and trousers, so it pays to come dressed in suitable clothing. Your bags are all stored on dry land, but depending on the waves, you may well get wet!
Thames Rockets RIB Voyage
Or you can find a series of high-speed RIB experiences from Thames Rockets – Captain Kidd’s Canary Wharf voyage is aimed at families, with a 50-minute journey past HMS Belfast and the Oxo Tower, from the London Eye pier.
Book here for tickets which can be cancelled up to 24 hours beforehand
For a longer journey, you can choose the 80-minute 30-knot thrill ride to the Thames Barrier, or a shorter 40-minute Break the Barrier option, starting from London Bridge City Pier and winding around the Greenwich peninsula, all accompanied by tunes from the last six decades.
You have to be 10 years old or above to join the Break the Barrier ride, because of the speeds involved, but otherwise the boat trips are suitable for kids of all ages (although the Captain Kidd’s family option is recommended if you’re planning on bringing young kids along, and none are suitable if you’re pregnant).
It’s fine to bring bags on board (although not larger cases) and while there’s always the chance of spray off the water, there are waterproofs provided so you should emerge nice and dry, although with your heart racing!
Take a Canal Waterbus
If you’re looking for more laid-back boat trips in London with kids, the Thames isn’t the city’s only waterway, with several different canal waterbus options cruising along Regent’s Canal.
The vintage narrowboats take you on a 45-minute trip from pretty Little Venice, with its cafe-lined canals, past Regent’s Park, London Zoo (look out for some of the animals!) and Primrose Hill, then on to Camden Lock, where you can hop off to explore the famous market or stroll back to the zoo itself – book tickets here.
There’s a commentary about the canal’s history over the past two centuries – or if you’d prefer to sail in silence, you can join Jason’s Trip at the Camden end and putter back to Little Venice where commentary isn’t standard.
Children are welcome and you can take buggies or strollers on board Jason’s Trip, as long as you can fold them, while under-fours go free on Perseus, which also has slightly more sailings both daily and throughout the year.
Canal Museum Tunnel boat
Discover more about London’s canals before taking a boat trip along the Regent’s Canal and through the Islington tunnel, with a special tour from the London Canal Museum, not far from King’s Cross station.
At the museum itself, you can learn more about the people who lived and worked on the waterways, the cargoes the boats carried (including ice from Norway!), and get a peek inside a narrowboat cabin – plus some bonus history of the ice trade and ice cream.
But you can also book the Canal Museum’s Tunnel Boat tour, an hour-long journey along the water, including some more background on the three-quarter mile tunnel… including the fact that originally men had to lie on the boats and push against the walls with their legs to get through.
Thankfully it’s a lot easier these days! Not one for the youngest kids, who might be spooked by the long, dark tunnel though.
There are only 12 seats on board, and it doesn’t run daily – 2021 dates are expected to be every Thursday until the end of September and every second and fourth Sunday until the end of October – so do book in advance.
If all the ice cream history has whetted your appetite, check out Ruby Violet in the Kings Cross canal quarter, near Granary Square and its fountains, with flavours ranging from traditional favourites to peanut butter, passion fruit and liquorice.
London has not one but two branches of the Tate gallery, with Tate Modern and Tate Britain both on the riverside – and if you fancy a day out which combines both, you can hop between the two using the Tate Boat.
Operated by Uber Boat by Thames Clippers (scroll up for more), it’s actually part of the RB2 route so you can book as normal using their app, as well as buying tickets from the Tate – the galleries themselves are both free to enter, although you currently need prebooked timed tickets to ensure limited numbers.
It’s definitely a fun selling point for kids who love art, and this particular boat trip in London with kids makes much more of an event of a visit to the two.
Or if you’re looking for an even more memorable experience, you can book a Tate To Tate tour (restrictions permitting), which includes a guided tour of the Tate Britain in the morning, a trip on the Tate Boat, and a guided tour of Tate Modern in the afternoon.
Bus and boat tour of London
If you can’t decide whether you fancy a boat tour of London or a bus tour, why not do both? There are several options available including the Big Bus open-top hop-on hop-off bus combined a Thames cruise, and a choice of tickets lasting up to three days, to discover the various routes.
Or check out this vintage bus and boat journey as another way to travel through the city on two iconic modes of transport. The classic doubledecker bus leaves from Victoria Coach Station past sights such as Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, before hopping on a boat along the Thames.
Some departures include the chance to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace too, depending which time you pick.
Discover more royal places in London with kids here
Go Boat self-drive cruise
If you prefer the idea of getting behind the wheel of a boat yourself, check out the different options from GoBoat London, with space for up to eight in each electric boat (and it’s dog-friendly as well).
You don’t need to have experience before you set off – there is training given on arrival, along with a route map, plus you’ll get life jackets for babies and buoyancy aids for children too. The captain must be over 18.
You can depart from Paddington or Kingston, with a new option of Canary Wharf from August, giving you the chance to explore around Paddington Basin and the Regent’s Canal, along the river in West London between Teddington Lock and Molesley Lock, passing Hampton Court Palace, or through the Docklands.
Bring a picnic – you can hire the boats for up to three hours and there’s a table to sit around – although you need to know that Paddington is an alcohol-free location.
Kayak London’s waterways
Want to be the captain but fancy being in control of a slightly smaller craft? You can also explore some of London’s 100 miles of waterways with a spot of canoeing or kayaking.
Moo Canoes has a base at Hackney Wick if you’re looking to take out a canoe (good for families who all want to be in the same boat) or Limehouse for kayaks (great if you’re a solo parent, or prefer to split kids and adults between the boats).
If you’re determined to get out onto the Thames, the London Kayak Company also does booking for families with kids aged nine and over (the group trips are for adults only).
PIN FOR LATER: LONDON BOAT TRIPS WITH KIDS
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links – any purchases you make are unaffected but I may receive a small commission. One or more experiences were offered to me free of charge for review, but all opinions are my own
Main image, Little Venice, Tate Modern, kayak courtesy of Depositphotos, all others copyright MummyTravelsLIKED THIS? SIGN UP FOR MY EMAIL NEWSLETTER