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Terrible Thames review: the Horrible Histories 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 boat tour, of course.

View of a sign for the Terrible Thames boat tour and the boat itself, with Tower Bridge in the background on a cloudy grey day - one of the best boat tours in London with kids
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New in 2021 and an instant hit with families, we were invited along for a sneak preview for this Terrible Thames review, discovering tales of revolution, beheadings, pirates and the stomach-turning reason why Queen Victoria’s pleasure cruise lasted only minutes…

Joining ‘schoolboy’ Billy (whose family have been connected to pretty much every major event on the Thames) and his teacher, as we sailed from Tower Bridge to Westminster and back to Execution Dock, the pair made for a very funny double act as they whisked us through history.

The Terrible Thames tour itself only takes 45 minutes but it felt like they packed in twice that amount, including songs, just the right amount of audience participation, plus a great balance of fun and facts.

And all with the usual Horrible Histories recipe of gruesomely ridiculous, gory sound effects, plus plenty of toilet humour.

For more great London boat tours with kids, check out my pick of the best

My daughter looks at a pirate on the side of the Horrible Histories boat tour of London for our Terrible Thames review trip, with Tower Bridge in the background

Written by Terry Deary, creator of the Horrible Histories series, and the TV show’s director, Neal Foster, there were facts I hadn’t come across before (did you know there was a time capsule in the base of Cleopatra’s Needle?!).

While it’s pitched well for the young audience, the tour didn’t shy away from the difficult topics either, including slavery.

If your kids like the show, you’ll already have a good idea of what’s in store when it comes to the content though and it always stays on the right side of entertainingly educational rather than distressing.

View along the Thames including the Shard and Tower Bridge on a cloudy day, seen from our Terrible Thames tour, the Horrible Histories boat tour in London

My own eight-year-old was more upset about the stories of whaling than the swishing axe noises accompanying tales of beheading, for example.

While she often gets bored on boat trips along the river (unlike me!), this was one option which held her interest for the whole 45 minutes too.

From an adult point of view, you don’t go very far, as you travel round in a loop, but you see all the main central London sights in that round trip – including the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, London Eye, HMS Belfast, the Shard and Tate Modern – before any boredom sets in.

Along the way, there’s plenty of chance to join in the fun too, including singing a few sea shanties and taking part in some choreographed clapping.

If your kids would rather swim in the Thames than get involved, there’s no problem being a silent member of the audience, especially if you’re not too close to the front, or stay by the sides rather than along the aisle.

Having a teacher and child performing is also a great way to engage the young audience, especially when it turns out that young Billy (or Billie, depending which pair of actors you get), knows a lot of the darker history of the Thames versus the teacher’s sanitised stories straight out of textbooks.

At times it does feel like there’s a barrage of facts, figures and trivia to follow – another reason it’s better for slightly older ones – but realistically, even if your kids only take in half of what they hear, it’s still a lot more than the average boat tour (or history lesson!)

And as it’s crammed with the kind of memorable stories kids love – that story about Queen Victoria’s pleasure cruise? Just think what the river would have been like before the city’s famous sewers were built! – it’s easily one of my favourite things to do in London with kids.

For more ideas of the best things to do in London with kids, check out my pick of the best

Image showing a graphic of the London Eye on the Essential Guide to London with kids ebook cover, and the words 'click to buy my 33-page guide to London. Itineraries, tips and all you need to know before a visit to London with kids' linking to my the London with kids shop page

Terrible Thames review: need to know

Tickets cost from £22 for adults and from £14 for kids aged three to 15 (under-threes go free, although it’s aimed at age 5+). There are also family tickets available and you can buy gift vouchers.

The tour runs between April and October, daily during July and August, and most school holidays, otherwise at weekends only.

There are several Terrible Thames tours every day, up to around nine during peak season.

There is indoor seating if the weather is bad but otherwise you’ll be in the open air on the top deck (we were far too entertained to notice the minor drizzle).

View of the Thames and the Tower of London, seen from the river

There are toilets on board, and a place to store buggies and scooters on the lower deck (these aren’t allowed on the upper deck)

The tour departs from Tower Bridge Quay near St Katherine’s Dock – it’s a short walk from the Tower of London itself (and a different pier from the other sightseeing boats along the Thames which dock at Tower Bridge pier). If you use the whatthreewords app, you’ll find the location at curiosity.pirate.rides.

For more tips on visiting London with kids, check out the Facebook group London With Kids which I help to run

Disclosure: We were given free tickets in exchange for this Terrible Thames review but all opinions are my own (and my small Horrible Histories fan). This post contains affiliate links – any purchases you make are unaffected but I may receive a small commission

Images copyright MummyTravels


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