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21 things to do on the Thames, London

Without the Thames, there would be no London. It has been called ‘liquid history’, the ‘heart of London’ and there has been an official settlement on the banks of the river for at least two thousand years.

A view along the Thames to the buildings and dome of St Paul's cathedral - my list of the 22 top things to do on the Thames, London with kids or without
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So if you visit London, whether it’s with kids or without, I don’t think you’ve truly explored the capital unless you’ve done something along its banks. Fortunately, that’s not hard: the river is home to some of London’s biggest attractions, museums, historic buildings, walks and activities.

Here are my top 21 things to do on the Thames, London – all either right on the banks or within just a few minutes of the river. 

Take a boat trip on the Thames

The best way to experience the river is on the water itself. Several companies run regular boat services along the Thames including the river bus Uber Boat by Thames Clippers or Thames River Boats which take you further west towards Hampton, as well as a hop on hop off cruise with City Cruises.

Or swap cruising for speeding with rib boats, including Thames Rockets, Thames RIB Experience and Thamesjet. It’s easy to combine the journeys with some of the sights below too.

The Terrible Thames boat tour, from the people behind Horrible Histories is another really fun option if you’re visiting London with kids.

The Thames Barrier and the end of the Thames Path - my 22 things to do on the Thames, London, with kids or without

Walk the river

The entire Thames path is around 184 miles long if you fancy the trip from the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier – the section through London alone stretches 40 miles, so unless you’re a dedicated walker, pick a section and a bank.

The Thames Path website has some helpful suggestions with 8-12 mile walks to try and the highlights along the way.

You can also take self-guided Thames river tours or try my short wander for some of the best Instagram spots on the South Bank

For 48 other free things to do in London with kids, check out my top picks

Explore the South Bank

If you’re not sure where to start, the South Bank is one of the best sections to wander as there’s always something going on – a Christmas market in winter, an urban beach in summer, festivals, events, not to mention the Southbank Centre exhibitions and performances at the Royal Festival Hall, films at the BFI, plays at the National Theatre.

Here’s what I thought of Christmas on the South Bank or more things to do on the South Bank with kids, check out my tips

Dig through history

Turn the clock back a century or so and people made a living from mudlarking (well, just about). Today, it’s a chance to explore the city’s history – you never know what you might turn up. Probably not gold sadly.

London Walks runs occasional Thames beachcombing tours [EDIT: Not currently running] or Thames Explorer also runs foreshore walks. If you want to head off without a guide, you can, although be wary of the tides – there are some useful tips here.

A section of the London Eye against the blue sky, taken frm the river - my list of the 22 top things to do on the Thames, London with kids or without

Enjoy the view

Don’t miss seeing the Thames from above – it’ll be visible from any of the city’s high viewpoints but the London Eye is one of the best, sitting right above the river.

Perfect for the realisation that the river’s bends mean the city’s geography is laid out a little differently than you might expect. There’s a discount if you buy online in advance and you can also find skip-the-line tickets

Get your heart racing

Or for a view with a difference, how about climbing onto the roof of the O2 – Up at the O2 takes you 52m above the ground, and 2m above the surface of the O2 itself, during a 90-minute climb.

You have to be at least 10 years old and 1.2m tall to take part.

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

Cross a bridge

33 bridges cross the Thames in London, so you’re guaranteed a few good views as you cross. Tower Bridge is easily the most famous and you can head inside to discover its history and look through the famous glass floor – buy tickets to the Tower Bridge exhibition here.

And if you’d like a chance of seeing the impressive opening as a bigger boat comes through, check the lift times.

But there are plenty of other good spots: Blackfriars Bridge is one of my favourites, especially at sunset or after dark as you look along to the lit-up Oxo Tower, while the Millennium Bridge (which I shall forever think of as the wobbly bridge) has great views to St Paul’s.

Or head west to check out Albert Bridge after dark when it’s lit up by 4,000 bulbs – look down the river from Chelsea Bridge.

Or fly over the river

Jump in the cable car and fly over the river, taking you between the royal docks and Greenwich peninsula in around 10 minutes – five minutes during morning rush hour, and 12-13 minutes for the night flights after 7pm.

If you have an Oyster card, you can get a discount, or simply buy tickets on the day. You can also get combined tickets including a one-way cruise.

Visiting the Cutty Sark in Greenwich after a boat ride along the Thames - one of my 22 top things to do on the Thames, London, with kids or without

Discover Greenwich

One of my favourite parts of London, it’s easy to spend a day (or longer) exploring Greenwich with kids, including the Royal Observatory, Old Royal Naval College with its fabulous Painted Hall, Planetarium, market and the wonderful Cutty Sark.

There are also combined tickets for the Cutty Sark and Royal Observatory

You could hop on the tube but it’s hard to beat a boat trip along the Thames first – just as I did with my daughter for our day out at the Cutty Sark.

Hampton Court

Once the royal inhabitants of Hampton Court – appropriated by Henry VIII from Cardinal Wolsey – would have arrived by barge, and you can still get a boat to Hampton to discover the Tudor palace, complete with maze and Magic Garden.

I visited Hampton Court with a baby and have been back my daughter several times since – one of my family favourite days out.

You can also get a combined Historic Royal Palaces pass including access to Hampton Court and the Tower of London.

Visit the Tower of London

Another royal palace, the very water gate you entered by was significant – kings and queens would arrive in state to be conducted to the royal apartments… apart from a few who entered by Traitor’s Gate, numbered among the prisoners who often never set foot outside again.

Advert showing an image of a printable scavenger hunt for the Tower of London and the words 'click here to buy your scavenger hunt for a visit to the Tower of London with kids, only 99p'

From the Norman White Tower to the medieval additions, crown jewels, beefeaters and ravens, plus centuries of history, the Tower of London is one of my favourite London sights. Click here to buy tickets.

You can also see the centuries-old Ceremony of the Keys – check out my experience of watching the Ceremony of the Keys with kids.

My daughter points up at the White Tower in the Tower of London with blue skies in the background

Stroll around St Katherine’s Dock

Wander a little further along the Thames and nearby St Katherine’s Dock has been turned from a commercial dock into a marina, with shops and restaurants.

On a sunny day, it’s a pretty place to wander past yachts, away from some of the bustle around the tower.

Board a battleship

HMS Belfast was once a Royal Navy light cruiser, now a museum ship permanently moored on the Thames. Operated by the Imperial War Museum, you can discover what life would have been like on board for the crew during the Second World War until 1963.

Spot fish

Whales, seals, dolphins and porpoises have all been spotted in the river since it has been cleaned up in recent years, but if you want to be certain of spotting marine life, head to the Sea Life London Aquarium near the London Eye.

One of the biggest collections in Europe, it houses over 500 species, 14 themed zones and more than 2 million litres of water. You can also get discounted tickets.

Visit a museum

Even if you limit yourself to river-front museums, there’s quite a choice for art lovers in particular among the things to do on the Thames,

Tate Modern has regularly changing exhibitions including the immense Turbine hall, while Tate Britain has a collection of British art from 1500 onwards – both are free to enter.

Less well-known is the London Museum of Water and Steam in Brentford, near Kew, with its historic engines and some great activities for kids.

View across the flowers

Explore a botanic garden

Although the entrances most visitors use for the botanical gardens at Kew are a little way from the river, the Thames actually wraps itself around the huge site so it’s easy to get from the water to the plants.

There are constantly changing exhibitions and themed displays so there’s always something new to find – we’ve explored everything from Shaun the Sheep at Kew to displays on poisons and spices on our visits.

Check out my tips for exploring Kew Gardens with kids

See a Buddhist stupa

The 200 acres of Battersea Park have everything from a children’s zoo to a Go Ape course as well as the Peace Pagoda right on the riverfront, one of many around the world built as shrines to world peace.

Experience a Tudor theatre

The famous thatched replica of an original Elizabethan theatre, The Globe is one of the best places to watch Shakespeare, standing under the open skies as theatregoers would once have done.

You can see the theatre from the outside while standing tickets cost as little as £5 to see a performance. You can also take tours of the Globe, including an option to upgrade with afternoon tea.

See a bishop’s palace

Fulham Palace has been the historic home of the Bishops of London since 704 and it’s free to enter and explore, plus information on the site’s very earliest inhabitants dating back around 5,000 years.

Next door Bishop’s Park runs right down to the riverfront with an urban beach, ornamental lake and sculpture garden.

Get a free list of the top 20 places to get outdoors in London with kids if you sign up for the London with Kids newsletter here

A view across the Thames to the Elizabeth Tower containing Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster - my 22 things to do on the Thames, London, with kids or without

Hear London’s famous bell

One of the iconic symbols of London, the Elizabeth Tower – containing Big Ben, as the Great Bell is known – along with the Palace of Westminster border the river at Westminster.

The tower is undergoing refurbishment from 2017 to 2021 so the tours are suspended until then but you can still book tours of Parliament.

Find treasure or track spies

The Treasure Trail collection has a string of options throughout London, with quite a few heading along the riverside for one of the more unusual things to do on the Thames with kids.

Choose from a treasure hunt in Greenwich to a murder mystery in Bankside to a spy mission in Westminster as well as trails for Battersea and Putney Bridges, and the rather pretty section called Strand on the Green at Chiswick.

First published 2016, updated 2020


My 21 things to do on the Thames, London, UK, with kids or without - from historic buildings to London's iconic attractions, experiences, walks, activities and art galleries, the river really is the heart of the UK capital. #londonwithkids #londonuk #mummytravels

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links – any purchases you make are unaffected but I may receive a small commission

Westminster image courtesy of Depositphotos, all others copyright MummyTravels



  1. Great list Cathy. There is something fascinating about the Thames: it has been there for so long, the sights and change it must have seen. Love looking back at old photos and seeing what the Thames and surrounding area looked like hundreds of years ago. I need to do so many on your list. London Eye and boat tour in particular. I didn’t know Fulham Palace was free entry either. There’s so much still to explore in London. #citytripping

    1. Absolutely- it’s incredible to think of the changes it must have seen. And the Eye is great, I do want to head up with my daughter.

    1. Also my local end of the Thames – I love Hampton Court especially. Have never done a Rib boat journey (yet) though. You must go on the Eye some time, the views are fabulous.

  2. So much to do in London, I could never get bored! I still havent made it to Greenwich or Hampton Court! We did the Thames Clippers boat ride, but I personally didnt enjoy it. I wanted something more slow and relaxing and they sped down the entire Thames in like 20 minutes. #CityTripping

    1. Absolutely – and I’d definitely put Greenwich on the list, you get a much longer boat ride so less of a speedy trip than just the central stops. Heading west past Kew to Hampton might feel a bit more leisurely too.

  3. Lovely list of things to do on the Thames. The boat trip, crossing the bridges and exploring South Bank are must-dos for every visitor to London. #CityTripping

  4. When we moved to London I was insistent that we lived near the Thames. As you say it’s the beating heart of London and there are so many things to do along its shores. Great list!

    1. There really are – you could wander along and keep finding something new I think. I had to limit the distance from the water as well, as if I made it even about five minutes, you’d have a much much longer list…

  5. Ah I love London! 🙂 Last night I discovered on the news about the project for a light installation across the 17 bridges along the Thames which will transform the landscape particularly in winter when it gets dark so early…looking forward to that! #citytripping

  6. I love this list. London is one my most favourite cities and I used to be there at least twice a month. I want to go again over Xmas now with these activities!

  7. What a fantastic list!!! This is the kind of post you print out and put on your fridge and set as your bucket list for the year. I love walking around London, especially along the Thames Path.


    1. Thanks! I’d love to think people might do that – has made me think I need to do a few again (or for the first time!)

  8. love this post! I enjoy taking a boat ride with Thames Clipper down the Thames and I really liked the Emirates Air line:) I did a lot of other things from your list too but I haven’t done the places that are a bit further from the center such as Kew gardens and Hampton court palace #citytripping

  9. I had no idea there was so much to do on the Thames. Great list, I’d like to visit London and explore some of these places, especially the aquarium, botanic garden, and the tower of London. #citytripping

  10. What a great list of things to do along the Thames. I’m a big fan of exploring a city by river and I always find it a thrill arriving in London by train and travelling across the bridge. We love the museums and ships along the river but must add Fulham Palace to our list. #citytripping

  11. Fabulous list. There is so much more I need to explore in London. When we were there last year I was on crutches of all things and can you believe I crutched all the way from Big Ben to the London Eye – so yes – I crossed a bridge. With about a zillion other tourists! Was happy to be there though! Congrats on 1 year of City Tripping! Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

  12. One of my very favourite things to do in London is stroll along the South Bank and cross over the Millenium Bridge to St Pauls. I’d love to take my boys on a duck boat tour and I’d also love to see the London Barrier. This is a lovely way to look at London, the Thames really is its lifeblood.

    1. That is a great walk and I love seeing St Paul’s suddenly peeking through the buildings. I still haven’t done the London duck boat tour myself (though they’ve been fun in other cities).

  13. Wow.. I never knew there were so many things to do in Thames! I’ve pinned this up so that I can revisit it when I finally make it to London. 😛 #CityTripping

    1. I was a bit surprised myself when I added them all up – and more once you expand even another five minutes or so from the banks… Thanks!

  14. So many great ideas! This post demonstrates how little I know about London. I have read a lot of exciting posts about the city. Will need to include the city in my nearby future plans. And, I am hitting the river in one way or another. #citytripping

    1. Definitely – I haven’t done those myself but one for my list with my daughter too. At the moment, she’s a bit squeamish about dirty hands 🙂

    1. That’s one of my favourites – if I’m going to Greenwich, it always feels like a good excuse to hop on a boat.

  15. Fab ideas as always Cathy. We loved walking from London Bridge all the way up to the London Eye when we were there earlier in the year. We saw so much on the way and the street entertainers were great! #citytripping

  16. I so love London and The Thames is such a a vital part of it – and always has been. I’m lucky enough to have done lots of the stuff on your list, but still not the palace at Fulham. Keep meaning to pop by……

    1. It is such an amazing city – very easy to spend a lifetime exploring, I think (and still possibly not finishing)

    1. There’s still a good half dozen I haven’t done yet – or haven’t done for too long. Hope you do get back to London to tick off a couple more, looked like you had fun on the Eye last time.

  17. Wow, great tips, Cathy! I had thought the only thing to do and see at the River Thames was just the cruise. Never knew there are so many more sights and activities to do along the river 🙂 #citytripping

    1. Thanks Kat – the cruise is wonderful, and one of my favourite ways to experience London, but lots lots more to do…

  18. Ha! You missed one (I think – quite prepared to be wrong)! Ham House is right on the river, and well worth a visit to find out why lawns are such a British obsession (if nothing else).

    But seriously, what a GREAT resource. Bookmarking this one for sure.

    1. I did! You’re quite right, and I’ve been there a couple of times so I should have remembered – for some reason, as I’ve always driven, I forget the river is just behind a hedge. And thank you 🙂

  19. My husband and I are dying visit London again. We’ve been separately many years ago, but would love to see more of the city (and of the UK in general). They are great tips! #citytripping

  20. Got to love the Thames. You’re spot on that a visit to London without at least giving it a wave is not quite the same. Nice picks . I love Greenwich, the market and the museum is fab for kids. Also want to visit the wetlands centre…been meaning to for ages!

    1. Thanks! And the wetlands are lovely, it’s a little while since we’ve been back too – in fact, I need a bit of a river fix in general soon, I think.

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