See the Highlights Along London's River Thames

One of the world's most famous rivers snake through London, carrying centuries of history and modern-day entertainment

Whether you’re sailing down it, dining on it or simply admiring it, here are the Thames’ top treasures, which also plays host to the Thames Festival in September. 

Capital Views

Ever since Sir Christopher Wren built The Monument in 1671 to commemorate the devastating Great Fire of 1666, views of the capital have been a huge draw. For more than three centuries, visitors have climbed the 311 steps to gaze at London. If you climb 278 feet up to the top of St Paul’s Cathedral you also get a view from an icon that has dominated the skyline for centuries. That honour now goes to The View from The Shard, a 21st-century marvel in steel and glass. And no trip to the city is complete without a trip on the Coca-Cola London Eye, a gigantic observation wheel.

The Shard on the River thames, London, UK
The Shard is a modern-day landmark on the River Thames. (©Thinkstock)

Historic Landmarks

MPs debate and legislate in the Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament. When the Romans built a stronghold on the banks of the Thames, they could hardly have imagined it would one day become the Tower of London, which now houses the opulent Crown Jewels. Tower Bridge still opens up almost daily to let large vessels pass through. The white dome of the magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral affects modern landmarks to this day; the reason so many skyscrapers have an unusual shape is to protect its sightlines.

Tower of London, UK
See centuries of history, and the Crown Jewels, at the Tower of London (©Bukki88/iStock/Thinkstock)

Nautical History 

The Thames has been a crucial trade route since the Middle Ages. The World War II battleship HMS Belfast, moored next to Tower Bridge, has nine decks to be explored – see the difficult conditions its former sailors endured. Step back in time to see a full-scale reconstruction of Sir Francis Drake’s famous galleon, the Golden Hinde, which now nestles on the river near London Bridge. In Greenwich, you can tour one of the last and fastest tea clippers, the Cutty Sark, and visit the Royal Maritime Museum.

Millennium Bridge, River thames, London, UK
Old bridges and new span the Thames (©Samuel Hollingworth)

Art & Culture

Shakespeare’s Globe opened in 1997 and is a faithful reconstruction of the playhouse where the Bard’s plays premiered. The highly respected National Theatre houses three separate theatres, the BFI Southbank film centre shows classic and new movies, and the Southbank Centre, built for the 1951 Festival of Britain, incorporates three concert halls and the Hayward Gallery. Few would have guessed that a waterfront power station would house the most-visited modern art gallery in the world. Step forward Tate Modern, with its Picassos, Warhols and Rothkos that adorn the walls.

Wining & Dining 

Dining along, or above, the river is now big business. When the art-deco OXO Tower opened its eighth-floor restaurant, bar and brasserie in 1996, it demonstrated that location is everything. It is one of those iconic ‘I was there’ spots. Skylon at the Southbank Centre and sixth-floor restaurant at Tate Modern offer a similar vantage point. Western Europe’s tallest building, The View from The Shard, boasts brilliant restaurants, from British elegance at Aqua to Hutong’s Chinese delicacies, and London’s highest Champagne bar, with spectacular views across the city.

Dances during the Totally Thames festival, London, UK
Colourful entertainment during the Totally Thames festival (©Visit London Images)

Totally Thames Festival 

There’s no better time to explore the river than at the Totally Thames Festival, which runs throughout September. Events include a 20km Thames Bridge Trek, boat trips at Tidefest and the Great River Race. Join the fun to see the river in an even more exciting light.

Read more about the festival here.

See more London attractions here.