A Guide to London and the Thames this Summer

August 26, 2022

A Londoner once described the Thames as “liquid history.” His name was John Elliott Burns, and he grew up in Battersea in the 1860s. He left school at 10 and became a Member of Parliament by his mid–40s. 

This century the Thames is as much about “liquid happiness” as history. It’s a wonderful focus for a holiday or a celebration. And there’s so much of it.

The tidal section of the London Thames can be divided into three parts: from Kew to Chelsea, taking in the lights of Albert Bridge and Battersea Power Station; in the centre you have Vauxhall Bridge (handy for Pimlico) plus Westminster Bridge (dated 1862 and bordering the Houses of Parliament); Westminster also marks the historic third axis that stretches all the way to Tower Bridge.

So if you’re looking for event venues in London with easy riverside access, then Blue Orchid Hotels Rochester and Wellington  (Westminster Pier), and its 5 star Tower Suites apartments (Tower Hill Pier) are more than conveniently placed for all of the Thames Tideway. 


Frozen Assets

When the first London Bridge was built (during the reign of bad King John) it acted like a barricade, slowing the tidal flow and increasing the chances of the Thames freezing over. That led to the famous Winter “frost fairs” of the 1600s. Festivals on ice were all the rage from 1607 onwards.  

Back in those days the Thames was not exactly fragrant. As early as 1357 Edward III commented on the “fumes and other abominable stenches arising” from the waste matter pouring into the Thames. 

In Victorian times the link between poor hygiene and water–borne disease was established. Mid 19th century Bermondsey – now a very desirable address – harboured a famous Victorian slum called “Jacob’s Island” (Dickens’ Oliver Twist is set there). It stood near St Saviour’s Dock and was nick–named “the Venice of drains” by London newspapers.  

It all ended in the “Great Stink” of 1858, when MPs could no longer bear to sit in the House of Commons, thanks to the smell coming from the river. The problem had literally got up the noses of the great and good, which resulted in London’s engineers being brought in to sort out the sewers. 

During the height of the British Empire the Thames was a packed conveyor belt for goods. Ships were stacked like sardines across the river. 

Today the Thames is used mostly for leisure and transport. It has a historic and picturesque link to rowing clubs and river races. Apart from the Oxford vs Cambridge competition, the Head of the River race is an annual treat. The Thames also hosts one of the oldest sporting events in the world, the Doggett’s Coat and Badge race for London’s apprentice watermen. 

September features the annual Totally Thames Festival. Not forgetting the perennial allure of riverside pubs and restaurants. There are even fabulous riverside theatres like The Globe and The Bridge near St Paul’s and Tower Bridge, or the National Theatre in the Southbank Centre. 

And of course Tate Modern sits across the Thames from St Paul’s Cathedral, while Tate Britain borders the river in Pimlico. 

It’s little wonder that artists like Monet, Whistler and Turner picked up their paint brushes to show their appreciation of the Thames. 

Messing About on the River 

Totally Thames Festival 

Sept 1 to 30

Various Thames side venues

A celebration of arts and culture spanning 42 miles of the London Thames. Highlights: 

Great River Race

September 10

London’s river marathon, a race for traditional boats that attracts over 300 international crews. Professional athletes and charity fundraisers in fancy dress race from Millwall to Ham. The aim is to become UK Traditional Boat Champion.   

Jubilee Reflections Flotilla 

September 24

An illuminated night time flotilla of over 150 boats will glide from Chelsea to Tower Bridge at dusk, decorated in white lights. The Queen’s Royal Barge “Gloriana” will be escorted by other traditional boats, including the Thames Watermen’s Cutters, Cornish Pilot Gigs, Skiffs and Skerries. In aid of the RNLI’s new lifeboat station at Waterloo Bridge. Now is a good time to look for those Tower hotel London deals ahead of these festivities.

The World’s Oldest Boat Race


In 1715 Thomas Doggett founded his “Coat and Badge” race. Doggett’s Coat and Badge Wager is a 7,400m race that is contested by young Thames watermen and lightermen, many of them following in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents. The Thames Festival Trust commissioned a film about the race.  

Illuminated River Installation

Nine bridges lit up by Leo Villarreal’s installation, “the longest public art installation in the world.” Boat Tours at dusk are planned.

St Paul’s Cathedral and Tate Modern

A mudlarking exhibition in St Paul’s Cathedral and Rivers of the World artworks outside Tate Modern.


Riverboat Tours and Travel


Thames boat excursions divide into two categories: sedate and speed freak. Prices vary so check all offers. Some are themed (Muggle Tours), and some get you to Greenwich or Hampton Court from Central London. Others are loud and fast. And there are hop–on, hop–off options.

City Cruises London

Sightseeing or dining cruises, plus Thamesjet speedboat. Live commentary. 

London Thames River High–Speed Small–Group RIB Cruise

The RIB is a rigid inflatable boat. Zoom past Big Ben and St Paul’s, with commentary and iconic British songs.

River Thames Fast RIB-Boat Experience in London 2022

One hour: Tower Bridge and Westminster waters have a speed limit, but the brakes come off once you reach the fast zone (high octane music too). 

Speedboat Thames Barrier Experience to/from Embankment Pier

75 minutes: two itineraries to choose from.

Thames River Boats

Indoor and outdoor seating, licensed bars, toilets and heating on cold days. From Westminster Pier, Kew, Richmond and Hampton Court. 

Uber Boat by Thames Clipper River Roamer: hop-on hop-off pass

Whatever Floats Your Boat 

Riverside pubs and restaurants to lift the spirits and satisfy the senses.


Butler’s Wharf Chop House

Butlers Wharf Building, SE1 

Thameside Terrace and views of Tower Bridge. Grass fed steaks, select butchery and seafood.

Cento Alla Torre

100 Minories, EC3 

Artisan pasta and fine Italian cuisine. From the renowned Blue Orchid Tower hotel London - kids eat for free this August, see Blue Orchid Tower Suites’ Family Time offer 

Emilia’s Crafted Pasta

St Katharine Docks

Overlooking the docks and boats, handmade pasta


Circus West Village


Riverside Spot, southern Italian cuisine, chef Francesco Mazzei. 3 minutes from Battersea Power Station.  


Founders Arms

London Bridge

Pub, restaurant and bar: views of the Thames next to Tate Modern and Millennium Bridge. 


Gaucho Tower Bridge

2 More London Riverside, SE1 

Argentine food and wine. 3 minutes from HMS Belfast. 


High Timber Restaurant 

Broken Wharf House, 8 High Timber Street, EC4

South African cuisine, featuring Stellenbosch’s most awarded wine estate, and chef Bartek Wegzryn. On the banks of the Thames.



Canary Wharf, Docklands

Grade II listed building, riverside pub-restaurant-bar.



Tower Bridge

Indian cuisine, sharing plates, traditional and contemporary menu. Views of the bridge.



Gabriel’s Wharf


Riverside bar and restaurant. All day menu. Sustainable, no waste food


The Skyline London

100 Minories, EC3

Panoramic views of the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and the Thames. Rooftop bar and Mediterranean cuisine from Cento Alla Torre. Private cabanas available. 


Swan at The Globe

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: riverside restaurant, views of the Thames and St Paul’s. Modern British food, local market produce. 


Tower Suites’ Family Time

100 Minories, EC3

Tower Suites’ fully equipped boutique apartments are a stone’s throw from the Thames, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. A vacation/staycation for all the family. This August the kids eat for free at in–house, Italian–inspired Cento Alla Torre restaurant. Harry Potter themed staycation available too (potions class, walking tour and themed afternoon tea plus movie night; special discounts). 


By the River


Greenwich + Docklands International Festival

August 26 to September 11

London’s free, annual outdoor performing arts festival. Art, theatre, dance, circus and family activities. Featured display: Borealis lights up the Greenwich and Woolwich skies.


Hampton Court Palace Food Festival

August 27 to 29

Get there by boat from Westminster Pier: street food, pop-up bars, artisan producers, family fun, and a bandstand. ProCook Pop-up Cookery School and Bone Idyll Liquid Masterclasses (cocktails). 


Jubilee at the Tower

100 Minories, EC3

Overnight luxury stay for two in Tower Suites’ boutique apartments, plus two adult tickets to Superbloom, the ocean of wild flowers in the Tower of London moat. Complementary in-room breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner at in–house Italian inspired restaurant Cento Alla Torre. A stone’s throw from the Thames, the Tower of London and St Katharine’s Docks.


Tower of London: Medieval Mayhem

Throughout August

A mini festival of fun: chaotic scenes from Medieval London life acted out three times a day on the South Lawn. Performances at 11am, 1pm and 2.30pm.


Tower of London: Gunpowder Plot


The Tower Vaults, Tower of London

The famous plot to blow up Parliament, just two years after the death of Elizabeth I: an immersive experience, taking you back to 1605, with Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter) starring as Guy Fawkes. Tickets available. 


Kids’ Week 

Theatre Offer

For every adult ticket purchased, one child goes free. To take full advantage of this offer, combine this with a Kids Week package at Blue Orchid’s Rochester Hotel (on Westminster’s leafy Vincent Square). A stay in this central London hotel gives you access to some excellent offers and packages, discounted family rates, family breakfast, dinner included and more. 


Royal Time at the Tower

Another royal offer from Tower Suites: an overnight stay for two, plus a private walking tour of local landmarks, and a private tour of the Tower of London. 


Superbloom at the Tower of London

Until September 18

Millions of wildflower seeds grown in the Tower’s huge moat to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. A sea of blooms that will renew itself year after year. Tickets available to walk through the moat, or survey this oasis of pleasure from the public viewing area for free. Plus an extra-large slide for a speedy entrance to the flower meadow! Sculptures and sound installations, too. Maintained as a natural resource beyond the Jubilee. 


Traditional Afternoon Tea and Two Adult Superbloom Tickets 

A day with the flowers at the Tower. Blue Orchid Tower Suites.