While it’s often overlooked, one of the most iconic and defining features of London is the River Thames. This waterway flows from deep in the heart of southern England to the English Channel in the west. As it flows through London, the Thames is a wide snake, creating the geography of the city with the Southbank on one side, Westminster and the City on the other.
No matter how you think about the Thames, it’s an important part of London and its history. Goods are still shipped up and down the river at all hours of the day and night, and passengers board boats to journey along its lengths too. In this post, I’ll cover the latter – since you may be considering a Thames cruise during your own London itinerary.
I’ve journeyed along the Thames many ways, including on those more focused on commuting. While options used to be limited, today you can enjoy a variety of different Thames river cruises from Murder Mystery cruises to quick museum ferries. You can float leisurely to enjoy the view of London’s must-see sights from the water or zoom around on a speedboat to enjoy a few thrills. There literally are Thames river cruises for every travel style.
If you want to learn more about your options and discover the best Thames river cruises, read on. In this post, you’ll learn the differences between cruise offerings and hopefully find the one that’s perfect for your upcoming London trip.
Best Variety: City Cruises
London looks pretty from every angle. No discussion there. However, it looks its prettiest from the River Thames. Many landmarks are right on the banks of the river, and that’s why a cruise offers a vantage point to see these iconic buildings. As you’ll read in a minute, you’ll see that cruises are also an excellent opportunity to avoid crowds at the tube. Keep on reading to find out the best Thames River Cruises.
The Hop-On/Hop-Off cruise is one of City Experiences’ regular sightseeing boats. This 24-hour river pass is your gateway to tourist hotspots, including the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, and Tower Bridge. The tour has four stops: Westminster Pier, London Eye Pier, Tower Pier, and Greenwich Pier. You can hop on and off at these stops and explore each London area.
There’s nothing like taking in the beauty of London as you meander along the Thames. Below, you’ll find two sightseeing cruises that show you London’s iconic landmark aboard their boats.
- Day Cruise – City experiences also have day and evening sightseeing cruises. Their daytime cruise takes you on a two-hour ride to see the best of London. During winter, head to the bar, get a hot drink and head up to its fabulous open upper deck where you can marvel at panoramic views of London. The Thames River and the city look lovely when the sun goes down.
- Evening Cruise – With City Experiences, you can also book evening river cruises on the Thames. Set the mood with a bubbly glass of champagne in one hand and canapés in the other one. You’ll take in views of the London Eye, Westminster, Tower Bridge, and Tower of London for two hours while listening to smooth tunes in the background.
The best thing about cruises is that the experience they offer comes in all shapes and colors. These cruises below combine sightseeing with music (and mystery) to spice up your river adventure!
- River Thames Jazz Cruise – Marrying music and sightseeing, the Thames Jazz cruise recreates life in London’s Roaring 20s. So, put on your best clothes and prepare for some gilded fun. You’ll experience a fancy three-course meal, a jazz quintet playing classics like Girl from Ipanema, Day and Night, and Summertime while seeing images of London icons pass by through your window.
- Elvis Tribute Cruise – From the 20s, we go to the 50s with this fantastic Elvis Tribute Cruise. It’s pretty much the same as the Jazz cruise. The main difference is that you’ll be eating to the sound of Elvis’ lively rock and roll hits. The cruise invites Matt King, who has won many trophies as Elvis, to play Presley’s hits. After dinner, be ready to dance the night away, as you’ll get a chance to get onto the dance floor as the boat heads towards Tower Bridge.
- Murder Mystery Dinner Cruise – If music isn’t for you, don’t worry, I have something you’ll love. The murder mystery dinner cruise invokes Agatha Christie’s spirit and invites you to discover who’s behind the bloody murder that occurred a few minutes before you boarded. While you follow the clues, you’ll enjoy a lovely three-course meal and a glass of fizz. Don’t let your guard down, though. The murderer can be anywhere.
Poshest Dining Cruises: Bateaux
These culinary cruises are the ultimate London experience for foodies. They cater to every taste and allow you to enjoy sumptuous meals with a backdrop of the city you won’t get from any skyscraper.
Bateaux dinner cruise is no ordinary cruise; it’s an experience. Bateaux combines Thames river sightseeing with elegant, unforgettable dinners and lunches. They offer exclusive seasonal voyages year-round and customized experiences for special occasions, such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter.
The courses boast an impressive selection of premium wines, decadent dishes, and mouth-watering cocktails. As for regular dinner tours, you can always choose among three options: platinum, gold, and silver. The regular Sunday lunches offer two packages, Classic plus Sunday lunch and Classic Sunday lunch. While most experiences provide similar service, the most expensive ones offer better seats and five-course meals.
Runner Up: City Cruises
- Lunch Cruise on the River Thames – While not as fancy as the Bateaux, this lunch cruise from City Cruises offers a two-course meal with live or recorded commentary. There’s also a bar where you can order delicious cocktails and take them to the deck for unbroken views of the city.
- Afternoon Tea Cruise on the River Thames – No list of dining cruises would be complete without an afternoon tea cruise. Those who’d like to participate in London’s iconic afternoon teas can do it with this City Cruises package. Instead of fancy hotel rooms, they’ve recreated the English tradition and invite you to sip the best tea in London while meandering along the Thames. You’ll also enjoy sumptuous delicacies, including a selection of sandwiches, mini pastries, and scones with clotted cream and jam.
- Dinner Cruise on the River Thames – Back to the dinner options, this dinner cruise along the River Thames is a more affordable alternative for those who want to experience the river at night. The three-hour journey includes a four-course meal, first-class service, and after-dinner dancing. All while enjoying the best views of the city.
Best Speedboat Experience: Thames RIB Experience
When it comes to Thames River Cruises, there’s a wide variety. If you don’t believe me, just look at these speedboat experiences!
The Thames RIB Experience will flood your system with a rush of adrenaline. This cruise zips through London while a stereo system pumps out James Bond music. It’s an excellent and fun option if you want to escape regular sightseeing tours. They have different packages with the Canary Wharf, Thames Barrier, the Ultimate Spy experiences as the most popular. They all follow almost the same route and pass by most London landmarks. There’s one thing all tours have in common, though. When you get past Tower Bridge, the captain picks up speed and zips to the Thames Barrier and back!
Runners Up: Thames Rockets & Thamesjet
- Thames Rockets – Thames Rockets also offer speedboats for the adrenaline junkie. The good thing about Thames Rockets is that they offer a fantastic children’s experience, Captain Kidd’s Canary Wharf Voyage. It is exclusively for families and also first-timers. The ride isn’t as crazy as regular speedboat tours and allows children to have a good time without feeling scared. Their Rocket Revolution Embark is another popular tour, which includes a spin on the world-famous London Eye.
- Thamesjet by City Cruises – The Thamesjet by City Cruises is another option you can book to have an exhilarating experience on the River Thames. The tour takes you from Westminster down to Tower bridge in a fun-filled 50-minute ride. When you approach Canary Wharf, the caption will speed up, making exciting twists and turns on the River Thames.
Transit Cruises on the Thames
You don’t have to book a touristy cruise to experience the Thames from up close. You can also take one of the many transit cruises locals use to commute every day from different parts of the city.
Uber Boat by Thames Clipper
The Uber Boat by Thames Clipper is just like the Underground, except that piers replace the tube stations.
Their high-speed catamarans have become one of the best ways to get across London. You can book unlimited all-day tickets to travel across all of their piers (it stops at 23 piers) or simply use your Oyster card to pay. Most people love the trip from Embankment to Greenwich.
The app has an audio guide you can listen to during the 30-minute journey from central London. The Uber Boat also offers O2 Post-Show services. So, if you watch a show at the O2, you can sail back into town with the Uber Boat!
Thames River Sightseeing
Thames River Sightseeing stands out not only for the diverse tours they provide but also for their boats. The company has an impressive fleet of twelve boats, including the Thomas Doggett, The Mercuria, and the Sarpedon.
They offer three packages to explore London’s best sights, the Westminster to Greenwich cruise (1 hour – 2hours), Westminster to Tower Bridge Quay cruise (30 min- 1 hour), and the Greenwich to Westminster cruise (1 hour -2 hours). You can also buy a 2 Day River Pass, which offers unlimited travel between Westminster, Embankment, Festival, Bankside, Tower Bridge Quay, and Greenwich.
Turk Launches is one of the oldest companies you’re likely to come across in London. This family-run company has been in the riverboats scene for over 300 years. Their rides last 40 minutes and take you to explore the stunning stretch of the river Thames. You can meander through southwest London with their round-trip between Kingston and Richmond or explore historic Hampton Court Palace on their Hampton Court cruise.
Also known as the RB2 service, the Tate Boat is a tiny boat linking the Tate Modern and Tate Britain. It’s an excellent alternative to see some of London’s waterfront as the ride passes by Big Ben Parliament, London Eye, among other sights. The boat departs every 20–30 minutes. I suggest going to the Tate Britain first and then the Tate Modern, so you can walk to The Shard or Globe Theater after visiting the museum.
Other Unique Thames Cruises
If none of the tours above caught your eye, you might find these Thames River Cruises interesting. Unlike the cruises above, these two tours explore the river and London’s waterfront from a different perspective.
London Eye River Cruise
The London Eye River Cruise allows you to look at London, not from one but two vantage points. Their tour includes a 40-minute circular sightseeing tour to the heart of London along the Thames and a standard entry to the London Eye. The good news is that you can book your entry times for the London Eye whenever you’re ready since the tickets are valid for 90 days from the day you go on the River Cruise. So, you can see the city from above any other day.
You can travel back to the days when England’s sailors ruled the waves of every ocean aboard the Lady Daphne. Built in 1923, the Lady Daphne is one of London’s historic wooden vessels still sailing. While you obviously can see London’s waterfront, the tour is mainly devoted to learning about English coastal trade and was like spending a day on a boat.
You can also book a Clay Shooting experience, where you take a sail along the Thames and moor up at an approved shooting location. One of the highlights of their tour is that the Tower Bridge rises for Lady Daphne to go through during your trip.
As you can tell, there are plenty of options for exploring London by way of the River Thames. Have any questions about these various Thames river cruises? Let me know in the comments, or join the conversation in my London Travel Tips Facebook group.