Bored by dry land? We've picked London's best boat tours along the river Thames and the city's picturesque canalways. From serene canalboat trips to high-speed thrill rides, and craft ranging from hybrid land-and-water vessels to Damien Hirst-designed catamarans, London's waterways have something for everyone.
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City cruises operate on a hop-on, hop-off basis and run from Westminster, Waterloo, Tower and Greenwich Piers with commentary along the way. The River Red Rover ticket allows unlimited one-day cruising, there's also the Rail and River Rover ticket allowing unlimited one-day travel by river and on the DLR and single or return tickets are available for shorter journeys. The London Showboat is an evening dinner and dance cruise running from Westminster Pier.
The slick RIB (ridged inflatable boat) operation offers a thrilling, high-speed ride on the Thames. You can book by phone or online or turn up at London Eye Millennium Pier on spec. Arrive 20 minutes before the off to be kitted out with a waterproof jacket, a life jacket and goggle-style visors (fun in itself). The trip starts calmly enough and the guide tends to keep kids and adults entertained with fun facts and celebrity stories.
Running every 40 minutes, the boat service connecting London’s two Tate galleries, Tate Modern and Tate Britain, takes you through the heart of London, with plenty to see on both banks (head to the outdoor deck at the back of the boat for the best views). The catamaran service boasts specially commissioned exterior and interior designs by artist Damien Hirst, but there’s no commentary, so take a map.
River Bus services operating daily between Royal Arsenal Woolwich in the East and St George Wharf Vauxhall in the West. A daily commuter service operates every 20 minutes calling at all major central London piers. On event nights at The O2, the River Bus Express operates a fast direct shuttle service from London Eye (Waterloo), London Bridge and Canary Wharf with optional champagne upgrades.
Hurtling about the Thames in a RIB (rigid inflatable boat) at 30 knots (roughly 35mph) is the closest thing we’ve got to a white-knuckle ride in central London. It takes just under 40 minutes to travel from Westminster to Tower Bridge. Then the turbo engines kick in and you’re off, bumping about in the open water between Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf, turning in terrifyingly tight figures of eight. It’s the quickest, most thrilling way to travel the Thames.
This sightseeing tour by land and water in a 1944 DUKW-style landing vehicle departs from outside Cutty Sark DLR on the corner of Greenwich High Street, and features two 'splashdowns' as it travels around Docklands, Canary Wharf and Greenwich. Tickets can be bought from the O2 Arena booking office as well as online.
These trips are best suited to the brave. Regent’s Canal’s tunnel – built in 1820 – is long, dark, dank and three quarters of a mile long. Once upon a time, boats normally pulled by horses on the towpath had to be inched through the tunnel by a process of ‘legging’ – with the men on board having to brace their legs against the tunnel walls to power the boat along. The tunnel tours take place during the summer, and tickets also includes admission to the London Canal Museum proper.
Jason's Trip navigates the picturesque route along Regent's Canal from Little Venice, through Regent's Park, on to Camden Lock and back again. The boat is more than 100 years old and the trip, which includes a live historical commentary and lasts for 45min each way, has been a feature on the canal since 1951. A canal boat, the Dusk ’til Dawn, can also be booked for parties.
Hop aboard for an hour and a half's cruise from Camden Lock, past London Zoo in Regent's Park, through the tunnel to Robert Browning’s Island at Little Venice and back to Walker’s Quay. A commentary is included on the cruise, and picnic lunches are available from the company's Waterside Restaurant. Onboard dining is also an option on the My Fair Lady cruising restaurant boat. Children's parties and buffet cruises can be accommodated as well.