The Thames could be safe to swim in… by 2034

If re-elected, Sadiq Khan has vowed to clean up London’s notoriously grim river

Maddie Balcombe
Written by
Maddie Balcombe
Beach on the Thames, London
Photograph: Padmayogini /

As a last-ditch attempt to cool down on London’s (albeit rare) hot summer days, I’m sure we’ve all wistfully dreamt of diving head first into the murky waters of the Thames. Thankfully, most of us come to our senses before actually doing so – as shown at the other week’s boat race, the river is horrifically (and dangerously) polluted. 

But the Thames might not be un-swimmable forever. This week, London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced plans to transform the river, vowing to make it swimmable by 2034. Yep, it could take an entire decade to make the Thames even remotely hygienic. 

Considering the current state of the Thames, a river clean up is welcome news. In recent weeks, London’s main waterway has hit the headlines with revelations of just how much sewage lurks beneath the water, with the river containing high levels of E. coli among other miscellaneous items like sanitary products and condoms. Eurgh, gross. 

With the filthy state of the Thames at the forefront of our minds, you’d be forgiven for not being too enthusiastic about the idea of front-crawling your way through those waters. But remember, there’s still a decade to go before you’ll need to pick out your best swimsuit, pack a towel and get your goggles on.

It remains unclear whether 10 years will actually be enough time to improve the condition of the Thames, but you can’t blame a man for trying. London’s mayor has already had some success in making the capital a somewhat cleaner city, focusing on improving air quality and reducing pollution. Whether he can do the same for London’s waterways remains to be seen. Ten years is a long time, but turning what Sadiq Khan himself called the ‘national embarrassment’ of a river into a safe, swimmable body of water is a big task. He’ll also need to be re-elected at next week’s mayoral election (which takes place on May 2). 

Who knows, in 10 years’ time you could be splashing around with the dolphins and floating downstream past the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament. Wouldn’t that be nice?

In the meantime, here are Time Out’s 10 best wild swimming spots in and around London

Did you see that last minute tube strikes have been announced for this week?

Plus: a popular Borough Market restaurant is closing its doors

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