River and London Waterways

The river Thames reflects London's diversity, from peaceful countryside to an urban vibe. The city is also awash with charming canals and waterways that are perfect for exploring.

The Thames flows through Central London and provides a stunning backdrop to many of the city's top tourist attractions. The 2,000-year-old river harbours much of London's history, as well as providing ongoing inspiration for artists, musicians and writers. There's also a host of sporting and leisure activities you can do on and around London's waterways. 

The Thames is a tidal river, rising and falling as much as 8m (26ft) between high and low tides. Although it was once the source of London's "Great Stink" (1858), today the Thames is one of the cleanest rivers in Europe, thanks to successful campaigns by groups such as Thames21.

River Thames Services

River bus services are popular with visitors and commuters alike, and are a great way of beating the traffic and enjoying fantastic views. There are also river tours and cruises that feature sightseeing and commentary, dancing, music and fine dining. Schedules vary according to season. Oyster and Travelcard holders can get discounts on many routes and hop-on, hop-off tickets may be available.

Plan Your Day on London's Waterways

Visit Thames is an independent visitors' guide to the river Thames from its source in the Cotswolds, through Oxford, Henley, Windsor and into London. There's also useful information in The River Thames Guide, which lists boat hire companies, riverside pubs and restaurants, walking and cycling routes and more.

The Canal & River Trust is the organisation responsible for maintaining the inland waterway network in England and Wales – some 3,220km (2,000 miles) in all. In London, this includes: 

  • Bow Back Rivers The backwaters of the River Lee are among London's lesser-known waterways.
  • Grand Union Canal The single longest canal in Britain, the Grand Union links London and Birmingham.
  • Hertford Union Canal This canal connects the Grand Union Canal with the Lee Navigation.
  • The 45km Lee Navigation has variously served for transport, waste disposal, flood control, mill power and pleasure boating. It runs close to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
  • Limehouse Cut A straight canal passing through 3km (2 miles) of industrial London.
  • London Docklands Originally built around the Isle of Dogs to cater for rapidly expanding shipping, Docklands is now a bustling business and leisure district.
  • Regent's Canal Linking the river Thames at Limehouse to Paddington, the 14km (9-mile) Regent's Canal snakes through a rich urban landscape including Little Venice.
  • River Roding A tributary of the tidal Thames in East London, it's navigable as far as Ilford.
  • River Thames London's main artery runs almost 350km (220 miles) from source to sea, has an amazing history and offers myriad leisure opportunities.
  • Welsh Harp (Brent) Reservoir is a Designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and it is an important home for wildfowl. It also features a water sports area.

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