London has about 100km of waterways and these veins running through the city are one of the things that make summer, well, summery. There are few finer things on a fair day than taking to the river or canals on a boat trip, and the good news is there are plenty to choose from. Whether you want to see the sights of the Olympic Park or enjoy a leisurely cruise along the Thames, you’ll find a way to take to the water and see the city from a whole new perspective.
Queen Elizabeth Park boat tour
If you want to explore London’s newest green space, all 560 acres of it – that’s the equivalent of 350 football pitches – then head to the Olympic Park. The area that was created for the London 2012 Olympic Games has become Britain’s largest piece of urban green space and one of the best ways to explore it and find out more about the park and the species and plants that inhabit the area is to take to the River Lea on a boat trip. Boats leave from the pontoon adjacent to the London Aquatics Centre and you can take your seat at one of the round tables, order yourself a coffee and sit back and enjoy the guide explaining the history of the area and little anecdotes. One such story reveals that Usain Bolt got so sick of the food in the training village so he used to jog to the MacDonalds at the north end of the park, until his coach told the staff to cease serving him, at which point he jogged to the one at the south end of the park. Tours last 45 minutes and run daily on the hour between 12:00 and 17:00.
City Cruises Afternoon tea cruise
This popular River Thames cruise company offers a variety of cruise options, including evening jazz and show tunes extravaganzas. But to make the most of the spring sunshine, I opted to try the afternoon tea cruise, which leaves Tower Hill daily at 15:15. The large pleasure boats have windows at the front and to the sides, which allow you to take in the sights of Tower Bridge, the Shard, the London Eye and Houses of Parliament while biting on tasty sandwiches, scones and cakes and sipping on your choice of tea or coffee (or champagne if you pay a supplement). This is perhaps best enjoyed if you are with a friend you want a good natter with, rather than as an educational trip, as the voice of the guide is often lost among the hubbub in the cabin.
This is less a boat trip and more a mode of transport for easily navigating points of interest along the Thames. Ever tried getting from Tate Britain to Tate Modern by train? Forget it! Instead head to the pier directly outside either gallery and hop on a Thames Clipper, which will transport you speedily and in style from one gallery to the other. This is also a great service for getting to other destinations along the river, such as Tower Bridge (and the Tower of London), Maritime Greenwich, Canary Wharf, the Globe and Rose theatres on Bankside, the O2 and even Trafalgar Square, which is a short stroll from Embankment Pier. Feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your face and take a few moments to enjoy this marvellous city, instead of breathing under someone’s armpit on a sweaty tube.
Regent’s Canal cruise
One of the most peaceful things to do in the capital is to cruise along Regent’s canal in an old narrowboat. Board the boat at either Little Venice, London Zoo or Camden Lock and glide along the water hearing snippets of information about the history of the London canals and the area you pass through – it is particularly lovely journeying along the back of Regent’s Park where lush plants border the water. This scenic trip will show you a hidden part of London and aboard the historic boat you will soon forget the noise and traffic of the city beyond.
Would you love to explore London by boat? Check out our hotel deals to start planning your getaway.