What is The River Thames Famous For?

The Thames River

The River Thames is famous for more than being the longest in England or just a landmark that flows across London. For over 2000 years, the River Thames has played a central role in making British history since the Roman empire.

Also, the Thames River is known for allowing London to become a global economic, political power, and capital city of world finance.

It facilitated the Romans to establish London as a settlement in 43 AD. The Thames River is famous for harbouring too many landmarks in London history of royal palaces, government buildings, trading houses, bridges, tunnels, market squares, and bridges.

The River Thames is also known for having on its banks many medieval landmarks, small towns, and charming villages that have barely changed in hundreds of years.

It is a key part of the British history and offers people another way to explore and see many London landmarks from a vantage point.

History of The Thames

The best way to understand what the Thames River is famous for is to first look in brief at its rich history. According to scientists, the River Thames is dating back to more than 30 million years ago. Some say that the river was part of the River Rhine as a tributary.

However, as the continent separated, the river became the second-longest river on the island we now know as the United Kingdom. The Thames is only shorter than one other river in the United Kingdom, the River Severn.

Back in the ice age, however, more than 10,000 years ago, it is believed that the often-placid river that we know today was much more torrential. At this time, historians believe that the Thames was up to ten times bigger than it is now and was a fast-flowing body of water owing to the ice sheets that lay across the landscape.

What might also surprise you is that the Thames as we know it today has only existed for around 3000 years. There was a time when the curves and meanders of the river that are so familiar now were first formed.

There is no denying that this is a river that has had a very colourful past.  Fast forward through time and we find ourselves in Medieval times when the Thames was used as one of the main modes of transport through the capital.

Not only was it used by small boats which took passengers to their chosen destinations but the river was also used to bring various goods into the city. Everything from wool and wood to fish and vegetables would have been transported along the river.

In the 1700s, ships from far off lands would make their way to Britain, heading along the Thames to deliver spices, silks, and all sorts of fantastical goods from across the world. At the time, these were highly-prized by residents of the UK but today, much of the UK importing is done by air or at the seaports.

At times, back in the days where imports were regularly transported along the Thames, it was common for the water to become so clogged with traffic that boats could be left waiting for days at a time to pass through the city.

The River Thames is the most well-known river in London, but what may come as a surprise is that, until the 18th century, it had something of a rival.

On Turnagain Lane, just off Farringdon Road, in Islington, London once lay another river, named the Fleet once flowed.

Today, it is buried under the ground, but you can still see the river by looking down the drain at the end of this lane. What’s even more interesting is that this is not the only hidden waterway in the city.

London has a network of hidden rivers and streams running below its busy streets. In Kentish Town, the river can be heard running despite being way beneath the city.

These underground rivers can be found across London, so while you’re exploring the Thames, don’t forget to keep an ear out for the less obvious waterways.

The Thames is known for being the longest river in England running a whopping 346km. It begins at Thames Head in Gloucestershire and flows across London before emptying into the North Sea.

What Is the River Thames Famous For?

Being such an ancient waterway, it comes as no surprise that the River Thames is famous and has a reputation. It is a historical river that is not short of places of interest, many of which sit right on its banks.

Furthermore, the River Thames has seen too much pretty and ugly activities over the years, so it has tales to tell. So, here is what makes the Thames famous:

Landmarks on The Thames

One of the main reasons London attracts so many visitors is because the famous landmarks are scattered all over the city. Visitors enjoy a regal view of Buckingham Palace, the grandeur of Big Ben or the magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral.

You don’t need to travel far from the river banks to stumble upon some of London’s most well-loved sites. In fact, many of them are right on the edges of the river itself.

The Palace of Westminster

The Palace of Westminster on Thames River
The Palace of Westminster

Potentially the most famous landmark on the Thames is Westminster Palace. The Houses of Parliament are the seat of the British government and an iconic building of major significance for the country.  

Sitting majestically on the banks of the Thames and topped by Big Ben, Westminster is a draw for tourists from all over the world. Big Ben, however, is not the clock itself but rather the name given to the huge bell inside. The clock tower is named Elizabeth Tower.

The Globe Theatre

The Globe Theatre on Th River Thames
The Globe Theatre

If there is anything that Britain is famous for above all else, it is The Bard himself, William Shakespeare. The theatre that the great writer worked in and staged many of his plays still stands on the banks of the River Thames today.

While the Bard was born in The Midlands in Stratford Upon Avon, his most notable work was aired in London. The Globe Theatre is a typically Tudor-looking building complete with an exposed timber frame and white-washed walls.

The thatched roof adds to the historic beauty and while the theatre went unused for many years, it reopened in the late 90s and now stages plays during the summer months.

To get the best view of the theatre, you can take a boat along the River Thames and see it in all its glory.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London
Tower of London

Another of the most iconic London landmarks is the Tower of London, home to the crown jewels and guarded by the Queen’s guards, the Yeoman Warders, more commonly known as the Beefeaters.

The Tower of London has stood in place for more than a thousand years and was first erected by William the Conqueror. Some 200 years later in the 1200s, an extra gate was added by King Edward l which opened the tower up to the river.

For 500 years after this, the Tower of London was home to the Royal Mint and has also served many other purposes over the years including being a weapons storehouse. It is even home to the guards that keep watch over it.

Canary Wharf

Canary Wharf | River Thames

One of the more modern landmarks to be found in London is Canary Wharf which is located on the Isle of Dogs. This business hub and high-end residential location is one of the most thriving parts of the city and a must-see of any river tour.

Years ago, the area was used as a shipping centre and many docks can be found here. Most notably, The West India Docks which were one of the first to be built.

Read also: The Greatest City in the World: What is London Famous For?

In modern times, skyscrapers and fashionable eateries have been thrown up making the area somewhat of an exclusive site.

There are shops, businesses, homes, and restaurants to explore here and for any tourist who likes the finer things in life, Canary Wharf should be one of the first points of call on the Thames riverbank tour.

Greenwich Peninsula

Greenwich Peninsula

Another of the most modern developments in London that lies along the Thames is the Greenwich Peninsula. Hugely recognisable by people from all over the world, the area is home to the Millennium Dome, now referred to as the O2 arena. For music and performance lovers, the venue hosts some of the most iconic acts from across the globe.

Aside from his, Greenwich Peninsula houses a variety of places to eat, shop and hang out. You’ll easily spend a day here while exploring the banks of the Thames but to get a really good view of the action, taking a boat around the peninsula is a great way to see things from a totally different perspective.

The Oxford – Cambridge Boat Race

If there is anything that epitomises the Thames more than anything else, it is the Oxford – Cambridge boat race. The event happens every year in the spring and has been running for almost 200 years, having begun in 1829.

There is a deep-seated rivalry between the two competitors, each putting in every effort to win. However, Cambridge has a slight edge having won four more times than Oxford.

The boat crews, as you may imagine, come from the two respective universities and there are events for both men’s and women’s teams.

Walk the Thames Path

If you love the outdoor life then the River Thames has a lot to offer. But aside from boating along the river, many people will hike its length. From its beginning point in Gloucestershire, there is a walking trail that runs all the way to Woolwich.

The trail takes a couple of weeks to walk but there are many places to stay, eat and drink along the way.
In 2006, one man named Lewis Pugh decided to take to the water and swim from one end to the other. Since this point, many others have followed in his footsteps.

The Bridges of The Thames

There are 200 bridges that cross the Thames and 35 of these are in the city. From the incredibly famous Tower Bridge and Hampton Court Bridge to those that are less well-known, one thing is for sure, you’ll never be stuck on one side!

One of the greatest things about the many bridges that span the river is the vantage point that they give you over the city. Walking around London, you can often feel overwhelmed by the surrounding buildings and chaos. But heading up to one the many bridges across the Thames, you begin to get a view across the capital that cannot be rivalled.

The following are some of the most famous bridges on River Thames:

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge River Thames
Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge was built in 1894 and perhaps it is one of the most famous sights in London. For the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, the bridge was painted in the colours of the Union Jack.

London Bridge

Thankfully, London Bridge isn’t falling but it did in the past. It is one of the biggest tourist hotspots in the city. Records show that the first bridge in this location was a wooden one erected in around 50AD. While many bridges have stood in this location since, the current one was built in 1973.

Millennium Bridge

Millennium Bridge
Millennium Bridge

The Millennium Bridge is one of the newer crossings built in 2002. It featured in a scene in Harry Potter and The Halfblood Prince, giving it worldwide notoriety in the film industry.

Read more: Villages in London: Why Greenwich is the Best Area to Live in London

Westminster Bridge

Westminster Bridge is another of the most famous sights in London with tourists flocking to it for a photo opportunity next to Big Ben. While the bridge has stood in place since the 1700s, the current bridge was built in 1862.

Surprising Facts About the River Thames

Aside from being one of the most notable aspects of London, the River Thames has some quirks that few people are aware of. Let’s look at some surprising facts about the River Thames.

● There are some parts of the river which have a tide. Near Teddington lock, the river behaves in a tidal manner but the rest of the river flows as normal. At low tide, it has been known that treasure seekers have discovered some rather unique and wonderful objects.

● The River Thames is the source for around two-thirds of the drinking water in the city. Of course, the water is treated and cleaned before it comes out of the tap!

● Hundreds of years ago in the 1700s and early 1800s, the winters in London were so cold that the Thames would freeze over. Ice skaters would fill its solid surface and there were even fairs and expos held throughout the winter. However, the last time that the Thames froze over was in 1812, and thanks to global warming, it doesn’t look like we will be enjoying skating on the Thames again.

● The dark colour of the river is where the waterway gets its name. The Latin word Tamesis meant dark, and so the Celts aptly named the river the Tamesas, which, over the years has evolved into the name we know today.

● The River Thames may be one of the main symbols of London, but you might not want to go for a dip in there. In 1858, the river had such high levels of sewage in it that it began to fill the city with a foul stench. At one point, the smell got so bad that parliament had to be closed as the politicians couldn’t bear to keep inhaling the odour.

Just fifty years ago, it was declared that the river was devoid of life due to its condition. However, since that point, wildlife trusts have worked hard to create a better river environment and as such, we are now seeing a lot more wildlife thriving both in the water and along its banks.


The River Thames is undoubtedly the most famous waterway in London. Its banks are filled with landmarks and places to relax and watch the city go by.

But while the Thames River is the most well-known waterway in the British capital, this huge river spans much more of the UK, starting in Gloucestershire and ending down in Kent. The London portion brings in many visitors, but travelling the length of the Thames by boat, on foot or even going for a swim will give the opportunity to see some incredible sights.

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