Originally Published: March 9, 2014

Ahoy, ship mates! London may be many miles from the sea, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the ebb and flow of its aquatic activities. London has plenty of rivers, canals and lakes for every old sea dog. And for those that want to find their sea legs, well at least river legs, the capital is awash with opportunities.

The River Thames refreshes the very soul of the capital and it has a multitude of boat tours from adventurous to relaxing. Some take in miles of the river while others don’t go anywhere at all. So hop aboard, landlubbers, to discover the London by boat!

7 Best London Boat Tours

The London Showboat

It’s pretty safe to say you won’t find any mutinies on this trip if the food is as good as the views and live entertainment.

The first of our London boat tours gives you a chance to relax as the city’s sights are paraded before you, albeit from a different angle. It offers three-and-half-hours of good food in the form of a four course meal, and great music from show songs to top hits. Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, and Greenwich are visible from panoramic windows or on the open deck during the dinner. The boat arrives at the Thames Barrier in time for dessert and coffee.

There are many ways to spend the evening in London, but on the water, away from the crowds and traffic, has got to be one of the best.

Speed boat tours

A RIB London boat tour. Photo: David Merritt
A RIB London boat tour. Photo: David Merritt, Flickr

Calling all adrenaline junkies! There are a variety of thrilling rides available along the Thames on one of many RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) tours.

For those of you brave of heart, sturdy of constitution and with a sense of adventure, this is the way to travel.

Of all the boats that sail the River Thames, the RIBs are the loudest and the fastest. You’ll be sure to see a large slice of London at a good pace! Among the sights are the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, the O2, and the Thames Flood Barrier.

London Canal Cruises

The tranquility of a Regents Canal narrowboat cruise. Photo: Garry Knight, Flickr
The tranquility of a Regents Canal narrowboat cruise. Photo: Garry Knight, Flickr

For a different perspective on London, why not see it from a relaxing narrowboat? Starting from the lively Camden Lock the 90-minute round trip will take you gently along the Regents Canal.

Soon the hustle and bustle of the city melts away as you meander past London Zoo, Regents Park, the regency architecture of Maida Vale, and on to Little Venice, a pretty area of water where the Regents Canal meets the Grand Union Canal (which goes then flows all the way to Birmingham). There are two boats on which to cruise the canal – the Jenny Wren and My Fair Lady. While aboard My Fair Lady you can dine as you cruise – it serves Sunday lunches and even hosts Gala Dinners.

If the canals catch your fancy, you can hire a narrowboat for weeks at a time and visit most of Britain without having to set foot in an automobile, on a train, or a plane!

Afternoon Tea Cruises

Surely the best way to discover the magic of London is to cruise in style with a traditional afternoon tea. Thames River Tours caters for guests with finger sandwiches, cakes, scones with clotted cream and jam, and endless pots of tea and coffee. All the while guests enjoy the live music of the ship’s pianist and fantastic city views. Its a 90 minute long journey of indulgence against the backdrop of one of the world’s greatest capital cities.

TRAVEL TIP: For those who haven’t found their sea legs, be sure to check our post on where to find the best (land-based) afternoon teas in London.

Sunday Lunch Jazz Cruises

Boats, jazz music, and great food: it’s what lazy Sunday afternoons are made for! Clamber aboard the Good Ship Jazz – not its proper name, but you get the idea – and indulge.

The tour run by Bateaux London Cruises has its own jazz band, which covers well-known songs featuring easy listening classics from the likes of George Gershwin and Frank Sinatra

During the two-hour cruise, the galley, or kitchen to us landlubbers, prepares a three course meal as London’s skyline floats by to the accompaniment of the soothing sound of jazz. There can be few better ways to explore the River Thames.

HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast was in service during World War Two. Photo: Paul White
HMS Belfast was in service during World War Two. Photo: Paul White, Flickr

Can a visit to HMS Belfast be termed a boat tour? Well it certainly a water-based vessel, and you can tour it. But most importantly it is a fascinating day out.

HMS Belfast is a former Royal Navy light cruiser that saw action during World War Two and the Koran War. Today it is a floating museum and permanently moored on the River Thames. Aboard you can explore her nine decks, the engine room, operations control room, and also see the conditions her crew lived in. Don’t miss the Gun Turret Experience – it allows visitors to experience what it was like to be in action inside a cramped gun turret.

River Buses

Commuting around the city doesn’t have to be by bus or Tube. My top tip for those of you needing to get across London in a hurry – and while still taking in the city’s scenery – is to do so by River Boat. It’s not a traditional tour by boat – there is no commentary involved or other forms of entertainment. But it is a great budget option for those wanting to see the city from the river on a self-guided tour. River Buses provide a fun, fast and frequent service around London with free wi-fi and cafes.

The Thames helped make London the city it is today. Be sure to take advantage of your time in Britain and see the city the way the founders did – from the water!

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Ready to get your feet back on terra firma? Come walk with us as we explore the delicious foods of London’s East End!

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