If you close your eyes and imagine the River Thames, chances are you’ll think of the murky waters that run through London. Sure, this is the most iconic image of the Thames, but there’s a whole bunch of adventures and hidden gems waiting to be explored outside of the big smoke. We’ve put together some of our favourite things to do on the Thames that will get you out of London and into the stunning English countryside.
1. Go rambling
If you like walking, you’re in for a treat. The Thames Path National Trail is a 184-mile walking route from Kemble in Gloucester to Woolwich in South East London. It showcases some of southern England’s most glorious scenery with pretty meadows, quaint villages, abandoned railway tracks and historic buildings. Walking is also one of the best ways to see the life that lives on and by the water, from bevvies of elegant swans and people living on colourful barge boats to the bobbing heads of wild swimmers.
2. Cycle along the river
Cycling along the Thames is pure joy on wheels. Although you can’t cycle from source to sea due to many of the riverbanks being privately owned, there are still plenty of long stretches to peddle along. There’s also the lush Chiltern Hills route which is mostly paved and well signposted to ensure fun for the whole family, as well as some steeper climbs and descents if you’re looking for a challenge.
3. Go kayaking
Kayaking is a fun way to discover the Thames whether you’re a pro or novice. There’s something so tranquil about being on the river and hearing the water lapping against your kayak or ducks quacking beside you. Go solo, couple up with your travel buddy or get the whole family involved. Pack a tasty picnic or stop off for a riverside pub lunch along the way to refuel.
4. Embrace the outdoors on a stand-up paddleboard
Get a different perspective of the Thames on a stand-up paddleboard. Float from Eyndsham all the way to Oxford while you soak up the stunning green scenery. You might even get a few friendly waves from ramblers! Don’t worry about any wibble wobbles, you’ll be cruising down the river with a big smile on your face in no time. Paddleboarding can work up quite an appetite, but there are plenty of pubs and riverside cafes to grab a bite and rest along the way.
5. Go wild swimming
Is there a better way to recharge the batteries than taking a dip in fresh water? You don’t need plastic slides and chlorine when you have the gorgeous Thames. The Cotswold Water Park is a firm favourite for wild swimming followed by Lechlade River Park, Hurley Island and Cheese Wharf. Go for a refreshing swim, test out your paddleboard skills, give wakeboarding a go or simply chill out on the lakeside beach with a book.
6. Catch a glimpse of royal life in Windsor Castle
If you’ve ever fancied getting a glimpse inside the world’s largest occupied castle, now’s your chance. Windsor Castle is over 900 years old, and if the walls could talk they’d have some fascinating stories to share. The castle has a whopping 1,000 rooms, 300 fireplaces and perfectly manicured gardens. It’s also said to be one of the most haunted places in England with countless ghost stories that’ll make your hairs stand on end. Rumour has it Windsor is Queen Elizabeth’s II favourite weekend digs. Keep an eye out for the royal flag – if it’s up you know the Queen is home!
7. Step back in time in Bampton
Bampton is full of old-world charm. You might even recognise it from the hit series Downton Abbey. It feels like you’ve stepped back in time as you wander down cobbled streets with centuries-old buildings and quaint shops. Hop on a bicycle, explore on foot, sip your way through tea rooms and pubs, or simply find a patch of grass to watch the world go by.
8. Explore quintessentially English villages
Did you know the River Thames (or River Isis as they call it in Oxford) inspired Lewis Carrol’s 1865 novel, Alice in Wonderland? The Cotswolds’ rolling hills, stone cottages and bubbling streams have been inspiring literary giants and artists for centuries. Lechlade, Cricklade, Moreton-in-Marsh and Eynsham are just a few of the postcard-perfect villages dotted along the Thames’ path. Spend a few hours getting lost and taking in the beauty and history of these ancient settlements.
Discover the hidden gems along the river for yourself on a River Thames tour.