The River Thames is the iconic stretch of water that flows through London, defining the UK’s largest and greatest city. The long, glorious history of the capital is largely owed to the Thames with many of the must see attractions situated on its banks. The River Thames stretches from Gloucestershire to Essex, but it is the section of The Thames that meanders through London that has gained its global fame. The Thames' banks are home to many famous London attractions from historic royal palaces to modern marvels of architecture. Come rain or shine, there are plenty of things to keep you amused while you’re by the River.
Kew Gardens (The Royal Botanic Gardens)/ Oliver’s Island
Since the 18th century the extensive Kew gardens have been at the forefront of botany in UK. At Kew you can witness over 40,000 different species of plants at their finest. The Royal Botanic Gardens is a World Heritage Site and former royal residence extending over 300 acres and is home to thousands of rare and beautiful species. As well as being an important centre for research and conservation (owning 1/8th of all the different plant species) it also plays host to a variety of seasonal events. You do have to pay to enter but the scale and beauty of the gardens definitely prove its worth.
Whilst at Kew Gardens you can take a stroll to Oliver’s Island. The island derives its name from a story that Oliver Cromwell once took refuge on it, but its validity is often questioned. A myth arose that Cromwell had set up a headquarters at the Bull’s Head Inn in Strand on the Green. The story was elaborated with the myth that a secret tunnel connected the island to the inn, however no tunnel has ever been found.
The Peace Pagoda is located within Battersea Park (a large Victorian park opened in 1858), situated along the River Thames between Albert and Chelsea Bridge. At a time when the cold war and the fear of nuclear attack was escalating, the offer of a Peace Pagoda seemed appropriate. It was offered to the people of London by the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order as part of the 1984 Greater London Council Peace Year.
The pagoda was built by monks, nuns and followers of Nipponzan Myōhōji under the orders of The Venerable Nichidatsu Fujii, founder of the Nipponzan Myohoji organisation. The double-roofed structure that stands 33.5 m high is constructed from concrete and wood, with a gilded bronze sculpture of Buddha on each side. It’s one of roughly 80 Pagodas around the world and only the second situated in the UK, following the first completed in Milton Keynes in 1980.
Located in the heart of Westminster, the world’s most famous clock tower is amongst the most iconic landmarks in London. Being attached to the Houses of Parliament has seen it become a familiar and much loved sight, along with it chiming on the hour and every 15 minutes thereafter. Big Ben refers to the bell which was created in 1859 with the structure itself being named Elizabeth Tower. Two different theories exist on the origin of the name Big Ben. The first is that is was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the first commissioner of works, a large man known as "Big Ben". The second theory is that it was named after a heavyweight boxing champion, Benjamin Caunt who was also known as "Big Ben". Weighing in at 13.7 tonnes at the time of its casting, Big Ben was the largest bell in UK along with its clock face being the second largest in the country.
Houses of Parliament
The Palace of Westminster, more commonly known as the Houses of Parliament was built in 1042 for use as a royal residence under Edward the Confessor. Westminster Hall (the oldest building on the parliamentary estate) was built between 1087 and 1100 and is one of the largest medieval halls in Europe. During the 14th century the Hall housed the courts of law as well as shops and stalls selling legal equipment. Following a fire in 1512, Henry VIII abandoned the Palace and it has since been home to the two seats of Parliament, the Commons and the Lords. A competition to redevelop the whole site was won by Sir Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin who designed the now iconic building that has become such a familiar landmark.
The London Eye is located in the heart of the capital, perched on the edge of the River Thames opposite the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Standing at 135m high, it’s the world's tallest observation wheel and a true feat of engineering and design. The Eye itself allows you to experience a breath-taking 360-degree view of London and the majority of its famous landmarks, causing it to be voted as the number one visitor experience for the past decade in the capital.
A full rotation in one of the glass capsules takes approximately 30 minutes, giving you a completely different perspective of London. An experience on the London Eye will lift you high enough to see for up to 40 kilometres whilst keeping you close enough to see the spectacular details of the city unfolding beneath you. As it is the UK’s most popular visitor attraction it’s definitely wise to book if you are interested in getting a ride. Located at the base of the eye is the London Sea Life Aquarium, which is definitely worth a visit especially if the weather doesn’t hold out.
Originally a power station, later a reprocessing plant owned by the Oxo Company, the bold tower was marked for demolition in the 1980s, however the site was redeveloped in the 1990s as a multifunctional venue but maintained its architectural heritage. Oxo had wanted to adorn the tower with illuminated signs advertising the name of their product. When this proposal was rejected, the tower was built with a set of three vertically-aligned windows on each side which just so happened to be in the shapes of a circle, a cross and a circle. Today the illuminated OXO makes the tower visible for miles around. Visitors can take a riverside walk up to the tower's refurbished doors to explore the shops, galleries, restaurants, cafes and studios that fill its once empty rooms. You can experience the Tower as part of a leisurely riverside stroll; taking in Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre along with the many pubs and sights that adorn the banks of the Thames.
This sleek, £18.2million 325m steel footbridge spans the River Thames linking St Paul's Cathedral in the City and the Tate Modern gallery on the bankside. The Millennium Bridge first opened in June 2000 becoming London's first new Thames crossing in more than 100 years. Between 80,000 and 100,000 people turned up to make the initial crossing, however it closed two days later. Its early years were plagued by problems, primarily excessive swaying which became a feature of every crossing contributing to the nickname ‘Wobbly Bridge’. Although the bridge is also more flatteringly referred to as the 'Blade of Light'. Having identified the source of the problem as people walking the 'wrong way' the bridge was finally re-opened in February 2002. The stunning architectural feature provides a great access route across the Thames, linking up many of London's riverside attractions.
Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, after the Great Fire of London in 1666, St Paul's is the official cathedral of London, making it the spiritual home of the UK. The funerals of Lord Nelson and Sir Winston Churchill were conducted inside the cathedral along with the elaborate wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. The cathedral miraculously survived the Blitz in World War Two with the surrounding area being almost completely flattened, making it an inspirational symbol of British strength. Among the many things to do visitors can try out the acoustic quirks of the Whispering Gallery or venture up the three curving galleries that lead to the dome - one of the largest in the world and one of the best viewing points in the City.
30 St Mary Axe is a tall round office building in London known affectionately as The Gherkin thanks to its unique bullet-shape tower. The Gherkin was designed by Sir Norman Foster and opened in 2004. Standing at 180m tall, 30 St Mary Axe stands out as one of the City of London's most stunning and critically acclaimed architectural features, towering over nearby constructions with its phenomenal glass exterior and ground-breaking eco-friendly methods saw it voted the most admired new building in the world (2005). It's hard to miss if you're wandering around the City but it's worth a visit just to stand at the base of one of London’s most iconic buildings, even though you can’t actually go in.
The Shard became the tallest building in the European Union and the 45th tallest building in the world when it opened in 2012. Designed by Renzo Piano the multifunctional Shard building, visible from wherever you are in London, combines offices, multiple floors of restaurants, the 5-star Shangri-La Hotel, residential apartments that could be yours for just 30 to 50 million pounds along with the highest viewing gallery in Western Europe. Covered in 11,000 panes of glass, the vertical cities public viewing galleries on floors 68 to 72, offer unparalleled views across the entire city and up to 40 miles beyond it. If you’re interested in getting onto the viewing platforms it’s wise to book your tickets before you go.
Tower Bridge is one of London's most iconic sights. When it was constructed in 1894, Tower Bridge was the most sophisticated bridge of its time. Nowadays you can see inside the rooms where the original steam engines were housed raise the bridge. The exhibition consists of displays, films and hands on exhibits displaying the history of the bridge and how it operates. From there you can then go on the walkways at the top of the bridge, providing fantastic views of London's other great landmarks such as St Paul's Cathedral, The London eye and The Shard. The bridge itself was famously wanted by the Americans who allegedly mistakenly bought London Bridge thinking they were buying the more imposing Tower Bridge next door.
Despite the Tower of London's grim reputation as a place of torture and death, it is actually an excellent place to learn about its use as a prison, palace, arsenal, mint, menagerie and place of execution (including two of Henry VIII's six wives, both beheaded on the scaffolds of Tower Green), since its construction following the Norman Conquest of 1066. You can view the priceless Crown Jewels, hear bloody tales and stand where heads have rolled, this coupled with its stunning riverside backdrop make it a must see attraction. With close to 1,000 years of royal history hidden within its walls, a trip to the Tower of London is like traveling back in time.
A great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of London is to visit some of London’s iconic docks. The docks aren’t thought of as much of a tourist attraction in London being situated away from all the glitz and glamour of the major sightseeing destinations. However, on a nice warm day taking a stroll down the Thames to a local Marina is a great way to spend a bit of time relaxing and spotting some new sights by going slightly off the beaten track. Whilst you’re out by the docks you can always use this as an opportunity to jump on a tube and take a look at Cutty Sark and the O2 Arena.