From the Houses of Parliament and the Tower of London in the centre of the city, to Windsor Castle and Oxford out in the sticks, the River Thames is one of the most famous rivers in the world. Here is the Skyscanner Australia guide to some of its biggest attractions.
The Houses of Parliament and The London Eye
One of the best ways to see the Houses of Parliament, and its clock tower that houses the Great Bell – nicknamed Big Ben – is from the top of the London Eye, the giant Ferris wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames. You can take a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament on Saturdays, or on most weekdays when parliament is in recess. You can also watch debates from the public galleries, and even attend Prime Minister’s Question Time if there is space available. A recommended place for a drink or a meal with a difference is onboard the Tattershall Castle, a ship moored opposite the London Eye.
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The Tower of London
The crown jewels will bring a sparkle to your eye at the Tower of London, including the Crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, with its giant Koh-i-Nûr diamond, and the Imperial State Crown worn by the current Queen at each State opening of Parliament. The armour collection is also astonishing, and history is all around you wherever you look, including graffiti carvings made by prisoners awaiting execution.
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One of London’s most famous landmarks, Tower Bridge connects the Tower of London on the southern side of the River Thames to central London. Walk across the main platform from one side of the river to the other, and stop off at the Tower Bridge Exhibition for a more panoramic view of London and to see the Victorian engine that pulls and lowers the platform to let ships pass. Close to the northern side of the bridge is Borough Market, a busy produce and food market that is packed with people, especially during lunchtimes when giant pans filled with paella scent the air.
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What? Isn’t the whereabouts of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Services (SIS), commonly known as MI6, supposed to be a secret? Well, every taxi driver and KGB officer knows it’s that funky 22-storey office block on the Vauxhall side of Vauxhall Bridge. The building appears in the James Bond movies, The World Is Not Enough (1999), Skyfall (2012), and Spectre (2015). The most daring way to see the building is via a James Bond Tour aboard an amphibious vehicle that uses both the roads and the river to get around.
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Tate Modern and Tate Britain
The two Tate galleries are positioned on the banks of the River Thames, in different areas of London. Tate Britain, on the city side of Vauxhall Bridge, features British art from 1500 to the present day. The best free collection here is a range of paintings by Turner, including unfinished seascapes found in his studio after his death. Meanwhile, Tate Modern features international modern and contemporary art in the jazzed up interior of a former power station. The café here has fabulous views of the river across to St Paul’s Cathedral.
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You can spend most of a day at Greenwich, simply because there is so much to see. Start your tour at the National Maritime Museum, and visit the Nelson, Navy, Nation gallery. You can see Nelson’s coat, with the bullet hole in it that killed him during the Battle of Trafalgar, as well as his shirt (still marked by his blood) and even his pigtail, which was cut off after his death. Make time to stand on the meridian line at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, and board the giant Cutty Sark – the world’s only surviving tea clipper and the fastest sailing ship of her time.
Greenwich is 10 minutes by train from London Bridge Station. Alternatively, you can get there on a riverboat cruise from Westminster Pier near the London Eye.
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Up river from the city of London is the leafy suburb of Richmond, the site of the largest Royal Park in London. Richmond Park was created in the 17th century as a deer park for Charles I. Come here to stroll among ancient oak trees and through a landscape of ornamental woodlands, ponds and fields mown by hundreds of red deer and fallow deer. The best way to get here is by riverboat from Westminster Pier. Boats also stop off at Kew, for Kew Gardens, and Hampton Court Palace.
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Hampton Court Palace
This famous Tudor palace was established by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in 1515. Henry VIII later requisitioned it when Wolsey fell from royal favour. The must-see inside Hampton Court Palace includes the giant Great Hall, where William Shakespeare’s company – the King’s Men – performed for King James I in 1603, and Henry VIII’s Kitchens which supplied food for around 600 members of the court twice a day. Outside, wander around the beautiful gardens with its famous maze. Have steak and chips and a pint at the 13th-century Ye Olde Swan pub beside the river.
Get to Hampton Court Palace by train from London’s Waterloo station, or by riverboat from Westminster Pier in central London.
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Beautiful Windsor is most famous for its castle, the home to kings and queens for more than 1,000 years. Once inside don’t miss a walk around St George’s Chapel, the burial place for 10 monarchs, including Henry VIII and Charles I. You can actually walk over Henry VIII’s body interned beneath a marble slab! For the best views of the castle take a boat trip along the river. Otherwise, you can feed dozens of white swans from the riverbank. Get to Windsor by train from London’s Paddington station. It takes about 30 minutes.
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The Thames is known by another name in Oxford – the Isis. The name is derived from the Roman name for the river, the Tamesis. You should try to visit a university college when you are in Oxford. One of the best is Christ Church college, which was founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII. Harry Potter fans will recognise the dining hall, with its long, central wooden table and portraits of famous former students on the walls, as the dining room in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Experience the river by hiring a punt from the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse. Three or four people can sit in one of these flat-bottomed wooden boats, while another punts the craft along by pushing a pole against the river bed. It takes about an hour to get to Oxford from London’s Paddington station, so you can easily make a day trip out of it.
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