Owing its very existence to the majestic River Thames, London is intimately connected to all things maritime. As the heart of the British Empire, the city was once one of the most important ports in Europe, where ships would set sail for exotic destinations across the globe.
The extensive Victorian docks fell into disuse in the 1960s but a massive regeneration project has seen a thriving business district spring up around the iconic Canary Wharf tower – the tallest building in the UK.
London’s majestic nautical history provides many opportunities for wannabe pirates, sailors and buccaneers to find their sea legs.
Boat trip on the Thames
A leisurely trip on a Thames riverboat offers a unique view of London’s famous tourist attractions, including Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the Tower of London.
There are numerous tour operators departing from piers throughout central London, many of them selling multi-trip tickets that allow you to hop on and off their boats. Some even include a meal in the price so you can enjoy lunch as you take in the sights.
Museum of London Docklands
Located in a huge Georgian warehouse in the shadow of Canary Wharf, this sprawling museum charts the 2,000 year history of London’s river, port and people – from the first Roman settlement to the regeneration of the former Docklands.
The permanent galleries are complemented by a programme of visiting exhibitions and show how the docklands, and the River Thames as a whole, have been at the heart of centuries of social and economic change.
As well as being home to Greenwich Mean Time, this World Heritage Site is famous for historical landmarks such as the beautiful architecture of the Old Royal Naval College.
For nautical fans, a trip to the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory is essential, where visitors can discover everything they could possibly want to know about the sea, ships, the stars and their relationship to people.
Walk the plank
Ship-spotters on the Thames should look out for HMS Belfast, the only surviving vessel of her type to have seen active service during the Second World War, and the Golden Hinde, a full scale reconstruction of the Tudor warship in which Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe in 1577-1580.
Another must-do item on any maritime itinerary is a visit to the Cutty Sark, the world’s last tea clipper, built in 1869. Unfortunately, this impressive ship is undergoing vital conservation work and is not currently open to the public. A tragic fire in 2007 set the project behind schedule but luckily, and thanks to some heroic fire-fighting, the ship suffered relatively little damage and is due to reopen in 2011.
Top hotels in London, UK
- Central Park Hotel London – double room starting from £40/€44.1/$59.8
- Caring Hotel London – double room starting from £46/€50.8/$68.8
- Notting Hill Gate Hotel – double room starting from £50/€55.2/74.8
Photo of the Cutty Sark by night, London, by dukeharumi.