The Thames River winds through the middle of London, providing excellent opportunities for sightseeing. London was actually founded as a town called Londonium on its banks, over a thousand years ago. The great thing about this is that most of its best landmarks are situated along the riverfront and nowadays the river is the easiest way to see them all in one go – without the bother of traffic. You can also get a glimpse of the leafy environs of far west London, where boating clubs ply the waters in the early mornings, and the Thames Estuary in the east where the Thames meets the sea and giant barriers rise from the water, guarding London against flood and storm.
Some people choose to see the Thames from the water in a ferry or a guided tour boat, which is a great way to rest your legs. But sometimes you don’t feel like shelling out for a guided tour, and the thought of sharing your ferry boat with grumpy commuters doesn’t appeal either. In that case, the time has come to stretch your legs and get some exercise: the Thames Path is the sightseeing route for you.
The path runs along the river on both banks, from the Thames Barrier all the way to the source of the river, many miles to the west of London. You can leave and re-join at any point you choose, and there are plenty of reasons to do so: quaint riverside pubs, famous landmarks, interesting bridges, or simply the pleasure of a beautiful green park with river views.
The part of the Thames Path that runs through central London is the best place to start for guests at the BW Shaftesbury Paddington Court London or The Metropolis London Hyde Park. The quickest way is to take the Circle line from Paddington to Westminster, which should take about half an hour – or you can begin your trek by walking from your hotel down to the riverside in about 50 minutes, cutting through Hyde Park and Green Park and skirting St James’s Park. When you arrive at the Thames Path you’ll get a close-up view of the Palace of Westminster – also known as Parliament House – and Elizabeth Tower – also known as Big Ben.
Heading east from here will take you past the London Eye at Millennium Pier on the opposite bank, as well as the Southbank Centre: a huge concrete structure where arts festivals and plays are held. Look out for the scrolling digital sign on top of the National Theatre to see what’s on. Further on, you’ll go past Waterloo Bridge, which provides a spectacular view both up and down the river with St Paul’s Cathedral visible to the east.
The next bridge is Blackfriars, where you can also see London’s only train station suspended above the Thames. Around this area you’ll also catch a glimpse of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: constructed in the same way and in roughly the same spot as the original one, hundreds of years ago. Plays written by Shakespeare and his contemporaries are still performed here almost every week.
Eventually you’ll come to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Many people mistake Tower Bridge for London Bridge, seeing as it’s the most recognizable bridge in London. In fact, London Bridge is the previous bridge to the west of Tower Bridge, and it’s surprisingly unprepossessing: just a simple concrete structure. This is because it has been replaced several times over the course of London’s lifetime, including once to be sold to an American millionaire.
Keep walking and you’ll end up in Greenwich, easily reached across the river by means of the Emirates Air Line: a cable car you can ride with your Oyster card, known as the “Dangleway” by Londoners. Here you’ll find plenty of museums, the Royal Observatory, and the opportunity to stand on the International Date Line. Head back via the tube or a boat ride and rest those undoubtedly aching feet.