A trip aboard the Paddle Steamer Waverley on the River Thames in London

Ever since taking a tour of London’s Tower Bridge, my six year old son has been desperate to see the bridge lift, ideally from a boat-based vantage point. So a few weeks ago, thanks to a grandfather who is always keen to indulge his grandson in anything historic or river-related, we took a trip aboard the Paddle Steamer Waverley on the River Thames in London.

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The Paddle Steamer Waverley docked at Tower Pier in London.

Our journey took us from Tower Pier, next to the Tower of London, to Gravesend in Kent. It is possible to continue on to Southend but as it was October we decided we might not be seeing the famous seaside resort at its best. It turned out that the two hour sail to Gravesend was just right although my three year old son was so captivated by the engine room that we could probably have stayed on the boat all day.

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Admiring HMS Belfast from the Waverley.

The Waverley took a while to set off, but docked at Tower Pier we had a perfect view of Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, HMS Belfast and the Shard, landmarks that my boys are currently very interested in to put it mildly.

Passengers awaiting departure on board the Waverley.
Our tug boat (which followed us downstream).

Once we were off, we briefly headed upstream where we were assisted by a tugboat in a 180 degree turn. Due in part to the heavy bias towards transportation in my sons’ picture books, my boys loved everything about this experience. We then watched Tower Bridge lift and we sailed beneath it, much to the delight of everyone on board, especially my children.

The boys loved gazing across the river at the sights we passed. “There it is again!” they chorused as we passed Canary Wharf for the second time. I’m not sure my explanation of river formations was fully appreciated as we sailed along the meanders of the Thames. Other highlights included the Cutty Sark, the Emirates Air Line cable cars and the Thames Barrier which looked rather sinister against the overcast sky.

The O2 Centre with Canary Wharf in the background
The Emirates Air Line cable cars and, more importantly (for my kids) lots of big cranes
The Thames Barrier

Once we had passed the big hitters of central London we ventured down into the bowels of the boat to explore the workings of the engine room. It is very hot and loud and the machinery is completely exposed so visitors have a clear view of the mechanics involved. It is an impressive sight.

There are port holes from which to view the paddles turning and some great views out over the river from around the engine room.

The Waverley is the last seagoing paddle steamer in the world. Aside from the Thames, you’ll find her sailing all over the U.K. including Southampton, Liverpool and the west coast of Scotland. She is owned by a charity and has been sailing since 1947 so this year marked her 70th anniversary.

The Waverley has a gift shop, several bars and a restaurant. We decided to have lunch in Gravesend so I can’t comment on the quality of the catering except to say that it doesn’t look like a gourmet experience.

Our trip was a brilliant way to understand London and its history. The shiny skyscrapers of central London gave way to docks and warehouses. Many of the warehouses are now luxury flats, others are derelict and awaiting demolition; but plenty of the docks further downstream were very much in use with rows of gigantic cranes and masses of containers awaiting transportation. The stuff of dreams for small boys…

Vast docks line the Thames outside London.

We saw all manner of watercraft from historic ships to modern pleasure boats, container ships and water taxis. Away from the city we passed a landfill site, a vast ominous lump on the landscape with diggers working on the slopes. There was so much for the children to see and understand on the trip that the adults in our group struggled to keep up a commentary for them.

A less romantic side to the Thames: landfill
Disembarking at Gravesend.

The day out has to be one of my most enjoyable London trips with my family to date. Anyone who reads my blog regularly will know we took to the water in a more modest boat on a canal, in September with equal success and enjoyment. Watching the world go by from a boat is a special kind of experience which works so well as a multi-generational family trip. For those with little legs or with legs which might be failing (or perhaps you have a foot in each of these camps), a boat trip is a great way to explore together.

We took the Tower Bridge and Thames Highlights trip which lasted 2 hours and takes you to Gravesend (there is a speedy rail link back to central London).

The cost per adult is £25, children under 18 are half price and those under 5 are free. The rail travel from Gravesend back to London is £16 if you take the high speed Javelin service (around 15 minutes) otherwise you can take the standard service at £12 (around an hour). Just make sure you buy the right ticket…

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51 thoughts on “A trip aboard the Paddle Steamer Waverley on the River Thames in London

  1. That sounds like a great way to travel! I love Tower Bridge. It’s funny I was at the restaurant at the Shard not too long ago and we were saying wouldn’t it be nice for the Tower Bridge to open. Well of course it did open while I was in the bathroom! Luckily I made it back just before it closed. #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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  2. Omgosh this is such a better option than what we did! We took the Cyclone Clipper and hated it. It was terrible! Zooming down the Thames with no outer balcony and it was hot inside. This is definitely a to-do next time! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

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  3. This sounds like a lovely way to see the city. We went on a river cruise recently, which was fun, but this has the added bonus of being an interesting vessel. Being able to see round the engine room is a nice touch. Thanks for linking up with #CulturedKids!

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  4. This does sound like a little boy’s dream daytrip! I’m sure your kids will never forget the experience. And to do it on the last paddle steamer in the world is so cool! I’m not much of a boat person myself – for me it’s a means to an end (diving), but I do remember a very enjoyable cruise down the River Thames many years ago. I guess it’s one of those things you have to do at least once in your life when you’re in London!

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  5. What a fantastic day out – I love being on the Thames and taking boat trips, although I hadn’t come across this option before. Seeing the bridge lift is a real experience too, still thrills me – despite living in London for so long, I’ve only seen it once as well. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

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  6. What a fantastic day out. My boys would love this. We were lucky enough to see the bridge lift from dry land in the summer and they loved it but this would be even better. We are thinking of a canal boat trip. Where sis you go? #ExplorerKids

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  7. What a great way to see London at its best we would love this and to see the tower bridge open and go under it is fantasic. I will definitely check this out for when we visit Next. Mandy xx #ExplorerKids

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  8. What a wonderful way to explore the Thames. I have been on the Thames many times before but never this extensively educational. This is such a great tour. I think my 6 yo boy Ethan would love it too, as well as Evelyn. I think most touristy tour operator like to opt out on the landfills bit, but I think this is a great way to learn about London as a developing city. Thank you so much or linking up with us on #ExplorerKids I really enjoyed reading your post and that hope you can join us again tomorrow! 🙂 xx

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  9. It was great to read this. Many years ago, when I was a child I sailed on The Waverley in Scotland. It was wonderful and I was very proud to have been on the last sea going paddle steamer in the world.

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  10. Oh, this looks amazing! Definitely something to go on my list of things to do in London. I have never seen the bridge to up either, pretty sure the children would enjoy it but I definitely would! Thanks for linking up to #familytraveltips

    Liked by 1 person

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