A boat trip on the River Thames aboard the Paddle Steamer Waverley

A boat trip on the River Thames aboard the Paddle Steamer Waverley

Have you taken a boat trip on the River Thames? 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.

A boat trip on the River Thames: the Paddle Steamer Waverley docked at Tower Pier in London.

A boat trip on the River Thames: 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.

IMG_6904 (2).JPG

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.

boat trip river thames paddle steamer waverley

A boat trip on the River Thames: 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

A boat trip on the River Thames: passing 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…

Have you taken a boat trip on the River Thames? Let me know in the comments below.



  1. Anisa
    11th November 2017 / 5:55 am

    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.

    • 11th November 2017 / 8:05 am

      This is such a brilliant trip for any transport-obsessed child!

  2. 11th November 2017 / 8:52 am

    my boys would also love to take this trip. They love as well ships and train, especially steam ones. I have noted itfor a future trip to London

    • 11th November 2017 / 8:53 am

      Definitely do it! It is such a brilliant day out.

  3. 11th November 2017 / 2:23 pm

    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!

    • 11th November 2017 / 5:27 pm

      That’s interesting, I’ve often wondered about doing that trip, good to know!

  4. 12th November 2017 / 2:10 am

    Wow, what an awesome trip – I didn’t even know this type of tour (on a paddleboat) was available! Will definitely have to check it out next time I visit London.

    • 12th November 2017 / 8:00 am

      Definitely plan it in advance as she doesn’t sail frequently.

  5. pigeonpairandme
    12th November 2017 / 4:42 pm

    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!

    • 12th November 2017 / 4:51 pm

      We’re definitely going to take to the water again, it’s such a great way to see London.

  6. 12th November 2017 / 9:36 pm

    I’m a big fan of the Waverley on the West Coast of Scotland. But the Thames, now that would be something new.

  7. 13th November 2017 / 5:27 pm

    What a brilliant day out. I went on the Waverley over 30 years ago and loved her, this a special route and I’m heading to her website now to find out when she will paddle the route again. Thank you for linking up to #CulturedKids

  8. 14th November 2017 / 11:57 am

    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!

    • 14th November 2017 / 9:11 pm

      Think of it as a great way to see the city rather than just a boat trip!

  9. 14th November 2017 / 8:07 pm

    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

    • 14th November 2017 / 9:13 pm

      Yes, we tried to see the bridge lift on lots of occasions but never been there on the right day. I expect it’s one of those things that tourists see more than the locals!

  10. 16th November 2017 / 1:16 pm

    It took 2 hours one way but you can do full day trips too.

  11. 21st November 2017 / 9:08 am

    what a lot of fun!

    • 21st November 2017 / 4:03 pm

      It was, will definitely be doing it again!

  12. 21st November 2017 / 7:59 pm

    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

    • 21st November 2017 / 8:28 pm

      We did a canal trip from Odiham near Basingstoke, it was so relaxing and peaceful.

  13. rawsonjl
    21st November 2017 / 11:43 pm

    That looks like an amazing day. My boys would be thrilled as well! #ExplorerKids

  14. 23rd November 2017 / 9:48 am

    My children have been asking about going on a boat for a long time. I shall have to look into this. Sarah #ExplorerKids

    • 23rd November 2017 / 9:53 am

      It’s totally worth doing, a great way to see London and an exciting boat to explore!

  15. 23rd November 2017 / 8:57 pm

    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

    • 23rd November 2017 / 9:14 pm

      It’s a great trip, we all loved it!

  16. 27th November 2017 / 11:00 am

    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

  17. 28th November 2017 / 10:20 am

    How my boys, and girl, would love that! I used to live in London but only ever saw Tower Bridge open a handful of times in my seven years there. What a fabulous thing to see it open from the water! The Waverley is going on my London bucket list this very minute!
    Popping over belatedly from #ExplorerKids

    • 28th November 2017 / 12:12 pm

      I’ve decided travelling by boat is my preferred mode of sightseeing!

  18. Margaret Clarkson
    28th November 2017 / 12:39 pm

    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.

    • 28th November 2017 / 1:10 pm

      I’d love to sail on her in Scotland.

  19. 29th November 2017 / 1:00 am

    This looks so fun! I think everything is always more fun from a boat!

    • 29th November 2017 / 7:11 am

      Yes, it’s definitely my favourite way to sightsee with my kids!

  20. 29th November 2017 / 7:17 am

    I’ve been to London about a million times but never been on a tug boat up the Thames yet. It’s such a brilliant way to see so many landmarks in one go!

  21. Esther
    29th November 2017 / 10:43 am

    That looks like such a fun excursion! I have discovered London in many ways, but never from the water.

    • 29th November 2017 / 10:45 am

      Definitely take a trip on the Thames, it gives a totally different perspective to the city.

  22. Allison
    29th November 2017 / 11:48 am

    What a fun experience for kids. I know my kids would love this. They are also crazy about boats. #wanderfulwednesday

  23. 1st December 2017 / 7:37 pm

    I love boat trips down the Thames – they are just the best way to see the ciry. However this one trumps them all. Seeing the engine is the icing on the cake! #FamilyTravelTips

    • 1st December 2017 / 7:58 pm

      Yes, it’s such a lovely way to travel!

  24. 3rd December 2017 / 9:31 pm

    This is such a fun alternative way to see London! I love zipping down the Thames as you get to see London from a quieter way 🙂

  25. 6th December 2017 / 3:39 pm

    I love sightseeing by boat and even more so, if the boat comes with history! Adding this to my never-ending London bucket list 🙂

    • 7th December 2017 / 8:03 pm

      It’s such a relaxing way of sightseeing and a great way of showing the kids the sights of London without them having to walk for miles!

  26. 7th December 2017 / 9:59 pm

    What a lovely and unique way to see the sights of London. And I had no idea there was a paddle boat! Perfect for any kid who loves modes of transport. #familytraveltips

    • 7th December 2017 / 10:16 pm

      Yes, I’d like to sail on the boat elsewhere in the UK next time!

  27. 11th December 2017 / 11:22 pm

    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

    • 12th December 2017 / 12:09 pm

      We’d tried for years to see the bridge lift, amazing how hard it is to be there at the right moment!

  28. 27th September 2018 / 4:10 pm

    Oh how fun!! We took the Clipper down the Thames but that was terrible. This would have been much more exciting! #FarawayFiles

  29. 27th September 2018 / 10:16 pm

    I’ve tried to book on to the Waverley before (to see the sea forts) but the dates are very restricted and never quite work out. Having just looked on their website it’s amazing how many other places it sails from/to! #farawayfiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      28th September 2018 / 7:43 am

      Yes, I was impressed by the range of itineraries. I’m hoping we’ll go on it again next year.

  30. Clare Thomson
    28th September 2018 / 5:37 pm

    This is such a brilliant idea for a day out, Annabel! You’ve really inspired me. I know my boys would absolutely love to see Tower Bridge opening up for them and I’ve not heard of The Waverley before. Fantastic share for #FarawayFiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      28th September 2018 / 6:14 pm

      It is a really brilliant day out and such a great way to learn about London. We need to book another trip!

  31. 28th September 2018 / 5:50 pm

    Such a lovely day out, very relaxing and gives you a different perspective on your surroundings.

    It brought back memories of when my Dad worked on the tugs on the River Thames #farawayfiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      28th September 2018 / 6:13 pm

      Wow, that must have been an interesting job!

  32. 2nd October 2018 / 11:32 am

    Oh yes! Perfection. Love seeing a city from the water and I can only imagine the delight on your dear littles faces. Love that it is perfect for multi-generations as well. How very special to connect to the history and experience together. Thanks so much for sharing with #FarawayFiles!

    • smudgedpostcard
      2nd October 2018 / 12:43 pm

      Boat trips are my fav activity for multi gen outings!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Smudged Postcard participates in various affiliate marketing programmes. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

%d bloggers like this: