The Thames is older than London itself, and has become the focal point for an entire 1500 square kilometre city.
On the banks of the River Thames, London has spread out to become one of the biggest financial, entertainment and trade hubs in the world and in part, this is due to the proximity to this large (and famous) river.
With many of the city’s biggest tourist sites being dotted along its banks, London’s River Thames has a lot of history. When staying at many of the luxury accommodations in London, you might very well find yourself staying in hotels just a stone’s throw from the river. Lucky you!
As one of the most iconic rivers in the world, you’ll undoubtedly want to find out a little bit more about the incredible history of the Thames as well as why – and how – it birthed the bustling city of London.
History of the River Thames
The River Thames precedes the city itself, and with glacial shifts throughout the Ice Age, the world as we know it began to form. For tribes like the Romans and Vikings, much of the attraction of the city came down to its easy transport links by boat, reaping the potential for easy trade and access to mainland Europe.
Ancient History of the River Thames
The River Thames dates back to the Ice Age and is a result of shifting ice flows paving a way through the prehistoric land.
With a history as far back as 20,000 BC, a time when England was actually connected to mainland Europe, the River Thames was created over thousands of years by ice sheet flows and boulder clay deposits.
Over the years, the Thames merged from the off flows of what would eventually become the English Channel, and was still developing as recently (on the grand scale of recent) as the Roman era 2000 years ago. As the area surrounding the Thames was mostly marshland at this point, many islands began to form as the river flowed.
The Romans first made use of the River Thames upon their arrival to the country in 43 AD. With the creation of fortifications along the river banks, the Thames became a prime strategic location for the empire, and up until its collapse in the 5th Century, the Roman Empire ruled the Thames and what was then known as Londinium.
From the Middle Ages, the Thames became a hub for the trade of pottery due to its abundant minerals and easy transport via the river. Throughout the 9th Century, the Saxons and Vikings clashed over use of the river. The Saxons wanted to use it for fishing and mill races, whilst the Vikings saw the river as a route for the import and export of goods.
Come the conquest of Great Britain by William the Conqueror in 1066, the Thames came under the full control of the Normans up until the 13th Century, when the first incarnation of London Bridge was built. From then on, the Thames was bestowed with many riverside palaces and fortifications, but this majesty was counteracted by the use of the river as an open sewer.
Throughout the Tudor periods and onwards, the River became increasingly important, not as a sewage system, but as a transport link and commercial hub. You can still see the importance of the river today, with ancient markets such as Borough Market still utilising its riverside locale.
The Thames is the longest river in England, spanning 215 miles from Gloucestershire through London and into the Thames Estuary, from where it flows into the North Sea.
As the drainage basin for the whole of London, the river has a rise and fall of as much as 23 feet. The river is also the source of around 50 tributaries and contains more than 80 islands within its flow. All in all, the River promises plenty of sights and activities for curious guests at the Park Grand London Lancaster Gate.
Touring the Thames
If you’re a London visitor looking for a new perspective on the city, there are plenty of riverside tours available throughout the year. Swap your Park Grand Afternoon Tea for a teatime Thames tour, or join one of the many party boats to dance the night away on the river. With sightseeing tours, RIB speedboat thrill rides, and clockwork ferry buses, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to enjoying the iconic river.
Exploring the canals of London
It’s not just the River Thames that’ll keep you water locked during your visit to London, the many canal networks of the city provide solitude and respite from the hubbub of the city.
For those staying in West London, Paddington Basin and Regent’s Canal offers a waterside walk spanning from Paddington Station to Camden. With many riverside attractions, this area is quickly being redeveloped into a new social and economic hub of the city.
An offshoot of the Paddington Basin, Little Venice consists of interlocking canals in the Bayswater area of West London. With a range of idyllic bars and eateries, this is the perfect place to enjoy the finest in restaurants near Lancaster Gate tube station.
Take a trip into the East of the city and you’ll be met with rural canal side wetlands and nature reserves. The Tottenham, Hackney and Walthamstow network of canals flows into the River Lea, itself an offshoot of the Thames. Here you can find cycling routes, entertainment districts and large parks, all merging into one of London’s best-kept secrets.
Sites to see on the Thames
If you’re planning on staying in the centre of the city, the River Thames offers a wide range of riverside attractions. For instance, the South Bank gives stunning views over the river whilst also providing ample theatre and film attractions in the guise of the National Theatre and British Film Institute.
Further down the river, you’ll find Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament overlooking the Thames, whilst stretching towards Tower Bridge is the ancient foodie paradise of Borough Market. The London Bridge area promises even more historic riverside intrigue, the Golden Hinde and Globe Theatre both being replicas of Elizabethan era architectural icons.