There is something about river settings that has enchanted people since time immemorial. And lately such iconic waterways as the Thames have become even more appealing to those of us seeking to escape from home and social confinement into the great outdoors.
This year the waters and shores of the Thames are providing an especially glistening showcase of cultural events and leisure activities – ideal for UK wedding anniversary couples not wanting to venture overseas just yet or foreign visitors from countries now able to travel to Britain with less restrictive protocols applying.
Whether it’s just a day out for an elegant lunch overlooking the Thames, or a longer getaway exploring the river as it flows 215 miles (nearly 350 kilometres) through England, there is something to delight everyone – from classic boat races and grand palaces to large-scale art installations.
The longest river located completely in England, and the second longest in the UK (after the Severn), the Thames traverses several counties and flows into the North Sea via the Thames Estuary. It is in Greater London, however, where most of the cultural action is taking place this year.
Spectacular River Illuminations
The show began in spring with the Estuary 2021 arts festival and Illuminated River, “the first cohesive lighting vision for the Thames bridges in central London, celebrating the structures as architectural, social and historical landmarks, and creating a symbolic link across the political, financial and cultural centres of the capital”.
Covering 3.2 miles (5.8 kilometres) in length, Illuminated River extends from London to Lambeth bridges, reportedly making it the longest public art commission in the world. It is scheduled to remain in place for at least 10 years.
South Bank Visual Arts
Continuing through summer and beyond, visitors to London can enjoy a diverse array of cultural events at the Southbank Centre and Royal Festival Hall, a legendary music venue offering both classical masterpieces and cutting-edge modern performances.
Inspirational art is on show at the centre’s Hayward Gallery, while the BFI Southbank is an inviting hub for film buffs, screening new titles, cult classics and international films. Art fans are also (always) well catered for at the Tate Modern, one of the world’s premier contemporary art museums.
Nearby is Shakespeare’s Globe, a replica of William Shakespeare’s original open-air venue, which puts on Shakespeare plays as well as offering guided tours until the end of October 2021. If you are “visiting” from home, you can take an online virtual tour.
The Thames is home to many of the UK’s most emblematic royal and historical landmarks. Crossing London Bridge to the other side of the river visitors will find the Tower of London, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been a prison, palace and fortress for nearly 1,000 years, and currently houses the Crown Jewels.
Heading south-west along the Thames is Hampton Court Palace, the former home of King Henry VIII, who often travelled on the river in his royal barge; while further ahead is Windsor Castle, a “‘working palace” and the official weekend home of Queen Elizabeth II.
Other stately homes on the banks of the Thames include the 17th century Ham House and Garden (with its historic art and textiles) and the Syon House filming location for TV series Bridgerton. Then there is William Morris’ countryside retreat at Kelmscott Manor, set along the Thames Path, a National Trail that follows the entire river from the Cotswolds to central London.
Henley Royal Regatta
Finally… one of the sporting and social calendar’s premier seasonal highlights, the Henley Royal Regatta, is due to run from 11 to 15 August. In addition to cheering on the rowers, in more than 300 races held over five days, guests can also enjoy a traditional picnic and glass of Pimms.
According to the organisers, “Our ambition remains to stage the best regatta possible this summer in the context of the ongoing pandemic, with the health and safety of all those involved in the event, as well as wider public health remaining our highest priorities.
“These are followed by our continued desire to offer the competitive pinnacle for the sport that Henley Royal Regatta represents, and to which athletes and coaches can aspire as our sport emerges from lockdown.”
Main Photo: VisitBritain / Luca Micheli
Other Photos (top to bottom):
- VisitBritain / Joanna Henderson (Kew)
- Illuminated River / Leo Villareal
- Southbank / India Roper
- Visit Britain / Historic Royal Palaces (Tower of London)
- Henley Royal Regatta / Visit Britain
- Henley Royal Regatta / Visit Britain