Thames River Trips - Review for families

We've got everything you need to know about the best, family-friendly river cruises, speedboats and even river taxis!

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  • It's no secret that young children don't always enjoy sightseeing. Some aren't old enough to appreciate historic landmarks and iconic locations, but others simply get too much of that at school and want to do something fun on a day trip or family holiday.

    There are more than just ways to explore the iconic sights of England's capital city than on foot or by bus. One of them is by taking to the water on the River Thames... but even then, the list of sightseeing and cruise options is almost overwhelming.

    Which ones will stop toddlers getting bored? Which ones will keep the older children engaged? And are any of them okay for babies? 

    Luckily, we've done all the hard work and compared them, so you can decide which one is the best fit for you and your little ones. From location and price to the tour guides and facilities, we've got all the information you'll need.

    Click through our slideshow to get comparing...

  • City Cruises Sightseeing Tour

    What is it?

    It's a sightseeing cruise of the River Thames. You can board from the piers at Westminster, London Eye, Tower Bridge and Greenwich.

    Best for:

    9 – 12 / 12+

    OK for:

    Babies / Toddlers & Preschool / 5 - 8

    Cost

    ££ - it's reasonable and a number of different price points are available. Savings can be made online. 

    What’s on offer

    There’s a range of sightseeing, lunch & dinner cruises on offer available from four of London's big piers, which also happen to be tourist hubs filled with interesting attractions.

    Sightseeing cruises include longer and shorter options, with a 45-minute circular cruise proving popular. The River Red Rover sightseeing tour gets you an all-day pass with hop-on-hop off options. Top sights on show including but not limited to:

    Tate Modern
    St Paul’s Cathedral
    Big Ben & The Houses of Parliament
    South Bank
    Monument
    Tower of London
    Cutty Sark
    Royal Observatory
    National Maritime Museum

    Please check the official website or ask a member of staff about specific details and where to get on/off to see a particular sight.

    Each boat has accessible toilets and a range of snacks and drinks available for purchase on board. There should be space to store a folded buggy on board, or leave it behind with a member of staff, but don't forget to clarify this before purchasing a ticket.

    Highlights

    You don't need to book ahead to board this cruise! The commentary (in English provided by a staff member) is informative, funny and gets passengers involved, so children can feel part of the fun. But there are also audio guides in other languages available. The toilets are pretty clean given that they’re on a boat. It’s a nice sunny day trip with an excellent view of the capital from the water, though perhaps it’s not so pleasant on a miserable day.

    The lunch and dinner cruises also come highly recommended by TripAdvisor users.

    What to watch out for

    - Bring weather appropriate clothes

    - If it’s sunny, you need lots of sun screen

    - It may be crowded and it’s not luxurious unless you book a more expensive cruise

    - There’s really much to do for young kids, but if you bring some entertainment they might be able to sit through the circular option

    MFM tips:

    - With an Original Sightseeing Bus Tours ticket, you can get this sightseeing cruise for free.

    What the owners say

    Visit the official City Cruises website

  • Thames Clippers River Taxi

    What is it?

    A water-bound taxi which offers transport to all the attractions along the Thames. Find it at over 10 piers, including London Bridge, Bankside, Canary Wharf, Greenwich and Putney.

    Best for:

    All ages

    Cost

    ££ - It costs around £11 for an adult day ticket and £32.50 for a one day unlimited family pass, which isn’t too bad. For similar price, you can also join your Clipper ticket with a visit to Cutty Sark in Greenwich. If you’re a local, you can pay with your Oyster card. Discounts can be found online.

    What’s on offer

    While it’s not your typical sightseeing cruise, as there's no guide or commentary on board, the Thames Clipper is a simple way to travel by water on your visit to London. For starters, some people working in London actually use the clipper as their daily transport to work. 

    All of the seats in every boat have a riverside and most boats have accessible toilets on board. The larger boats have baby-changing tables, which is great for mums with very small children. Please speak to a member of staff. The boats provide free newspapers, free WiFi and an unfortunately not free Costa menu of drinks and snacks available for purchase. The boats are accessible with a buggy via a ramp. 

    Highlights

    The boat is fast, efficient and ideal for parents who don’t enjoy the comedic styling of some tour guides. It provides a unique view of the city from an angle you may have never seen before. The refreshments and facilities on board make the whole journey that little bit more comfortable.

    What to watch out for

    - As this is a transportation boat and not a sightseeing tour, please be aware that there is no commentary on the landmarks, just the views. In the same way, there are no activities for children. Please consider this before purchasing.

    - If you require buggy storage or baby-changing facilities, check you are on the right boat!

    - These boats will be incredibly busy during the usual commuter rush hours, so your safest bet for a quiet and crowd-free experience is during the day.

    - Be aware that there is no commentary on the landmarks, just the views. 

    MFM tips:

    - Combine your ticket with the Emirates Air Line ticket for another unusual sightseeing experience. 

    What the owners say

    “At KPMG Thames Clippers we run fast and frequent services to all major piers along the river. Having grown from a one-boat operation in 1999 to a fleet of 13 catamarans, we now carry 8, 500 passengers each day in a comfortable, relaxed environment. Previous passengers include some of the most famous faces in music and sport.”

    Visit the official Thames Clippers website

  • Thames RIB Experience

    What is it?

    It’s a super fast speedboat tour of some of London’s biggest sights. Choose between four packages. Find it on Embankment pier. 

    Best for:

    5 – 8 / 9 – 12 / 12+

    OK for:

    Toddlers & Preschool

    Cost

    £££ - the experience can cost anywhere from £23 – £50 for an adult and up to £31 for a child under 15, depending on which experience you purchase.

    What’s on offer

    The Thames RIB Experience is a short (or long) super-speedy tour of the London sights from the water of the River Thames. You and your family will be cruising at high speed on a RIB (rigid inflatable boat). 

    The experiences range from 20-minute ‘RIB BLAST’ tours of Tower Bridge or the Millennium Dome/o2 Arena to a 75-minute long speedboat experience expanding on the 50-minute Canary Wharf experience. Essentially, you have a lot of options and if there’s something specific you want to see, you might be able to find it on the official website’s full description of each ride.

    Not only do you get to see the sights from a speedboat, a guide also uses a PA system to provide commentary on all the landmarks you pass. The trip ends with an optional family photo available for purchase, but your iPhone will probably do this just fine. 

    It’s celebrity endorsed – Ant & Dec, David Walliams, Dermot O’Leary and Uma Thurman are past passengers.

    Ramp access, padded seats, life jackets and lifeboats are available on board, so no need to worry about accessibility, comfort or safety. They also provide wet weather clothing if it’s necessary.

    Highlights

    This boat ride is definitely a winner for parents with young and even teenaged boys with the high-speed ride making them feel like a action hero, all topped off with the James Bond theme tune blasting through the speakers. Thrill-seeking girls will love it too. Even parents won’t feel left behind, and while this ride may not be perfect for children under 5, older ones will love the adrenaline rush and all the excitement.

    The guides are really informative and the 20-minute experience is the perfect amount of time for an attraction like this, freeing up the rest of your day to explore some free attractions like the British Museum and National Gallery.

    It comes highly recommended from countless TripAdvisor users.

    What to watch out for

    - Make sure to arrive at the Embankment booking kiosk (which you can’t miss – it’s black with yellow writing on it and directly opposite Embankment tube station) 15 minutes before your booking time.

    - Check your booking as the Tower RIB Blast and the o2 RIB Blast dock at different piers.

    - It’s a speedboat, so there are no toilets on board. Make sure your child goes to the bathroom before boarding! The same can be said for the snacks you would usually find on a standard sightseeing tour.

    What the owners say

    “Thames RIB Experience has the fastest and most powerful fleet of high-speed London RIBs on the River Thames; our incredible vessels are fitted with either 740 horse power Yanmar engines or 2 x twin turbo Yamaha engines, for an extreme London sightseeing experience like none other!”

    Visit the official Thames RIB Experience website

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  • London RIB Voyages

    What is it?

    London RIB Voyages is another company offering a RIB speedboat tour of the London sights - with a special sightseeing option for families with children. Find the children’s ride at London Eye Millennium Pier, Boarding Gate One on the South Bank.

    Best for:

    Babies / 5 - 8 / 9 - 12 / 12+

    OK for:

    Toddlers & Preschool

    Cost

    £££ - it is very expensive, especially for large families. The family-friendly tour will cost over £100 for a family of 2 adults and 2 children under 14.

    What’s on offer

    London RIB Voyages offer a range of different tours on their fleet of speedboats, but families with children under 14 will want to try out Captain Kidds Canary Wharf Voyage. It’s 50 minutes of fun specifically designed for families, but with the same energy and action you’d expect from a usual RIB tour.

    It’s no secret that sightseeing isn’t exactly a youngster’s idea of an awesome time, but the fun guides provide interesting and educational commentary about all the sights you’ll pass and in conjunction with the action of the speedboat, they’ll most likely be far from bored.

    Facilities-wise, the London RIB Voyage is very family-friendly. There are accessible toilets with baby-changing facilities by the boarding gate at the London Eye County Hall, which passengers are permitted to use. Buggies and pushchairs can be stored on board (assuming there’s enough space on the day) if they are folded completely flat and all valuables are removed. Alternatively, you can leave them with the manager on the pier. The company isn’t liable for anything lost or stolen, though.

    Safety is also a priority. Life jackets will be provided as well as weather-appropriate sailing clothes for children and adults of all ages. They also provides baby life cradles for mums with very young children. These surround the baby’s clothing and can fit on mums lap.

    Highlights

    The staff – even the guides - are fully qualified in everything from handling the ship to man overboard procedures, so you don’t have to worry about safety. They’re keen to accommodate everyone and that makes it a really friendly and inclusive family experience. The tour itself is good fun. It’s full of energy and life, unlike other sightseeing tours, the thought of which would no doubt bore your child to tears. It comes highly recommended from just about every major news outlet in the country and from TripAdvisor users across the globe.

    What to watch out for

    - There will be lots of swishing around so bear that in mind when you book if your child has suffered from travel sickness or seasick in the past.

    - There are no seat belts, but do not worry. All RIB boats operate this way and follow strict safety rules and regulations.

    - Make sure you arrive 15 minutes before boarding time.

    What the owners say

    "London RIB Voyages formed in 2006 as the first speedboat operator ever on the river Thames.  By 2007 we had gained our first award “Best new tourist attraction, gold” Visitlondon.  Voted Five Stars, by Timeout and then 5th favourite attraction in London as voted by you by 2009 there really is no stopping us.  We are ready and waiting to take you speed-boating on the greatest river in the world.

    We pride ourselves on providing the most unique, memorable and exciting trip London has to offer." 

    Visit the official London RIB Voyages website

  • Tate Boat

    What is it?

    It’s a Thames boat ride between the Tate Modern and Tate Britain art galleries. Find it outside of either gallery at Millbank or Bankside Pier. The Tate boat is operated by the Thames Clippers company.

    Cost

    £ - It’s £6.80 for an adult and £3.40 for a child one way. Children under 5 travel for free. A family ‘river roamer’ pass is also available. If you’ve got a travelcard, you’ll get a discount.

    What’s on offer

    Tate Modern can be found along the South Bank near the Millennium Bridge, whereas Tate Britain is in Millbank, accessible on the Victoria line to Pimlico. But now you don’t have to choose which one to visit, you can simply visit both via the Tate boat.

    Running seven days a week, the Tate boat picks passengers up at one London Tate art gallery and transports them to the next via a leisurely boat ride across the river Thames in this unique picturesque family experience.

    Are you and your family more into unusual modern art or classic works by famous painters? Read our guides on the Tate Modern and Tate Britain to decide which one you’d prefer to visit first.

    Highlights

    If your plan was always to visit both in the same day, you and your children will be quietly relieved to have avoided the nasty crowds associated with the tube.

    You’ll also ride past a few of London’s greatest landmarks at a nice, perfectly paced which makes a visit to the two galleries a full family day out.

    What to watch out for

    - This isn’t an official sightseeing tour, so don’t expect any commentary or audio guides aboard the boat.

    - In the same vein, there are no children’s activities on board, but as the boat ride is short and there are various activities at each gallery – this shouldn’t be too problematic.

    - At Bankside, there is a kiosk where you can buy ticket. At the Tate Britain’s Millbank Pier, you buy your tickets on the boat.

    What the owners say

    Visit the official Tate Boat website

  • London Duck Tours

    What is it?

    A half-bus half-boat sightseeing tour, to be found at the Duck Stop on the South Bank. The boat has wheels, it's bright yellow like a duck and it splashes triumphantly into the Thames like an amphibian. It sounds amazing, right? Read out Duck Tours guide for a comprehensive review featuring everything you need to know about a visit with your little ones.

    River tours not for you?

    If you've decided that the best Thames tours by boat aren't suitable for you and your little ones, there are plenty of other sightseeing options you can try:

    - The Big Bus Tour allow you and your family to take your time viewing all the classic London sights with a hop-on-hop-off family ticket which can last up to 48 hours. 

    - Keep the intense sightseeing to a minimum by taking a walk over Millennium Bridge, Tower Bridge or along the South Bank to get a quick feel for the city. 

    - The best views in the city for families will most likely be found on the London Eye, but you should also consider a trip to the Monument (if your family can handle some serious step-climbing)!

    - Finally, why not just take in one major attraction? Buckingham Palace is a big one for tourists and not a place to be missed by local families, either. Alternatively, the Tower of London is classic London history in a fun, adventurous, interactive nutshell.

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