You might think you know the Thames, but have you paddled along it during a kayak rave? As the ‘Totally Thames’ festival launches today to celebrate the pulsing artery of this city, Eddy Frankel heads from the London Wetland Centre in the west to the Thames Barrier in the east in search of the top riverside attractions.
Okay, for a start, crabs don’t grow on trees, cos they’re not fruit. Factual inaccuracies aside, this Fulham boozer is one of the best pubs along the river, with a huge beer garden full of shrubbery and decking, a whopping drinks selection and a choice between barbecue or fine dining. All within punting distance of Old Father Thames. Rainville Rd, W6 9HA.
The London Wetland Centre is brimming with gloopy wonders. More than a hundred acres of lagoons, islets and pastures, it’s filled with enough wildlife to make the most elaborate Christmas dinner ever. Experience this wilderness on one of the centre’s bat walks, where you can find out more about these not-creepy-at-all flying mammals. London Wetland Centre, Queen Elizabeth Walk, SW13 9WT. £10.
The best way to experience the river is by actually being on it. Kayaking lets you drift along the Thames, exploring its foreshore and sights from the comfort of your own personal mini-ship. But why stop there, when Kayaking London not only runs tours and tutoring sessions, but actually organises kayak raves? Yes, you can go radio rental on the river while a soundsystem blasts out classic acid-house jams. Jungle might be massive, but the Thames is pretty big too. Summer Rave River, starting at Cremorne Gardens, Lots Rd, SW10 0QH. Sep 20, 6.20pm. £39.
River facts: The last time the Thames froze solid enough for Londoners to party on it was in 1814. It’s unlikely there will ever be another ‘frost fair’ because the river now flows too fast to freeze.
While the rest of the world worries about global warming, the wild dudes at Compagnie Carabosse are manipulating the hottest of elements to create a pleasure garden of burning sculptures. Blazing pot plants, ferns aflame: it’s awesome. But the only way to guarantee seeing it is by entering the ticket ballot at www.timeout.com/firegarden, by noon on Wed Aug 27. The Fire Garden is one of 100-plus events happening as part of the month-long ‘Totally Thames’ festival. Battersea Power Station, as above. Sep 5 and 6, 6.30pm-10.30pm. Free.
London street-food favourite Street Feast has dipped a toe into the Thames’s murky waters with their new pop-up market. Expect its usual awesome variety of stalls and vendors kicking out the best alfresco nibbles London has to offer, only this time you get a delightful view of the river to go with your artisanal tacos and lageritas. Battersea Power Station, 188 Kirtling St, SW8 4PE. Battersea Park rail. Thu and Fri 5pm-11.30pm; Sat noon- 11.30pm; Sun noon-10pm. Sun Aug 31. Prices vary.
River facts: The oldest wooden structure found on the Thames was discovered near MI6. Its 7,000-year-old timbers were believed to have been placed there by nomadic huntergatherers.
Creative food lovers House of Gastrophonic are turning Victoria Embankment Gardens into a treat for the senses. There will be food talks, demonstrations and an ‘aromatic time tunnel’ which promises to be an olfactory history of the city. Victoria Embankment Gardens, WC2N 6PB. Embankment. Sep 6 and 7, noon-7pm. Free.
It may sound like an evil robot from the future, hell-bent on destroying humanity, but it’s actually one of the city’s best riverside eateries. It boasts lofty ceilings, huge panoramic windows, sweeping views of the Thames, amazing ‘Mad Men’-esque decor and top-notch modern British cuisine. Royal Festival Hall, Belvedere Rd, SE1 8XX.
‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’
A truly picturesque place to catch an open-air film, the Scoop is surrounded by landmarks including Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and City Hall, as the Thames flows past. It’s the perfect place to watch Han Solo beat the crap out of a gang of Nazis in the best of the Indiana Jones movies. The Scoop at More London, More London Riverside, Tooley St, SE1 2DB. Sep 3, 7.30pm. Free.
Screen-print the Thames
Memories are fleeting, and by the time you’re 80 you won’t remember anything at all. Create a memento of your visit to the river with Artouride’s mobile screenprinting unit, and come away with a real London landmark (on a postcard). Design Museum, 28 Shad Thames, SE1 2YD. Sep 20. 11am-12.30pm. £1 donation.
Carnivores: are you tired of restaurants constantly pandering to vegetarians? Frustrated that everything in London is so damn veggie-centric? Well, you’re a little deluded, but that’s okay, because Meatopia is here with two days of flesh-based goodness, served up by Shake Shack, Hawksmoor and other barbecue masters. Tobacco Dock, 50 Porters Walk, E1W 2SF. Sep 6 and 7, 12.30pm-9pm. £30 day tickets, £55 weekend.
The original Mayflower was a ship loaded with the first American settlers, but after a couple of pints in this ancient riverside pub, the last thing you’ll want to do is emigrate. A heated patio overlooking the beautiful Thames, oodles of history and fine London ales: you don’t get that on Plymouth Rock. The Mayflower, 117 Rotherhithe St, SE16 4NF.
The Great River Race
Hundreds of traditional boats and ships will make the trip from Millwall to Ham in this fabulous race along the Thames. There will be 300 crews, all battling for glory on the waves. Many will be wearing fancy dress, but don’t assume they’re not taking this totally seriously. This is war on the high seas (or high river, at least). Starts at Millwall Riverside, Westferry Rd, E14 3QS. South Quay DLR. Sep 27, from 12.30pm.
River facts: There are 25 tunnels running under the Thames. One of these, the Thames Tunnel, was the first ever known to have been bored beneath a major river. It’s now part of the Overground network.
Not a gun at all, but actually a rather delightful gastropub with gorgeous views of the Thames from its standout terrace. Beer, wine, cocktails and fine dining make this a hit for even the pickiest of pub-pickers. But be warned, it is the very definition of tucked away, and many first timers get lost. Don’t fall in the water. The Gun, 27 Coldharbour, E14 9NS.
You know when you’re at a club but you’re totally not high and you realise that the music never, ever ends? Well, ‘Longplayer’ is basically that, except it really doesn’t end. At least, not for 1,000 years. Jem Finer’s constantly evolving piece of music, which began at the turn of the millennium, has found a home in Trinity Buoy Wharf, where you can bask in its meditative glory until 2999. Trinity Buoy Wharf, 64 Orchard Place, E14 0JY. Sat and Sun, 11am-5pm. Free.
River facts: One of the earliest written references to the Thames is in Julius Caesar’s account of his second expedition to Britain in 54 BC, when he encountered the native tribes living along the river.
Do you like rowing, but hate sitting down? Well get ready to have your tiny water-loving mind blown by three simple little words: stand up paddling (aka SUP). It’s exactly what it sounds like: you take a surfboard and you take a paddle and you paddle the surfboard. Standing up. It started in Hawaii, and now you can do it on the Thames all year round (brrr).
Thames Barrier Park
Big fan of topiary? Who isn’t! Well, Thames Barrier Park, which opened in 2000, is full of the stuff. As far as the eye can see: swooping, perfectly manicured hedges. It’s like Edward Scissorhands has been let loose in a garden centre. Plus, it comes with brilliant views of the huge metallic Thames Barrier. Thames Barrier Park, North Woolwich Rd, E16 2HP.
Take a look here for more great events going on at Totally Thames.