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A guide to boating holidays on the Thames

Countless travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have left many UK holidaymakers looking a little closer to home over recent years, providing a welcome boost to the local economies of tourist areas impacted by the various lockdowns, such as Devon, Cornwall and the Lake District. It is also exciting to see that Thames boating holidays are also on the rise. Lisa Anacora, Managing Director at Val Wyatt Marine, provides her recommendations.

A guide to boating holidays on the Thames

Where can you go boating in the UK?

As an island, us Brits are lucky enough to be spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a destination for a beautiful boating holiday. For those experienced boaters who want to explore the coast, Falmouth (the UK’s premier seaport), Eastbourne (apparently the “UK’s sunniest town”), and Southwold (in the heart of the Suffolk Coast National Nature Reserve) are all popular choices. Caernarfon in Wales (the 13th century castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Islay (known as the “Queen of the Hebrides”) in Scotland also desirable locations.

For those people looking for a gentler inland waterways experience, there are countless rivers to sail upon, as well as 96 canals, across England and Wales – however, for this article I’ll be focusing on my home turf – Thames boating holidays.

Can you boat along the Thames?

The Thames is just over 215 miles long – from the source of the river near Kemble in southern Gloucestershire, to the end, which is situated between Whitstable in Kent and Foulness Point in Essex. The non-tidal Thames, which is the distance from the source of the river to Teddington in west London, measures 147 miles. You can navigate the Thames from Lechlade in Gloucestershire.

In fact, a journey down the Thames served as an introduction to the opening ceremony of the Olympics in 2012. Do you remember Danny Boyle’s spectacular show?

Do you need a licence to take a boat on the Thames?

If you want to cruise down the length of the Thames, or in fact any stretch, your vessel will need to be registered with the Environment Agency. This organisation oversees the Thames, as well as those rivers situated across East Anglia and the River Medway. As we are based in Wargrave, this is where our customers and visitors obtain their licences from. If you keep a boat on the Thames, you will need to renew your licence each year, however you can buy a visitor registration or licence for shorter periods, which is perfect for holidays. You can find more information on our detailed boat licence FAQ blog.

If you’re looking to take advantage of the scenery and travel the length of the Thames, we recommend a vessel like the Haines 36 Sedan (so spacious with all the luxurious amenities), or the Intercruiser 34.

What towns and villages does the Thames flow through?

There is an abundance of beautiful villages and towns on the Thames that holidaymakers will be able to explore.

Cricklade, Wiltshire: 

Cricklade is the first town you come across if you’re travelling down the length of the Thames – however, please note that this stretch isn’t navigable by motorboat, with river users normally opting for canoes. Known as the southern gateway to the Cotswolds, this town has been described as an “excellent base for walkers and visitors to the Cotswold area and Cotswold Water Park, which boasts 140 lakes”.

Interesting fact: Cricklade was the home of The Royal Mint from 979 to 1100.

Top pubs: The Red Lion is situated just off the Thames path and dates back to the early 1600s.

Lechlade, Gloucestershire:

The market town of Lechlade is situated at the southern borders of the Cotswolds where the Rivers Coln and Leach join the Thames. The town marks the first navigable point of the famous river.

Interesting fact: Stones used in buildings such as St Paul’s Cathedral were transported from the quarries at Taynton to Lechlade, where they were put into barges and transported downstream.

Top pubs: The Crown Inn has open fires and real ales – a perfect combination for cosy evenings.

Halfpenny Bridge, Lechlade

Kelmscott, Oxfordshire: 

Kelmscott is a very quiet village on the Thames, but it is steeped in history. St George’s Church dates to the 12th century, whilst Kelmscott Manor attracts thousands of visitors a year.

Interesting fact: The Manor was described by William Morris as “Heaven on Earth”.

Top pubs: The Plough Inn has a 4.5 rating on Trip Advisor for good reason. Rooms are available too!

Radcot, Oxfordshire:

One of the smallest villages on the Thames, but the bridge at Radcot is one of the river’s oldest crossing points. It was originally an old packhorse bridge on the main wool export route from Northampton.

Interesting fact: Radcot was the site of a fierce battle in 1387.

Top pubs: Ye Olde Swan is open daily with homecooked food and refreshments available in its cosy bar.

Oxford, Oxfordshire

Oxford needs no introduction – it is home to the world-famous university and one of the UK’s most prosperous cities. Visitors will want to spend time viewing the amazing architecture, fantastic restaurants and independent shops. Oxford also incorporates the riverside community of Osney and the infamously low Osney Bridge. Those boats looking to pass under Osney Bridge should be aware that it measures just 2.28 metres or 7 feet 6 inches in height.

Interesting fact: Oxford is known as the “City of Dreaming Spiers”.

Top pubs: There are just too many to talk about, but here is an insightful local article detailing the best pubs in Oxford.

Wargrave, Berkshire:

This large village, listed in the Domesday Book in 1086, is just one lock upstream from Henley. Wargrave is also the home of Val Wyatt Marine – and our team loves the beautiful surroundings and sense of community.

Interesting fact: The St George and Dragon was previously owned by the Wyatt family. In fact, the company first operated next to the pub, from 1845 until 1937.

Top pub: Yes, The St George and Dragon – a great venue for after work drinks in the summer…

Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire: 

A local website describes Henley as “one of the most beautiful towns in England” – and who are we to disagree? Henley is famous for its world-renowned regatta, being home to the Leander Club, and having a gold post-box (to commemorate Team GB’s rowing medals at the 2012 Olympics). Val Wyatt Marine is one of the nearest full-service marinas to the town.

Interesting fact: Henley Royal Regatta was established in 1839.

Top pubs: There’s plenty of choice, but The Anchor and The Three Tuns are popular.

Marlow, Buckinghamshire:

Marlow is a picturesque town on the banks of the Thames. If you are disembarking, you might choose to treat yourself to dinner at one of Tom Kerridge’s eateries – The Hand and Flowers or The Coach.

Interesting fact: Marlow is the home of five-time Olympic rowing champion Steve Redgrave.

Top pubs: There’s plenty to choose from but The Ship and The Chequers are recommended by locals.

Windsor, Berkshire:

Sitting proudly in the heart of the town, Windsor Castle is the preferred home of the Queen. There are plenty of things to explore, including The Savill Garden, Windsor Great Park and Legoland Windsor Resort.

Interesting fact: The Old King’s Head in Church Street bears a plaque recording the warrant for the execution of Charles I in 1648.

Top pubs: You won’t go thirsty in Windsor – here are the top picks.

Teddington, London:

A suburb in south-west London, Teddington was named the best place to live in London by The Sunday Times – so it is worth a visit! Many people swim in the river during the summer.

Interesting fact: The Thames measures approximately 100m in width at Teddington.

Top pubs: The Sunday Roasts at The Abercorn Arms have won rave reviews.


When sailing through London, you’ll pass through Hammersmith, Putney (watch out for rowers!), Battersea, Westminster, the City, Canary Wharf, the Isle of Dogs and Greenwich, before heading out to the North Sea.

Can you moor your boat on the Thames?

Yes. If you’re boating down the Thames there are several short-stay and visitor mooring sites provided by The Environment Agency and other local authorities, which allows holidaymakers use of the local amenities. Most of the land along the Thames is private, and moorings may be made available by the relevant landowners. Find more information here. The Val Wyatt team has also created a guide to mooring your boat, where we answer key questions.

If you have any questions or would like more information on the boats we currently have available, please get in contact with our team here.