About The River Thames

Boating on the Thames: the most charming way to explore south east England

When you hire a cruiser on the Thames, you discover the famous river from a different perspective, at your own pace. As you gaze at Windsor Bridge and Castle or Hampton Court Palace from your river cruiser, you feel like you have been transported back in time. Your self-drive boating holiday takes you to large towns with shops, pubs and museums, where sightseeing and family activities are on the afternoon agenda. You’ll also stop in small villages where the pace is slow and the living is easy!

 

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Map showing where the Thames boating region is in England

Find your bearings...

Thames Region map

 = Le Boat Base           = Navigable river           = No navigation beyond this point

The perfect boating region for...

History & heritage

The Thames River is perhaps one of the world’s most historic waterways. This becomes ever more obvious as you travel to Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace and Cliveden House. But the history and heritage is everywhere. Often you’ll dine in a pub that was built 500 years ago.

Family

The Thames is our number one boating holiday destination for children. The whole family will love Legoland Windsor Resort with its fun rides and live shows! Or take a family audio tour of Windsor Castle or an information trail around Hampton Court. There are countless things for the kids to do along the river, making the Thames a holiday they'll remember forever.

Fishing

The beautiful Thames boasts numerous fishing spots to enjoy lazy afternoons surrounded by the peaceful flow of the river. Fishing from your hire boat is not allowed, but there are plenty of free riverside spots for anglers anxious to land roach, perch, barbel, chub, pike or carp.

Useful information

A bit of background

If you’ve never been boating on the Thames before, whatever preconceptions you may have about what it’s like…  are probably wrong! Everyone who hires a boat with us is surprised by what they find. The hustle bustle of city life may very well exist in the centre of London, but that’s not our scene at all!

 

Le Boat operates on the stretch of Thames between Kingston and Oxford, spanning 4 counties and meandering through peaceful countryside, as well as several pretty towns and villages.  And while it is the perfect scenic getaway, it also has an abundance of pubs, restaurants, shops and visitor attractions to keep even the most restless traveller entertained.  In fact, there is so much to do, you could easily spend a fortnight here, and still have lots more to explore.

 

This section is non-tidal and is made navigable by a series of 32 locks which are all electronically controlled and manned by a lock keeper through the day. (See below for more information about locks). It is very easy to navigate and an ideal destination for first time boaters. 

 

Good times are guaranteed!

Great rivers almost always spawn great cities, and the Thames is no exception. The first settlers to arrive were probably Stone Age nomads, based on the discovery of Neolithic manmade shards. Bronze Age wanderers also came. In A.D. 43, Roman legionnaires occupied England and built a seaport they called Londinium near present-day London Bridge. The Thames became the lifeblood of England from then on, assuming its important place in world history.

 

Nearly 800 years ago, King John met with a group of barons on Magna Carta Island in Runneymede. It was here he signed a historic document which is seen by many as the symbolic first step on the road to modern democracy. In this spirit, today Runnymede has several memorials to the ongoing struggle for liberty - a trio of thought-provoking places which are worth a stop at to reflect, ponder and remember.

The Thames River is easy to navigate and suitable for beginners.

 

The Environment Agency are responsible for the River Thames and will occasionally need to display signs on lock gates when water levels and the fast flow of the river make it hazardous to navigate. This is particularly common after long periods of heavy rain fall. 

 

In order to keep the River Thames a safe and enjoyable place to cruise, please observe the following rules and guidelines and keep your holiday incident-free.

 

 

Navigation after dark is forbidden.

 

  • Obey all signs and follow any arrows marked ‘channel’.

 

  • Pass oncoming boats on the right-hand side of the river. 

 

  • Boats coming downstream have right of way at bridges and sharp bends.

 

  • Avoid turning near bends, bridges or locks.

 

  • The speed limit is 5 miles per hour/8 kilometres per hour (a fast walking pace) - don’t create wash and slow down when passing anglers and moored boats. 

 

  • When mooring, don’t leave unusable gaps and be careful not to damage the riverbank.

 

  • Boating under the influence of drink or drugs is not tolerated - it impairs judgement, slows down reaction times and significantly increases the likelihood of accidents.”

 

  • We recommend life jackets (provided on board) are worn at all times, especially by children and non-swimmers.

 

  • Wear appropriate non-slip footwear – no flip flops.

Going through locks is one of the highlights of a boating holiday. All locks on the Thames are electronically operated and, most of the time, a lock keeper will be present to do most of the work. When they are not, the lock gates will display a blue ‘self-service’ sign – which means you are allowed to operate it yourself. But don’t worry… it’s easy! By the end of your holiday you will pass through locks confidently and become an ace at throwing ropes over mooring bollards!

 

Lock keepers’ duty times (locks are closed for lunch between 13:00-14:00)

 

Apr: 9am – 5pm

 

May: - Jun: 9am – 6pm

 

Jul – Aug: 9am – 6:30pm

 

Sep: 9am – 6pm

 

Oct: 9am - 5pm 

 

When the lock keep is not on duty, operating the weir, maintaining the lock site or taking a break, they will display blue ‘self-service’ signs on the lock gates. This means you can operate the lock yourself, at your own risk. The controls are located by each gate on a big green metal box.

 

There is no charge to go through locks. Cruising beyond Teddington Locks towards central London is prohibited.

 

All locks closed on: 1st November.

The beauty of a boating holiday is the freedom to stop whenever the fancy takes, whether you see a nice looking pub or an interesting village to explore, or maybe just to top up your water tank or do some shopping. The Thames has plenty of places to moor, but availability can get tight in peak summer so be flexible and stick to the below advice:

 

Public Moorings

 

There is a good choice of public moorings along the Thames.  Unless signs state otherwise you are allowed to moor for a maximum period of 24 hours and may have to pay a charge at some sites – normally between £6 and £10 a night. Where charges apply, you will usually get a visit from a warden early the next morning collecting payment.

 

Always respect private rights – there will usually be signs up if mooring isn’t allowed, but if you aren’t sure, either keep on looking, try to ask permission or be prepared to be moved on. Most public moorings will have mooring bollards or rings to tie your boat to, but it may be necessary to hammer stakes into the bank in some places – these are provided on board. Place mooring stakes well back from the bank edge and make sure they do not cause a hazard to passers-by. Gaps between boats are wasteful so please share rings or posts where possible.

 

Moorings can get busy, especially in peak summer, so we recommend you start looking for moorings around 4pm/5pm, to allow plenty of daylight time to move on and find alternatives if necessary. 

 

Private Marinas

 

If you would like to guarantee an overnight moorings, or you wish to hook up your boat to a 220v power supply (not available on all boats), then there is a wealth of private marinas where you can pay to moor for the night. They are also particularly handy if you need to pump out your waste tanks, fill up with water or dispose of your rubbish (see page 72 of our Thame Guide, the marinas featured all accept overnight moorings and will be happy to see you.) . It is advisable to call ahead and book a space.

To find out how to get to each of our bases in this boating region, as well as what facilities and amenities are available at each base or nearby, click on the relevant base below:

  • Hire of the boat and its onboard equipment
  • A fully equipped kitchen
  • Towels and linen for all passengers
  • A boat handling demonstration prior to departure
  • Technical support
  • On-board maps and visitor information
  • Passage through locks
  • Optional holiday extras
  • Boat damage waiver
  • Running costs (diesel, gas, engine wear and tear) - charged by the engine hour (by the litre in Scotland).
  • Travel to and from the base(s)
  • Waterside services if you use them (i.e. moorings where a charge is applicable, pump-out if needed, water, etc)
  • Cancellation plan & any travel/personal insurance
  • Food and drink

Download our region guide

We've produced a handy PDF guide for this region to give you an overview of all the stops and things to do along the waterway.

Download our region guide

Interactive map of the Thames

  = Le Boat base       = Point of interest

Great to see...

Must see
The spires of Oxford

Oxford, the City of Dreaming Spires, will inspire and enchant you with its architecture and vibrant atmosphere. Home to royalty and scholars for over 900 years, it is full of old buildings, many owned by the famous University. Excellent shopping, museums and tours will keep you busy for a whole day at least.

Must see
Henley Rowing Museum

Best known for its Royal Regatta, Henley is synonymous with rowing and attracts some of the world´s finest rowers. Just a few strides from the riverbank is the heart of Henley with its historic church, town hall and market square, the latter bustling with busy stall-holders and shoppers on market days.

Must see
Cliveden House

As the river snakes past Cookham, the beechwoods rise steeply and you will see the Cliveden Estate. A country retreat on a grand scale, it was once the glittering hub of society; visited by virtually every British Monarch since George I.

Must see
Royal guards marching in Windsor

The Royal Town of Windsor is full of history and charm and is home to Britain’s largest inhabited castle and royal residence of over 900 years – Windsor Castle. You’ll also find a bustling town centre with contemporary shopping, fine dining and leisure activities. Well worth a stop for the day.

Must see
A sculpture in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace, billed as 'The Greatest Palace in Britain', offers a magical journey through 500 years of royal history. Resident included King Henry VII, William III and Queen Mary, who each expanded and modernised various parts. Experience the grandeur and splendour of the state apartments, tour the largest kitchens of Tudor England and get lost in the gardens and the UK's oldest surviving hedge maze.

Abingdon, a lovely market town, has some 56 buildings from the 17th century and prior. Evidence also exists of a 6,000 year old settlement, making this the oldest, continuously-occupied town in Britain. By contrast, it’s known for its MG car manufacturing and was one of the UK’s first towns to offer free wi-fi for all.

Dorchester-on-Thames is a village at the confluence of the River Thames and its tributary The Thame. It is ideal for exploring the beautiful surrounding countryside by foot or bicycle. For something different to do, nearby Day’s Lock hosts the World Pooh Sticks Championships every spring.

A small, but pretty village which faces South Stoke on the opposite bank. South Stoke has a quaint church and a 17th century village pub. Neither village has any shops but the highlight in Moulsford is the famous Beetle and Wedge Hotel.

This pretty town sits between the Chilterns and the Berkshire Downs within a designated 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty'. The Norman church of St Thomas can be seen overlooking the river and there are many shops, restaurants and bars to help while away a lazy afternoon.

Pangbourne dates back to Saxon Times. Lord Nelson's Bo’Sun lived in Pangbourne and is buried at St James the Less church, built in 1660. The individual shops are full of character and the surrounding area is ideal for walkers, photographers and artists alike.

Mapledurham is one of the most picturesque spots on the Thames with views of Mapledurham House and the country's last working mill, which still produces stone-ground flour. Mapledurham has one pub, The Pack Saddle, in Chazey Heath.

Famous as one of the UK’s top ten retail destinations, the heart of Reading offers much more than superb shopping. The Forbury Gardens, a nationally acclaimed Victorian formal garden, leads you beautifully to the ruins of Reading Abbey, an ancient monument and burial place of a King of England.

Sonning-On-Thames is a picturesque riverside village with half timbered Tudor houses and is one of the prettiest stops along the Thames. Sonning Lock, with its colourful gardens, is a lovely place for a stroll and the impressive arched bridge, built in 1775, spans the River Thames perfectly.

Marlow is a charming Georgian market town, spanned by an elegant suspension bridge. Marlow is the venue for the annual royal ceremony of 'Swan Upping' when cygnets are tagged, and for the Marlow Town Regatta, held in June. With its many restaurants and bistros, every month in Marlow has a holiday feel.

Cookham is a pretty village with a delightful High Street that has changed little over the centuries. Today it boasts many fine restaurants and inns. Kenneth Grahame lived in Cookham and is said to have been inspired by the River Thames at Cookham to write The Wind in the Willows.

Maidenhead is an ancient town with a history going back to early Saxon times. This bustling town is now a centre of rowing excellence. It is a popular destination for shoppers and, for those who love fine dining; the area is home to some fantastic restaurants including some Michelin-starred venues.

Across the river from Windsor is Eton, home to the famous public school, Eton College, one of the most exclusive schools in the world with annual fees of around £20,000. The ancient desks and benches bear the graffiti of generations of former pupils, which include 19 former British Prime Ministers.

This water-meadow alongside the Thames makes a great place to moor up and enjoy a stroll or reflect on world history. It was near here, at Runnymede in 1215, that the historic Magna Carta was sealed. This charter laid down the foundations of much of the current British constitution and law.

Staines is a bustling town which attracts scores of visitors to its impressive retail areas - The Elmsleigh Centre and Two Rivers, as well as the town centre with its pedestrianised shopping area offering a wide range of shops, cafés, restaurants and pubs.

Kingston-upon-Thames was once the coronation place of Saxon Kings (902 – 978). Today this busy market town has developed into a major shopping and entertainment hub, although it retains much of its original charm. It also has a strong arts culture and a vibrant festival programme.

Itinerary suggestions

To help you get an idea of how far you can travel in the time you have, here's a selection of routes to and from our bases in this region. You dont have to stop at all the places listed or follow the route exactly. So long as you return your boat to your end base by the date you've booked - you're free to enjoy your cruise however you like. For a comfortable pace, allowing you time to regularly stop and explore, we'd recommend an average of 2 - 4 hours cruising each day.

Benson RETURN via Marlow

Benson
Moulsford
Goring
Pangbourne-on-Thames
Mapledurham
Reading
Sonning-on-Thames
Henley-on-Thames
Marlow
Benson

14 hr(s) of cruising

75km 28 lock(s) 3 nights

Benson RETURN via Marlow

When approaching Henley-on-Thames, you gaze at a postcard-perfect scene — sculling crews row sleek craft, and colourful waterfront pubs and shops look inviting. You know you’re in the midst of quintessential England, so you stop for a lunch of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding washed down with a pint of local ale, a favourite on River Thames cruises!

14 hr(s) of cruising

75km 28 lock(s) 3 nights

Benson RETURN via Oxford & Henley

Benson
Dorchester-on-Thames
Abingdon-on-Thames
Oxford
Moulsford
Goring
Pangbourne-on-Thames
Mapledurham
Reading
Sonning-on-Thames
Henley-on-Thames
Marlow
Benson

24 hr(s) of cruising

186km 30 lock(s) 7 nights

Benson RETURN via Oxford & Henley

England’s city of learning, venerable Oxford, rises in understated grandeur over the shimmering blue of the Thames. You’re all set to go ashore to sightsee, shop, dine and trek the river’s excellent trail. The laid-back quality of the landscape has soothed you, and you’re glad you made sure your Thames riverboat cruise included some bird-watching at Benson Lock.

24 hr(s) of cruising

186km 30 lock(s) 7 nights

Benson RETURN via Windsor

Benson
Moulsford
Goring
Pangbourne-on-Thames
Mapledurham
Reading
Sonning-on-Thames
Henley-on-Thames
Marlow
Cliveden
Cookham
Maidenhead
Eton
Windsor
Benson

24 hr(s) of cruising

155km 34 lock(s) 7 nights

Benson RETURN via Windsor

You have fun trying to make the palace guards at Windsor Castle smile, but you don’t succeed! Then you take a picnic lunch to the Royal Gardens to relax under the warm sun, vastly content from the rigors of the morning. Royal Cruise boat holidays on the Thames have bewitched with the grand castles and homes you’ve seen so far!

24 hr(s) of cruising

155km 34 lock(s) 7 nights

Benson to Chertsey

Benson
Moulsford
Goring
Pangbourne-on-Thames
Mapledurham
Reading
Sonning-on-Thames
Henley-on-Thames
Marlow
Cliveden
Cookham
Maidenhead
Eton
Windsor
Egham
Staines
Chertsey

15 hr(s) of cruising

96km 22 lock(s) 5 nights

Benson to Chertsey

Every mediaeval village you pass draws the eye with ornate buildings and beautiful waterfronts. You’ve just gone by Beale Park outside Goring, but you didn’t stop for a picnic. Instead, you travel on to spend the night in Henley-on-Thames. You’ve decided to take it slow and easy on your River Thames boat hire, savouring the delights of cycling, golf and hanging out in friendly pubs!

15 hr(s) of cruising

96km 22 lock(s) 5 nights

Benson to Chertsey via Kingston-upon-Thames

Benson
Moulsford
Goring
Pangbourne-on-Thames
Mapledurham
Reading
Sonning-on-Thames
Henley-on-Thames
Marlow
Cliveden
Cookham
Maidenhead
Eton
Windsor
Egham
Staines
Kingston-Upon-Thames
Chertsey

23 hr(s) of cruising

128km 30 lock(s) 7 nights

Benson to Chertsey via Kingston-upon-Thames

Hampton Court Palace, once the home of King Henry VIII, looms above you and the circular fountain in front murmurs in the background. You smile as you recall the varied charms of your Thames riverboat cruise, a unique way to travel! The world just looks different from a boat, and you know that now at the end of the trip! Cycling, pubs, historic sites — it was all part of the fun!

23 hr(s) of cruising

128km 30 lock(s) 7 nights

Chertsey RETURN via Henley-upon-Thames

Chertsey
Staines
Windsor
Eton
Maidenhead
Cookham
Cliveden
Marlow
Henley-on-Thames
Chertsey

16 hr(s) of cruising

75km 18 lock(s) 3 nights

Chertsey RETURN via Henley-upon-Thames

The easygoing pace of a River Thames boat hire relaxes you almost immediately after you get going. The villages with waterside pubs and pretty greens tempt you to stop, and you often do! Cycling takes you into the countryside to get a real taste of beautiful England, and sightseeing is unforgettable in Windsor, where you can feel the presence of the Queen!

16 hr(s) of cruising

75km 18 lock(s) 3 nights

Chertsey RETURN via Windsor & Kingston-upon-Thames

Chertsey
Kingston-Upon-Thames
Staines
Egham
Windsor
Eton
Chertsey

14 hr(s) of cruising

70km 18 lock(s) 7 nights

Chertsey RETURN via Windsor & Kingston-upon-Thames

Standing in front of the stately Hampton Court Palace near Kingston-upon-Thames, you think about King Henry VIII, who once lived there. You spend time sightseeing, and then your Majestic Cruise boat holidays on the Thames lure you past Chertsey to incredible Windsor Castle. Along the way, you stop often at waterside pubs for a bit of steak and kidney pie!

14 hr(s) of cruising

70km 18 lock(s) 7 nights
Added on 22 September 2018

Glenn Johnson said

Everyone was so helpful and friendly when we got to the boatyard before starting the holiday and again when we got back at the end. The week on the river was relaxing and everyone was so friendly, the lock keepers are great and everyone helps everyone. We had a wonderful week on the River Thames. We enjoyed every moment (even the odd mess up at one of the locks). The days cruising leisurely on the river were so relaxing and we enjoyed the evenings spent in some lovely places. The Catherine Wheel at Goring and Avanti at Wallingford being our favourites although the mobile pizza van at Goring also deserves a mention. Can't wait to do it all again next year
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Benson - Benson
Countess
Added on 22 September 2018

Laura Craig said

Great service from LeBoat at Benson for our week afloat on the Thames. The base is easy to find, you can park right next to the boats to unload, and all the staff give a friendly and enthusiastic welcome, from checking in to a run-through of the boat's facilities and handling. Also, there's a lovely cafe at the base if you want to just sit and watch the activity, and if you have to wait to collect your boat. The boat, Tango, was perfect for cruising the river as it's easy to steer and moor, and well designed for four. There were only two of us so we had plenty of room and lots of storage space. It can take six with beds made up in the galley area, but that may be a bit too cosy with only one shower/wc. Well designed layout with grippy surfaces and lots of hand rails for those moving about the boat. It even has a 'sun-terrace' on the roof, and you can drive from inside on those not-so-sunny days.
READ MORE
Benson - Benson
Tango
Added on 05 September 2018

Graham Norris said

Very plesant cruise. Friendly and helpful staff. Plesant cruise.
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Benson - Benson
Caprice
Added on 31 August 2018

Chris Lakin said

Our first ever hire with them, very good service we were looked after well, especially by Lucy. Will be booking again with them. Thank you for a great few days! Excellent few days, thank you!
READ MORE
Benson - Benson
Magnifique
Added on 13 August 2018

Mark Payne said

Excellent service, advice and boat........... Very comfortable boat.......
READ MORE
Dear Mr P,
Thank you for leaving your feedback. We are delighted to learn you enjoyed your cruise and would love to welcome you on board with us again soon.
Best wishes, The Le Boat team
Benson - Chertsey
Calypso
Added on 01 August 2018

Anthony Gaunt said

The online booking and any additional items were easily purchased. Arrival at the base was welcoming and check in and ‘training’ was efficient getting us on our way quick to enjoy our short break. Our boat was very well equipped and clean. We had 3 very relaxing days on the Thames- our first time to hire a boat and loved it. Will definitely be booking sgain and have already recommended Le Boat to many friends and family Thank you Base was great- very busy cafe to start ( and end) our holiday.
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Benson - Benson
Caprice
Added on 27 July 2018

Paul Cassar said

Le boat. Brilliant service and super fun on the water. Our boat was very comfortable and spacious and fully functional. Highly recommended Very reliable very helpful and always happy to help
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Chertsey - Chertsey
Classique
Added on 06 July 2018

Zoe Harmer said

Great welcome from Lucy and swift handover process. The boat was very clean and tidy. Thankfully we got to go up to Oxford this time after the sunk boat was removed from the lock. The weather was perfect and we had a brilliant time, will definitely be back again. Thank You Very scenic and great lock keepers. The bridges in Oxford were an experience! Thank god for the bow thruster
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Benson - Benson
Magnifique
Added on 22 June 2018

Richard Clarke said

The boat, a magnifique was good the staff at Chertsey most helpful and they provided us with good weather A lovely week end Great staff and a good place to start to go up the river
READ MORE
Good Afternoon,
Thank you for your five star feedback. Our customers' comments are very important to use and we will be sure to share your feedback with the base.
The Le Boat Team
Chertsey - Chertsey
Magnifique
Added on 09 June 2018

Richard Hunter said

Very happy. The boat was great. Great boat. All good We were very comfortable.
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Benson - Chertsey
Royal Mystique A