Thames River Facts

The Thames River is a major river in England, flowing for 346 kilometers through London. It is the second-longest river in the UK and has played an important role in trade and transportation for centuries.

Its waters are also home to a large variety of fish and other wildlife. The Thames serves as a symbol of Britain’s long history, inspiring awe and appreciation among many who see it.

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Thames River Facts for Kids

  • The Thames is 346km long.
  • It flows through London, England.
  • It’s the 2nd longest river in the UK.
  • It’s been used for trade & transport for centuries.
  • The Thames is home to many fish & wildlife species.
  • It’s a symbol of Britain’s long history & culture.
  • Its source is near Kemble in Gloucestershire, England.


In the 17th and 18th centuries, winters on the Thames were known as “The Little Ice Age.”

This led to England’s first Frost Fair, where a tent city was built with attractions such as ice bowling. By the end of the 17th century, London had become one of the world’s busiest waterway hubs.

Shipbuilding rose along its banks, with more than forty thousand people making a living along or near it. By 1661, docks were being built below Tower Bridge which allowed for even more trade.

In 1878 disaster struck when a pleasure craft collided with another vessel causing 640 fatalities. The Thames also suffered from high pollution levels at this time and was used as a primary drinking water supply – leading to an outbreak of Cholera in 1832, which resulted in 35,000 deaths over 22 years. This saw “The Great Stink” of 1858 arise due to its pollution levels leading Joseph Bazalgette to work on building sewers on either side of it to clean it up.

With railways and roads developed after 1914 – trading no longer occurred at the river, and it stopped being used commercially, so life returned to clean the polluted river once again.

The Thames Barrier

The Thames Barrier is a 520-meter-wide structure in the River Thames, East London. It was built in 1982 to prevent flooding and storm surges from getting into the city of London.

Built after the 1953 floods, which caused 307 deaths and £50 million in damages, it consists of 10 steel gates that can be moved to act as a wall between the upper part of the river and the sea. Each gate is 20 meters tall and holds up to 9,000 tons of water.

When not in use, these gates are hidden in curved recesses below the river bed. This allows boats to pass through while keeping water from getting upstream. The barrier is opened when levels upstream and downstream are equalized.

This unique structure has saved London countless times since its construction. Its purposeful design helps protect the city while still allowing boat passage through it.

The River Thames Physical Characteristics

The Thames is 205 miles long, stretching from its source to the boundary of the tidal waters 140 miles away. During spring tides, it rises 22 feet (7 meters) at London Bridge; during neap tides, it is 18 feet (5.5 meters). Its basin spans 5,500 square miles.

On average, 27 inches of rain falls on this area yearly, with 40% of the water coming from groundwater and 2/3 used for London’s potable water supply.

Tourism on the River Thames

Tourism on the River Thames has grown in recent years. A scenic route runs from Oxford to Teddington, taking in the beauty of the river. There’s also the London Cable Car, running from Greenwich Peninsula to Royal Docks over the river.

At Oxford, experience a vibrant city full of art and culture. See stunning architecture, such as St Aldates’ Church, or visit the Ashmolean museum for art and history exhibitions. Walk by parks with events like The Summertown Market.

Head west upriver and discover Henley-on-Thames: a beautiful market town with plenty of historical sites to explore. Follow the river into Marlow, where trails abound, and shops line its cobbled High Street. Visit All Saints Church or listen to jazz at The Tea Room Music Cafe.

Further upstream, you enter Windsor, home to Windsor Castle – an iconic royal residence built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century; today, it’s still one of Queen Elizabeth II’s official winter residences! Around here, be sure to take time out and enjoy a row down the Lade Stream at Eton College Boat House.

The final stop on your journey is through Kingston upon Thames and Teddington Lock, where you can hop off at Hampton Court Palace gardens or shop in Kingston upon Thames’ lovely outdoor spaces, such as Bentalls Centre and Ancient Market Place.

Lots of Bridges on the River

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge is a well-known landmark in London. Built between 1886 and 1894, it is a combination of a suspension and a bascule bridge. It spans across the River Thames, connecting two sides of the city.

Tower Bridge consists of two huge towers linked by two walkways with an impressive lifting span between them that can be raised to let ships through. The two towers are brick-clad with Gothic-style architecture, decorated with many ornate details such as domes, gargoyles, and turrets.

On either side of the river, there are four piers; each tower rests on top of these rectangular structures made out of granite and concrete, which conceal machinery for opening the bridge itself. Inside both towers, there’s an exhibition showcasing its long history, the machinery used to open Tower Bridge, and the engineering achievement behind it.

Every time the lifting span needs to be opened, pedestrians walking across have their views interrupted by a stunning performance involving steam power and hydraulic pressure pushing up the bridge deck slowly until it’s vertical.

At night Tower Bridge lights up beautifully, offering another charming aspect to London’s skyline. This iconic piece of architecture has been celebrated globally as one of the most remarkable British landmarks ever built and admired worldwide.

London Bridge

London Bridge is a box girder made from pre-stressed concrete. It opened in 1973 and spans 269m long and 32m wide. It carries traffic between Southwark & City of London, as well as providing links for pedestrians to cross the River Thames.

The first London Bridge was built by the Romans in AD 43 but was replaced several times until the current bridge opened in 1831. This bridge was, unfortunately, dismantled and sold to an American businessman in 1967 before being replaced with the current structure.

Today’s London Bridge continues to play an important role, carrying both vehicular and pedestrian traffic on 12 lanes across the Thames. The bridge also provides links to public transport networks on either side of the river, including underground train systems, power boats, and bicycle paths.

London Bridge has become a popular tourist attraction over the years, boasting wonderful views of the river along with iconic landmarks such as St Paul’s Cathedral & Tower of London. The attractions surrounding it make it one of the most visited bridges in Europe.

Millennium Bridge

The Millennium Bridge is a steel suspension bridge connecting Bankside to the City of London. It opened in 2000 and gained fame as the ‘Wobbly Bridge.’

The bridge had a structural wobble. In 2002, it was fixed and reopened. Now it’s stable. To make sure that pedestrians don’t affect its stability, two anti-vibration dampers are built into the bridge.

The Millennium Bridge was designed by renowned architects Ove Arup & Partners and Anthony Caro Architects. Arup mechanics worked on the design, which included special considerations in order to dampen the wave effects of pedestrians walking on the bridge and prevent any vibration or sway caused by wind loads.

Today, this iconic bridge provides stunning views of St Paul’s Cathedral and City skyline while offering a tranquil atmosphere for walkers who pass through its highly recognizable arch-shaped supporting columns every day. The Millennium Bridge offers an impressive experience for all its visitors regardless of why they are crossing it – be it for business or for pleasure!

Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge is a prominent iron-arched crossing on the River Thames in London. Spanning 281 meters, it was completed in 1869 during the reign of Queen Victoria. Its name derives from an ancient monastery located in the area known as Blackfriars, dating back to the 1300s.

Built using 800 tons of iron and 32 meters wide, the bridge has six iron arches that make up its iconic shape. The bridge’s cast iron girders also contain ornamental openwork with symbolic plaques of mermaids, dolphins, coats-of-arms, and thistles adorning them.

Blackfriars Bridge serves as an impressive sight for all passing vessels below. And at night, it becomes illuminated – glimmering against the sky, modern lamps sparkling against its old structure – creating one of the city’s most momentous sights.

Westminster Bridge

Westminster Bridge is a bridge over the Thames River in Central London. It was opened in 1750 and is the second bridge to cross the river. Its semi-octagonal turrets offered pedestrians shade as they crossed.

The bridge has an impressive history, contributing to iconic scenes in literature and film. One of its greatest moments was when it featured in British author William Wordsworth’s “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge.” In this poem, Wordsworth described the beauty of life in London and the peace he felt looking down from the bridge at sunrise. He wrote, “Never did sun more beautifully steep/in his first splendor valley and hill.”

Other notable scenes on Westminster Bridge include Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The 39 Steps’. Here a man climbed onto the parapet with another man closes behind him, ending with him on one side and two policemen on the other. Also, Tom Cruise drove across it while performing stunts during Mission Impossible 2!

Today visitors can take a cruise down this iconic river viewing spectacular sights such as Big Ben, The London Eye, and the Houses of Parliament, all while standing atop Westminster Bridge – a feat not many can say they have done!

Westminster Bridge stands as an iconic landmark representing centuries of British culture, love, commitment, and bravery – descriptions that reach far beyond words written by Wordsworth centuries ago.

Chelsea Bridge

Built-in 1858, Chelsea Bridge is a stunning suspension bridge crossing the Thames River. It has semi-octagonal turrets, which offer pedestrians some shade from the sun. The bridge also has an active population of swans.

It was designed by Thomas Page, who studied its foundations and structure extensively on a site over a mile away from the river to ensure it would stand strong in all weathers during construction. It is mostly constructed out of iron, though other materials are included too.

This has made it one of London’s most popular attractions, visited by thousands every year for its blend of iconic architecture and calming setting. Its proximity to Battersea Park makes it perfect for both cyclists and walkers around London’s South Bank.

The bridge offers beautiful views downriver with three magnificent arches from one end to the other, making up this genuinely stunning feat of engineering. Chelsea Bridge is an important part of London’s history – a perfect example of how art, engineering, and impressive design come together!