History at every turn
From Kingston upon Thames to Greenwich, the Thames meanders through London, cutting the Capital neatly in half. For years inhabitants have argued over whether the north or south side is best, but these days those in the know are heading riverside. Here, they enjoy panoramic views of London, the finest walks, the most central locations, and some of the most desired homes on the market. The river was once famed for its frost fairs, when feasting, dancing, and even an elephant on ice got Londoners flocking to the Thames, and something of that jubilant atmosphere remains. In 1951, the Festival of Britain heralded post war regeneration and the South Bank as London’s meeting place and, with some of London’s most significant cultural attractions along the river, it continues to attract residents and tourists alike. With unassuming pubs and expansive parkland bookending a maze of cobbled streets, wharves and warehouses, riverside living offers something for everyone – whether city workers after a vibrant place to call home (and quick commute into work), or families seeking serenity and space. In recent times the riverside has been enhanced along its whole length, with old river-facing terraces and warehouses joined by sparkling new developments.
- The river is the city’s raison d’etre: Roman Londinium was founded near Ludgate Hill – near where St Paul’s resides today – and its bridge over the river to Southwark turned the city into a major port. By the 18th century, the Thames was one of the world’s busiest waterways.
- The Thames has been described both as “the noblest river in Europe” (according to The Spectator’s Joseph Addison in 1712), and “a Stygian pool reeking with ineffable and unbearable horror” (as described by former prime minister Benjamin Disraeli in 1858).
- These days the water is cleaner, and at last count (carried out between 2006 and 2013), the Thames contained 120 species of fish. Salmon, seals, seahorses and even a whale have been spotted here. There are 33 bridges across the Thames, and it provides two thirds of London’s drinking water.
- Between 1309 and 1814 the river froze at least 23 times and on five occasions the ice was thick enough to hold a fair. These days the river doesn’t freeze, in part because it is narrower and deeper than before, with fewer piers and bridges. The river’s former breadth is best shown by the York Watergate, created as a river access point for the Duke of Buckingham, which now sits in Victoria Embankment Gardens, 100 metres from the Thames.
In South West London, houses, parks and good schools combine to create a particularly family-friendly environment.
Bordered to the north by the sweep of the Thames and dotted with expansive parkland that includes Putney Common and majestic Bushy Park, this part of London is a haven for families seeking a peaceful lifestyle. Spend a day in the area’s parks, horse riding, deer spotting or splashing on the river, and it's hard to believe you’re in one of the busiest cities in the world. Barnes and Kingston upon Thames are located on particularly pretty stretches of the river, with riverside restaurants, bars and cafés giving them a buzzy vibe – aided by the proximity of Kingston University London and the University of Roehampton and the students they bring to the area.
In Twickenham, peaceful 1920s and 1930s roads are joined by eccentric oddities like Eel Pie Island – home to artists’ studios and a working boatyard – while in neighbouring Richmond, you’ll find the finest Georgian and Victorian period houses along Richmond Hill (head to the top for one of London’s most celebrated views). Stately homes such Ham House and Petersham House showcase Richmond’s past as a haven for wealthy socialites, while Richmond Park – home to herds of red and fallow deer – is the largest of the Royal Parks and London’s biggest enclosed space.
This spaciousness is a huge draw for young families, many of whom will start off in small cottages in areas such as The Alberts, while the Richmond Bridge estate is popular with the retired demographic, looking to downsize. Barnes, Mortlake and Kingston upon Thames all have riverside village atmospheres with pretty views, café culture, Victorian and Edwardian period homes as well as 1920s and 1930s builds and, in places, new higher rise properties. A short row downstream, Putney has Victorian terraces near the river, separate from the bustle despite being a 20-minute commute from Waterloo station.
The convenience of city living perfectly combined with a sense of serenity.
Along the north bank of the River Thames, clusters of commuters and young families make their home in riverside enclaves awash with bars, restaurants and shopping districts, peppered throughout with enough green spaces to afford a sense of freedom. Former fishing village Chiswick lures young professionals, attracted by the convenient transport links and Chiswick High Road – once a lacklustre offering of high street chains, now home to artisan bakeries, high-end retailers and High Road House, an offshoot of the Soho House group. While this demographic allows Chiswick to maintain its dynamic, liberal atmosphere, a strong sense of heritage abounds, with neo Palladian villa Chiswick House offering a glimpse into 18th century aristocracy.
As the river curves northwards into Hammersmith, the atmosphere instantly becomes buzzier with busy shopping centres and transport links sitting side by side with office developments. Popular with young professionals keen to get their foot on the property ladder, Hammersmith also attracts young families to period property filled enclaves and community events such as the weekly farmers’ market.
Nestled in a dip of the Thames lies Fulham, equally popular with professionals drawn by the riverside pubs, bars, boutiques and restaurants as it is with young families attracted by the good schools and community feel. This picturesque area has also proved popular with Italian and French communities, giving the area a healthy dose of continental charm.
Moving east, Georgian and Victorian terraces overlooking pretty garden squares characterise Chelsea. Sloane Square and Kings Road offer some of the finest shopping and nightlife experiences in London, meaning that Chelsea never loses its on trend, fast paced ambiance. In the 1980s, Chelsea Harbour added luxury apartments to a riverbank presided over by red brick terraces, white stucco homes and mansion blocks – with exclusive Cheyne Walk an exquisite highlight.
Life on this central stretch of river ticks along at an upbeat pace.
Abuzz with young professionals, attracted by the proximity to central London, and a café and restaurant culture, this central stretch of river is characterised by a mix of sleek residential properties and secret Georgian squares. Over the past 20 years the remains of Battersea’s industrial waterfront have been swept away and the riverbank from Wandsworth to Albert Bridge has been transformed with apartment complexes, public walkways and restaurants and bars. With Grade II* listed Battersea Power Station currently being refurbished for luxury apartments, and the vast Nine Elms development underway, as well plans to turn New Covent Garden Market into a fashionable trading hub, waterside regeneration will soon stretch all the way to Vauxhall.
Tucked between the A3 and the mighty Thames, neighbouring Kennington remains one of inner London’s best kept secrets. Developed after the completion of Westminster Bridge in 1750, it’s packed with pretty Georgian squares and historically is a favourite with politicians and government workers. An annual summer fete brings the community together over jars of homemade jam and games of Splat the Rat. And despite recent regeneration, meaning families and young professionals have flocked to live here, Kennington remains a diverse area so it still feels full of life. There’s a strong feeling of community spirit, with an active residents’ association, local theatres and well used green spaces.
Steeped in history, the southeast stretch of river offers everything from city living to family bases.
A maze of cobbled streets, wharves and warehouses runs along the river from London Bridge to Rotherhithe, with some of London’s most significant cultural landmarks in the mix. Here you’ll find Tower Bridge and the Design Museum. Meanwhile, ancient Borough Market is the epicentre of London’s foodie revolution and its effects are felt throughout Borough and Bermondsey, with locals in the know flocking to nearby Maltby Street and Druid Street markets at weekends. The area attracts a gourmet crowd alongside City professionals and media types keen for a quick commute into work. Part of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital is located here, and a number of medical students and doctors live in the area.
The Rotherhithe Peninsula, which includes Rotherhithe, Canada Water and Surrey Quays, has pockets of Victorian streets, pubs and some sought after 19th century warehouse conversions. Across the river – on the north side of the Thames between Tower Bridge and Limehouse – is Wapping. It has a Dickensian feel, with some of the oldest pubs, most grisly history and finest warehouse redevelopment in London, most notably the grand Oliver’s Wharf. Stretching through the Isle of Dogs and into Canary Wharf, these ex-industrial docks have become some of the Capital’s most desirable homes, with a central location and access to amenities.
New blocks of high end apartments and riverside developments are popping up throughout the area and, with Crossrail set to arrive in 2018, the potential for further growth is there. Back on the south side is Greenwich, a World Heritage Site whose elegant buildings speak volumes about the maritime history of London. The area is a major draw for tourists and students at weekends and, with lots of open space, gorgeous riverside pubs and a buzzing market, there’s a carefree vibe. Boat moorings in St Katharine Docks and Limehouse Basin, as well as in the marinas in and around Poplar and Southwark, mean that London life on the water is still a possibility. Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre and Surrey Docks Watersports Centre, meanwhile, are great places for watersports enthusiasts.
From the Royal Parks of Richmond Park upstream and Greenwich Park down, there are amazing idylls along the river. Barnes has the London Wetland Centre. Battersea Park, with its Peace Pagoda, is a glorious formal garden, with a boating lake. In Nine Elms a linear park from Vauxhall Bridge to Battersea Power Station will open next year.
The south side of the Thames has been transformed in recent decades, from wharf wasteland into one of the hottest property spots in the Capital. Special note should be given to Nine Elms, near Vauxhall, with 20,000 planned new homes. There’s Battersea Power Station, and a cluster of new towers in South Bank. Further along, you’ll find riverside development at Greenwich Peninsula, South Quay Plaza and Royal Docks. Finally, let’s not forget the upcoming (and controversial) Garden Bridge – a major new addition to central London.
Boat: MBNA Thames Clippers offer a scheduled ferry service that is a great experience for commuters and tourists alike.
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