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Explore London’s hidden water world

The capital might be known for its luscious green parks, but it also has an impressive array of waterways. From stand-up paddleboarding in Paddington Basin to sunset kayaking along the Thames, these are the best water-based activities for aqua-fanatics

Some locations may be shut due to local Covid restrictions. Please check individual websites


01/08/2021

Messing about in boats by the Pergola in Victoria Park, Mile End (Alamy)

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Row, row, row your boat – across the capital

London is blessed with many beautiful boating lakes, and most of the major parks have one – sometimes two – with rowboats and pedalos available to hire. The Serpentine (London’s oldest boating lake) in Hyde Park operates a fleet of rowing boats as well as the UK’s first SolarShuttle, while Greenwich Park is the perfect place for day-trippers seeking a particularly nautical day out. For the ultimate tranquil escape, Victoria Park in the east boasts a huge lake and three islands to explore.

Hire a boat in Hyde Park


Paddleboarding on the Grand Union Canal past Kew Bridge

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Try stand-up paddleboarding in Paddington Basin

Looking for a new view of the city? For serene London scenes we recommend you give stand-up paddleboarding (aka SUP’ing) a go. Setting off from Merchant’s Square in Paddington and skirting along the Grand Union Canal, your 10ft floating vantage point lets you admire the willow-rimmed neighbourhood of Little Venice, Regent Park’s neoclassical mansions and the chattering apes of London Zoo. Guided group tours or one-to-one sessions are bookable with Active 360 and start from Paddington Basin, Kew Bridge or Brentford Lock.

Experience paddleboarding

Making a splash at the Ladies’ Pond on Hampstead Heath (Hollie Fernando)

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Go wild swimming in Hampstead ponds

London may be without a sandy beach and crystal-blue sea to cool off in, but Hampstead Heath’s open-air swimming ponds are the perfect substitute to escape the city heat. Once dammed-off clay pits, the Heath’s three bathing ponds –Ladies’, Men’s and Mixed – have been a popular hangout for bathers since the Victorian era. Surrounded by oak trees and wild meadows, it’s the UK’s only lifeguarded open-water swimming facility that’s open to the public all year round (come rain or shine!).

Go swimming in Hampstead Heath

Kayakers are dwarfed by HMS Belfast as they head for Tower Bridge (Jon Collins)

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Settle in for a sundown kayak from Battersea to Greenwich

Experience the city as never before with a spot of night-time sightseeing from the seat of a two-man kayak. As the sun starts to set, get ready for an epic three-hour voyage along the Thames, weaving under iconic bridges as you go. Admire London’s riverside landmarks bathed in light – from St Paul’s Cathedral to the Houses of Parliament, Bankside and Tower Bridge. This nocturnal adventure starts on the beach by St Mary’s Church in Battersea and finishes in Greenwich, next to the Old Naval College’s grand façade.

Go sundown kayaking


WakeUp Docklands is sheltered in the waters of the Royal Victoria Dock

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Master cable wakeboarding in the heart of the city

Carving up the water with Canary Wharf as your backdrop may just be the closest you’ll ever get to being James Bond but, boy, is it worth it. Located in East London’s Royal Victoria Dock, WakeUp Docklands is home to the only cable wake park in the capital. Here, thrill-seekers can learn to dart across the Thames on two wakeboarding lines while mastering jumps and flips along the way. Novices should book the hour-long introduction class (which starts on land) before testing out their newfound skills in the water. Advanced riders can try and take on the two impressive kicker ramps.

Go wakeboarding in the Docklands

Charter your own boat along the Thames between Teddington Lock and Molesey Lock, starting at Kingston Road Bridge (Joseph Madden/CAVSOC)

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Go GoBoating in Kingston Upon Thames

Take to the wheel and captain your own motorboat with GoBoat. First-time skippers needn’t worry about getting their legs wet, thanks to a quick training session before heading off down river. A handy map marking out the route will help you navigate your way towards the majestic Hampton Court Palace (Molesey Lock) and onwards to Teddington Lock. There’s space for up to eight people on board, so bring your friends (plus dogs, should you fancy furry crewmates) and make a day of it. Oh, and don’t forget to pack a picnic.

Captain your own boat

Blast your way from the London Eye Pier for 50 minutes of thrills on a Thames Rocket

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Take off on a thrill-seeking river cruise along the Thames

Remember to pack your waterproofs for this high-speed, high-thrills boat-based adventure like no other. The 50-minute Ultimate London Adventure begins deceptively calmly at the London Eye Pier, where your skipper will kick off the tour with some fun facts about the local history before cranking up the speed. Once at Tower Bridge, it’s time to tighten your grip and prepare to scream with delight as you twist and turn around the docklands at 30 knots (35mph!) – whizzing by the city’s famous landmarks as you go.

Take off on the Thames

Royal Yachting Association courses can be taken on Wimbledon Park’s Lake

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Set sail on Wimbledon Park’s tranquil lake

There’s more to Wimbledon than the annual tennis tournament that takes over the leafy London suburb every summer. This village-like spot in the southwest of the city is home to a boating lake (where it’s rumoured some Olympic hopefuls have trained) plus an array of leisure and watersports activities. So, swap your ball and racket for waterproofs and a lifejacket and learn to sail on Wimbledon Park’s idyllic lake. Fun for all the family – first-time seafarers can master the basics of rigging, sailing in all directions and tacking with a Start Sailing one-day course, while little ones can learn the ropes in a single-handed Topaz dinghy with a one-to-one tutoring session.

Take to the water in Wimbledon

Canoes can navigate parts of the Thames that other boats can’t reach

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Paddle the waterways with Moo Canoes 

Try an alternative sightseeing tour with Moo Canoes. Happily, no experience is needed to pilot these two-man vessels, decorated with black-and-white cow prints, so devoted landlubbers are just as welcome as veteran seafarers. Take your pick from individual rentals for solo adventurers, or get your friends involved if you’d like to form a flotilla. There are 12 different routes of varying difficulty, leading everywhere across the city, from the idyllic canals and rivers of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to the bustling waterways of Angel and Clapton.

Give rowing a go

Cook up a feast on the water on a Skuna BBQ Boat at Canary Wharf

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Grill and chill through Canary Wharf

The Skuna BBQ Boat – brought to you by the people behind London’s fabulous floating hot tubs – lets you bob gently along the Isle of Dogs while flame-grilling some tasty food en route. Each boat holds up to ten people and comes fully equipped with all the barbecue essentials, so all you have to do is pack the burgers and beverages. The team will light up your grill before you depart, as well as give you a short briefing on where you can steer your vessel. From then on, you’re on your own. Simply cast off into the horizon and enjoy a delicious one-hour, 40-minute voyage along the historic West India Quay docklands.

Light up the BBQ in the Isle of Dogs

Natty neighbourhoods

London gives the Big Apple a run for its money when it comes to quirky neighbourhoods. Check out the locales below, both of which will serve you well as great bases from which to explore the capital

Shoreditch

If you thought Shoreditch was all waxed moustaches and foldable bicycles, well… it is, but it’s a lot more, too. Among the tech startups, refurbished warehouses and scootering hipsters huddle eclectic neon-clad bars, a heady mix of eateries and imposing, on-trend fitness spaces. Head to The Hoxton for a multi-sensory stay, from the high-ceilinged, dimly-lit grandeur of the ground-floor lobby, where laptop-bound freelancers lounge in optimum WFA comfort, to industrial-style corridors leading to compact but creatively designed rooms (take a peek at the in-room reading material – it might surprise you). Outside, the neighbourhood’s infectious vibe awaits. Stop by Australian café Lantana, a reasonably priced eatery offering a range of allergen-friendly fare, from crispy tofu katsu to beef burgers and schnitzel. Wander the brightly painted streets and gaze at some of the city’s best street art (we love the giant astronaut on Shoreditch High Street) before grabbing a Nikka from The Barrel from Japanese whisky bar and restaurant Bull in a China Shop. Recharge in the blissful Arnold Circus – a two-tiered, tree-lined pocket of Zen hidden amidst the hubbub. In the morning, wake up with an exercise class from local fitness club BLOK, which will get you off to a flying start with an array of invigorating workouts. (Image: Robert Bye)

Treat your tastebuds at Lantana

Carnaby

Carnaby Street – the birthplace of London’s Swinging Sixties, where Jagger and Hendrix shopped and Paul and Linda first met – is today a formidable destination for revellers in search of great grub, iconic hospitality and superlative shopping. Start your foray at Bread Ahead on Beak Street with delicious donuts and gluten-free options. On the lower end of Carnaby’s central thoroughfare, the Rolling Stones have opened their first ever flagship store, RS No. 9 Carnaby, its black façade punctuated by the band’s tongue and lips logo in 3D glory. Inside are inspired merch collaborations, from Baccarat glassware to Sunnylife inflatables. Further along the pastel terraces and twinkling signage is Greek restaurant Ino, just off Newburgh Street. Here, gorge on bold Mediterranean flavours with sharing plates of octopus tacos, souvlaki and hand-stretched pitta for scooping unctuous taramas. Enjoy a nightcap just a few yards away at charming French wine bar Antidote, whose biodynamic and organic selections are top notch, before resting your head at the Ham Yard Hotel, where Kit Kemp’s interiors burst with colour and life. A 1950s bowling alley, 190-seat theatre and leafy roof terrace are joined by a tree-filled courtyard that teems with glam guests enjoying Soho’s palpable buzz. (Image: Getty Images)

Visit Carnaby

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