It’s after we’ve gone under Tower Bridge and past the floating police station just beyond it that the fun really starts – our driver ramps it up and we ‘cane it’ along the Thames, our bright-red rigid-hulled inflatable boat rolling from side to side and zigzagging through the water as we zoom past the iconic skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and the tiny beaches dotted along the shoreline.
Captain Kidd’s Canary Wharf Voyage – the most family-friendly version of Thames Rockets' high-speed Thames boat-trips – starts gently enough. We board under the London Eye and loop under Westminster Bridge to get an unparalleled eyeful of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. During this slower section, where speed limits apply, our on-board guide regales us with fascinating factoids about the sights we pass, which include the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral and Shakespeare’s Globe. The narration is squarely aimed at kids while being genuinely informative – many facts are new to me despite my having lived in the capital for 15 years and written and edited guidebooks about it… And there's plenty of humour sprinkled in too.
When we speed up, Pharrell Williams’ Happy blasts out from the speakers, followed by a medley of cheery tunes, from the James Bond theme to The Hues Corporation’s Rock the Boat. We’re lucky – the sky is a picture-postcard blue, and though it’s April we’re protected from the chilly wind by coats provided by Thames Rockets. The boys absolutely love it, and so do I.
The Thames is the true heart of London, and there are huge amounts to do on it. Here are some of our top recommendations for family days out and activities in or by the water:
• Beachcombing – see Mudlarking with the Thames Explorer Trust and A Family Break in Rotherhithe and Greenwich.
• Exploring more of Greenwich, especially the super-child-friendly National Maritime Museum and Cutty Sark.
• Discovering the HMS Royal Belfast, a warship with nine decks to roam.
• Investigating the Museum of London Docklands.
• Taking a Thames Clipper – a fast commuter boat service also good for sightseeing, at lower prices than traditional river cruises.
• Seeing the city from a quirky angle with a London Duck Tour in a bright yellow WW2 amphibian vehicle.
See more on London family breaks, including things to do with kids and family-friendly places to stay and eat.