Totally Thames is a surefire winner, whether you’re just looking for a scenic day out or you’re aching to get hands-on with an aquatic activity. Here’s a few of our favourite events to look forward to during Totally Thames 2019.

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When did Totally Thames start?

Umbrella dance
Photo by Adrian Evans

Totally Thames launched in 2014 as a month-long celebration of the River Thames in London. Run by the Thames Festival Trust, the opening highlights included a giant floating wooden hippo. Created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, the piece was dubbed: HippopoThames. This new arts and heritage festival replaced and expanded on the former two-day annual Thames Festival that ran between South Bank and Bankside between 1997 to 2013.

Where are Totally Thames 2019 events being held?

Thames Swimmers
Photo by Annette Price

There’s a whole lot of river to work with, so you’re bound to find something near you. The month-long festival runs along a 42-mile stretch of the Thames, and celebrates arts, culture, river organisations and sustainability. Central spots like London Bridge, Millennium Bridge, Cannon Street as well as Fulham, Woolwich and Docklands are generally good bets.

Every year, crowds gather to look at large-scale set-pieces both on and off the water. From huge, animation-filled cubes and equine sculptures to this year’s “Ship of Peace”. The festival has an open-call policy for smaller events. That means plenty of river clean-ups, pop-ups, live performances and workshops. And if you’re a keen swimmer, it’s a rare chance to safely take a dip in the river with the Totally Tidal Thames Swim.

Free events at Totally Thames 2019

Tickets to events are available for specific events or activities (more on those later) but there’s plenty of free stuff to get involved with too.

This year’s centrepiece: The Ship of Tolerance

Throughout the festival, a 60ft long, hand-crafted wooden ship called The Ship of Tolerance will be moored in front of the Tate Modern. It’s the work of artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, dedicated to educating and inspiring young people. The work features silk panels painted by children in primary schools, refugee groups and cultural organisations, based on their discussions around diversity.

Thank You For Having Us

On Saturday 7th September head over to King Street Junction/Cheapside (EC2V 7QE is the meeting point) for Thank You for Having Us. It’s a night-time parade through a plastic-filled artificial Island. Here you can marvel at French street theatre company Générik Vapeur, along with flying trapeze artists Gorilla Circus. Expect daring aerial displays, high-wire stunts and live music.

London’s hidden rivers

If you fancy walking along and discovering one of London’s most important hidden rivers, join this 3-mile walk. It’s an opportunity to trace and learn about the Walbrook eastern stream, from Shoreditch High Street all the way to the Thames. The event takes place on Wednesday 11th September, and you’ll need to pre-book a spot.

Thames inspired tile painting

On September 28th, the William Morris Society invites you to visit the artist’s former home. It’s now a small museum on the bank of the Thames at Hammersmith. Here you can learn how the river inspired his art, and paint your own ceramic tile.

Virtual wildlife tours

Throughout the whole festival, you can join the Zoological Society of London for a virtual reality tour underneath the Thames. It’s a chance to see all the wildlife that usually goes unnoticed by us humans up close. Head to the recess at No.1, London Bridge to discover the underwater world thriving beneath our river, like porpoises, eels, sea lions and seahorses.

Ticketed highlights at Totally Thames

Alas, you can’t just wander up to every event and get stuck in. Here’ a few great value picks from this year’s lineup of ticketed events.

Totally Thames Blast Tickets

One of the higher-energy events that you’ll need to nab a ticket for in advance is the Totally Thames Blast. Hosted by Thames Rockets, the experience involves whizzing along the river Thames at high speed on a boat with a 630 horsepower engine.

Tickets cost £26.00

Thames Boat Trip Tickets

For a milder ride, take the Thames Boat Trip: Brunel’s London. The trip runs daily from the 1st to the 30th of September. The tour includes a boat ride, a river walk and a descent into Brunel’s tunnel. Here you’ll discover myths, legends and hidden London histories, from Czars on the run to ghost ships. The journey begins at 10:30 am from Embankment station and ends at the Brunel Museum around 12:30pm.

Tickets cost £15.00

A good long walk

On Monday 2nd September, you can follow in the infamous footsteps of fictional London gangsters on the Long Good Friday Revisited Walk. Stroll between shady locations and see how the 80s east end of Harry Shand and his mob has changed over a two-hour walk around the docklands. The meeting point is Tower Hill Station at 2 pm and the endpoint is Canary Wharf,

Tickets cost £12.00

Life on a lifeboat

Ever wondered what working as part of a lifeboat crew is like? The RNLI Tower Lifeboat Station at Victoria Embankment is one of four along the Thames, and it’s throwing open its doors for visitors at various times throughout the festival. It’s free, but you’ll need to book in advance.

Tickets are free

Water-based activities at Totally Thames 2019

Okay, so technically all of the events are water-based. But these events actually take place in the water.

The Great River Race

One of the most anticipated on-water events is The Great River Race. Every year, over 300 crews race a 21.6-mile river marathon from Docklands to Ham Island in Surrey. But it’s not just regular racing canoes here, Chinese dragon boats, naval whalers and Hawaiian war canoes are all taking to the water for the title of UK Traditional Boat Champions.

Float on the Thames

Looking to participate in some water activities yourself? Take on the taster kayaking and paddleboarding sessions at Thames Tidefest, a one-day mini-festival at Kew Bridge for around a tenner.

See how the other half live

Yachts might smack of elitism, but down at Greenwich Yacht Club, they’re challenging that image. The event is hosted by sailing enthusiasts with a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Everyone is invited to see what sailing is all about at the free Getting To Know You days on the 21st and 22nd of September.

Performances, talks and live events at Totally Thames 2019

It’s not just for active types—there are dozens of opportunities to meet creative folks and see arts and culture up close.

See legendary Korean cinema

The London East Asia Festival partners with Totally Thames to celebrate 100 years of Korean Cinema. Don’t miss the night-time screening of The Host, by celebrated Korean director Boong Joon-ho on Friday 6th September. The 2006 K-thriller will be screened on the top deck of a boat, following a river cruise. The boat departs from Tower Millennium Pier, Lower Thames Street, EC3N 4DT at 6:30 pm.

Tickets are £20.00

Go inside London’s only lighthouse

Leamouth Peninsula is home to Trinity Bouy Wharf, which boasts London’s only lighthouse. On the 21st and 22nd the area will host UNITY arts festival, a free weekend of arts, performances and workshops. The event also brings together Totally Thames with Open House London, so guests can meet local artists, designers and makers who work in the area. While you’re in the area, be sure to check out our guide to uncovering the secrets of Trinity Buoy Wharf.

Discover historic writers and rising stars

Run Softly is a spoken-word event running from 4-7 September at Southwark Bridge Road, Bankside. exploring the River Thames’ relationship to literary history. Emerging writers and performers Izzy Inkpen, Sumner Brook, Sharlene Gandhi, Jamal Hassan, and Arno van Zelst will take you on a riverside walk through time from old English poetry to contemporary fiction and discussing lesser-known authors as well as changing habitation and climate change.

Tickets cost £4, and plus an optional £3 if you want a copy of the zine.

Activities for kids at Totally Thames 2019

There are plenty of child-friendly, all-ages events throughout the whole Totally Thames month, including many we’ve already mentioned. But if you’re looking for something specifically for the little ones, we’ve got you covered:

River foraging

Thames Mudlark
Photo by Hannah Smiles

Visit the Barge House, SE1, to discover the hidden treasures of London’s “mudlarks” (people who scavenge for valuable items in river mud). The Foragers of the Foreshore exhibition take place between the 25th and 29th of September.

Tickets are free

The Thames Barge Children’s Workshop

On Sunday 29th September, kids from 4+ can take part in the Thames Barge Children’s Workshop at Greenwich Yacht Club. All activities are free and drop-in, so need to book. Just turn up with the little ones in tow for collage making from recycled materials, short talks about the old Thames barges and story readings by Jo Samuels, author of the children’s book Fernando and the Thames Barge.

For more info on what’s on at this year’s festival, visit the official website.

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