Great River Race: The London Marathon... But On The Thames

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 10 months ago

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Last Updated 25 July 2023

Great River Race: The London Marathon... But On The Thames
Rowers going past the Houses of Parliament on a sunny day
Image: Great River Race

Everyone knows the London Marathon. Everyone knows the Boat Races. But did you know that every September, there's a third major event that's a mash-up of the two? The Great River Race is a thrilling 21.6-mile long dash along the Thames. Here's the skinny on 2023's event.

What is the Great River Race?

Starting out in 1988 as a relatively small event, the Great River Race has grown to feature around 300 rowing boat crews of all shapes and sizes. You'll see skiffs to regal-looking barges to Viking-style long boats. Participants row the 21.6-mile course along the Thames from Millwall to Richmond, with the chance to win a coveted Great Race trophy. It makes for a seriously fun day out for spectators, and *whisper it* there's a far better chance the weather will be sunny, than during the more famous Boat Races.

Rowers putting their backs into it on a sunny stretch of the river
Image: Great River Race

When's it happening?

Saturday 16 September 2023. Crews congregate at Millwall Riverside, Westferry Road from 7.30am, but the race doesn't set off till 11.30am. The fastest time for boats to complete the course is around two hours, but some will go at a more leisurely pace.

Aerial shot of loads of rowing boats on the Thames
Image: Great River Race

Where's the best place to watch from?

The many bridges beneath which the riverine marathon passes are solid spots for watching the action: any bridge, in fact, between Tower Bridge and Richmond Bridge. This schedule shows you roughly when the boats will go beneath each bridge. Alternatively, you can watch from the river bank — just make sure you get your timings right! To see crews set off, you'll want to catch them at the slips at Millwall Riverside, and to see them finish/handed trophies (then presumably head off down the pub), it's the bucolic stretch of water outside Ham House in Richmond.

Speaking of pubs, you may wish to watch the boats pass from the comfort of a riverside pub, in which case, booking a table is a sound idea. Also check out our roundup of London's best Thames-side pubs.

Can I take part in the race?

Like the London Marathon itself, although professional athletes compete in the Great River Race, plenty of amateur rowers — some raising money for charity, some in fancy dress — also take part. If you've got a boat — and you know how to row it — then yes, you can take part! Read the entry details here. (At time of writing around 213 boats have signed up, and entry for 2023 is still open.)

Great River Race, Saturday 16 September, free to watch.