9 Unmissable Events At Totally Thames 2019

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9 Unmissable Events At Totally Thames 2019
The Ship of Tolerance by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. Produced by the Kabakov Foundation and Art, Action Change in association with Thames Festival Trust

Riverine festival Totally Thames has announced its 2019 programme, celebrating London's central waterway.

The full schedule is a veritable torrent of events, ranging from guided walks and tours to photo exhibitions, and chances to immerse yourself in the waters of the Thames. Here are our top picks from the 2019 programme:

The Barking Stink

Ever noticed a certain pong around Barking Creek? You're not alone in getting a whiff, and free exhibition The Barking Stink looks at the history of the area through its smells. From fisheries to sewage works and fizzy pop and soap factories, learn about the area's heritage at a dual-location display, split between South Bank and the Valence House Museum.

Wildlife secrets with ZSL

ZSL reveals the wildlife of the Thames

The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) — the charity behind London Zoo — hosts a virtual reality experience showing visitors what lies beneath the surface of the Thames. London's Wildlife Secret is a chance to 'swim' in the river (no bathing suit required), coming face to face with porpoises, seals, seahorses, eels and other aquatic species.

Bascule chamber concerts at Tower Bridge

Concerts in the bascule chambers

A staple of the Totally Thames programme — and one that sells out every year — are the concerts in the bascule chambers of Tower Bridge (that's the huge subterranean chambers into which the counterweights sink when the bridge opens). The huge, Victorian spaces offer amazing acoustics for a variety of live music performances, all introduced by historian Dan Cruickshank who gives a talk about the architecture.

The Ship of Tolerance

Expect to see plenty of this artwork on Instagram. The Ship of Tolerance (pictured, top) pops up at various locations, its centrepiece a sail consisting of the works of 1000 school children, celebrating unity and diversity in London. It's created by artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, who are known for their large-scale installations and mind-bending work.

Night kayak across London

Photo: Secret Adventures

Secret Adventures runs special editions of its night kayak tours, offering a chance to see London landmarks at dusk from the river. The route runs from Battersea to Greenwich, passing the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s, The City Tower Bridge and the Old Naval College all bathed in golden hour light, and is suitable for beginner kayakers (adults only).

Thames swims

Open water swimmers are invited to take a dip

And if kayaking across the water isn't immersive enough for you, how about swimming in the Thames? The tidal Thames swims are aimed at experienced open water swimmers, covering about 1.2km — but helped along by the tide. It's not a race, but a social swim followed by a pub trip.

Thank You For Having Us

Merci de votre accueil - Thank you for having us: Générik Vapeur et Gorilla Circus VIVA CITÉ 2019 © Caroline Genis/Générik Vapeur

Aerial acrobatics, high-wire stunts, pyrotechnics and live music come to the City's streets for Thank You For Having Us, a collaborative performance between theatre company Générik Vapeur and trapeze artists Gorilla Circus. Take a night-time walk through a plastic-filled artificial island — now a human-made eighth continent — formed by the currents of the North Pacific ocean.

The Great River Race 2019

The Great River Race. Image: Shutterstock

If you're sea-minded, a line-up of gigs, skiffs, cutters, naval whalers, Chinese dragon boats, Hawaiian war canoes, shallops, skerries, wherries should entice you to the water's edge for a glimpse. Landlubbers unfamiliar with those terms just need to know this: over 330 boats take part in The Great River Race, a 21.6-mile river marathon, from Docklands to Ham. Grab a spot by the river and watch the bizarre sight float by.

Lifeboat Station open days

Image: Shutterstock

You may have seen RNLI lifeboats doing manoeuvres in the Thames — they're based at four lifeboat stations along the river, positioned to best offer help to anyone who finds themselves in trouble in the water. The most central of these is Tower Lifeboat Station, located next to Waterloo Bridge and covering the busy stretch of river in central London. For four days during Totally Thames, it opens its doors to the public, offering tours and a chance to meet the crew.


These are a mere drop in the ocean river of the events going on throughout September, and we fully recommend you browse the full programme and get booking.

Totally Thames 2019 takes place 1-30 September 2019. Event prices vary — some are free — and some require booking.

If rivers float your boat, check out Museum of London Docklands' current Secret Rivers exhibition.

Last Updated 19 July 2019

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