What’s the best way to see London’s main sights, learn about the horrible history of the most famous river in London and ensure the kids don’t complain? Take a trip on board the Horrible Histories boat tour, and discover the Terrible Thames.
The best selling book series ‘Horrible Histories’ by Terry Deary have already been brought to life with a TV series and on stage by Neal Foster and now they’re hitting the high seas (or rather, the river). The hugely popular series – that shares historical facts while highlighting all the nasty bits – is a fun and engaging way for children (and their parents!) to learn.
Terrible Thames launched last summer and the Horrible Histories team is back again this year for another fun-filled trip along London’s famous river. Here’s what to expect.
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The Horrible Histories boat tour
Like most Horrible History stories the idea behind the Terrible Thames is to bring the past alive and transform dull dates and boring facts into stories that kids might actually remember. This means highlighting the dark and gory stuff as you learn about the history of the Thames.
Your guide for the trip is Billie, a schoolchild who has won a special trip along the River Thames with her teacher. Both actors are from the Birmingham Stage Company. Together the duo trade titbits, offer nuggets of information and try and outdo one another with gruesome stories. Billie, in particular, draws on her family’s long London lineage to share fun facts, curious tales and, of course, fart jokes.
The dialogue is fast and furious and you often have only seconds to digest one snippet of history before the pair move onto the next intriguing fact. In fact, my only criticism would be that the pace is a little too fast at times.
Nevertheless, the performance is funny. Very funny. The script manages to achieve that magical balance of entertaining kids and making parents chuckle too. When we travelled on board there were some very well-timed quips about Boris Johnson and parties at No. 10 Downing Street that went down very well with the older members of the audience.
So, what do you learn?
Well, for starters, you learn that the River Thames has the most fascinating history. During the cruise Billie and her teacher cover incredible stories of King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Julius Caesar, Queen Boudicca, Jack the Ripper, the Duke of Wellington and Captain Kidd.
There are tales of treason and pirates, revolutions and beheadings, and even some sea shanties towards the end of the cruise when the while boat is encouraged to join in singing ‘What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor?’
The tour also shares facts that even born and bred Londoners might not know such as the time capsule buried beneath Cleopatra’s Needle! It was planted by Victorians in 1878 and is apparently filled with (among other things) portraits of ‘pretty ladies’ as well as a painting of Queen Victoria.
The Horrible Histories boat tour takes a loop along the river taking in the main central London sights along the way including the Houses of Parliament, London Eye, Tower Bridge, London Bridge, HMS Belfast, the Shard and the Tate Modern.
It’s a fantastic journey, a unique take on the standard sightseeing tour, the chance to see some glorious views of London, and a great way for the whole family to explore the city together. It’s easily one of the best things to do in London with kids.
When: There are multiple daily sailings during the school summer holidays; check the website for timings. Do book in advance.
Where: The tour departs from Tower Bridge Quay near St Katherine’s Dock. It’s not far from the Tower of London.
What: The Terrible Thames tour takes place on board open air Thames Clippers.
Price: Adults / Children £25/15; Family Packages from £60
Tip: Make sure you book in advance.