The 27km self-guided Thames Cultural bike tour starts at the South Bank and follows the river Thames through Rotherhithe to Greenwich. The bike route is going north then to Canary Wharf. After that you cycle west through the disctricts of Limehouse and Wapping, over the famous Tower Bridge and back to the South Bank.The Thames Cultural Cycling Tour is recommended for experienced cyclists. Get off the beaten track by biking along this bike route. The map together with the informative guide (download below) brings you to parts of London that only a few tourists get to see. And even Londoners don’t know about!
Let’s start from the beginning. From Gabriel’s Wharf the bike route follows the Thames in Eastern direction. You cycle along the famous Tate Modern museum and the Millennium Bridge. Make sure to awe at St Paul’s Cathedral. Go on to Southwark. Can you imagine that this area once housed bear-baiting pits, whore houses, playhouses and murky taverns? The route now takes you to Borough Market. A good place for a break. You’ll then go under London Bridge to avoid the heavy traffic on Borough High Street. Fun fact: the London Bridge was once the only bridge over the Thames!
Keep riding, at Potter’s Fields you come back to the Thames for one of the best panoramic views in London. On the river to your left anchors the HMS Belfast, which served in World War II, to your right and not to be missed is the famous Tower Bridge. If you are lucky, you can see the drawbridge being raised. Go ahead towards Butler’s Wharf, a complex of restaurants and food shops, and further onto Shad Thames. Cycle through the archway at No. 36 to get back to the riverside. The view of the Tower Bridge and the City of London is amazing.
You will pass the Design Museum and the St Saviour’s Dock. The Thames Cultural Cycling Tour now follows Bermondsey Wall, an embankment to protect the low-lying marshland from floods. Just cycle straight ahead along the riverside. You can see a lot of the warehouses and docks here. Continue biking along Bermondsey Wall. The neighborhood of Rotherhithe is a nice place to lock up your bicycle and take a look around. Visiting the St Mary’s Church is worth it. Cycle on along the Thames, onto Rotherhithe Street. At Pageant Crescent you can get a stunning view of Canary Wharf on the other side the river.
The Thames Cultural Cycling Tour now explores a neighborhood of the city that even many locals don’t know about. From the 19th century, the Rotherhithe Docks were mostly used for imports of timber from Russia, Norway and Sweden. Hence the Scandinavian street names. In 1980 Russia Dock was transformed into a park. The pods and water channels are now home to kingfishers and herons. Stave Hill has been built five years later of local waste. With 10 metres in heights it is the tour’s highest point. On the top you are rewarded with panoramic views of London as well as a map that shows the surrounding area back in 1895.
Continue south in the direction of Greenland Dock, the oldest of the Rotherhithe docks. At South Dock you may admire the exquisite yachts and cruisers. Keep pedalling through the modern Pepys’ housing estate, which used to be a place of slaughterhouses, breweries, pepper mills and bakeries. The bike route now follows path around the old Royal Naval Dockyard and further to the entrance of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. Greenwich is one of London’s four World Heritage Sites and deserves a visit of its own. The place today hosts the Greenwich Park, National Maritime Museum, the Greenwich Meridian and the Royal Observatory. Additional there’s Greenwich Market, the Old Royal Hospital and the beautifull St Alfege’s Church.
The route now leads north under the river Thames through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel (cycling is prohibited here). Before you cycle on look back for a nice view across the river. Head north passed the Mudchute farm and park. Set in 32 acres in the heart of East London, the Mudchute is a community with a farm, stables, children’s nursery and various activities. Open every day, free of charge.
Before biking back to the river, take some time to experience the high finance around Canary Wharf. From the Canary Wharf station to the marble on Cabot Square, the area shows pure opulence. The next neighborhood Limehouse is a real mix of old and new. The name Limehouse comes from the lime kilns that were established here. At the end of Narrow Street the cycle route brings you back to the river and passes Free Trade Wharf which was so busy back in the days that people called it ‘the Madhouse’.
One of the oldest pubs on the Thames is The Prospect of Whitby at Wapping Wall. In the 17th century it had a reputation as a place for villians and smugglers and was well known as ‘The Devil’s Tavern’. Keep on cycling around Shadwell Basin and further down to the Tobacco Dock. Here you might think you are in Holland. As you cycle towards the bridge, across is the Tower of London, the oldest inhabited castle in England. Today home to the Crown Jewels. It hosted a vast numbers of celebrity prisoners. Here was also the first zoo in London! The bike routs now brings you back to the south bank to Southwark.
The Palestra is one of London’s first modern buildings, which won a prestigious British architecture award. At The Old Vic turn right and one last push gets you back to Gabriel’s Wharf and to the river.
Facts about the route
Along some parts, the route follows signposted bike routes as well as the Thames Path. But it does not follow one route in particular. Therefore, it is recommended to have a printed version of the map. Download the map here.
The route leads along a mixture of dedicated bike lanes and public highways. Besides the areas around London Bridge and the Tower Bridge, where you should cycle very carefully, the roads are
more quiet. But you should always remain alerted and aware of your surroundings.
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