In most major cities on earth - from Paris to Chicago, from Milan to Cairo, the river is a natural focal point, a natural feature to which one naturally gravitates. Indeed, the river is the common denominator within any prominent city as it was the great, snaking waterways that sat at the heart of industry, and was essential to the thriving commerciality of their respective cities, which evolved, thrived and grew up around it. The scientific mantra “where there’s water, there’s life” rings true everywhere in the Universe, let alone in every major City on Earth!
Ironically, one of the world's greatest and most vibrant cities seemed to have somehow grown tired of recognizing the significance of its central river, once it was no longer the essential means of rapid transport or, more recently, transporting coal to Battersea Power Station (amongst other, less industrial things!). Arguably, for a long period up until 2012, as nightfall descended on London, and as the glistening City sprang to (night) life, from spire to sky bar, rooftop to roof terrace, townhouse to penthouse, Royal Palace to soaring visitor attraction, one significant swathe of central London remained in the shadows. The mighty Thames. Any pre-Olympic aerial night-time view would reveal this gigantic black channel, snaking mesmerically between the glistening skyscrapers and dramatically up-lit monuments, for miles and miles. In almost total darkness.
It's astonishing really, but, aside from a few timeless landmarks such as Tower Bridge, that's exactly how it was until surprisingly recently. For those on board a boat, of course, it was no less spectacular for it but there were several significant monuments, which were quite significantly, invisible. The Bridges.
But the Olympics changed all that. A gigantic sponsorship deal with General Electric, which was exclusively announced by Dan Ritterband, Head of Communications at the Mayor's office, at a Londonlaunch event last year, was the catalyst for an illuminating regeneration which has seen our formerly mysterious black mamba inherit vibrant stripes, highlighting a myriad of beautiful, neo-classical river crossings spanning four hundred years of architectural styles and engineering genius, in all their magnificent glory, joining north and south seamlessly and bringing the majestic River Thames into play as a major feature in London's spectacular night-scape. And this, in turn, has added a new dimension to London's vibrant and diverse events scene.
Whether you're 'in' the view on the Thames itself, on either embankment or even on-high, taking in the glorious bridges and aerial views of the unstoppable behemoth, meandering relentlessly through town, past Canary Wharf, the great Thames Barrier and out to the estuary, the River Thames is now such a popular feature within corporate events that we've even included a separate criteria for it in the 'venues' section on londonlaunch.com. Type ‘Riverside Venues in London’ into Google and see what comes up top. (It’s Londonlaunch.com, of course!)
With that in mind, here is a selection of our favourite riverside venues.
- The Mermaid London's River Rooms - This iconic suit of River Rooms are an event manager's dream of flexibility and diversity.....with a view. Centrally located, and with an expert team who have delivered more events than you can shake a stick at, these excellent and classically timeless spaces are a must for anyone looking for a venue space with a view. They simply have to be on your list
- Altitude London's River Room – (not to be confused with the rooms above in this article with the same name) Altitude London's River Room brings the outside in, without getting your feet wet! Floor to ceiling windows offers fantastic, uninterrupted views of the River Thames from the second floor of the famous Millbank Tower.
- The Crystal – Located in east London’s Royal Victoria Dock, the Crystal is near to Canary Wharf, the O2 Arena, the ExCel Centre and London City Airport. One of the most sustainable buildings in the world, the Crystal is home to state of the art meeting rooms and a world-class conference centre. Designed by the award-winning Wilkinson Eyre Architects, the Crystal is an iconic building on London’s skyline. The waterfront location and accessibility by cable-car, DLR or even water jet-pack (seriously!) promise to make this a memorable venue for meetings and events.
- Gaucho, Richmond – a beautiful restaurant in a glass box, Thames-side in this salubrious leafy suburb. A surprisingly relaxed environment despite the modern design and clinical lines. Gaucho is especially cosy in winter too! An excellent riverside location for corporate hosts with an appetite and a taste for great steaks!
- Somerset House – A magical and Palatial venue, which is home to both London Fashion Week and London’s most famous ice-rink. There are a multitude of fabulous classical event spaces as well as a wonderful terrace overlooking the Thames (the water used to come right up to the building for boat access through the arch below) and celebrity chef, Tom Aitken, has his Tom’s kitchen restaurant there too.
- Tower Bridge – Believe it or not, you can actually dine in the gantry that spans the length of the bridge, encapsulated in glass with stunning views towards HMS Belfast and on down the Thames. It’s also fascinating to see the bridge mechanism, which is a triumph in Victorian engineering.
- The Coco-Cola London Eye – Still the most famous, hi-tech and highest Ferris wheel in Europe at 135 metres, the Coco-Coal London Eye offers spectacular views of London (and way beyond!) in the privacy and comfort of your own pod. Look out for seasonal/themed flights too. Particularly good for international delegations and small networking sessions, especially as you’ll have a captivated (and encapsulated) audience for at least 40 minutes!
- The Tower of London – arguably the most ‘historic’ of all the Historic Royal Palaces, this ancient fortress, commonly known as ‘The Tower of London’ offers an array of world-class event spaces, from the White Tower to the new armouries, greatly enhanced by one of the world’s most intriguing backdrops, steeped in Regal and, often macabre, history. Private Yeoman’s tours are available and guests can even witness the famous Ceremony of the Keys each night…
- HMS Belfast – There’s something sensational about a real-life battleship moored in an unusual place, on this occasion, the Thames. Ironically, the ship was a Royal Navy ‘Light Cruiser’ yet she’s big enough to host spectacular events for up to 450 guests! Interestingly, her guns are trained on the London Gateway Service Station on the M1, fourteen miles away! Naturally.
- The Golden Hinde – The Golden Hinde is an actual size reconstruction of the legendary 16th century warship and is a unique (and, surprisingly, little known) venue to entertain up to 100 guests in Elizabethan style. Although she’s prettier, in a head to head naval battle on the Thames with HMS Belfast, she probably wouldn’t win!
Coin St - Just a stone’s throw from the Thames and a short walk from Waterloo Station, Coin Street Conference Centre is in a prime position on London’s bustling South Bank. With 10 multipurpose function rooms, all with built-in AV, the centre can hold up to 170 people for your conference or event. What's more,
the centre is a sustainable building with a carbon footprint 44% lower than the standard good practice figure, and, as part of a social enterprise, all profits from venue hire are funnelled back into projects managed by Coin Street to help make the South Bank a better place to live, to work and to visit!
- The Queen’s House, Greenwich – One of London’s most beautiful classical venues, with one of London’s most surreal views towards Canary Wharf. Designed by the original neo-classical architect (my hero) Inigo Jones, in 1612, the Queen’s House is a beautiful, symmetrical Palladian House in an elevated position in Royal Greenwich. Simply stunning.
- Cutty Sark – Dare I say it, it’s so much better in its second incarnation than it’s first! The Cutty Sark is the perfect fusion of old and new, with it’s glass-covered under-hull dining area and beautifully restored vessel, ripe for corporate exploration! A unique experience all year round.
- Westminster Boating Base – This venue is as close as you’ll ever get to a venue ‘on the River’. In fact, with the overhanging balcony, you virtually feel you’re ‘in’ the river! There are stunning (industrial) views of Battersea Power Station and the floor to ceiling windows serve to ensure you get the surreal illusion of floating on the Thames. I once had my most ‘overdressed’ experience here. The venue looked suitably Central and stylish (opposite the famous Dolphin Square development) so I turned up in a three-piece suit. The fact that everyone else was in jeans and T-shirts was the mildly embarrassing truth. A shame though considering the venue is so stunning! (And it was a wedding!?)
- The Oxo Tower – One of London’s original modern riverside warehouse-style venues and a pre-cursor to so many others. Perfect for receptions and dinners, these unique venue spaces are an iconic and inspiring choice for a wide variety of corporate events. Everybody knows (and loves) the Oxo Tower!
- Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre – An awesome re-creation of the original Globe Theatre and a truly unique entertaining space steeped in history. To hold your event here or not to hold your event here? That is the question!
Or, you could always climb aboard…
- London Party Boats – London Party Boats provides a unique opportunity for you and your guests to benefit from an ever changing and spectacular backdrop whilst simultaneously offering a smart and professional series of ‘moving’ venue spaces in which you can host a wide variety of events. From corporate receptions and summer soirees, to product launches and Christmas celebrations, London Party Boats are a venue for all seasons.
- Thames Executive Charters – See London at its best, from the river, enjoying superb hospitality as you cruise past iconic landmarks. Boats also available in Windsor and Maidenhead.
- MV Gaucho - The stunning 5* Gaucho Sunseeker Predator is the most luxurious boat on the Thames. She is sleek, stylish and finished to a very high standard with leather and signature Gaucho cowhide! Ideal for a private champagne cruise, VIP transfers to the O2 or private party for up to 12, MV Gaucho offers some of the best in luxury river experiences in London.
- Wood’s River Cruises/Silverfleet – The Rolls Royce brand of the larger River Boats, Silverfleet’s flagship Silver Sturgeon is an iconic vessel with a beautiful interior and a reputation for stunning parties! With three other, smaller vessels in the fleet, they can cater for a variety of event sizes and styles. The Woods family set up this company in 1947 and they remain market leaders to this day…
So, the River is still undoubtedly an under-used asset in terms of corporate events and, since London 2012, new life has been breathed into ‘old father’ Thames. As the City grows, the one constant central focal point is still, after all these years, the river, which may not be the major trade route it once was, but continues to serve as a fast flowing artery, snaking through town providing a natural divide between the sparkling North bank and the formerly more industrial (but now equally sparkling) Southbank! The River Thames provides breathing space and brings our fabulous city into focus – a living, fast flowing, yet tranquil natural space to rival any park, putting London in perspective. A means of getting to work, a fabulous setting or backdrop for your next corporate event, a place to reflect, or quite simply, all of the above?