London: Wrap Up Summer at the Thames Festival

By: Maxine Sheppard

September 6, 2012

London’s summer of 2012 has been one of the most memorable in recent history, despite the not-always-compliant weather. We’ve enjoyed an unforgettable season of sporting triumphs and several months of general patriotic flag-waving, but with the Paralympic Games drawing to a close this weekend, it feels like our amazing summer is finally coming to an end.

Before we say farewell, however, London has one more treat up its sleeve in the form of the annual Mayor’s Thames Festival which takes place this weekend, 8-9 September. The festival – now in its 16th year – takes place all along the river between Westminster Bridge and St. Katharine Docks and wraps up the season in style.

Expect the River Thames to be transformed by a variety of creative projects, including art installations, live music, river races, dancing, a carnival and fireworks. Best of all, everything is free. Our selected highlights are below…

The Mayor's Thames Festival © paulmmay The Mayor’s Thames Festival © paulmmay

Homage to Rio

To mark the handover of the Olympics from London to Rio, the Bernie Spain Gardens beside the Oxo Tower will host a day of events celebrating the colour, culture and music of Rio de Janeiro. Soca dancers and Samba bands will be playing throughout the day, and there will be two special performances of Amas by Shademakers – a specially-commissioned show featuring performers and artists from the UK and Brazil – which brings to life the largest Rio-style Carnival float ever seen in the UK. Saturday 1pm – 9pm.

One Thousand Pans

Another event marking the Olympic handover is the performance of Ary Baroso’s 1939 classic Aquarela do Brasil (more commonly known as just ‘Brazil’ in the English-speaking world) which brings together ten different steel pan bands from around the UK in a record-breaking ensemble. The largest steel band ever assembled – featuring up to four hundred musicians and a thousand steel pans – will be performing at Jubilee Gardens by the London Eye. Saturday 4-5 pm.

Blue Ribbon Village

Family-friendly fun is on offer at the Blue Ribbon Village, a river and environmental zone packed with attractions, stalls and demonstrations from those involved with the wildlife and industry that the Thames supports. Find and identify pond life mini-beasts with Wildlife Man Jules, make fish sculptures and river-themed screen-print t-shirts with professional artists and watch expert kayaking demonstrations by members of Westminster Boating Base. Saturday and Sunday, 12-6 pm, More London by Tower Bridge. 

Barge-Driving Races

Witness fierce competition between modern-day Thames Watermen and Lightermen – professional barge workers – who will be battling it out in a race which re-enacts the way watermen manouevred their barges in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A newcomers and apprentices race will be held first. Sunday 1-5 pm, between Tower and Westminster Bridges. 

Classic Boats at St Katharine Docks

A collection of beautiful classic boats will be on display at the Docks’ Central Marina, including Phoenicia, a replica Phoenician sailing ship which successfully circumnavigated the whole of Africa between 2008 and 2010. A free exhibition on board explains how the voyage recreated a feat first accomplished by Phoenician marinas in about 600BC. A gourmet food market takes place at Marble Quay and free river taxis whisk visitors back and forth from Festival Pier every 30 minutes. Saturday and Sunday, 12-6pm.

Night Carnival

The illuminated Night Carnival sets off from Upper Ground (just behind the Oxo Tower) and makes its way over Blackfriars Bridge, before heading east along Victoria Embankment – park yourself here for the best views. The parade features more than 1,500 costumed masqueraders, dancers, lantern-carriers, drummers, and giant animated puppets, including performances from the London School of Samba and the Fox Carnival Band. Sunday, 7.15-10 pm.

Fireworks Finale

There are only three city centre river displays permitted each year, and this is one of them. London-based pryotechnic experts Pains Fireworks – a previous winner of the prestigious Montreal International Fireworks Competition – have put together a spectacular show which sends more than a ton of fireworks into the night sky. Stick around the Victoria Embankment after the Night Carnival as this will be the best place to view the fireworks, which launch from two mid-river barges positioned between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges. Sunday, 10.30-10.45 pm.

Thames Festival fireworks © SF Brit Thames Festival fireworks © SF Brit


Visit the Mayor’s Thames Festival website for full details of all the events taking place this weekend.


Header photo © ** Maurice **


Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.

Categories: Our Places