Driving Tour of Thames Valley
Rising at Thames Head in Gloucestershire, the River Thames is the second longest in the UK. The area centered around the river is called the Thames River Valley and dotted along its route you’ll find Eton, Windsor, Maidenhead and of course ‘The City of Dreaming Spires’, Oxford. Interested in a day trip from London?
What’s to see in the Thames Valley?
The Thames starts near the Cotswolds and enters the North Sea some 346 kilometres away. It has a staggering catchment area of almost 13000 km². There’s plenty to see and do in the area and it certainly makes for an interesting driving excursion.
Starting in London and heading upstream along the Thames Valley on the M4 you’ll come to the twin towns of Eton and Windsor. These two towns sit on opposite sides of the Thames and are connected by Windsor Bridge.
While in the area you could visit Windsor Castle, which is the largest and oldest continually occupied castle in the world. It’s still a royal residence and has been since the days of William the Conqueror almost a thousand years ago!
If you’re lucky you might catch the changing of the guard. Other attractions in the area include Guildhall, Windsor Parish Church, Eton College, Legoland Windsor, Air Forces Memorial, and the Magna Carta Memorial.
Continuing west you’ll find the town of Maidenhead which is located north of the M4 on a bend in the river. During a stop in the town you could check out the Great Western Railway.
This railway line was built in 1838 and passes through Maidenhead. Part of the line is the Maidenhead Railway Bridge, which is well known for its flat brick arches.
In times past it took up to a day to travel from London to Maidenhead. Believe it or not, you can now cover this journey in less than an hour!
Turning a little north off of the M4 along the A404, you’ll come to Marlow. Marlow Bridge which spans the Thames was designed by William Tierney Clark in 1832. It’s almost identical to his other, bigger, and more famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge which spans the Danube in Budapest. For this reason the town has been twinned with Budapest.
Moving west again you’ll come across Henley on Thames. This town is best known for rowing, in particular the Henley Royal Regatta. This popular annual summer event dates back to 1839 and attracts competitors from all over the globe.
As you’re here pop along to the town’s River and Rowing Museum and find out all you need to know about the regatta and the River Thames itself.
To the south of Henley-on-Thames and just north of the M4 you’ll come to Reading. As it’s home to two universities you’ll find a large student population here.
Reading played a pivotal role in the English Civil War during the 17th century – this led to its decline. There’s also much of historic importance here, especially the Reading Abbey Ruins & Forbury Gardens. In fact you can find out everything you need to know about the town at the Museum of Reading.
Travelling west along the M4 and north on the A34 you can rejoin the Thames Valley and come to the town of Oxford. This town needs no introduction as it’s famed for Oxford University, the oldest university in the English speaking world.
Check out our article - Day Trip from London to Oxford.
The Thames River continues west into the Cotswolds and the last navigable point on the river is at Lechlade. Unless you’re planning to boat down the length of the River Thames there isn’t much else to see here.
Other points of interest near the Thames Valley, include Banbury, to the north of Oxford, and Swindon, to the south of Lechlade. In Swindon you can check out Steam – The Great Western Railway Museum as well as a host of other attractions.
So there you have it, all the ‘ins and outs’ of a driving tour of the Thames Valley.
Heathrow Airport is a great starting point for this trip. Need a car? Why not check out our car hire Heathrow Airport page?
If you’ve any tips about driving around the Thames Valley feel free to let us know. Just leave your message in the comment box below.