Arcadian Thames

 The Arcadian Thames

The Arcadian Thames is one of the most special places to visit in London. The river corridor  is the largest connected open space in the capital and contains more protected sites than in any other UK location.  The landscape we cherish today was created as a place to have fun and this is as relevant now as it was  during the eighteenth century.

TLS Arcadian Thames Executive Summary


The Arcadian Thames is often known as ‘The Playground for London’ and due to its numerous open spaces has also been referred to as ‘London’s Countryside’.   Above all,  London’s Arcadia is a place where humans can get close to wildlife and water within the confines of Europe’s largest metropolis.  Whether your visit is to one of the main attractions such as Hampton Court or is simply a walk along the Thames Path, it is the diversity of potential experiences, clustered along one short stretch of the river that is special.  A shopping trip can easily morph into a stroll along a wild section of river, leading you to a previously un-known historic house that is only a short walk to an encounter with a red deer in one of the Royal Parks!

Take time to discover those less promoted things during your visit.  The last refuge (in London) for example of the German Hairy Snail, or cormorants sunning themselves on an island branch.  The electric blue flash of a kingfisher, a Tudor ice house, one of the Great Trees of London or a working boat yard – all of these help to make the Arcadian Thames character so rich.  On your visit consider why there is so much heritage.  This is no accident – generations of people have shaped and cared for this remarkable landscape.

2.9 richmond flood

This section provides an introduction to the best ways to understand and explore the remarkable River Thames between Hampton and Kew. It includes an overview of the major visitor attractions, lists less known sites of interest and has links to local tourist websites. This section also provides information on how to get around, suggests days out, houses and gardens to visit and how to get afloat on the River Thames.

For a quick guide visit our Treasures by the Thames section – listing 50 must see sights, chosen by people who live or work on the Thames.

Take a photographic journey down the Arcadian Thames to discover new delights or check out some of the more interesting aspects of the river – including historic images and images of past TLS events and projects in the Gallery.

For more in-depth information on history, wildlife and cultural links why not view the Thames Landscape Strategy document.

To find out how the Thames Landscape Strategy is working to improve the riverside for visitors to enjoy check out our project work.

richmond walk1


The Royal Landscape

Up to the Tudor period, the Thames landscape between Hampton and Kew consisted largely of quiet riverside villages, orchards and market gardens supplying the capital with food. Following the construction of Richmond and Hampton Court Palaces the landscape began to evolve as successive royal and aristocratic families moved to the area. Up and down the river a series of great palaces, grand houses, magnificent gardens and hunting parks were constructed amid the water meadows and woodland, linked to one another by grand avenues of trees.  By the mid eighteenth century, a true Arcadia had been created – a rural paradise on the doorstep of London.




A Landscape of Inspiration

During the eighteenth century, this concentration of wealth and power together with the area’s stunning beauty attracted the most influential thinkers, poets, artists and landscape designers of the day. This short stretch of the Thames quickly became the focus of culture, inspiration, taste and design that ultimately changed the face of the English countryside.

Inspired by Thames and in particular by the View from Richmond Hill a radical new way of perceiving beauty in the landscape was born on and below Richmond Hill. For the first time a view was seen as a ‘collected’ whole where villas, gardens, groves, movement and meadows all formed a perfect picturesque scene. These ideas ushered the end of the formality of Tudor and Stuart gardens in favour of a much more romantic landscape where the boundaries between nature, art, poetry and gardening were merged. These new naturalised gardens were imagined at the time as the dawning of a new Arcadian age – the classical imagery of a simple pastoral life as enjoyed in ancient Greece transferred to the banks of the Thames. Arcadia was in essence an idyllic pastoral paradise, a place where man and nature co-existed in perfect harmony. These ideas led to the formation of the English Landscape Movement and would ultimately spread across Europe.

The People’s Landscape

During the nineteenth century the delights of the Arcadian Thames were opened up for the enjoyment of the public so by the late Victorian age, the once privileged landscape of the C18th had become the ‘Playground’ of London’ where Londoner’s came to walk, relax or simply to mess about on the river. Arcadia had been democratised.

A century ago however, the now world famous landscape was almost lost as suburbia crept relentlessly up the Thames. It was only the successful ‘Indignation!’ campaign led by local people to halt the proposed development that saved ‘The View from Richmond Hill’ and much of the Thames riverside we enjoy today. It is often said that Arcadia helped to inspire something else we value dearly – the foundations of the modern town and country planning system and the principle that the public has a legitimate right in the development of private land.

A countryside in the city

Today, the Arcadian Thames offers unrivalled public open access and recreational opportunities and collectively contains more listed buildings, conservation areas, wildlife sites and registered parks and gardens than in any other comparable location in the UK. The river meanders through the largest connected open space in the capital – a landscape of parks, palaces, towpath walks, wild open spaces, working communities and places of cultural importance that still has the capacity to inspire.

Each reach of the Thames offers its own special delights, and leads to new discoveries around every corner. The amazing combination of natural beauty and Royal history has created a real countryside in the city – a pastoral haven, on the doorstep of Central London where humans and wildlife live in harmony. It is a place to escape the hustle and bustle of modern city life, to relax, unwind, explore and have fun. That such an amount of the wonderful riverside parks and open spaces have survived to the present day is due largely to the generations of people who shaped, cared for and protected them over the past 500 years. The Thames Landscape Strategy was established in 1994 to understand these events of the past in order take them full circle to conserve, enhance and promote the watery landscape for the next 100 years.

Download the documents below for more information

What is the Arcadian Thames

How was the Arcadian Thames Created

The Arcadian Thames  briefing sheet


Useful Information

Flooding can affect river use.  To check out the latest conditions click below:

Thames River Conditions

 See current river levels simply by clicking below:



Trowlock Island


See current flood warnings:

Flood warnings


Useful websites

Visit Thames For information on visiting the non-tidal Thames, from Teddington through to Cricklade in Oxfordshire
Visit Richmond For information on visiting the London Borough Richmond upon Thames
Discovery Richmond Guided tours in the area

What’s on in Hounslow For information on what’s on in the London Borough of Hounslow
Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames Follow links to the tourism pages
Elmbridge Borough Council Follow links to the tourism pages
Surrey County Council Follow links to the tourism pages
To the River A wonderful website with panoramic views and information about the River Thames in Richmond.
Tide Tables for 2009 and 10
Met Office for 3-5 day weather reports
Walk London – Thames Path
Environment Agency for information about lock closures etc.
A brief history of Eelpie Island hotel
BFI Film showing a journey down the Thames in 1935
Twickenham Museum
Richmond Walks
Molesey History

For information on the Thames Path visit Thames Path National Trail

Explore the local history of the Arcadian Thames at the Richmond Local Studies Library and Richmond Museum  both located at RichmondTown Hall close to RichmondBridge.

View the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames art collection at Orleans House and Gallery.  You can also visit the famous Octagon Room, designed by Gibbs in the 18th Century.

Investigate the history of the local Thames villages of Twickenham, Whitton, Teddington and the Hamptons at the Twickenham Museum , all of which have a rich history going back thousands of years.

Visit the largest urban nature reserves in the UK, the Royal Parks of RichmondPark and BushyPark offer amazing opportunities for watching wildlife, walking, cycling, horse riding and picnicing.

Why not take in a bit of retail therapy in the historic market town of Kingston upon Thames, one of the top ten centres for shopping in the UK.