The Thames is the historic heartland of rowing in the United Kingdom. There are over 200 clubs on the river, and over 8,000 members of the Amateur Rowing Association (over 40% of its membership). Most towns and districts of any size on the river have at least one club, but key centres are Oxford, Henley-on-Thames and the stretch of river from Chiswick to Putney.
Two rowing events on the River Thames are traditionally part of the wider English sporting calendar:
The University Boat Race is rowed between Oxford University Boat Club and the Cambridge University Boat Club in late March or early April, on the Championship Course from Putney to Mortlake in the west of London.
Henley Royal Regatta takes place over five days at the start of July in the upstream town of Henley-on-Thames. Besides its sporting significance the regatta is an important date on the English social calendar alongside events like Royal Ascot and Wimbledon.
Other significant or historic rowing events on the Thames include:
The Head of the River Race and other head races over the Championship Course
The Wingfield Sculls for the amateur sculling championship of the Thames and Great Britain
Doggett's Coat and Badge for apprentice watermen, one of the oldest sporting events in the world
Henley Women's Regatta
The Henley Boat Races for the Women's and Lightweight crews of Oxford and Cambridge Universities
The Oxford University bumping races known as Eights Week and Torpids
Innumerable other regattas, head races and bumping races are held along the Thames which are described under Rowing on the River Thames.
Near Raven's Ait where Raters are based at Thames Sailing Club on the leftSailing is practiced on both the tidal and non-tidal reaches of the river. The highest club upstream is at Oxford. The most popular sailing craft used on the Thames are lasers, GP14s, and Wayfarers. One sailing boat unique to the Thames is the Thames Rater, which is sailed around Raven's Ait.
Skiffing remains popular, particularly in the summer months. Several clubs and regattas may be found in the outer suburbs of west London.
Unlike the "pleasure punting" common on the Cherwell in Oxford and the Cam in Cambridge, punting on the Thames is competitive and uses narrower craft.
Kayaking and canoeing are popular, with sea kayakers using the tidal stretch for touring. Sheltered water kayakers and canoeists use the non-tidal section for training, racing and trips. Whitewater playboaters and slalom paddlers are catered for at weirs like those at Hurley Lock, Sunbury Lock and Boulter's Lock. At Teddington just before the tidal section of the river starts is Royal Canoe Club said to be
A Thames meander is a long-distance journey over all or part of the Thames by running, swimming or using any of the above means. It is often carried out as an athletic challenge in a competition or for a record attempt!
The River Thames has been a subject for artists, great and minor, over the centuries. Four major artists with works based on the Thames are Canaletto, J. M. W. Turner, Claude Monet, and James McNeil Whistler. The 20th century British artist Stanley Spencer produced many works at Cookham.
The river is lined with various pieces on sculpture, but John Kaufman's sculpture The Diver:Regeneration is actally sited in the Thames near Rainham.
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, first published in 1889, is a humorous account of a boating holiday on the Thames between Kingston and Oxford. The book was intended initially to be a serious travel guide, with accounts of local history of places along the route, but the humorous elements eventually took over. The landscape and features of the Thames as described by Jerome are virtually unchanged, and enduring humour has meant that it has never been out of print since it was first published.