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My obsession with living on a house boat began when we visited a friend who was renting a room on one back in 2010 in Victoria, Canada.

We had breakfast on the boat one morning then went back for a movie night one evening. I loved the compactness of it and the fact that you could look out the window and the water was right there.

Life on a houseboat in London

I also loved the noises of the boat and the gently rocking that was sometimes perceptible and other times not.

I think that alternative dwellings have always held some interest for me. Treehouses, Yurts, Tipis, converted buses – there is a certain romanticism about living outside of society’s norms and I do like to be different.

Living on a House Boat in London

Finding a House Boat in London

A year after our introduction to house boat living in Canada, we were back living in London and looking for an apartment to rent in our favorite little village in London: Richmond.

Living on a house boat in LondonScrolling through Gumtree, a community website listing classified advertisements, I was feeling more and more disheartened by the extortionate amounts being charged for an apartment in Richmond.

Most of them were out of our price range and there weren’t many listings in the area to begin with.

And then I saw it. ‘Studio houseboat on the Thames in Richmond’.

Life on a house boat in Richmond LondonI remembered how much I had wanted to live on a house boat and called the agent straight away. We were scheduled to see it in a couple of days time and I could hardly contain my excitement. And then they called me and said that someone had taken it.

I was devastated. We were back to the drawing board.

About a week later, Trav found another house boat on Gumtree. It was out of our price range and was a two-bedroom, which was larger than what we were looking for, but we decided to go and see it anyway.

It was in the same street as the previous houseboat we were looking at so we thought that maybe there might be another one that was smaller, coming up to rent.

We went to view it on a rainy February morning. It was a beautiful walk from the train station and the street it was moored at was leafy and quiet. My excitement grew.

Life on a house boat in Richmond LondonThere were a few other people viewing it and we had to wait outside in the rain until it was our turn. Before we had even seen it we had pretty much decided that we wanted it. I can’t imagine that the chance to rent a house boat in Richmond comes up very often and we no longer cared that it was more than we had been willing to pay.

We had missed out the first time and we were being given a second chance, which we intended on taking. We decided that unless the inside was horrible, we were going to rent that boat, then and there.

To access the boat, we first had to walk over its roof terrace with sweeping views of the Thames, Twickenham Bridge, and a small nearby island.

Our roof top deck on our London house boatThe inside was all light wood which made the space seem bigger than it was. The main bedroom was large, with a small second bedroom with a single bed. The kitchen and lounge were open plan and the bathroom was tiny, but with a large shower.

There was a ranch sliding door that opened up to a cute little balcony with a small table and two chairs on it, right above the water. We looked at each other and both knew this was the place for us.

Inside on London House boat in Richmond We told the Estate Agent that we wanted it and could transfer the money to hold it right away. Luckily he agreed.

It was ours.

And so began our year of living on a house boat in London. And it sure was a great one.

Inside on London Houseboat in Richmond

Moving Into Our London House Boat

Things got even better when we moved in. There was a cat door on our boat and we started to receive frequent visits from a beautiful tortoiseshell cat whose owner lived in a house boat near ours.

The cat would go from house boat to house boat, visiting people. Sometimes she would sleep over, on one of our dining chairs, and other times she would just stay for a bit of attention and then move on to the next person. We called her Bitty because she was itty bitty. I loved that crazy cat.

The local cat that hung around our London Houseboat in RichmondOur boat was called Double Deal and unlike a lot of the boats that people live on in London, she was not a canal boat but was a small rectangular house on a floating platform.

Our boat was located at the front of a row of three house boats and was moored to the northern bank of the river Thames, on the aptly named Ducks Walk.

There were also other boats surrounding us, making up a small house boat community. Our landlady lived on the house boat next door and owned five of the house boats in the vicinity.

It was a friendly community but people would generally keep to themselves, just exchanging a few pleasantries if we happened to see each other.

View of our London House boatBeing at the front meant that we had the best view. We looked out over the murky waters of the river and across to a beautiful manor house on the opposite bank.

There were lots of massive old growth trees, including one next to the manor house that I called the Tree of Life. Because of the abundant green spaces, it felt like we were in the countryside rather than a suburb of London.

Living on a house boat in Richmond

What It’s Like Living on a House Boat in London

Early mornings we watched the eerie mist rise off the still waters of the river. Morning was my favorite time of day on the boat.

The lounge was flooded with sunlight while I was getting ready for work in the morning and it was so tempting to call in sick on those days, to stay on the boat and relish the light.

The bedroom on our London House boat in RichmondA friend who lived on a canal boat mentioned how cold it could get in winter, but we had radiators throughout the boat like a regular house and I found that it retained the heat well, as the ceilings were lower than most houses.

We were hooked up to the mains for power, water, and sewerage and paid council tax instead of moorage fees. For all intents and purposes, we were living in a house rather than living in a house boat. It just happened to be floating on the river.

To help pay our bills, we rented out the small spare room as a short-term sublet, 4-6 weeks at a time. It worked out well and we had three different people stay during our time on the boat as well as keeping the room free for visiting friends.

The spare bedroom on our London House boat in RichmondIt was a quiet lifestyle, very different from our previous London experience. We were in a residential area but were still only a 5-10 minute walk into Richmond town center and multiple transport links. It only took 16 minutes by train to reach Waterloo but it felt worlds away.

Being right on the Thames path meant it was a fabulous place for walking and we were within a short bike ride to the sprawling Richmond Park.

In the warmer months, we had friends over for BBQs on our roof terrace and we sunbathed on the rare days in London when it was actually hot enough to do so. In winter we cooked Sunday roasts and curled up on our little couch in front of the TV. We watched snow lazily fall from the sky outside.

BBQ in summer on our London Houseboat roof terraceLocks along the Thames regulated the water level although we still experienced high tide and low tide every day. Sometimes there were extreme high tides where the river overflowed and flooded along the riverbank, but the locks stopped extreme low tides so the boat never sat on the river bottom, except for when they did maintenance on Richmond Lock for a two-week period each year.

Unfortunately, during the year that we lived there, the maintenance took much longer than usual and the lock was closed for about six weeks. I hated when it was low tide during this time. The smell of mud would permeate the boat and our door warped so we couldn’t get out.

We had to leave the sliding door slightly open to gain access to the boat during low tide. It wasn’t ideal and we were so happy when the lock finally started operating again.

Flooding at high tide in Richmond LondonA winter day on our London Houseboat

Wildlife on the River Thames in Richmond

I never realized the wide variety of bird life that called the Thames home until we lived on the river ourselves. Swans are the kings of the river and were the only birds that I disliked.

They were menacing and ruled the river with an iron fist. All of the other birds were scared of them. Like Jason in the ‘Friday the 13th’ movies, the swans would slowly chase any other river birds that got in their way.

The other birds would be scrambling and flapping, trying to get away, but the swans were always only one step behind them.

Walking along the riverside in Richmond, LondonCanadian geese were like the dogs of the river. With their dark puppy dog eyes, they would watch me through the ranch slider door when I was sitting on the couch watching TV or cooking in the kitchen.

I would feed them off the side of the boat and would teach them to catch bread in their beaks. Once you showed them the bread and slowly threw it to them a couple of times, they would be catching it by the third try. They had a good nature.

Egrets and herons would sit silently in the tree tops of the small island across from our boat and scan the waters for fish below. Coots would bluster along, against the current, churning their little legs as fast as they could, but not getting anywhere.

But the ducks were always my favorite. There were so many different types from the colorful mandarin and wood ducks through to the stock standard mallards. We had a female mallard that would visit us, sitting just outside our sliding door. We called her Quackie.

Quackie would poke her head inside if the door was open but never ventured in further. She would run back and forth past the sliding door with her butt sticking out, quacking as loud as she could. Sometimes a male duck was chasing her.

I’m not sure if she was trying to lure him in or run away from his advances. Whatever she was doing, it made us laugh. Ducks are great for that.

Living on a house boat in Richmond, LondonA duck laid eggs in a pot plant on our tiny front deck. We patiently waited for them to hatch but after weeks of waiting, unfortunately they hatched while we were away for Easter and we missed it.

But the mother duck stayed close with her ducklings and we fed them small pieces of bread off the front of our boat. They were so cute.

Duck eggs in a pot plant on our London HouseboatThe Downsides of Living on a House Boat

I was surprised that I never felt any motion sickness living on the boat, even though that is something I have suffered from in the past. I did feel like I had sea legs when I was sitting at my desk at work and usually felt like I was rocking. It didn’t bother me and was only a mild feeling.

There was so much that was good about life on the water but it wasn’t all good.

The combination of damp UK winters and open access ports into the hull that weren’t properly sealed encouraged the growth of mold on the windowsills and walls, especially in our bedroom and the bathroom.

It was a constant battle to get rid of it and I was cleaning off mold on a weekly basis in the colder months, which is about 7-8 months of the year in London.

Summer had its own problems, namely a large number of leisure boats passing by and rocking our houseboat in their wake. I never felt sick from this but the constant rocking on summer weekends was exhausting.

People would also hire rowboats from Richmond riverside and row right up to our houseboat, peering in the windows at us. It was quite an invasion of privacy and I felt like an animal in a zoo.

View of Twickenham bridge from our houseboat in LondonSometimes I felt stressed when the boat was constantly rocking and I had nightmares that we would become untethered or sink while I was sleeping.

I didn’t realize how much this affected me until we moved back into a regular apartment. Geese would fight outside our bedroom window in the early hours of the morning, waking us on occasion.

Six months into our lease, we noticed the boat was listing on an angle more than usual. With further investigation, a small hole was found in the hull. We were slowly sinking. For the hole to be fixed, the boat would need to be towed down to Isleworth and put into a dry dock.

They couldn’t guarantee that it could be fixed at all so we were worried the whole time it was away that we might have to find somewhere else to live.

View from our houseboat in LondonOur landlady had an obligation to find us adequate accommodation while the boat was being worked on and she put us in the houseboat two boats behind us, closest to shore.

She owned that boat as well as ours and a couple of others, and she made an agreement with the girl that rented that boat that we could stay there for the week she was away and she wouldn’t have to pay rent.

It was damper than our boat and more pokey and there was hardly room for all of the renter’s stuff, let alone ours as well. She also had a lodger staying that was meant to have moved out and as we had a friend that was also staying with us, it was very overcrowded. We weren’t happy.

Our boat was meant to be fixed within a week but as the week was drawing to a close and with the boat repair unfinished and the renter soon to be finishing her holiday, we moved into our land lady’s boat for our second week of homelessness, while she stayed with her son.

Her boat was beautiful, spacious and even had a massive bathroom with a claw-footed tub. I wasn’t in such a rush to leave there. Finally, Double Deal was fixed and returned to its rightful spot on the river and we were able to move back in.

It was a stressful experience but I can now say that I have technically lived on three houseboats on the Thames, albeit only for short periods on two of them.

We never experienced it ourselves, but we were told stories about dead bodies being discovered in and around the houseboats, including one beached on the island across from the boats, and a bag with a body in it being stuck between our boat and the boat behind us a few years before we lived there.

Our landlady said there was a forensic team set up in the shared yard examining the remains. It must have been exciting but I’m pleased we never saw anything like that.

Duck with ducklings as seen from our London Houseboat

The Verdict: Is It Worth Living on a House Boat?

So living on a houseboat is ticked off my list of alternative dwellings to live in. I think living in a treehouse next would be fun.

I look back on my extraordinary experience with such fond memories. It had its highs and lows but the good outweighed the bad for me and everything we experienced was part of the adventure, good and bad. But I’m not sure if I would live on a house boat in London again. Or maybe I would.

If there was a cleaner to deal with the mold.

Plan Your London Trip

Stay in a House Boat in London

There are a number of house boats in London you can stay in during your London vacation, here are my top picks:

The Best Insurance For Your London Trip

Make sure you get travel and health insurance before your London trip, just to be on the safe side. Safety Wing is my go-to and they are cheap and easy to claim with. 

Safety Wing also allows you to sign up when you are already traveling, unlike a lot of other travel insurance providers.

If you liked this post, check out some of my other London and Europe content:


What Life is Like on a Houseboat in London

42 Comments on What It’s Really Like Living on a House Boat in London

  1. I lived on the large boat next door with the blue in the late ’80s. There were about 15 of us living on it. I am also from New Zealand 🙂 It was a hot summer and we were dying to go swimming. The guy who lived across the river in the big old stone place told us it was ok if you stayed away from the banks, didn’t have any cuts, and showered straight after. Fun memories. Should try and dig out some photos.

    • That’s so cool Trish! We nearly moved into that boat after our lease was up. I never did risk swimming in the river after Trav got sick but it was probably cleaner in the 80’s. Please send me some photos if you find them.

  2. We lived on the same houseboat back in 2012! 🙂
    Was amazing as it was the queens jubilee that year and hundreds of boats would pass by.
    But my all time favourite must have been when the river would flood and we took our little motorboat that was docked outside double deal and went across the river to the white cross pub, we got almost all the way up to the stairs haha
    Also remember all the grimy stories about body’s inside bags and forensic teams. One night we woke up from banging underneath the boat and literally nearly shat ourselves thinking it’s a body haha, turned out it was an old door that had gotten stuck.
    Good times!
    Was nice reading your blog as this brought all the old memories back

    • Hi Mimi – that’s amazing! You must have moved in after we moved out in March 2012. Despite the bad stuff – I loved living on Double Deal. Glad to hear you enjoyed it too. I went back to Richmond for the first time in 5 years last summer and was so sad to see it was gone – end of an era

  3. Wonderful description of your time on the floating home. I used to live next door, and spent three amazing years there. I too had a claw footed bath.

  4. Hi there, we live on a fair size houseboat in Essex. Condensation comes down to the boat not been insulated and then vented enough. I can honestly say that we have never had a problem with it. Also I think the motion problem came about because of the design of your houseboat. We are in a ‘proper’ steel hulled barge and we don’t even feel the tide ebbing and flowing. Perhaps you should have a look at a steel barge rather than the type of floating houseboat that you were on before, I’m sure you would find all the bits you loved without the rubbish. I could not imagine living on dry land again 🙂

    • Thanks for your message Fran. It wasn’t the tide that made the boat move, just the many leisure boats speeding past us in summer. Without the mould it would have been a lot nicer but not sure if I would live on a houseboat again, mainly because there are so many other types of abodes that I want to experience, I especially want to live in a treehouse 🙂

  5. Wow! That is so amazing, if you are just there for vacation and having fun. But I don’t think its practical to live in a houseboat for the rest of my I would enjoy more this place if I’m living in the landed area.

  6. Wow, this makes for a great read. I’ve often been fascinated by these as a concept and a lot of your experiences are how I would imagine, especially the negatives.

    Pretty scary stuff to hear of the dead bodies washing up, I think that would freak me out a bit.

    I must admit to being surprised that you pay council tax but no mooring fees. I would have thought both but I guess there are some rules specific to this?

    The slow sinking incident sounds like a real nightmare yet I guess constant maintenance is required.

    I’ve always fancied a canal boat holiday and your article makes me even more interested 🙂

    • I’m definitely pleased there were no dead bodies when we were there! The owner of the boat who lived next door to us may have paid moorage fees but as she owned the two plots of land that the 5 boats she owned were moored to, I’m not sure if she would have to. You should definitely do a canal boat holiday as it would be all the good stuff without the negative points you would have to address if you were living on one 🙂

  7. What a unique adventure! I too have been drawn to unusual living arrangements and each had its challenges. Yours ran the gamut from the mold, the rocking, listing and the possibility of discovering bodies! Crazy but aren’t you glad you did it all?

  8. This is unbelievably cool!!! I didn’t even know that there were houseboats on the thames, you are really lucky to have an experience like this. It all looks so peaceful and inviting, not like the rest of London can be at times. I love the idea of waking up every morning and peering out onto the water, thanks for sharing such an involving article!

  9. Wow what a cool experience! We are going to be staying in Kingston (which is near Richmond) for the month of December so we’ll have to go and look at the houseboats…maybe try to get an invite to board 🙂

  10. What a great experience and story you have to tell for doing it. I’ve always wanted to get a group of friends together one year, hire a house boat and cruise up and down a river somewhere for a week or two. It seems like such a pleasant way to travel. Not sure I could do it long term though, that mould sounds pretty nasty and I’d be worried about the motion making me ill.

    • I was so surprised that the motion didn’t make me ill but it wasn’t constantly moving and a lot of the time I would forget I was on a boat. The mould drove me mental though! It shouldn’t be a problem in a warmer climate though 🙂

  11. This sounds like an amazing experience. I’m officially jealous 🙂
    Like you I’m fascinated with alternative housing – so much more charm and character than the usual.

  12. How fun! I’ve had friends recommend staying on a houseboat in Amsterdam (of course) but hadn’t considered it anywhere else before! (But glad there were no dead bodies 😉 ) I’m a big fan of renting apartments vs hotels so this is a whole new take.

  13. Well, you’ve done it. You’ve successfully put the bug in me to stay in a house boat. We have so many of them here on Vancouver Island. I don’t think I’d like to live on one, but maybe I could find a bed and breakfast…. 🙂 -g

  14. We have considered living on a houseboat. At present, we live in what we class a boring white box, so it would be nice to try something different and perhaps after spending a few years travelling we will take that plunge. We have spent time on a boat floating up and down the Norfolk Broads and I think I could become accustomed to that way of life. I like the idea of freedom that I think you will get with this lifestyle and it could lead to living somewhere that we could never afford normally.

  15. What a cool experience. I’m not sure I’d want to live on a houseboat long-term, but it would definitely be cool for a bit. I love the idea of waking up in the morning and being right on the water. There’s something so refreshing about that. Your view out the bedroom window was gorgeous – so peaceful!

  16. What an interesting experience, I always think how life is on a houseboat and after reading this I have a clear idea. I guess like everywhere else there are goods and bad aspects to it, but this kind of accommodation surely makes for a change and I wouldn’t mind trying myself at some point but only if we get an houseboat with a cat-flap too and a cat religiously visiting us! 😉

  17. Well, this was a fascinating tale! Loved that a duck laid eggs on your deck. The pictures look lovely. Except for the leisure boats creating waves and the leaking, it seems idyllic. Not sure I would have wanted dead bodies floating near my house boat either. 🙂

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