Once the home of notorious taverns, theatres, and bear-baiting pits, London’s South Bank has been transformed into a glamorous promenade that is a must-see for any visitor.
This is a great place to stay, especially for first-time visitors, thanks to the plethora of London Intercontinental Hotels Group accomodations nearby. You’ll find plenty of attractions within walking distance as well as easy access to public transport.
Wander with me to discover history at famous sites as well as some hidden London gems in London’s South Bank.
Lambeth to Westminster
Start your walk at Lambeth Palace, the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is only open to the public a couple of times a year, but it is worth ducking into the former church of St Mary-at-Lambeth to see the unusual Garden Museum.
Afterward, stroll along the South Bank, enjoying views across the River Thames to Westminster until you reach the London Eye. William Wordsworth wrote his “Lines Composed Upon Westminster Bridge” here in 1802.
South Bank to the Tate
Further on, you will find the heart of London’s South Bank Centre, where the national concert halls and theatres cluster together among restaurants and street performers. There’s always something going on here. If the weather is fine, stop for a drink at the Queen Elisabeth Roof Garden Bar & Café and enjoy more views of the river.
Next stop is the impressive Tate Modern, which, since its opening in 2000, has become one of London’s most visited places. The former power station recently opened an extension. Zip up in the lifts to see free 360-degree views of London from the top of this ziggurat-like structure. From here, the Millenium Bridge leads to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Just before you get to the magnificent replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, look for the Ferryman’s Seat on Bear Gardens Street (named for a bear-baiting pit, of course). There were once many of these seats along the South Bank, providing a rest for the “wherrymen” who plied water taxis back when there was only one bridge across the Thames in London.
If you don’t have time to see a play at the Globe, there is an exhibition and a tour. As you approach London Bridge, you’ll find plenty of entertainment, including the Clink Prison Museum, which offers insights into Dickensian London.
The exquisite Golden Hinde replica of Sir Francis Drake’s ship is nearby, and those interested in naval history will find a different kind of seagoing craft in HMS Belfast. Stop for delicious foodie treats at the Borough Market.
Southwark to City Hall
Make sure you take a look inside Southwark Cathedral. This church has been a place of worship for over 1,000 years. Look over your shoulder at a more modern elegance — the Shard skyscraper towers 310 metres high.
Walking toward the Norman Foster-designed City Hall, the views start to change as new vistas open up near Tower Bridge and the City. Pop in to see the exhibition space on the lower ground floor. This is the London Photomat, an incredibly detailed bird’s-eye view of Greater London.
Pick a sunny day and make the most of wandering along London’s South Bank.
By Natasha von Geldern
London’s South Bank Walk
Neighbourhood: Located between Lambeth and Tower Bridge
Underground: Lambeth North – 5 min walk