7 things to see on London’s South Bank

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    There are plenty of places to get out and enjoy a leisurely walk in London. The city boasts a variety of parks with tree-lined paths such as Hyde Park, Green Park and St James’s Park. However, you don’t need to head somewhere with a name ending in “Park” to have a lovely stroll on a sunny day. And one of the best spots for a walk in the capital is along the South Bank of the River Thames.

    While the river flows more than 346 km from its source in Gloucestershire to the Thames Estuary in Essex and Kent, the area referred to as South Bank only covers around 4 km in Central London. Definitions vary, depending on who you speak to, but we’re going to say that it’s the segment of the river between Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge.

    Exploring South Bank is a great way to spend a day in London and it offers plenty to see and do – so here are some of the essentials:

    1. The bridges

    There are plenty of bridges that span the Thames in this part of London, and some of them are particularly noteworthy.

    Tower Bridge – One of London’s most iconic landmarks, Tower Bridge is a Victorian bascule and suspension bridge that crosses the river near the Tower of London. Simply crossing Tower Bridge at road-level is one way to experience it, but there’s also the Tower Bridge Exhibition, which provides a behind-the-scenes look at how the bridge operates. You can also climb to the upper walkway for a stunning view.

    London Bridge – Just upstream from Tower Bridge, London Bridge offers a great view of its more famous neighbour. Several bridges called London Bridge have spanned the river in this spot and the current one, built in 1974, isn’t particularly noteworthy. Its predecessor, a 19th-century stone-arched bridge is more famous, since it was purchased by an American in 1971 and moved to Lake Havasu in the Arizona dessert.

    Millennium Bridge – This footbridge has a bold, modern appearance and provides an easy route between the Tate Modern and St Paul’s Cathedral.

    Westminster Bridge – Completed in 1862, this road and foot bridge regularly features in films, TV programmes and photographs of London. It’s also a popular spot for taking photos of the Palace of Westminster. Be sure to look out for the enormous lion statue on the south-east side of the Bridge.

    2. The tourist spot

    County Hall is a large building next to Westminster Bridge, which once served as the headquarters for the Greater London Council. These days, the building and its surroundings have been transformed into a destination for tourists and it features a variety of attractions.

    London Eye – It looks a bit like a Ferris wheel, but technically it’s a “cantilevered observation wheel”. If you look carefully, it actually resembles a giant bicycle wheel with 32 capsules that hold up to 25 passengers. A ride on the London Eye takes about 30 minutes and provides wonderful views of the city.

    London Dungeon – If you want to feel a rush of adrenaline, then a trip to the London Dungeon is the ideal choice. This attraction uses live actors, special effects, rides and a bit of macabre humour to recreate gruesome historical events.

    Shrek’s Adventure – Be transported to the fictional kingdom of Far Far Away – meet your favourite characters from the film franchise and explore the detailed sets where actors and special effects come together to help tell the story.

    SEA LIFE London – With more than 600 species of marine life, from fish, sea horses and rays through to turtles, sharks and penguins, this aquarium takes visitors on a fascinating journey through the world’s rivers, lakes and oceans.

    3. The arts

    When it comes to the arts, South Bank certainly offers a variety of options. Royal Festival Hall, the Southbank Centre, the National Theatre and the BFI (British Film Institute) all sit together, offering a massive – and slightly confusing – complex of venues for live theatrical performances, music, dance, literature, fine arts and photography.

    A short distance downstream, there’s also the Tate Modern, a museum of contemporary art that’s housed in a converted power station. Or, why not travel back to the Elizabethan era with a trip to the re-built Globe theatre?

    4. The boats

    The River Thames is a busy waterway – and has been for hundreds of years. These days, a good portion of the boat traffic is for tourism and then there’s the Thames Clippers, which provide an alternative to travelling by bus or train. However, there are also a few more noteworthy vessels to look out for.

    HMS Belfast – Originally a Royal Navy light cruiser, the HMS Belfast served as part of the naval blockade against Germany during the second world war and provided support during the landings at Normandy. It is now a museum ship operated by the Imperial War Museum and is permanently moored on the South Bank between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. Visitors onboard the HMS Belfast can learn what life was like for crews at sea during the mid-20th century and some parts of the ship can be booked for special events.

    The Golden Hinde – This is a full-size replica of the English galleon ship that Sir Francis Drake used to circumnavigate the globe between 1577 and 1580. It was built using traditional handcraft techniques and was launched as an ocean-going vessel in 1973. She has travelled more than 140,000 miles and has been used in a variety of films. In 1996, the ship was berthed at St Mary Overie Dock, a short distance from Southwark Cathedral, and now serves as a museum about Elizabethan maritime history.

    5. The shopping

    If you’re looking for a bit of retail therapy, South Bank won’t disappoint. Gabriel’s Wharf and the Oxo Tower both offer a variety of boutique and specialist shops. Borough Market is a foodie’s paradise and book lovers should be sure to pay a visit to the Southbank Book Market – situated under the Waterloo Bridge, this outdoor market offers a huge range of second-hand books, as well as prints and maps.

    6. The modern architecture

    From brutalist concrete constructions like the Southbank Centre, through to the sweeping curves of the Millennium Bridge, South Bank offers an array of modern styles. In addition, a number of buildings have been built in recent years, which provide impressive examples of contemporary architecture.

    City Hall – This building overlooks Tower Bridge and is distinctive due to its unusual shape – a modified sphere that leans back, away from the river.

    The Shard – The tallest building in western Europe, the Shard is 306 metres tall and is designed to look like an enormous piece of broken glass. A viewing platform on the 72nd floor offers unparalleled views across the city and, on a clear day, you can see for up to 40 miles.

    The City – South Bank offers one of the best views of the City of London across the river. The financial district has literally sprung up over the last 20 years with a cluster of skyscrapers in unique shapes.

    7. The historic buildings

    While a good portion of the buildings lining the South Bank are fairly modern, there are a few bits of older history too. You just need to know where to look.

    Southwark Cathedral – Situated near London Bridge, this cathedral dates from 1905 – but the site has been a place of Christian worship for more than 1,000 years.

    Winchester Palace – A small section of this 12th palace is located near Southwark Cathedral.

    The Clink – This was a notorious mediaeval prison that functioned from the 12th century until 1780. Today, the site is home to the Clink Museum, which aims to simulate some of the conditions of the original lock-up.

     

     

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