How to make the most out of your Southbank Walk in London
When making the most of your Southbank walk in London, you need to feel it with your five senses. The breeze of the cold fresh air in winter, the heat from the sun hitting my face, the green trees in summer, the naked leafless trees in winter, the hissing sound of the waves on the River Thames, the view of London from the London Eye, screaming and laughing children playing in the playground, the blaring sound of live music outdoors. These are what I look forward to when I make the most of my Southbank walk in London. Compared to the rest of Europe, Southbank is the best area for social gatherings. There’s no better time to walk in the Southbank, it’s beautiful night and day, all seasons, hot or cold. The Southbank is really the place where you’ll get to see the sights of London.
How to get there
There are so many different areas you can get off when you want to start your Southbank walk. You can get off at London Bridge and start your walk from Borough Market, one of the oldest markets in London, get off at Waterloo Station, where you start your walk from the Southbank Centre, or Westminster Station, where your walk starts from Westminster Abbey. These places are next to each other, so don’t worry if you got off at London Bridge, and want to see Westminster Abbey first. I started my walk from Westminster tube station towards Queen’s Walk Southbank, and my London Southbank walking route starts here.
Is Southbank London safe?
Southbank London is very safe. You shouldn’t have to worry about pickpocketing like Oxford Street. Although it can get busy in Southbank, a lot of pick pocketers hang around in Oxford Street and Regent Street since they know there are more tourists around those areas. You shouldn’t worry about walking around in Southbank at night either but stay by the River Thames, so you won’t get lost. If you go further into the city in between cobbled alleyways, you will get lost, but Southbank is beautiful at night and can be peaceful.
The start of my walk in Southbank London
I noticed a lot of people walking up and down, getting to their destination because Westminster is a place where businessmen and women with their suits meet to have coffee or lunch. On the other hand, tourists mingle here because on the other side of Westminster, there are more than 30 attractions to choose from on the Southbank. This post will only cover what it’s like walking by the River Thames, and what you can expect to see. It doesn’t include going inside the attractions. If you want to read more on that, visit my 31 things to do in the Southbank.
I came here mid-April. The sun was shining but it was still windy, so I arrived with my thick coat, sweater, and a short-sleeved top. That way, I can take them off when I want to. The weather can be unpredictable during April – May. Also bring an umbrella or thick hoodie coat.
Houses of Parliament and Big Ben’s Clock Tower
The iconic 19th Century Houses of Parliament and Big Ben’s clock tower stands proudly, and it’s as if it’s proud to be British. Right now, it’s been blanketed for refurbishment until mid-2028, so you won’t see the clock tower for an exceptionally long time. I could hear the beeping of black taxi cabs and red buses since it’s most of the vehicles that go past here. People try to jaywalk not using the zebra crossing, but it’s dangerous in Central London. Next to Big Ben is Westminster Abbey, one of the oldest abbeys in London dating back to the year 1000s.
Walk up to Westminster Bridge, and you will see a souvenir shop stand, the River Thames Clipper Cruise (not an actual cruise ship) that will take you around London on the River Thames. If you want to take advantage of cruising around London by the River Thames, I suggest going at night, the lights are beautiful, it’s more peaceful and romantic. London can seem industrial during the day. By the bridge, there are many rickshaws that line the bridge, and it’ll cost around £10 – £15 to take you around London for an hour. It’s not worth it, it’s better to buy a ticket to the actual attraction from the London Pass (link) than go on the rickshaws. There are also street entertainers by the bridge, sometimes they’ll ask you to give them £10 – £20, and you’ll win a prize if you get the trick right. It’s a scam.
The London Eye, Sea Life London Aquarium, London Dungeon and Shrek Adventures
You can’t miss the 135-metre London Eye on the other side of Westminster Bridge. Like Big Ben, it seems the London Eye feels so proud to be an iconic product of London. Along this area of Queen’s Walk, you’ll see Sea Life London Aquarium, London Dungeon, and Shrek Adventures, and the tour takes a minimum of 1 hour to visit, the London Eye takes half an hour to go round.
Before your walk, Southbank has many bars, major attractions, restaurants, cafes, and British pubs along the River Thames. Walking along the Southbank can take 1 hour or more, so be prepared to take breaks along the way, plus the attractions you’ll visit take 1 – 2 hours each. It’ll be impossible to visit everything in one day. If you want to just take advantage of the walk, spare at least an hour to enjoy the environment.
The Jubilee Park Gardens
Opposite the London Eye, you’ll the Jubilee Park Gardens where you can relax, and let your kids roam free in the playground. The garden park is always well maintained, and clean-cut grass. There are also several benches where you can have lunch and drink beer, as well as several pop-up vehicles that sell fish and chips and other fast-food eateries. Fish and chips here cost around £6 – £7, in pubs it will cost around £12+. Compared to Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and Richmond Park, three of the 8 royal parks of London, Jubilee Park Gardens is small the best park near the London Eye, the London Dungeons, and Westminster Abbey, 3 of 10’s London’s top 10 attractions on your doorstep.
The Southbank Centre
You are not really in Southbank if you haven’t come across the Southbank Centre. The yellow painted building shows that you’re there. It’s very distinguishable.
The Southbank Centre is a few walks away from the London Eye. It hosts a variety of events such as theatres, festivals including jazz, contemporary modern music, Broadway musicals, poetry and many more. The shows here are usually short running and it’s not as commercialised as much as the Shaftesbury Avenue theatres in the West End. Pre COVID, there are usually crowds of people gathering outside the Centre with their pint of beers and burgers in their hands, and loud music booming across the Southbank outside. The Southbank Centre is near Waterloo Station, so you always hear the train driving past. It’s always loud and busy. Below the Southbank Centre, there are various fast-food outlets including Eat, Giraffe and Yo Sushi, and Iguana and Cote d’Azur if you want a mid-range option.
The Southbank Food Market
Behind the Southbank Centre, walk down a flight of stairs, and you will see a small area where you’ll see around 20 – 30 street food stalls selling food from around the world, the Southbank Centre Food Market. Take advantage of the Southbank Food Market where you’ll taste some of the best street food in London. The food market is very small and it can get busy during summer, it’s no different from Portobello Market and Camden Market if you’re wondering.
You can also find many children walking through the water fountain shooting upwards and getting wet during summer. Summer is the best time to visit if you like loud, vibrant, and lively atmosphere outdoors by the River Thames, and sometimes, the music blasts after dawn. Winter is more laid back, festive and cold, it’s better to walk at night during the winter months. The sparkly lights really does illuminate the night sky.
The Southbank Centre has a roof garden and a café at the top, and although I’ve been to the Centre plenty of times in summer, I’ve never seen any shows that were on. Since COVID, the Southbank Centre was closed, but once it’s open, I’m first in line. Check what you can expect to see on their website, and you can also experience the virtual shows to get a sneak peak of what to expect. If you’d like to donate, please feel free to do so on their website. The Southbank Centre still wants to keep art and culture going so that in the future, and after the pandemic, everyone can still enjoy what’s on at the centre.
The Underbelly Festival Southbank
As I walk further up the Southbank strip, I found something like the Southbank Centre. The Underbelly Festival holds pop-up theatre shows, and this brings you world class entertainment in the heart of London. I did see a circus show once here with a few friends. Usually pop up shows in London can be embarrassingly entertaining, but if you are on a budget and don’t want to spend money on West End theatre tickets, then, check out the Underbelly Festival.
Most people that visit the Underbelly Festival are young adults drinking alcohol and eating street food bought nearby. The Underbelly Festival is a great place to socialise and eat outside by the benches enjoying theatre shows, festivals and other types of performing arts. This place does get busy too, so check what’s happening on their website. The photos you see on the website is what you get when you get there.
Southbank Skate Park
The next thing you’ll hear is the drumming noises of skaters. Under the Southbank Centre, you will find a dark place where skater boys practice their skates on the skate ramps. Colourful graffiti is painted on the ramps and the pillars, people usually watch as they fall over on their knees, and the best bit is that this is a free area for all skater fans out there.
On the opposite side from where the skaters are, there are three fenced squared patios where people eat and socialise on the benches and canopies shading the tables. I think that’s a relaxing area for family and friends to enjoy overlooking the River Thames. The River Thames is full of shipping containers scattered and docked everywhere, and you can also hear hooting from industrial boats and ships, but don’t let that put you off enjoying a pint of beer by the River Thames.
Southbank Centre Book Market
As I walked under the Waterloo Bridge, the Southbank Centre Book Market is a small book stall selling second hand and vintage books under the bridge. The books look tattered and old, but that’s the beauty of vintage and second-hand books, so feel free to browse through. There are a few people that do browse the stalls.
The National Theatre
The National Theatre is another attraction worth seeing during your walk. Here, you can watch world-class productions, and unlike the West End theatres in Shaftesbury Avenue, the shows here are short-running. Compared to the West End shows in Shaftesbury Avenue, the National Theatre is publicly funded alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal Opera House. It’s more intimate than the West End shows in London.
The entertainers travel around the world including the West End putting on great shows, so if you do have spare time in London, watch a show here and check out their website.
In the past, plays such as Shakespeare, and classic drama by contemporary artists and many more have made its way here. Since my purpose was to walk here, I didn’t see any shows, especially during COVID.
Along the path from the Royal National Theatre, there were several deckchairs facing the theatre and a small bar on site if you want to taste the finest beer, champagne, or cocktails.
Note: From here, you can take the bus 188 to the British Museum, which will take you there in 18 minutes minus the traffic.
Gabriel’s Wharf is a small dead end shopping area, away from the crowds in Southbank. There are around 10 to 15 colourful independent outlets selling sandwiches, fashion, and many more. There are several restaurants from general European dishes, pizzas, and burgers, where you can sit by the balcony overlooking the River Thames, or you can sit on the benches in the middle of Gabriel’s Wharf where you can relax and put your feet up. Don’t spend too long here.
Shakespeare Theatre and Museum
If you’re a fan of Shakespeare, check out Shakespeare’s Theatre where they play major Shakespeare plays for just £5. If you want to tour around the theatre, feel free to do so, but it costs £17.50 for a 40-minute tour of the theatre. The tour will include the history of Shakespeare’s Theatre, sit yourself down in the theatre with the group, and see actors rehearsing their lines. I believe £17.50 is quite expensive for 40 minutes, and I saw bored faces near the middle and end of the tour. If you don’t want to pay, The Shakespeare Museum is free and intimate, it’s better to visit that where you’ll see descriptions of Shakespeare’s work, the tools he used and the history of his life. Plus, a miniature version of the theatre and the bust of Shakespeare can be found.
If you hang around the museum long enough, there will be an intimate demonstration on Shakespeare costumes and what people wore in Shakespearean days. There are only a handful of people watching, and you can leave whenever you want. You can also eat at the busy and loud The Founder’s Arms pub overlooking the River Thames before or after The Shakespeare’s Globe and Theatre.
Tate Modern Gallery
Next to Shakespeare’s Theatre is the free Tate Gallery. If you love contemporary art from 2D, 3D, stories told during the Apartheids, children in the Syrian war, what it was like in Britain in the 20s up to the present moment, and photography, then Tate Gallery is for you. You can hear buskers and see street entertainers outside the gallery as well as people socialising by the park. The Millennium Bridge will lead to St. Paul’s Cathedral, and that leads to the inner part of Central London. There are two Tates that can be found in London comprising of different artefact and treasures, Tate Britain and Tate Modern. Other Tates can be found in St. Ives and Liverpool.
As I walked further, there are more restaurants, pubs, and cafes by the River Thames. These include The Anchor Bankside Pub where you can sip on beer and cocktails by the beer garden. Further up, you’ll find Nando’s, Pizza Express, The Real Greek, Zizzi’s, and many others. Go through a small tunnel and you’ll come across The Clink Prison Museum.
The Clink Prison and Museum
The Clink Prison and Museum dates to the 1100 where there were many prisoners that were starved, tortured, and left to suffer. Crimes included drunkenness, people not paying their debts, and even the innocents were thrown inside. Spend 1 hour here if you like and check out their website (link).
The Clink Prison Museum is situated in a narrow pathway with tall colourful bricked buildings towering up. It feels as if there’s no space for more than 2 people to walk through.
The next attraction you’ll see is the Winchester Palace. You’ll only see a one-sided wall where the entrance used to be as well as the 3 entrances to the buttery, the pantry, and the kitchen, but now, the ground is now full of grass and weeds maintained by the council. The many Bishops of Winchester was a diocesan bishop of Diocese of Winchester in the Church of England since the 12th Century, and Winchester Palace was once a townhouse where many Bishops of Winchesters resided in. There’s not much else to see here but the description of the palace.
The next place you’ll come across is the Golden Hinde ship docked by the River Thames.
The Golden Hinde Ship
Ahead of me, I could see a medieval ship called The Golden Hind. The Golden Hind was an English ship that sailed in the 1500’s by Sir Francis Drake. This ship travelled around the world for expeditions and voyages with its owner. Inside can be dark, cramped and claustrophobic, so I can’t imagine what it must feel like for those big tall sailors and captains during a storm. The steps down to the ship can be vertical, narrow, and thin, so be careful. It’s £5 for an adult and £3 for a child. You will see the small, cramped meeting room, a “treasure chest”, canons and cannon balls, the open spaced deck and the ship’s wheel.
Beyond the Golden Hinde Ship is Borough Market, but make sure you get there before 5 o’clock since that’s when it closes. Like Portobello Market and Camden Market, Borough Market serves fresh vegetables, dairy, and wine mainly from Spain, Italy and France, fresh seafood and meat, hot street food from around the world, and several pubs and restaurants scattered around the market. What it doesn’t sell though is vintage fashion. It does get busy pre-COVID and will likely pick up once COVID restrictions eases. It’s located under London Bridge Station, so you can hear the noise of trains driving past. This is where your Southbank walk will end if you want to end it in London Bridge Station, then feel free to walk towards here. You will also see the Shard next to the station. Pre-COVID, the Shard can get lively day and night, so pre-book your space on their website if you want to see the view of London.
The Maltby Street Market is a small alleyway market open during the weekend located between London Bridge station and Borough Market. You will see a line of shops ranging from cafes with wooden tables, shops selling cakes, croissants and biscuits, colourful flags from around the world hung above the market, as well as scotch eggs and many others. It does get busy and cramped here, but there are many shops to choose from.
If you’re not too tired, walk further up, you will see the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, a naval ship used during World War II, Coppa Club Tower Restaurant, and Sky Garden nearby. If you are too tired to walk, save it for another day. I haven’t had a chance to visit HMS Belfast or Sky Garden yet because of COVID, but once restrictions have been lifted, I’ll post a review on that soon.
My walk on the Southbank came to an end at London Bridge Station. The Southbank area is really a place for the young, old, and children to socialise, eat, and play by the River Thames.
From my walk, I found that there were rows of big oak trees, rows of benches overlooking the river, as well as the major attractions in London and hidden gems like the Golden Hinde Ship, Maltby Street Market, and the Clink Museum in just 2 hours. Just feel the breeze and enjoy the busy and vibrant atmosphere. It’s great if you’re on a budget if you want to just enjoy the atmosphere. You can spend hundreds of pounds going inside all the attractions.
Everywhere you look there were enough bars, restaurants, and shops to choose from, and at around 6 in the evening, people were still talking, walking, jogging and taking their dogs for a walk.
Would I visit Southbank again?
Out of all the walks around London, Southbank is the one I would visit every weekend to hang out. It’s busy yet less stressful than walking in the West end. This is a great place if you want a lively atmosphere combined with less stress. I would visit The Southbank again because there’s a lot to do here. One day I’d fancy going to a bar near the Southbank Centre, and on another day, I’d eat in Borough Market or the traditional English pub overlooking the Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral. I don’t think anyone would get fed up being here.
That’s it guys, hope you enjoy reading my Southbank walk. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me on Facebook, or follow me on social media.
Right now, be safe and take care!!
If you want to spend all day here, choose the attractions you want to see within the hour since most attractions last an hour here. Read through the 31 things to do in Southbank for ideas. The Tower of London takes 2 – 3 hours to visit, and for Sky Garden, you’d have to book a minimum of 3 days for an hour.
Alternatively, start your Southbank walk from London Bridge Station, go through Borough Market, have a look around here, grab a bite to eat before your day, check out The Golden Hinde Ship, and The Clink Prison Museum.
For the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and Coppa Club Tower Bridge igloo restaurant, get off at Tower Hill tube station on the District and Circle line from London Bridge.
The most important of all, there’s a lot of walking around since there are no bus stops by the River Thames.