How to make the most out of your South Bank Walk in London
When making the most of your South Bank 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 your 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, and the blaring sound of live music outdoors. These are what I look forward to when I make the most of my South Bank walk in London.
Compared to the rest of Europe, South Bank is the best area for social gatherings. There’s no better time to walk in the South Bank, it’s beautiful night and day, all seasons, hot or cold. The South Bank is really the place where you’ll get to see the sights of London in just a short amount of time. It’s a great area if you’re on a budget and just want to see the sights from outside.
The first time I went to the South Bank, it was on a cold and windy morning in the beginning of November 2021. As I stepped off London Bridge Station, I can feel the cold windy breeze sweeping off my face. My first point of contact was Borough Market, the oldest market in London. Only a few minutes walk from London Bridge Station, on Saturday, it looked quiet from the outside from the modern glass exterior, but as I stepped inside the market, there were full of people already. Knowing it was only 10 am, when the market is open, a lot of people will tell you to get there early to avoid the crowds, but it was already crowded as soon as the market opened anyway. I guess, everyone was told to get there early. You can hear the thunderous sounds of train driving above you since it’s located under London Bridge Station. There were also brown leaves scattered all over the floor left from the autumn season. The rustling of the trees could be heard as it shakes mildly or vigorously depending on the wind speed. People were walking around in their winter jackets and scarves, while wearing their shades from the sun, and The Shard peeking out from behind the market. During your walk, if you have spare time, check out trendy markets near London Bridge Station and 31 things to do in South Bank London
How to get there
There are so many different areas you can get off. 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 (link) first. I started my walk from Westminster tube station towards Queen’s Walk.
If you start your day in the South Bank, it’s walking distance to the West End, so here is a guide on making the most of your West End Walk. If you’re not good with walking, you can always take the bus or tube to Trafalgar Square or Charing Cross Station.
Borough Market still keeps its 19th Century vibe with its steel irons holding the market and the train station together. The wooden signs of stalls, shops, and merchants you could see in every corner also has its 19th Century calligraphy. When I stepped inside the market, everything was so colourful and there are different entrances to get into the market. The orange, green, and yellow stalls had black fonts written “Borough Market” on it, it’s already a trademark people cannot copy. The green and cream painted steel that held the train station above looked old and dirty, dry paint dangled down and pigeons would make a home in the dark hollow corner of the steel iron. The tour guide gathered a group of people together talking about the history of the market as well as the tradition of fish and chips. This shows you can go on a guided tour for around 45 minutes to an hour.
I could see crowds of people sitting outside the pub sipping their beers, cocktails and wine. It’s always busy on Saturdays, you’d be lucky to get a seat. I could already hear the crowds chattering away, it’s as if you’re a football stadium. That’s how crowded it was. Cars and taxis would drive slowly up the narrow one way road to get to the other side, beeping at people walking on the road. I could hear different languages spoken and English spoken in different accents. This shows Borough Market is famous and people from around the world come here to visit. Other than that, it’s just a normal British Market that has been around since the 1800s.
I could smell was the old and fresh cheese stalls coming through my nose, from racette cheese to apple flavoured cheese. Then, I smelled fresh meat from red to white combined with the foul, reeking smell of fresh fish, its eyes bulging out and its mouth opened, lifeless covered in crushed ice. I heard the rumbling of running water where live crabs and lobsters sit with its claws tied up. I don’t know if it was alive though, but if it was, I kind of felt sorry for it. I had to get away from it so I didn’t have to think about it.
Further on, I saw bright and lively colours from yellow, green, red, orange and purple. It was the various fresh vegetable stalls. There were hundreds of tomatoes, lettuces, cabbages, potatoes, oranges, apples, aubergines all piled up in its wicker baskets. There were no dark moulds or wrinkles in sight. Stall sellers would shout 2 for a pound now, 3 for a pound in their traditional, English cockney accent. While on the other side, there were sellers speaking in English with their strong Italian, Spanish and French accent, describing the type of cheese and wine from different regions. It seems like they knew what they were talking about. One asked me if I wanted to try a little of the Italian cheese, which I did and tasted tangy and sharp.
Further up, before looking at it, I could smell fresh baked bread, they yeasty aroma smelled warm, but I knew most bread had been sitting behind the glass for some time, so it was already cold. Paninis, focaccia white sourdough, ciabatta and baguettes ranging from rosemary to garlic. Next to their stall is the fresh chocolate stall, the variety of white, light to dark chocolates all stacked up behind the glass cases with some red spots coming out, a sign it’s a raspberry flavour. There’s a variety. The stall where they sell nuts had different shades of brown. There were small, medium, to large sized bottles with small strings tied to its neck. White labels can be found on each bottle with the name of each oil for cooking. There were red, yellow, light to dark brown coloured oils in different flavours ranging from Himalayan salt, teriyaki, fig balsamic vinegar and many more.
As I went further to the back of the market, I could smell the hot aroma of street food. At 11:30 am, the street food market isn’t that busy but there were still hundreds of people. You could say that you can still walk around in the wide open space, but at around 2 pm to 3 pm, it will get cramped and claustrophobic, that you’d have squeeze through to get past people, sometimes brushing your coat sleeves with someone else. There were around 10 food stalls selling Iraqi food, Thai, salt beef and falafel and many more. There weren’t many people in the queue at 11:30 pm though so if you want to grab a bite to eat, now is the chance, otherwise, by 3 pm, there’d be a queue and you wouldn’t bother queueing up. I could smell the scent of Thai curry cooking and one of the greatest kitchen smells ever, from lemongrass, garlic, chillies and the sizzling of the pan, the smoke coming out hiding the chefs faces shows the authenticity of the stalls, hot burger, the aroma of onions and mustard going up your nose. At the back, there is a wide wooden staircase and several chairs and tables where people eat with their take away boxes. It’s very busy and it seems like there’s never any space to eat. I can also hear music playing in the background.
Street food prices range from £6 to £8 depending on the meal but it does fill you up. Kippers and salmon ranged from £4 – £5 vacuumed in their plastic, pistachios ranging from £4.80 to £5 for 100 g, double and triple the price if its 200g or 300g. You can find different types of peanut butter in its 180g jars for £8.95 and £16.50 for 2 jars. These organic peanut butter have flavours from cacao, hazelnut, maple turmeric, cashew nuts and pistachios. The seller asked if I’d like a taste, and it actually tasted really nice.
Is Southbank London safe?
South Bank London is very safe. You shouldn’t have to worry about pickpocketing like Oxford Street. Although it can get busy, a lot of pick pocketers hang around in Oxford Street and Regent Street since they know there are more tourists there. You shouldn’t worry about walking 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. South Bank is beautiful at night and can be more peaceful.
The start of my walk in Southbank London
I started my South Bank walk from Southwark Cathedral. Southwark Cathedral is hidden behind Borough Market from large oak trees. You could see glimpses of it from the leaves hanging above. It does look medieval and peaceful compared to the crowds in Borough Market. The atmosphere became quiet as people walk past to get to their destination. Southwark Cathedral isn’t a major attraction, but it’s there if you love history. You can also see a stand where you can have teas, coffees, and afternoon tea.
The Golden Hinde Ship
On the other side of Southwark Cathedral, go past the Golden Hinde ship, a hidden gem. The Golden Hinde ship was a galleon which travelled in the 16th Century by Sir Francis Drake. The Golden Hinde is hidden from the traffic, it always has scaffolding poles to keep it in place. Some say it’s a replica but I beg to differ. It’s sitting between The Old Thameside Inn Pub and a bricked office building. You can go inside for £5 per adult, and learn about the ship itself. It is quite narrow and low ceilinged as you step downstairs though, so be careful. Can’t imagine tall 6 foot sailors and captains being in that ship. It must have been painful and claustrophobic when the tide was aggressive. People would sit and admire it from afar but it’s not really a major attraction.
Turn to your left, you’ll see the ruins of Winchester Palace with just one side of rough stony wall built in the 12th Century. The stony side of the building had a mix of smooth pebbles stuck in the wall and a rough stony texture. Although you can only see the foundation and no roof, Winchester Palace is still standing strong to this day. This shows London was already established and wealthy if they had natural resources to build a strong exterior like that. Winchester Palace is one of our national English Heritage site with an approval from the charity. Compared to many English Heritage sites, Winchester Palace is not as picture perfect, but people do go past this ruin and read about its history.
After Winchester Palace, you can go through a small alleyway with a coffee shop and an intimate fine dining restaurant. The tall bricked building is the Clink Prison and Museum, the oldest museum in London dating back between the 12th to the 18th Century. It’s £8 for an adult depending on the season and, as you step inside the prison, you’d feel the cold, and hear stories from prisoners, actors feeling angry and annoyed in the background that they were thrown there without evidence they committed crime, although most were thrown there because they had debts to pay or they were drunk. Read more about Ellen Butler and many others.
The South Bank and the River Thames
As you step out of the prison, you’d be glad you’d be out in the open fresh air. You will already be on the strip of the South Bank and the River Thames. The Instagram pub The Anchor Bankside is never easily missed. It’s red painted pub is so distinct that it draws people to come in, not to mention their Anchor beer garden overlooking the River Thames. There are also other fast food outlets from Nando’s, Wagamama, Pizza Express, The Real Greek, Eat, and Zizzi’s to choose from. It does feel bright on a cold November morning. The smooth grey pavement people walk on still looks brand new and has a 21st Century feel to it. The architecture of apartment buildings and office blocks are designed differently to one another. This what makes London South Bank special.
Along the rest of the South Bank, you’ll often hear buskers singing their hearts out and street performers making people laugh while crowds gather and record their stunts on their phone. Feel free to drop a pound or two in their baskets. They’ll appreciate it. One minute, you’ll hear the latest pop music, then the next, you’ll Caribbean vibes and a magician riding on a one wheeled bicycle.
By the River Thames, you’ll see many bridges in different shapes and colours taking you through different areas of London. The Millennium Bridge is made of silver steel and this will take you towards St. Paul’s Cathedral which you can see from the other side of the Thames. Another green and yellow bridge built in the 19th Century will take you to Spitafields Market and Sky Garden. London is really accessible to different areas of the city whether you’re walking, taking the bus or train and tube. However, if you’re on the South Bank, you can’t take the bus, that’s the purpose of the South Bank strip, you get to enjoy the view of different attractions, people walking, jogging, hearing children laughing, advertisements of the next theatre shows in the National Theatre and the South Bank theatre, and enjoy crowds of people drinking beer and eating fish and chips by the River Thames. South Bank is endless and never short of activities. As there are so many activities to do, it’s hard to include them in the same post, so check out 31 Things to do in the South Bank London.
Along the way, you’ll see people queueing up to buy tickets to see London by boat. Along side the ferries, you’ll see sea containers and cargo boats hooting to let people know they’re there. Some have been stationery for several months or even years. When the tide is low, feel free to walk down a ladder and enjoy the “beach”. You’d often see people looking for treasure, and people sitting on on the edge of the river with their parasols and dog. When the tide is high, you’d see white seagulls and other birds floating and swimming, especially in cold and windy weather. Everywhere you go, you’d hear the clanking of steel being hammered and tall cranes during building works. You wouldn’t be in London if you don’t see cranes and building works thrown in the mix. With everything that’s going on, you could hear thunderous sounds of trains, from Blackfriars Station and Waterloo Station, seeing them drive through the bridge over the River Thames. What about seeing many pigeons among the crazy spectacle sitting and flying with their seagull mates, children chasing them away. Different people speak in different languages and the English language spoken in different accents. However, the majority aren’t wearing their COVID masks anymore, but you can still see some still do.
In autumn, you can see the leaves shaking and you can hear the rustling of the leaves as they fall like rain to the ground. You’d often see piles of brown leaves scattered everywhere as people step on them and hear the creasing noise of the leaves.
South Bank Christmas Market
On the 6th November 2021, the Christmas Market is already on. I was quite surprised as I thought it would be too early. As I walked through the small wooden cabin/stalls, I could see Christmas ornaments in different colours and shapes, winter warmes from handmade gloves to woolly scarves, the smell of mulled wine and the aroma of the tasty juicy burger. It was crowded with people in this spot. The Christmas Market isn’t complete yet, I guess they’re getting ready for December.
Up ahead, I could see the colourful large carousel with its twinkling lights flashing at the top and music playing in the background with children laughing. The fragrant, perfumed smell of sweets and candy floss give to everyone from their pink stalls. Further up, you’ll see several igloo shaped dining experience overlooking the River Thames but I guess it gets busier in the evening, although I assume can feel cold. Why not see kids on their skates under the South Bank Centre, colourful graffiti drawn all over the walls and pillars. People do watch them skate as it can be entertaining.
Now, you’ll see a glimpse of the tall 135 feet London Eye, the giant wheel is made by lots of steel going in different directions to hold it together. You’d have to look up and stretch your neck to see the top of the wheel, but it’s already busy with people going up on a Saturday afternoon. Like Big Ben, it’s as if the London Eye feels so proud to be British. As there are many food stalls and restaurants, why not sit in the Jubilee Park eating your lunch, where in autumn, you can see the leaves turn orange and yellow. 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 each, and the London Eye takes half an hour to go round.
South Bank has many bars, major attractions, restaurants, cafes, and British pubs along the River Thames. 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 (link), Jubilee Park Gardens is small but the best park near the London Eye, the London Dungeon, and Westminster Abbey, 3 of 10’s London’s top 10 attractions. Walking along the South Bank can take 1 hour or more, so be prepared to take breaks along the way. There are many parks like the Jubilee Park consisting of children’s playground, a place to sit and eat your lunch and socialise. If you want to just take advantage of the walk, spare at least an hour to enjoy the environment.
Walk over Westminster Bridge where you’ll see Parliament, the clock tower is still blanketed for refurbishment until 2022.
Houses of Parliament and Big Ben’s Clock Tower
The iconic 19th Century Houses of Parliament and Big Ben’s clock tower stands proudly, it’s as if it’s proud to be British. Right now, it’s been blanketed for refurbishment until mid-2022, 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 this bridge is where most of the vehicles go. People try to walk across the streets not using the zebra crossing, but it’s too dangerous to do that 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’ll 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, peaceful and romantic as London can seem industrial and busier during the day.
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 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!!! I can’t stress enough that you shouldn’t trust them. There are many videos online about Westminster Bridge scams…just google it.
After some time walking, you do get tired, especially if you want to go back to Borough Market. It’s better to get the tube from Westminster Station to London Bridge, cross the road to Hays Galleria where you’ll see rows of expensive retail shops, restaurants, and cafes. Walk through Hays Galleria and you’ll see the Horniman Pub, a traditional British pub that was once an old bank. As you walk up, you’d feel windy but the night sky is clear, the twinkling lights from London’s skyscraper light up at night and reflect on the water, and Tower of London and Tower Bridge can be seen up ahead. By now, it would be dark if you did visit Borough Market at 10:30 am. You can easily spend a whole day here on the strip of the River Thames. It’s not just a short walk by the River Thames, it’s a day out and a tourist attraction.
I love being in the South Bank because there are quiet and busy areas. Street Food Markets. Parks. Museums and galleries. Several top 10 London attractions. You’ll see a grass patch surrounded with benches behind Tate Modern. 21st Century office buildings, and apartment blocks in different geometric shapes. Entertainment for all ages. Restaurants. Cafes. Pubs. They are all here. The best thing about it is that in every season, there are different events to suit the weather. As you go under the subway, (what you call a walkway here), you’d often see colourful murals of London’s history.
The South Bank does get better each year while maintaining its history and its trendy atmosphere. People do come here to socialise, be entertained and come together to enjoy London. You won’t get bored coming here because it’s been made for all ages.
Till next time. Take care and be safe!