Things to do in the South Bank London.
There are so many things to do in South Bank London. Not many people know that most of the major attraction lies in the South Bank, and you can spend all day here because most attractions take around 1 – 3 hours to visit. Plus, the nightlife is amazing, because you could be partying by the River Thames, or outside the Southbank Centre. If you can find a hotel near the South Bank, then, you could get a lot out of your trip to London, so search around. The South Bank area is only a 14-minute walk away from Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar Square is situated in the West End, so if you want to know more about the West End, check out my West End Walk guide. Alternatively, I recommend visiting London for 5 days.
Here are the attractions you could see while you’re in the South Bank:
The queue for these attractions can take around 20 minutes to 1 hour depending on the time and day, the weather, and school holidays.
Table of Contents
Golden Hinde Galleon
Clink Prison and Museum
Restaurants, bars, clubs, and pubs
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and Museum
Tate Modern and the Millennium Bridge linking to St. Paul’s Cathedral
Gabriel’s Wharf, Gabriel’s Pier, and Thames Beach
The River Thames
The National Theatre and Southbank Centre Book Market
The Underbelly Pop-Up Festival
Southbank Centre, Southbank Food Market and Southbank Skate Space
London Eye, Sea Life London Aquarium, London Dungeons
The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and London Wall
Coppa Club Tower Bridge Restaurant
All Hallows by the Tower Church/Presidential Wedding and Museum
Saint Dunstan in the East Church
Kayaking on the River Thames
Cruise the Thames on an old paddle boat
Hidden Gem: Postman’s Park
St. Paul’s Cathedral
River Thames Cruise and see attractions by the river.
Big Ben and Parliament (Big Ben’s clocktower is under refurbishment until 2022)
What to do in South Bank, London
When visiting the South Bank in London, make sure you figure out what it is you want to see on that day. You can spend day and night in the South Bank, you’d probably have to spend at least 2 days if you want to go inside all the attractions mentioned above. Walking from Westminster Abbey to Borough Market can take 40 minutes and it can take an hour to walk to the Tower of London from Westminster Abbey. Alternatively, split your day into 2, so you can make the most of the attractions here. Spend the first day on one side of the river, and the second day on the other side, that way you won’t be going up and down the bridges. This is just my suggestion.
If you want to visit Borough Market, get off at London Bridge, but if you want to visit Westminster Abbey, then get off at Westminster Station. Depending on where you are, taking the tube can be a lot quicker than buses. If you want to make the most of your walk in the South Bank, read my Southbank walk guide.
Insider’s Tips: If you want a loud, busy, vibrant atmosphere visit the South Bank area during the day. If you want a quiet, breezy stroll in the evening and get some fresh air, visit the South Bank at night. The attractions really illuminate in the dark.
The Southbank is also festive during Christmas, so, click for the Southbank Winter Market in the Southbank Winter Festival.
Introduction to the South Bank, London
Rivers, riverbanks, the weather, tourist attractions, theatres, parks, a row of trees lining the riverbank, restaurants and shops, offices, apartments, new buildings, old buildings and so much more. Just imagine all of that in one place. Welcome to the Southbank where everything is catered for the young, the old, families, couples, solos, and pets.
The strip of the South Bank pedestrian walkway by the River Thames is called the Queen’s Walk, and it’s part of the Albert Embankment to raise the piece of land to avoid flooding. The South Bank got its name from the Festival of Britain in 1951, where millions of visitors flocked to see art exhibitions, art fairs, and many more. Ever since then, the South Bank has always been an area for arts and entertainment for any age.
In the Middle Ages, the South Bank was an entertainments district full of prostitutes, theatres, and bearbaiting. By the 18th Century, the South Bank offered a gentler kind of entertainment offering bandstands, zoos, concert halls, menageries, and many more.
Since the bandstands, the zoos, the concert halls, and the menageries were demolished, the council made space for the attractions we have today.
South Bank’s cultural aspects include the Southbank Centre, consisting of the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Hayward Gallery, the Royal National Theatre, BFI Southbank London’s IMAX 3D Cinema, and BFI Southbank.
I came here mid-May; it was still windy so be prepared to bring a cardigan or umbrella since the weather can be unpredictable.
If you really want to make the most of the South Bank, I suggest visiting 2 to 3 attractions that take 1 hour each to visit, since most attractions open at 10 am, take great pictures and spend your time in the free attractions such as browsing Borough Market, Gabriel’s Wharf, Jubilee Gardens, Shakespeare Theatre & Museum, Tate Modern, and Tate Gallery. You can buy 4 or 5 attraction tickets for the price of 3 or 4 attractions. Read on to find out more.
In this post, I started my journey from London Bridge Station, and walked from Borough Market, towards Westminster Abbey.
London Bridge Station
As I stepped off the train at London Bridge Station, to the oldest station in London, the modernised and refurbished station looked a million pounds, having opened in 1836. People went up and down the escalators towards the wide opened space below. London Bridge originally served local services on the London and Greenwich Railway, then expanded to serve London and Croydon Railway, London and Brighton Railway, and the South Eastern Railway. Throughout the 19th Century, London Bridge expanded its services even more, and by the 20th Century, London Bridge introduced British Rail in the 70s, later serving the Thameslink route, Gatwick Airport, Luton Airport, and Crossrail. Talking about Thameslink and Southern Railway, London Bridge has many links to the South Coast of England, from Brighton, Eastbourne, and Hastings. There are many things to do in Hastings, it’s a great day out for the family and takes 1 hour and 40 minutes by train. Make sure you book your train ticket in advanced because on the day, it can cost up to £60 for a return ticket. I bought mine for £22. 50 return, 2 months booked in advanced.
In addition to the refurbishment in 2012, London Bridge offers retail facilities ranging from coffee shops, fast food shops, stationery shops, a barber shop, an electronics shop, a small local M&S supermarket, book shops, toy shops, fashion retail, and toilet facilities.
As I stepped out of London Bridge Station, I noticed the tallest building in Europe, The Shard. The atmosphere near the glassed triangular pyramid is always noisy with building works, and surrounded by tall cranes. I had to stretch my neck up to see the highest point of the building, but I didn’t have time to go up the top floor to see the view.
You can start from Borough Market, but if you want to see the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and Coppa Club Tower Bridge Restaurant, then it’s a 13-minute walk from London Bridge Station. The Tower of London takes 3 hours to roam around freely, and Tower Bridge takes 40 minutes. It’s interesting to tour the bridge if you’re interested in engineering, and how they built the bridge. They rarely talked about the history of what went on inside the tower though. Although Tower Bridge is tightly spaced, the rest of the family with small kids will enjoy the experience. You can walk on the glass floor above the river, and you’ll be given a sticker to say you’ve done it.
Sky Garden is an 8-minute walk from the Tower of London, but you’d have to book a time slot on their website at least 3 days in advanced. Spitalfields Market is a 16-minute walk from Sky Garden, but that’s for another day to review. Let’s focus on the Southbank for now.
Borough Market is the oldest market in London opened in 1851. It’s kept its Victorian architecture and its iconic green architecture. It’s as busy as ever.
The glass exterior of Borough Market looked modern compared to the other 19th Century buildings around it, and had been refurbished in 2001 to make it look modern. The narrow street of London Bridge is always busy and full of cars, black taxis, and the iconic red buses going in different directions. It’s also busy with people coming in and out of the Underground Station.
Built under the London Bridge’s train tracks you’ll hear the thunderous noise of the trains driving above you as you shop. You’ll be squeezing through people, going in different directions while you see colourful fresh organic homegrown, freshly picked, fruits and vegetables. You can smell the reeking fresh fish and seafood that travelled straight from the harbour to the market. Live lobsters and crabs are kept in a water tank ready to be sold and bought. I did feel for them, but they say that if it’s not alive when bought, it means it’s not fresh, and if you can’t smell the foul reeking smell of fish, that means it’s also not fresh.
French, Spanish and Italian wine sellers open stall from France, Spain and Italy, and they would describe each wine to you for recommendations. You can hear different accents spoken in English, which means Borough Market is famous from around the world. As I stepped inside the market, I could smell the the strong pungent aroma of cheese. They were cut into quarters on top of the circular blocks at the bottom to make it look nice. Cheese sellers would often stop you to try a taste of the type of cheese they sold. They then would lure you in to buying a block.
You can also smell the yeasty aroma of baked bread, from ciabatta, white and brown bread, rye, and many others. Although they’re cold, you can eat them on the go if you’re hungry. Further along, cooking oil sellers sold small and large glassed bottles with a label on their neck. He sold them in different flavours, from turmeric, honey, paprika and hundreds more to choose from. I didn’t know cooking oil could be brought in different colours.
On the other side of the market, I could hear a tour guide talking to a group of people talking about the history of the market. You can book a guide on the Borough Market website if you want to know more about tours. On Saturday, you’ll see a row of pubs, restaurants, bars and shops. People would drink beer and have breakfast, lunch and dinner outside. It’s often nice to just stand outside the bar and have a drink while enjoying the buzz of the market. You’ll be lucky to find a seat on Saturday, even if you book a table.
In the street food area, if you come early enough, there won’t be many people queuing up for hot food. Once you arrive, you’ll smell a mix of Thai, burgers, falafel, and many more. You’ll see the smoke coming out of the stall while they cook, and further along, there is a wide wooden staircase made for people eating from their take away boxes. There would be space to sit but you’ll be sitting close to other people next to you. By 3 pm, it would already be crowded, and again, you’d be lucky to find a seat. Behind the market, you’ll see a small alleyway consisting of more street food and restaurants. This alleyway is often missed, but it’s there if you want more choice of food.
Behind Borough Market, you’ll find Southwark Cathedral. Southwark Cathedral is not one of London’s top 10 attractions, but if you love history, churches and cathedral, Southwark Cathedral is an option for you to visit. It’s quiet, and the cathedral offers afternoon tea, and tour guides.
In autumn, you could see the brown leaves scattered on the ground, usually in November as winter can be late here, and you can here the rustling sound of the leaves on the trees as the wind blows. The Shard stands tall behind the market and it’s only a short walk away.
Annisa’s advice on Borough Market
Although Borough Market is busy on Saturdays, if you’re not used to crowds, then it’s not for you, but if markets are your thing, then I recommend you visit Borough Market on the weekends. The best time to visit Borough Market is between 10am to midday Wednesday to Friday; and 8am to midday on Saturday. Alternatively, come at around 4pm when it gets quieter.
Alternatively, go to Broadway Market, the small Maltby Market next door, only open on the weekends, or Real Food Market just behind Southbank Centre. No matter what day, you can sample free food from stalls, but people just like to try anything for free, but overall, Borough Market can be expensive.
As for COVID, the atmosphere here is already back to normal. The majority of people here are double vaccinated and the majority aren’t wearing masks anymore, but a few still wear them for caution.
Southwark Cathedral is an Anglican Cathedral by the River Thames. Southwark Cathedral has been a Christian church for 1000 years, and it’s the mother church of the Anglican Diocese of Southwark. Since the start of the 19th Century, the church was a parish church in the diocese of Winchester and has kept its Gothic architecture between the 13th – 14th Century, although the nave has a 19th Century refurbishment.
I walked out of Borough Market and came across Southwark Cathedral. Check out their art and history section on their website, it’s worth the read. I didn’t go in because I felt I needed to spend more time by the South Bank. Instead, I took advantage of taking photos outside. It’s worth taking photos of the gothic exterior of the cathedral. There’s not a lot of tourists that visit Southwark Cathedral, unlike Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral, so your visit will be an intimate one. I haven’t been to Southwark Cathedral to review because of COVID, but when COVID restrictions have been lifted, I’ll be sure to write a review on it.
Nestled behind Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral is the Golden Hinde galleon and Winchester Palace. These two minor attractions I call the hidden gems are great to admire from the outside. The Golden Hinde and Winchester Palace are hidden from the main road. You can only see the Golden Hinde and Winchester Cathedral through Borough Market as you walk. The Golden Hinde overlooks the River Thames and it’s situated next to the Thameside Inn Pub, where you can relax, have a pint, and fish and chips. The pub does get busy so be there as early as possible to get a good seat.
The Golden Hinde
The Golden Hinde galleon travelled around the world in the 16th Century by Sir Francis Drake, and it’s docked overlooking the River Thames and The Old Thameside Inn pub where you can buy fish and chips and general traditional British food. Queen Elizabeth supported Sir Francis Drake to lead an expedition between South America through the Strait of Magellan to explore the many coasts there. This then caused the Anglo-Spanish War and attack the Spanish and the King of Spain.
Spend about 30 minutes on the ship, take photos and head back out. It was only £5 to get in for adults, and £3.50 for a child. Although it’s not a big attraction, I enjoyed seeing a medieval ship still intact, and this is a hidden gem. I saw a few canons, benches where they would have had their meals, the ship’s wooden steering wheel, a big chest, and many more. The ship’s rooms and decks were quite cramped, and I can imagine tall English sailors of about 6 foot having brief meetings squashed together. It must have been so uncomfortable for them, sailing during high tide. Check out the history behind the ship.
After, I walked through a small walkway and came across a one sided ruin of Winchester Palace owned by many Bishops of Winchester since the 12th Century. They would spend their days here for royal and administrative businesses, and the only remain of the palace is the side wall with a window at the top. As I touched the grey wall, it had a rough texture to it, with its rigged edges. Nothing about the wall felt smooth. I cannot believe that a wall from the 12th Century is still standing strong. You can see small pebbles buried inside the slab, and I can only imagine that this was the only material that were available.
At the bottom of the Palace, there is a block of grass where the foundation laid, but not open to the public. It’s always taken care of by the council, and this is a part of the English Heritage building which shouldn’t be taken for granted. An English Heritage is a charity that manages 400 British historic sites and monuments around England. Check out the British Heritage site for inspiration for your trip. A lot of people do admire the one sided wall of the ruin, and they do read the description provided, but this ruin has so much history.
Restaurants, bars, and cafes
When I headed out, bright light hit my face, a contrast to the cold, and depressing prison. This is the beginning of my walk on the South Bank.
Wagamama, Zizzi’s, Nando’s, The Anchor Bankside Pub, Eat, The Real Greek, Pizza Express are all placed in a row opposite the River Thames. There are many bars, pubs, and restaurants around the South Bank, all the way up to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. The Anchor Bankside Pub is very noticeable, painted in red, and catches your eyes instantly. It has a beer garden overlooking the River Thames and a great area for drinking beer and cocktail no matter the time of day. It is beautiful on the outside, and you’ll see a view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, but inside, it’s very cramped, small, and busy with people. To grab a seat is nearly impossible, and the food is not that grand. It’s better to have a few drinks in the beer garden. Zizzi’s South Bank’s meals are just ordinary, nothing special. I bought a spaghetti and a can of coke for £14.50, and I still felt hungry after 2 hours. Try Nando’s, The Real Greek, or Pizza Express. Generally, all the restaurants, bars, and pubs are packed with people, so the service maybe a hit or a miss. Sometimes, you can wait 20 minutes for your food despite the crowds, and sometimes, you can wait an hour.
If you want to splash some cash, enjoy a day or evening in Coppa Club Tower Bridge, The Oxo Tower Restaurant overlooking the River Thames (it has more than 3,500 positive reviews on Google, and more than 9,000 positive reviews on Tripadvisor. Check out Skylon (it has more than 750 positive reviews on Google, and more than 3,000 positive reviews on Tripadvisor, and of course The Shard and Sky Garden. The Shard and Sky Garden doesn’t need any introduction, except that it’s got a great view of London from the top. I recommend going up in the evening. The light shines brighter, and it’s more peaceful.
Along the South Bank, you’ll see several 21st century office and apartment buildings built in different shapes, sizes and colours, and it seems like you’re in the modern and chic area of London. Along the River Thames, if you want to try street food, there are places that sell churros, burger and chips, fish and chips, frozen yoghurt, as well as quick fix cafes hidden behind the South Bank. Street food prices tend to be the same as fast food restaurants.
In autumn, expect to hear the rustling of the leaves from the trees as the wind blows. See some of the rain of leaves fall and the creasing sound of the pile of brown and yellow leaves on the ground as people step on them. On both windy and summer days, I often buy fish and chips, eat by the benches overlooking the River Thames, and hear the hooting of the boats go past. I’d sit next to pigeons, and hear the squawks of the seagulls flying. As of 2021, in autumn, it does get sunny throughout the season with mild and heavy winds, but when it rains, it will drizzle for a few minutes and stop.
The River Thames is always lively. You’d often see sea containers and boats that are stationary. Some may honk past to carry goods to a store, and you’d often see tall cranes everywhere you go. You wouldn’t be in London if you don’t see cranes and building works. When the tide is low, you’d be able to go down the riverbed and use it as a beach, but when the tide is high, it’s advised to stay away from it.
Up ahead, you’ll come across the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and Museum.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and Museum
As I walked further, I came across Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and Museum, where you’ll learn all about Shakespeare’s plays. It was quite hard to distinguish where the main entrance was and the path leading to the gift shop, but if you don’t want to spend £17 to tour the theatre for 40 minutes, the gift shop offer Shakespeare merchandise ranging from Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth books, tote bags, stationery and many more. It’s worth having a look and buying a souvenir here. Sometimes, the large iron gates are closed, so you might have to check back later or visit their website for more details on when it’s open and what shows are on.
I headed towards the entrance gate to buy my £17 ticket. The guided tour by one of the members of staff said you should arrive before your slotted time, preferably twenty minutes earlier as you can take advantage of the museum inside for free. Outside, you’ll see a huge board consisting of all the Shakespeare plays that are on as well as pictures of actors and works from Shakespeare himself.
The Shakespeare Museum consists of descriptions of Shakespeare’s work. From the use of his words, the change of manuscript to folio, and the many tools Shakespeare used to print his work, it seemed the museum was complete. The museum is small and intimate, so don’t worry about big crowds like the British Museum or the Natural History Museum.
In the hall, the space was big, and felt I could move and dance around. While I was in the museum, a lady recommended me to see a demonstration of what women wore in Shakespeare’s day. If you’re interested, go along to the demo, but if not, you can skip it. It was quite informative, casual, and educational, especially for tourists who don’t know anything about British costumes. There were only around 10 people watching, but you can go as and when you please.
The tour of Shakespeare’s Globe
As the tour began, take leaflets with you which will tell you about the history of the theatre in 14 different languages. The tour guide was very educational, and after a few minutes, we were taken outside. The tour guide mainly talked about the history of the theatre itself rather than Shakespeare himself, and learned that this wasn’t the original theatre. The original was burnt down prior to the present one being built.
Inside the theatre
We were then taken inside the theatre. The interior looked stunning, but unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures. If you see pictures of the theatre online, it looks the same, it’s just a larger version. It seemed more surreal, and worth the visit. It’s round, colourful and open-roofed, and if you were to see a play when it’s raining, I suggest bringing an umbrella or a hooded coat.
Actors practiced their lines from “A Midsummer’s Night Dreams” and sat down on one of the benches. Bored faces could be seen as we watched them practice. As I looked up on to the balcony, I saw a group of school children listening to their teachers talk about the theatre.
The interior of the theatre was beautiful, and the stage was better in real life than in pictures. Since she mainly talked about the theatre, I would have liked it if she talked about Shakespeare’s work and the history more. It would have been an icing on the cake. Shows back in Shakespeare’s era was a sin as Britain was deeply religious, and watching theatre plays was a form of entertainment, therefor entertainment was a sin. If you’re a Shakespeare fan, make sure you watch one of the plays here for £5. It’s worth more than touring the theatre for 40 minutes.
Outside the theatre
We were then taken outside again, and the guide continued to talk about the history of the theatre for another good ten minutes, only to be taken back inside again to watch the actors practice their lines on stage again. This time, we sat on the other side of the stage. She told us the only reason why we went back inside was because she wanted us to get the most out of the tour, but really, it made no difference.
As we headed back out for the third time, she continued to talk about the theatre and its history again, and that for me, near the end got a little boring. I just wanted to go home. The only positive aspect of the tour was seeing the theatre in real life and the free Shakespeare Museum. £17 for 40 minutes was quite expensive for the tour of the theatre, and you can easily look up information online. Buying gifts from the gift shop is more rewarding.
Next to The Shakespeare’s Globe is the Tate Modern. If you love contemporary art, then Tate Modern is for you. Feel free to join events and exhibitions on their website. Tate Modern is free, but since COVID, you’d have to book a time slot on their website. You can’t just come in whenever you like.
Tate Modern kept the interior pieces of the power station. The steel, the brickwork, and the wide-open space are still there. You could just hear echoes of your own voice as you walk through, and there are several floors to the gallery that it’s impossible to see everything in one day. If you can, take advantage of three floors in two hours. As you come into each spacious room, they all had their own characteristics to them. It’s impossible to write everything I saw in the gallery, but I’ll do my best to write a summary of my time here. The white walls and the several paintings on the walls were intriguing, and it made me curious to read more about the art.
The steel Millennium Bridge in front of the gallery has a great view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the parallel bridge from Tate Modern to St. Paul’s Cathedral leads to Central London. In front of the entrance, the made made park consists of benches where you can eat your lunch overlooking the River Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral. People socialise and relax here, and you’d usually walk through a small path surrounded by trees on either side. You’ll usually hear buskers and street entertainers outside the gallery, and children usually love it. Street artists would paint their work and sell it to the public, jugglers would entertain children, and musicians would either sing pop, Caribbean, or just play their saxophone and guitar. The entertainers are different every day. Once COVID restrictions have been eased, I’ll write a review on St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Photos in the gallery
The Free Tate Modern Gallery
Other works include 3D illusions on 2D paper, photographs of multi-story buildings raising awareness of economic issues in the ’90s, 3D art, different quotes from different artists, paintings and a video of the apartheid in South Africa, and many more.
The room that was close to home for me was art by Yinka Shonibare. The four walls were white, and the room felt bright, and the books you see in this picture were made of Dutch wax print fabric. This revealed colonialism, cultural appropriation, and national identity. Developed in the 19th Century, it was an imitation of batik prints from Indonesia, colonised by the Dutch at the time.
An artistic video depicting the Apartheid in South Africa.
A video from Erkan Ozgen depicts a story of Muhammed, a thirteen-year-old boy who fled the war in Syria in 2015 and took shelter in south-eastern Turkey, Derik Ozgen’s hometown. Muhammed is deaf and mute, and in this video, he shows his audience the traumatic account of the events he witnessed during the war.
Gabriel’s Wharf is a small eccentric dead-end consisting of several restaurants, and cafes, as well as colourful boutique shops selling fashion. It’s very peaceful there. The best thing about Gabriel’s Wharf are the wooden seating areas and the gazebo in the middle. Gabriel’s Wharf is worth checking out for 10 minutes. There is a new Limin Beach Club consisting of a “beach area” covered in sand, but it seems out of place considering it’s located next to shops. I’ve never visited, but in summer, you can buy rum cocktails and Trinidian dishes. I’d have to check it out in summer.
From Gabriel’s Wharf, check out the various pop up street food you could try ranging from burger and chips, frozen yoghurt, fish and chips, chorizo, and many others. You can also book a table in one of the igloo seating areas overlooking the River Thames. It’s really difficult to find out how you book, but there is a menu in the middle of the table which you can contact for more information. It looks like it could be an intimate experience in the evening.
The National Theatre
The National Theatre hosts many plays including Shakespeare, international classic drama, and new contemporary plays. It’s publicly funded alongside the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the Royal Opera House. I haven’t had a chance to review some of the shows in the National Theatre, but once COVID restrictions have been eased, I’ll be sure to one as soon as possible. Right now, you can check their website for further information, and what shows you can watch online. After touring the National Theatre, under the bridge, there’s a stall selling old, vintage books, and people usually crowd around to browse the books on offer.
Next to the National Theatre, you’d find the South Bank Book Market. The South Bank Book Market is located under Waterloo Bridge, and it’s a vintage book market where they sell second hand books. You usually find the brown stained books neatly placed in a row, and sellers would wait and serve at the end of the stalls. People do actually browse through the hundreds of collections and are interested in what the market offers.
The Underbelly Pop-up Festival
The Underbelly Pop-up Festival has hosted more than 100 pup-up shows such as comedy circus shows, stand-up comedy, and many others. The Underbelly Pop-up Festival brings hundreds of people in the community together serving street food, summer drinks, blasting music outdoors by the River Thames, and many more. This is for the young ones who are into socialising and colourful outdoor entertainment, the Underbelly Pop-up Festival is a recommendation from me. Check out their website for more details.
The Southbank Centre, South Bank Food Market, and the South Bank Skate Park
My walk didn’t feel complete if I didn’t give the Southbank Centre a visit. Although the shows at the Centre are short-running, and not as popular as its West End counterparts, people still visit the Southbank Centre. People would generally hang around enjoying the food and drinks, and the view of the River Thames on the balcony. As I entered the centre, it seemed empty. People would sit by the glassed window sipping coffee and eating sandwiches and crisps. The coffee shop is a great way to unwind in the Centre. The middle of the Centre felt spacious, and there would be more people sitting, socialising and sitting drinking coffee. There is also a large empty ballroom when not being used, but I’m not sure if they use it much. I guess they do use it for private functions.
Nearby, there are various fast-food outlets including Eat, Giraffe and Yo Sushi. You can also hear the loud crashing noises of skateboarders falling over the colourful graffiti ramps under The Southbank Centre. The South Bank Centre has a roof garden and a café, and during the summer, music will be blasting outside. From live music and drink stalls on the balcony to people partying until dawn. That’s when the nightlife comes to life. There’s no better way than to be gulping beer on a summer’s day, overlooking the River Thames on the balcony while the music blasts.
As for the Southbank Food Market, compared to Borough Market, they sell hot street food from around the world rather than selling fresh vegetables and fruits. It’s a little smaller and less hectic, but it’s an alternative to Borough Market. If you’re a skater, you can enjoy the free Southbank Skate Park underneath the Southbank Centre. There’ll be colourful graffiti’s and skate ramps where you can fall off with other people. As you approach the skate park, you’ll hear the thunderous noise of the skateboards, and people stand there to watch them play. It’s a lot of fun.
The London Eye, Sea Life London Aquarium, and London Dungeon
As you walk up, you’ll notice the 135-meter-tall London Eye appear behind the tall trees as you look up to the sky. The nearer you go towards the London Eye; you’ll realise how gigantic it is in contrast to the photos you see online. When you see the London Eye, it makes you feel patriotic just being in London. London wouldn’t be the same without it.
Sea Life London Aquarium, the London Dungeon, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey, are all found here, and this is where your adventure in the Southbank ends. When you cross Westminster Bridge, there are a few rickshaws offering to take you around London from £15 and upwards. It’s not worth it, and expensive, it’s better to take the Hop on Hop Off tour bus instead. There are also street performers on the bridge, but it’s a rip off, and don’t trust them. You usually see married couples here taking photos in front of the London Eye and Big Ben.
Buying 5 tickets for the price of 4 attractions can cost around £60, which includes the London Eye, Sea Life London Aquarium, Shrek Adventures, the London Dungeon, and Madame Tussauds. This depends on your pocket, and whether you’re willing to pay £60 for 5 attractions and spend 5 hours of your time here.
The London Dungeon and Sea Life, Shrek Adventures closes at 4, and the London Eye closes at 6 pm in winter, and 8:30 pm in summer. The offer also includes a ticket to see Madame Tussauds, but you’d have to go to Baker Street from Westminster Underground Station for that, but it won’t take longer than half an hour to get there by tube. Spare 1 hour each for the London Eye, Sea Life, and the London Dungeon. See if you can save money applying for the London Pass and the London Explorer Pass. After visiting these attractions, you can relax in the Jubilee Garden while your kids roam free in the playground.
Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and the London Wall
The Tower of London takes 3 hours to visit, so make sure you visit the Tower of London as the last thing on your to-do list, that way, you can relax after the tour. You’ll be tired after walking around the grounds.
The Tower of London goes back 1000 years of history and it’s included in the entry price. You can go on the Wardour Tour with around 20 people, hearing the Beefeaters share their British sense of humour about who was imprisoned in the cold towers. You’ll learn about the royal families, and politicians who were executed here, as well as the many royal families that resided here such as Henry VIII.
As for Tower Bridge, you’d expect to learn more about the engineering side of the bridge ever since it was built. A lot of people are expecting to hear more about stories of Queen Mary I, also known as Bloody Mary, but it’s more to do with the construction of the bridge. If you’re into engineering, visit the Tower Bridge tour lasting from 40 to 45 minutes. You’ll also see the museum of the Engine Room here. A lot of people get really disappointed when they were told they’d see the actual engine room in the tour, but it’s actually, a museum of different engines used for the bridge. You can book a tour to see the actual Engine Room with a member of staff, but the Engine Room in the tour itself is actually a museum.
After your visit to the Tower of London, you’ll see the London Wall. The London Wall is a tall piece of Roman wall still intact. People just walk on by, but it’s there for you to admire if you like. In summer, sit in Potter’s Field Park for lunch overlooking the blue gigantic and majestic Tower Bridge.
Coppa Club Tower Bridge
Coppa Club Tower Bridge restaurant serves general European/Italian dishes including pizza, pasta, salad, wines, and cocktails. It’s also an Instagram worthy restaurant. On the website, it says they provide an undisturbed working environment but during dinner, it was super busy. Maybe during the afternoon, it’s quieter. Better check it out during the day.
If you click on the link above, the post will cover reviews on the igloos, the atmosphere, the price, the location, the service, the bar and of course, the food.
Opened in 2015 in London, Coppa Club has many restaurants situated in Henley-on-Thames, Sonning-on-Thames, Maidenhead, Brighton, and Cobham Village. Depending on where you go, you’re either near the beach, in an English village, in an English countryside or a bustling city in London. Either way, all the Coppa Club restaurants are vibrant, busy, and popular. Coppa Club has been a popular visit for locals and tourists, and it’s been a top recommendation from travel articles around London.
All Hallows by the Tower Anglican Church
You can visit All Hallows by the Tower Church/Presidential Wedding and Museum before you visit the Tower of London and it’s located in front of Tower of London itself. The website claims this is the oldest church in the City of London founded in AD 675, and in 1539, the church belonged to Barking Abbey, a Benedictine nunnery in Barking, Essex, in the 7th Century, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Throughout the 11th – 15th Century, they extended the church with elements of the Norman, 13th and 15th Century architecture. It’s also amazing that the church survived the Great Fire of London, and the Blitz in World War II, even though it was irreparably damaged by the Germans. I haven’t had a chance to review this intimate church because of COVID, but once COVID restrictions have been eased, I’ll write a review about it.
St. Dunston-in-the-East was a Church of England Parish Church. It’s now a ruin and public park, where people can sit by the benches and take photos of the remaining exterior grey walls. Beautiful red and green plants, trees, mosses, and lichen grew on the walls, but the detailed patterns of the archways, and the stoned walls are still intact. It was destroyed during the Second World War, and you can still feel the ghosts of the past walking through the church. It’s peaceful, eerie, beautiful, and a hidden gem at the same time. You can spend an hour here, taking photos and eating lunch, away from the busy city streets. In 2 – 6-minutes, walk up, and you’ll see Sky Garden, and Leadenhall Market. Sky Garden is an alternative to see the view of 360 Degree London. If you can afford to splash a lot of cash for an evening meal, feel free to book a fine-dining table overlooking the view of London. You’d have to book a slot on the website 3 days before visiting Sky Garden, you can’t just visit there on the day.
From Leadenhall Market, take the bus from Fenchurch Street towards Spitalfields Market. People generally spend half a day here shopping for vintage, designer brands, and Petticoat Lane, a bargain market consisting of £5 – £20 fashion products, football t-shirts, souvenirs, fruit and veg stalls, and many more. Petticoat Lane is always crowded with people, and the walkways can be narrow, you can feel claustrophobic, but if you want to find a bargain, be my guest. You can skip Spitalfields Market for another day if you want to continue making the most of the Southbank. I haven’t had a chance to take photos and review the garden because of COVID, but once it’s safe to do so, I will.
Kayaking on the River Thames
Apart from touring the city on a Hop On and Hop Off bus or going on a River Cruise along the Thames, why not canoe or kayak and enjoy the cool breeze as you see the many famous landmarks in London?
Kayaking and canoeing are not for the faint hearted and not for beginners. The waves in the River Thames can be very fierce and when it’s windy it’s wise not to do so. I have seen experienced swimmers struggle getting out of the water because of its currents. Make sure you know your risks.
The great thing about kayaking and canoeing in London is that it covers the quieter side of London too if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Places which include wildlife and nature. These places are not scenic but if you’re into landfill, grazelands, abandoned spaces all overtaken by wildlife, then visit remotelondon.com.
There are many kayaking and canoeing companies you can take advantage of. Here are 6 suggestions:
Leadenhall Market is situated near London Fenchurch Street and Monument, and it’s just a 9-minute walk from London Bridge. If you happen to visit the Sky Garden and Spitalfields Market (more on Sky Garden and Spitalfields Market once COVID restriction ends), give Leadenhall Market a visit before or after.
As you step inside the cobble stone pavement in the market, you will be surrounded by many luxurious 15th Century shops. Sip some luxurious coffee in one of the coffee shops among businessmen in their suits. Buy some cinnamon pastries or sugared waffles, chocolate croissants and various cakes to take away. Not enough? Why not visit the New Moon pub, a brightly lit golden pub for traditional British fish and chips? Other than buying cakes, sipping coffees, and eating fish and chips, you can buy flowers at the florist, fresh meat from the market, taste the finest wine in a casual wine café. There’s plenty of shops, restaurants, and cafes to choose from here. A contrast to a vibrant working-class Borough Market and vintage Portobello Market.
It’s not just the shopping you’ll experience, it’s the historical architecture all around you. The bright lit pathway lines many shops and as you look above, you’ll see exceedingly high arch shaped glass roof. As you arrive in the middle, above, you will see an extremely high dome shaped roof. It’s a guarantee that you’ll be surrounded in gold architecture.
Cruise the Thames on an old paddle steamer
There are many companies that offer cruising by the River Thames. You can choose from exploring the city with live entertainment, fine dining with wine, fireworks display if you choose to come for NYE and experience Tower Bridge lift, a rare occurrence nowadays.
We went with Dixie Queen and the service there was amazing. As you board the Dixie Queen, you’d feel like stepping inside a mini Titanic cruise ship. The wooden stairs with brass handles will take you to the second floor of the dining area. There were around fifty chairs and tables covered in white tablecloths. Large white candelabras are placed on each table.
We went to the lower deck and this deck consists of several intimate booths and blue couches complemented with dark wooden tables. The upper deck consists of a bar for alcoholic beverages and you can also opt for buffet service if you prefer.
At the end of the boat, there is a great space for dancing, live entertainment, and a balcony for fresh air.
It’s recommended to explore London at night since London can be industrial. During the day, the view isn’t as beautiful as at night.
Interesting landmarks covered include the former Battersea Power Station, Palace of Westminster (Big Ben), The London Eye, the Gherkin, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, Cutty Sark ship, Greenwich The O2 Arena, and the Thames Barrier to prevent flooding.
Dixie Queen is the busiest, but you can choose from the Elizabethan, Edwardian, and Equity. Equity is for private tours of no more than 6 people.
If you happen to be in St. Paul’s Cathedral, make sure to check out Postman’s Park, nestled behind. It’s a great place to get away from the busy atmosphere, and a great place to have your lunch. You’ll be surrounded by giant ash and oak trees, green plants and tall 14th Century Tudor houses.
The special thing about this park is the Watt’s Memorial to Heroic Self. It consists of memorial plaques of over 40 people who have sacrificed their lives to save others. The memorial opened in 1900 and dates to the 19th Century. Two plaques include:
Thomas Griffin, a labourer who died in a boiler explosion so he could search for his mate. Died 12 April 1899.
Alice Ayers, a daughter of a bricklayer, saved 3 children from a burning house. Died 24 April 1885.
It’s worth the read and imagine what they had to go through risking their live
St. Paul’s Cathedral
This is another attraction that doesn’t need an introduction. As most know, Prince Charles and Princess Diana got married here in 1981, and it’s been an iconic tourist attraction for more than 100 years. The Millennium Bridge connects St. Paul’s Cathedral and Tate Modern, and they’re both situated opposite each other. Spare 1 hour here if you want to enter, but personally, you’ll get more out of Westminster Abbey that St. Paul’s Cathedral. There’s more history, and more items to discover. The highlights of St. Paul’s Cathedral are:
Great views of industrial London from the dome up the 528 steps. It’s better to view London at night.
The magnificence of the Whispering Gallery with its intricate gold and creme architecture details, and Thornhill paintings on the ceiling. Go up the Stone Gallery and Golden Gallery from here.
The Nave where you can see the interior of the dome.
The Chapels consisting of Field Marshal Lord Kitchener’s memorial, All Soul’s Chapel, St. Dunstan’s Chapel, St. George’s Chapel, St. Michael’s Chapel, the Middlesex Chapel, and the American Memorial Chapel, dedicating this area to the 28000 Americans that were stationed and killed during the Second World War. Look out for the Knight’s Bachelor Chapel, and the OBE Chapel in The Crypt.
The Quire where they hold choir services.
Oculus: An Eye into St. Paul’s Cathedral where you can watch a video on the history of St. Paul’s Cathedral going back to 1400 years.
The Cathedral collection consists of the Cathedral Library worth over 21000 books and manuscripts dating back to 1690, although some earlier works since the 1300s were destroyed in the Great Fire of London.
When you tour St. Paul’s Cathedral, you’ll be given touch screen guides consisting of films, images, interviews, and commentaries regarding the cathedral. Kids usually love the quizzes and interactive games on offer here.
HMS Belfast was a Royal Navy that helped Britain block the Germans during the Second World War. She was launched on 17 March 1938 and commissioned less than a month before the war started. You can visit the museum during the day, and imagine what it was like when the captains had to endure such hardship. You’ll see what it was like on the ship, how the slept, what equipment they used to defend against the Germans, and you can imagine the sounds of the captains and imagine them working as you experience each part of the ship. I haven’t had a chance to review HMS Belfast because of COVID, but when it’s safe to do so, I’ll write a review on it.
River Thames Cruise
As most know, London can be very industrial, so don’t expect to see extravagant views of London. Despite the roadworks, and the building works you see all around you, you can see all the spectacular attractions by the River Thames. Attractions such as the Tower of London, the London Eye, as you go near the Tower Bridge, you won’t notice how magnificent, and gigantic the bridge could be in close. There’s no words to explain the grandeur of Tower Bridge. You’ll also see Big Ben, 21st Century office buildings with its tinted windows along with 19th Century buildings, stop in Greenwich, South East London, and see the grand O2 Arena, and many more. Be warned, at times, London can be windy and wet, so when you want to see the view of London outside, you may complain about the weather. The cruise usually takes 40 minutes to tour around the River Thames, and it’s around £19 – £21 per adult depending on which company you go with. You can get a package with many major attractions, so you’ll be saving more on price, depending on which company you go with. Shop around.
Medieval churches. Abbeys. Gothic buildings. They all have three things in common; architecture, history, and the people. Discover more than 900 years of life in Westminster Abbey in the City of Westminster. Explore tombs, burials, and memorials from the British monarchy, British politicians, scientists, writers, and poets. Shakespeare, Stephen Hawking, Queen Elizabeth I, King Richard II, Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer, and many more. Learn about the Nave, the Quire, the ceilings and windows, and the architecture that goes with it. Read more about the secrets of Westminster Abbey here.
“How the hell did they construct abbeys and churches so beautifully? The intricate detail of chiseling stones into small patterns, the way they carved religious crosses, and make them identical to one another. The several rows of small, curved lines in an archway above their main doors. “How did they combine multi-coloured glassed windows in different and turn them into picture stories?”
Big Ben and Parliament
Big Ben’s clock tower is being refurbished until 2022, so you won’t see the clock until that time. You’ll be able to see Big Ben and Parliament on the River Thames Cruise too. You can go tour inside the Parliament, but it’s been postponed because of COVID and major refurbishments. The tour takes between 45 minutes to 2 hours, and you can have Afternoon Tea with it too. I’ve had mixed reviews on the Afternoon Tea, but when I went there, I had an okay experience. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either. The Afternoon Tea was just standard, the sandwiches taste the same as the ones around London. There’s no distinct taste to it, however, there aren’t as many food selections inside as I thought there were
Tate Britain is the first of the four galleries to open in England. The Tate galleries are a part of the Tate group, which includes Tate Britain, formerly known as Tate Gallery, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool, and Tate St. Ives. The group consists of British contemporary art and houses similar art to Tate Modern above. Its sponsor is the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sports, so it’s not government funded, although they’re all free to enter. Founded in 1897, as the National Gallery of British Art previously, in 1932, it was named after the sugar tycoon Henry Tate & Tate & Lyle, who had started the collections into the galleries. I haven’t had a chance to review Tate Modern because of COVID, but once it’s safe to do so, I’ll give it a visit. In the meantime, stay safe and check out their website and virtual tour here.
You may also like:
The Cut, a street that lines from Waterloo to Southwark. You’ll be able to check out The Old Vic Theatre, The Young Vic Pub, a tapas bar, Meson Don Felipe, and check out the vintage second-hand Calder Bookshop and Theatre.
Lower Marsh Market is a fresh food market with 77 stalls near the Southbank, and around it, you’ll find stylish restaurants and cafes from around the world, from Cuban, Thai, Spanish, and many more. Check out the music and vintage memorabilia shop as well if you’re into that kind of thing.
BFI Southbank which represents and promotes filmmaking and television in the UK. You’ll find so many film archives, from the London Film Festival, the London IMAX, and many more. Check out their website for more information.
South Bank has come a long way since the 11th Century providing arts and entertainment for all. From my experience, South Bank is a great area for couples on their honeymoon and spending time on Valentine’s Day. It’s also great for families with kids of all ages and mature couples, like visiting the London Dungeon, the London Eye and educational places like Westminster Abbey, Tate Modern, Tate Gallery and St. Paul’s Cathedral. From my experience, it can be expensive spending money on the attractions around here even if you bought 3 tickets for the price of 2 attractions. If you’ve arrived at Westminster Bridge, people waste their time and money on the street performers, and not take any notice on the real attractions. Check out the London Pass website for more information on saving money on over 80+ attractions, as well as The London Explorer Pass on saving money on 20+ attractions.
You will see different panoramic views from the other side of the Thames, including St. Paul’s Cathedral and The Shard, and I felt like my feet were going to fall off. It’s well worth it because you can just have a rest in the Jubilee Gardens, let your children run free while people watching. The River Thames is not spectacular, since it’s quite small compared to many rivers you see in Europe, and London can be industrialised consisting of cranes, road works, and noises from the train stations, but there are so many bars, pubs, clubs, restaurants, entertainments, and attractions worth the visit.
So, there you have it, more than 20+ things to do in the South Bank, London. If you have any questions regarding your trip to the South Bank, please click on my Facebook icon below, and I’ll reply to your requests from there. For now, stay safe, and take care!