14 Things to do in Southbank
Southbank is always overlooked when it comes to London’s attractions. People think there’s nothing to see and do. Well, they’re wrong. They just haven’t looked properly. Not of tourists know a lot about the Southbank, so I have decided to make it my mission to make a guide on what to do in Southbank.
Southbank is not just a strip of walkway, it has great views of London’s major attractions by the River Thames, rows of restaurants, pubs and clubs by the River Thames and events in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Without further ado, check out 14 Things to do in Southbank.
The Golden Hinde
The Clink Prison and Museum
Restaurants, bars and cafes
The Globe Theatre/Shakespeare’s Globe and Museum
Click here for Southbank Winter Market
Click here for my walk by the Southbank
Ideally, for London’s first-timers visit The London Eye, The London Dungeon, Shrek Experience, SeaLife, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey first, a short walk away. If you are hanging around in Southbank, to visit all of the attractions above, it can take five hours so use your time wisely. Due to Corona virus, Southbank Centre is closed until further notice but there’s no harm in checking their virtual entertainment online Check out the Southbank Centre for podcasts, interviews and virtual shows.
Introduction to the Southbank, London
Rivers, riverbanks, the wind, 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. Yep! It does exist. Welcome to Southbank where everything is catered for, for the young, the old, families, couples, solos and animals.
I came here mid May, it was still windy so be prepared to bring a cardigan or umbrella since the weather can be unpredictable.
Southbank London is a walking strip along the River Thames and there are 14 things to do in Southbank London. By the strip and along the River Thames, there are so many top attractions you can visit, as well as bars, pubs and restaurants, theatres and they are all walking distances from one another. I feel it’s impossible to visit all of these attractions in one day but ideal for first time visitors since all the attractions are placed in one area. If you do want to visit everything in one day, I suggest just spending time outside, taking great pictures and spending your time in the free attractions such as walking through Borough Market, The Shakespeare Museum and Tate Gallery. Here are 14 things to do in Southbank, London.
In this post, I have included my walking trip from A to B. I started my journey from London Bridge Station which you can read about here and from there, I started my journey from Borough Market, then ended my journey in Westminster Abbey.
As I headed out from London Bridge Station, I walked to the right and saw the tallest building in London, The Shard and The Science Museum. This wasn’t part of my walk so I headed straight on towards Borough Market.
Borough Market has a glass exterior as you can see from the picture below. I love the building’s structure and could see it was really busy on the main road, nevertheless, the weather made it worthwhile. I knew it was going to be an exciting day. Southbank is literally behind this market, you can’t miss it.
Borough Market is a food and drinks market selling dairy, fish, fresh vegetables, chocolate, wine and herbs and spices from all over the world. All the seafood you see came from the boat and harbour straight to the market. They are alI freshly produced, hand-made and bought from their local harbours and farmers. This is why Borough Market has a distinct feel to it.
I found dairy and wine straight from Italy, France and Spain, seafood from the English coast as well as fresh vegetables and fruits. Hungry? The mouth watering stalls and the smell of fried onions, mustard and tomato ketchup mixed into burgers. The juicy oil coming out from the fish and chips and steak. Small boutique restuarants serving world dishes as well as British pubs scattered around the market will still linger in your mouth for the rest of the day. I had breakfast at home but the smell of different aromas was very tempting.
I could spend a day here trying all the stalls in the market so feel free to buy souvenirs from one of the stalls.
Annisa’s advice on Borough Market
You should avoid Saturdays as this is the busiest time people visit. Weekdays are already busy enough let alone Saturdays. Visit Borough Market on the weekdays, alternatively, go to Broadway Market or Real Food Market just behind Southbank Centre.
No matter what day, you can sample free food from stalls the sellers want you to buy from but really, people just like to try anything for free.
Occasionally, you would get people who do buy food from stalls but the food prices here are quite high. Borough Market isn’t cheap.
I walked out of Borough Market and came across Southwark Cathedral. Check out their art and history section on their website, worth the read. I didn’t go in because I felt I needed to spend more time by the Southbank. I took advantage of taking photos outside. It’s worth taking photos of the gothic exterior of the Cathedral. I didn’t spend much time and so walked on and came across The Golden Hinde.
The Golden Hinde
The Golden Hinde is overlooking the River Thames and The Old Thameside Inn (pub) where you can take advantage of fish and chips and traditional British food. Southbank is on the same strip.
Spend about fifteen minutes on the ship, take photos and head back out. That’s what I did. It was only £5 to get in. Although it’s not a big attraction, I enjoyed seeing a medieval ship still intact. I saw a few canons, benches where they would have had their meals, the ship’s wooden steering wheel, a big chest, I assumed where they kept their treasures as well as the sails they used when they travelled. Be careful walking down into the deck, since it was hard for me to take videos and go downstairs at the same time.
The Golden Hinde Ship travelled around the world before berthing in 1996 for public viewing.
Although not a big tourist attraction in London, Winchester Palace is seen by many visitors. Its history is still relevant.
I walked through a small walkway and came across the ruins of Winchester Palace owned by many Bishops of Winchester. They would spend their days here for royal and administrative businesses. The only remains of the Palace is the side wall with a window at the top, as you can see in the picture.
At the bottom of the Palace, there is a block of grassland (not open to the public) where I assumed the hall had been. It is always taken care of by the council. 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 going back to as early as the 12th Century. Check it out here on their website if you want to visit the English Heritage sites.
Back to London, there is also a description of the Palace and its history, which you can read about here.
I walked through a small alleyway and I particularly love this narrow alleyway because there were tall brick walls with different colours. It made it more interesting to the eye. The next attraction I visited was The Clink Prison and Museum for only £7.50 per adult.
The Clink Prison and Museum
In The Clink Prison and Museum, there weren’t a lot of people that visited here. It’s not really a major attraction but worth the visit. It’s a hidden attraction and also hidden away from the main roads and the Southbank itself. The Southbank is about a minute or two away from the prison (something to note down for hidden attractions in London).
As I entered the huge steel gate, I finally bought my ticket. It was as if I was going to prison. Even the staff that sold my ticket was wearing medieval clothing.
The place was dark which I assumed would be. If you didn’t know the history of London, back in the day, it was very gruesome. People were tortured, imprisoned and bloody. It was full of riots. It is not a surprise reading descriptions of how London was so bad back in those days.
The history of The Clink Prison and Museum
Opened in the 12th Century, The Clink Prison was the loudest, rowdiest and bloodiest prison in London. There were debtors, drunks, traitors, priests, the innocence and so many more that were thrown into this prison. Henry de Bois was appointed the Bishop of Winchester. He lived in Winchester Palace behind the museum and was in charge of collecting rents and debts from brothel owners in Bankside. Basically, businesses in the area of Bankside became under Henry de Bois’s law. Anything he doesn’t approve of or he does approve of will be judged accordingly. If you go against his laws, you will be thrown into The Clink. The Clink may have got its name from the sound the blacksmith’s iron closes when it attaches itself onto the prisons’ arms and legs “clink”.
One notable prisoner was Sir Thomas Wyatt, a son of the Renaissance poet, who rebelled against Queen Mary I and John Rogers and a gentleman who translated the Bible from Latin to English. They wanted to destroy the prison by law during the Peasants Revolt in 1381 and Jack Cade’s Rebellion of 1450 but ended up being a men’s two storey prison. In 1780, the Clink Prison was burnt to the ground and all the prisoners were released but were never recaptured. What is left of Bankside are the Clink Street and the prison’s original walls and Winchester Palace.
Another prisoner I came across was Ellen Butler. She was a maid working for a man called Thomas Boyd and was imprisoned here. For some reason, she resigned, but Boyd made false accusations against her which led her to be put in prison.
She then later made claims to the Lord Chancellor after three weeks of being put there to release her. She became a prostitute, however, was put back into prison to prevent herself from getting diseases that plagued London at the time. There are many stories behind this prison. Visit the website here.
Restaurants, bars and cafes
When I headed out, I came across the beginning of my walk on the strip of the River Thames in Southbank. The first thing I saw were rows of restaurants and pubs. The first pub that caught my eye was The Anchor Pub. It had bright red window panes and a beer garden overlooking the Thames. There are other restaurants including Zizzi, Eat, and The Real Greek which you could try.
There were still people walking along the bank, and as a result, I enjoyed the environment I was in. Here you can see a glimpse of St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Shard, and many famous bridges to get across Central London.
The Globe Theatre
As I walked further, I came across The Globe Theatre where you can learn all about Shakespeare’s plays. At first, I came across the gift shop and realised it wasn’t the main entrance.
The main entrance was further down. It was quite hard to distinguish from the main entrance and the path leading to the gift shop though. The gift shop had many books relating to Shakespeare, from Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth and many more. There were also stationary, bags, and books relating to the Globe. It’s worth having a look and buying something on Shakespeare.
I headed to the entrance gate to buy my ticket. £17 per adult. It’s a guided tour by one of the staff. You should arrive before your slotted time, preferably twenty minutes earlier as you can take advantage of the museum inside for free.
The Shakespeare Museum had descriptions of Shakespeare’s work. From the use of his words in his plays, the change of manuscript to folio and the many tools Shakespeare used to print his work, it seems the museum was complete with everything to do with Shakespeare.
In the hall, the space was big and felt I could move around. While I was in the museum, a lady recommended me to see a demonstration of what women wore in Shakespeare’s day. It was quite informative and educational, especially for tourists who don’t know anything about British costumes. The demo is very casual and if you feel like leaving in the middle of them talking, then you’re free to do so.
The tour of Shakespeare’s Globe
As the tour began, you can take leaflets on the history of The Globe in 14 different languages.
The tour guide was very educational and we were taken outside The Globe. The tour guide mainly talked about the history of the Globe. I was quite surprised that this isn’t the original theatre since the original one was burnt down prior to this one being built.
Inside the theatre
We were then taken inside the theatre. From the first impression, I thought the interior was stunning. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures. If you see pictures of the theatre online, it’s exactly the same as you would see it in real life. In real life, it seemed more surreal so that’s why it’s worth the visit. It’s round, colourful and open roofed. If you were to see a play when it’s raining, you would get wet, so bring an umbrella.
We sat down on one of the benches where we saw a few actors practicing their lines on the stage. They were practicing their lines from ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dreams’. I saw a few bored faces as we watched them practice but I saw a group of school children in the upper section of the theatre. That made me smile since children could benefit from the history of Shakespeare.
In conclusion, 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, she could at least talk about Shakespeare’s work and history, it would have been an icing on the cake. I learned that theatre shows back in Shakespeare’s era was a sin (since Britain was quite religious) as it was a form of entertainment. I needn’t say more since I don’t want to give a lot a way but in summary, if you’re a Shakespeare fan, please visit this theatre. It’s very educational.
Outside the theatre
We were then taken outside again. The tour guide continued to talk through the history of The Globe for a good ten minutes, then, we were taken back inside again to watch the actors practice their lines on stage again. But this time, we sat on the other side of the stage. She told us that the only reason why we came inside again was because she wanted us to get the most out of the tour. Really, it made no difference.
We then headed back out, continued to talk about the Globe and its history again. Personally for me, near the end, it got a little bit boring. I just wanted to go home. The only upside to the tour was seeing the theatre in real life and the Shakespeare Museum.
Grabbing something to eat
At this point, I was already hungry so I decided to grab something to eat. I decided to check out The Swan Restaurant and Bar since it looked chic and classy from the outside. I loved the interior of the restaurant. There was a long wooden table, several sofas on the left and a quiet area to the far side.
It was busy but all the waiters were running around like a headless chicken and there wasn’t anyone greeting me. I liked the bar and kitchen area but since I wasn’t greeted at the door and the staff was running around, I gave it a miss.
Zizzi’s Italian Restaurant
I thought of going back to the end of Southbank where Eat, Zizzi and The Real Greek were. Zizzi, I thought had a good reputation since it’s a chained restaurant which can be found around London. I thought it was in a nice location, right under the bridge and said “Why not?”. The restaurant was upstairs so you could see the view of the River Thames.
The atmosphere by the staircase made me feel welcomed. As I was upstairs, I liked the interior of the restaurant. It was busy and I saw a few chefs cooking on the left side of the restaurant. I also loved the wooden spiral ceiling and booths overlooking the Thames. Good start.#
I wasn’t really greeted yet again but I found my own seat at the far end of the restaurant, away from other people. There was a bar at the end of the restaurant though, that was nice. As I sat down, the waiter asked me if I had any food allergies.
Coming from a hospitality background, I was taught not to ask if we had food allergies before the customer has chosen their meal, it would sound aggressive. I looked at the menu, loved the design on it and I finally chose a traditional spaghetti bolognese. I didn’t have to wait long until it arrived.
One of the waitresses grated some cheese for me but it didn’t look like what I expected it to, maybe the taste would be better. The taste of the spaghetti was just ordinary, I’ve made better spaghetti bolognese at home and it wasn’t really that filling. £10.95 for a portion of spaghetti that’s not filling is not worth it.
I was still hungry when I finished eating. The diet coke was £3.05 and I spent £14 on the whole meal. I mean, this is a standard price for eating in London. £14 for a meal with a drink? Come on, it has to impress me. I didn’t bother with dessert.
The best thing about the restaurant is the atmosphere, the interior and love how it overlooks the River Thames. That was it. You should try The Real Greek, Eat and several British pubs scattered around the Southbank, especially if you want fish and chips. British pubs here can get really busy in this area so try to get tables as soon as possible.
After lunch, I walked back up the Southbank and the next attraction I saw was The Tate Modern. Here, you can see pieces of art and photography in all shapes and sizes. There are events and exhibitions here too so check out their website. The front of the gallery was quite cool. The Millennium Bridge is right in front of Tate Modern which leads to Central London and St. Paul’s Cathedral. There was a huge park, benches, and tall trees in the middle where people socialised and relaxed.
The entrance to the gallery wasn’t that attractive though but what fascinated me was that the gallery had been built inside a former power station which closed down in 1981. Since then, the building had several proposals to host exhibitions and events, museums and many more but was unsuccessful until 1995. The Tate Gallery then opened to host art in all its glory.
The gallery is FREE of charge, yes FREE of charge, that’s what makes it so special. They still kept the interior of the power station such as the steel, the brickwork, the wide open space where there’s nothing in it but to walk.
There are several floors to the gallery and it’s impossible to see everything in one day. There’s a big red truck by the entrance of the gallery. I assume it’s from a Spanish speaking country since it had a Spanish name on the front window.
I took advantage of three floors and took several pictures. In every room, it was spacious. It’s impossible to write everything I saw in the gallery but I’ll write a summary of my time here. The walls were white and had several paintings on the wall. I felt I was in a proper gallery.
Photos in the gallery
I came across “Portrait of a Young Woman” depicting a portrait of a woman in the 1930s. Painted by Meredith Frampton using oil canvas, she wanted to depict full-length women in the 1930s. This was one of her work. “The Portrait of Women in 1935”
The second painting below was made in 1939 by Meraud Guevara. Her purpose was to angle the portrait painting where the sitter dominates the angled space which would be impossible to get if she stood.
Other works include artists who created 3D illusions on 2D paper, photographs of multi-story buildings raising awareness of economic issues in the ’90s, 3D art, different quotes from artists, paintings and a video of the apartheid in South Africa. The thing that was close to home was art by Yinka Shonibare.
The books you see in these pictures were made of Dutch wax print fabric. This reveals colonialism, cultural appropriation, and national identity. Developed in the nineteenth century, it was an imitation of batik prints from Indonesia, colonised by the Dutch at the time.
A video from Erkan Ozgen depicting 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. In this video he shows his audience the traumatic account of the events he witnessed during the war.
Other art includes photographs of what it was like in Britain in the 60’s, 70’s 80’s and 90’s, the hippy culture and 3D art. There are so many more I could explore but I already spent two hours here and thought I’d spend my time elsewhere.
The end of the tour
After the Tate Gallery, I saw a few people walking into the River Thames. When the tide is low, people do use it as a beach. There were steps going down towards the river which I took advantage of. I spent about ten minutes just sinking in the environment. If you walk further to the end of Suthbank, you will see various attractions inlcuding The London Eye, Shrek the Experience, London Dungeon, Sealife, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.
My walk didn’t feel complete if I didn’t give Southbank Centre a good visit. Although the shows at the Centre aren’t as big as West End theatres, people generally like to hang around enjoying food, drinks and the view of the Thames. Nearby there are various food outlets including Eat, Giraffe and Yo Sushi, not to mention others. The Southbank Centre overlooks the River Thames and there were still plenty of people walking and socialising. I found that the Southbank Centre has a roof garden and a cafe too which you can take advantage of. I’ve been to the Centre plenty of times and was great, especially in Summer but have never seen any shows that were on. I suggest you guys go in Summer where there’d be music playing outside, including live music and drink stalls available on the balcony. Imagine gulping beer on a summer’s day, overlooking the River Thames.
When you cross Westminster Bridge, I saw a row of rickshaws, its prices ranging from £15 upwards to see particular attractions. No one seemed to want to go on it though. I also saw street performers on the bridge and a married couple on their wedding day with their wedding outfits on, taking pictures in front of The London Eye. That was really sweet. A good idea to visit London and get engaged.
My journey in the Southbank came to an end.
This is where most tourists have the mistake of getting the most out of Southbank. They just hang around near the Westminster Bridge and pay street performers (which is a waste of money in my opinion) and not take advantage of the walk along the Southbank. Make the most out of it. When you walk along the River Thames in the Southbank, you’d see different panoramic views from the other side of the Thames, including St. Paul’s Cathedral and The Shard.
I felt like my feet were going to fall off walking along the riverside cos it’s really that long. It’s well worth it because you can just have a rest in one of the rows of benches, people watching, enjoy the river view or sip a pint of beer or coffee in the local coffee shops and the traditional British pubs. Make the most out of the 19th Century style British pubs when you go to London too.
My journey in Southbank came to an end and I’ll see you in the next post.
Side note: I visited SeaLife on another day and found that I could get a really good price deal for visiting more than one attractions. I spent £65 for four attractions. I chose SeaLife, The London Dungeon, The London Eye and Madame Tussauds. I think this is worth it because London Eye is around £27 per adult, The Shrek Experience is £30 on the door (£21 online), that’s around £50 gone out of your pockets for two attractions. I spoke to the guy at the ticket office. He told me that to buy 5 attraction, it’ll cost an extra £5, so you’d be spending £70 from the deal. I thought I’m not going to enjoy it so I didn’t buy the 5 attraction deal.