A London South Bank walk with an offbeat twist

Houses of Parliament seen from Thames south bank

Before moving to London in July, I asked fellow travelers and Londoners what I couldn’t miss when visiting the city. I didn’t even mind going on “tourist mode” since I was, in fact, exploring a new place. One of the suggestions of a very long list was “walk along the South Bank”. We walked along the South Bank on different days; not that it was planned that way, but we looked at it as more of a collection of small memories than a whole day of walking from London Bridge to Westminster. And our tour wouldn’t be complete without an offbeat twist in the end. Care to join us?

1.Rose Window

Rose Window from the Great Hall of Winchester Palace

One of the things that fascinate me about wandering around a city is that you’ll never know what you might find. And despite the fact that in the majority of times I was looking for specific sites, London still found her way to surprise me. The ruins of the Great Hall of Winchester Palace can easily be overlooked if you simply chose to roam around the narrow streets near London Bridge (or are, in fact, lost). A fire in the 19th century destroyed the palace, but it also exposed this beautiful 12th century rose window (I have a thing for medieval architecture…).

Opening hours: 24/7

Admission fee: Free

2. Southwark Cathedral

Southwark Cathedral with The Shard in the background

When I think about English churches, this is exactly the kind of building that I have in mind – that mix of medieval Gothic and 19th century Gothic Revival, that is not exactly exclusive of England, but that I somehow associate more strongly with the North of Europe. I felt a strange vibe around it: it looked misplaced and it looked like it belonged there at the same time. (Maybe it’s just my thing for medieval architecture again…)

Opening hours: Monday to Friday 8.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays 8.30 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. Main visiting times are 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.

Admission fee: £5.50 (adults)

Tip: If you’re not traveling with a group, look for a Cathedral Guide (identified by a purple neck ribbon), if available, for an informal tour.

3. Shakespeare’s Globe

Shakespeare’s Globe

You probably heard of this spot before as a place you must visit, right? I confess it didn’t appeal that much to me (well, it’s a replica so…). Seemed way too fabricated and the only reason we went inside was to visit the gift shop. I was inclined to own anything with the quote “something wicked this way comes”, not because of the Shakespeare’s tragedy, “MacBeth”, but because of the Ray Bradbury’s novel with that passage as the title. So there, I bought two pens with the famous quote for £2.00 each.

Opening hours: Daily 9.30 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.

Admission fee: Exhibition and Globe Theatre Tour £13.50 (adult)*

Tip: If you’re planning to do the tour, watch the 2011 conspiracy-theory-shakespeare-was-a-fraud movie first. Just for fun.

4. Tate Modern

Tate Modern

You got to love London and its free art museums. For sure modern and contemporary art is not for everyone, but I tend to look at pieces (regardless of the period) as the pinpoint of a moment in time. I love the idea that you can freeze time, interpret it (or remember it, if you lived then), envision it. Tate Modern, in particular, has the industrial vibe of its facilities (the former Bankside Power Station) that (almost) contrasts with its function of exhibiting art.

Opening hours: 10.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. Sunday to Thursday. 10.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m. Friday to Saturday.

Admission fee: Free

Tip: The New Tate Modern opens in 2016 with new art and new spaces (a sign that art and museums don’t have to be static). You can subscribe here for news about the opening.

5. Millennium Bridge

Tower Bridge seen from the Millennium Bridge

It’s not just the bridge that impresses on its own, but also the views (and photo opportunities) you get from it, like the St. Paul’s Cathedral or the Tower Bridge further down the river. A must for contemporary architecture enthusiasts and Harry Potter fans (the fifteen-year-old bridge is safe and sturdy, and I didn’t spot any Death Eaters around).

Opening hours: 24/7

Admission fee: Free

Tip: The bridge is pretty busy with tourists crossing over between the Cathedral and the Tate Modern. For photographers who want a clear shot of an empty bridge, come really early in the morning (like before the city wakes up); for everyone else, work your magic in incorporating random people in your fab shot.

6. St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral seen from the Millennium Bridge

I confess I didn’t find most of the churches particularly attractive in London unless they were the unusual ones made of red bricks. Although you might think that once you’ve seen a Baroque Cathedral you’ve seen them all, it’s the black and white chessboard-like marble floor that gives it the twist. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the late 17th Century, it was built in place of the Old Cathedral destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666. Since then, it also survived the Blitz during the World War II.

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 8.30 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. (on Sunday the Cathedral is open for worship only)

Admission fee: £18.00 (adults)*

Tip: Buy online to save up to £2.50 per ticket and gain fast-track entry.

7. Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars’ Brandies

We got to Blackfriars Bridge totally by mistake. Well, not exactly by mistake, but more because of the art of traveling without (accurate) maps. It could be a downside, but we actually appreciate the fact that Google maps goes crazy sometimes and makes us take the strangest of detours. We were looking for Millennium Bridge from St. Paul’s… which was right there… instead we went back to go forth. Very odd. The fun part is that we got to see and photograph this beautiful Brandy-shop and a moment of rest near the bridge made me wonder what on Earth were those red pillars doing in the middle of the river Thames? The “Old Stumpy”, as people sometimes call it, are the supports of the old Blackfriars Railway Bridge. Apparently now they’re just ruins without purpose, but they do make one want to know what happened don’t they?

Opening hours: 24/7

Admission fee: Free

Tip: If you don’t have much time to spare, go straight to the Millennium Bridge from St. Paul’s Cathedral. But if you do have time to spare, go around, get lost, find Blackfriars Bridge first.

Old pillars of the Blackfriars Railway Bridge

8. Palace of Westminster (and Westminster Abbey)

“Big Ben”

Every time I visit this area of London I complain about something. Either because it’s raining, or windy, and often because it’s too crowded. It’s always too crowded, no matter what time of the year you visit (unless you decide to stroll around at 5.00 a.m.). By far, in all of London, this is my pet peeve. But I also find unthinkable to miss it altogether. So for this one, and especially for old and snob “Big Ben”, I take the bullet. (Although I’ll admit the Westminster Abbey doesn’t do much for me…)

Opening hours: Houses of Parliament, Saturdays and selected weekdays from 9.00 a.m. to 4.15 p.m. (tours must be pre-booked here). Westminster Abbey, Monday to Friday from 9.30 a.m. to 3.00 p.m.

Admission fees: £25.00 (adult fee for a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament). There are more affordable places for afternoon tea, but if you want to, add an extra £29.00 for tea in the Terrace Pavilion. £20.00 (adult fee) for Westminster Abbey.

Tip: Take hype around this area with a grain of salt. If you’re happy just posing for a selfie in front of the Big Ben and nothing else, do it. If you want to thoroughly explore everything, do it too (just prepare your patience superpowers for the crowds).

Westminster Abbey facade

9. Battersea Power Station (the Offbeat Twist)

Houses of Parliament seen from the South Bank

And now comes the twist (as promised). We were at the spot shown here in this photo, admiring busy London on a Saturday morning. Topics of our conversation included the drizzle, the beauty of the Fall colors, the decision to move back to Portugal, and, eventually, how the crowds of tourists seemed to not go further down the river from that souvenir kiosk at the Westminster Bridge, just before (or after, depending from where you’re coming from) the Marriott Hotel. “Battersea Power Station is that way”, Dhanish pointed to our left. For the fans of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate you’ve heard of (and, technically, seen) the location. For the fans of Pink Floyd, you’ve seen it on the cover of “Animals” (1977). So there we were suddenly, walking the two miles without a second thought, in pursuit of the industrial landmark and powerful character in so many pop culture references. The good news is that we reached it and got to see it; the bad news is that we really didn’t have any valid excuse to convince the security guard to let us in and photograph.

Have you walked the London South Bank before? What were your favorite spots?


You Might Also Like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.