South Bank Walking Tour, London

South Bank Walking Tour (Self Guided), London

The South Bank is a stretch of the Thames in London that is beautiful to walk through because there are so many iconic and magnificent things to see along the way. A lively and ever-changing area at the heart of London’s cultural scene, it also has the advantage of offering views across the Thames to some of the most famous buildings anywhere. The Palace of Westminster is the major feature in the west, with various other structures such as Somerset House and St Paul's Cathedral coming into view.

Walking along the South Bank means passing alongside some interesting modern buildings such as the City Hall. You can have a good drink and a great lunch at the Borough Market, or look for the unusual shops in Gabriel’s Wharf. Dotting along the tree-lined riverside walkway are some historic pubs and cafes.

The arts are well served as well: the Tate Modern is a well-regarded contemporary art venue, and Shakespeare’s Globe is always a good place to enjoy plays new and old.

It is well worth the investment of time to walk along the South Bank – potentially London's most scenic route and a place full of iconic locations. Take this self-guided walk to explore it at your own pace, and don't miss the chance to admire iconic London landmarks from the London Eye Ferris wheel located here.
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South Bank Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: South Bank Walking Tour
Guide Location: England » London (See other walking tours in London)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.8 Km or 3 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Tower Bridge
  • City Hall
  • Borough Market
  • Southwark Cathedral
  • Golden Hinde
  • The Site of the Original Globe Theatre
  • Shakespeare Globe Theatre
  • Tate Modern
  • Gabriel's Wharf
  • Southbank Center
  • London Eye
  • London Dungeon Museum
Tower Bridge

1) Tower Bridge (must see)

To begin with, Tower Bridge is not London Bridge. There has always been a London Bridge since 60 AD. Tower Bridge is downstream of London Bridge. The center part of Tower Bridge may be raised to accommodate river traffic. London bridge does not move.

The Tower Bridge is a combined suspension and bascule bridge. It was finished in 1894. It was designed by architect Horace Jones. Engineering was by John Wolfe Barry. The bridge is managed by Bridge House Estates, a non-profit founded in 1282. The bridge was opened in 1894 by Edward, Prince of Wales and Alexandra, Princess of Wales.

The bridge is 800 feet long. It has two 213 foot high bridge towers. The towers are joined on the upper level by two walkways. On the lower level is the roadway; two bascule leaves that can be raised. The twin towers, upper level walkways and the engine rooms form the Tower Bridge Exhibition. The exhibition is open to public tours.

The Tower Bridge Exhibition uses films, photographs and interactive means to show how the Tower Bridge was built. Visitors can access the original steam engines once used to raise and lower the two bascules. There is an admission fee. Entrance is in the northern tower. A lift or elevator ascends to the upper level walkways.

Parts of the walkways have been fitted with glass floors. Look down at the river, a giddy 143 feet below one's feet. Or not.

There is an urban legend that an American, Robert P. McCulloch, bought the old London Bridge and installed it in Lake Havasu City in Arizona, believing he had bought the Tower Bridge. McCulloch denies everything. He knew all along what he had. The Tower Bridge would have looked much more impressive in Lake Havasu City. That cannot be denied.

Why You Should Visit:
Unique and majestic structure; amazing to see especially at night! Great view and a glass floor on the high-level walkways that is really quite cool.

If you're lucky enough, you could see the bridge open up to let the barges/ships pass by. Don't skip the engine room, which is very educational as to how the bridge operates.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5:30pm
City Hall

2) City Hall

Some buildings in London will surprise you by their startling modernity. Sometimes it seems that architects go out of their way to make sure that visitors to the city realize that although it is steeped in ancient history, the capital and its people live in the 21st century. The City Hall is just one of these buildings, and once you have got used to its odd shape, you will appreciate the beauty of this futuristic structure.

The building is a 10 storey glass-and-steel office block that leans to one side. It was designed by Norman Foster in 2002 and won the competition to find the best design and location for the new home of the London Assembly. It is 45 metres high and takes up less space than a traditional cubed building of the same volume. It is filled with energy-saving features and uses less than a quarter of the energy of the surrounding buildings.

For the first time, the public was invited to help with the choice during the competition, and the 9th floor is open to visitors. There is a balcony that goes almost all the way around the building on this level and it’s probably one of the best places to take great photos of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London on the opposite bank of the Thames.

On the lower ground floor you will find a cafeteria, but if you have brought a picnic lunch with you, you can eat it on the west side of the building, where there is a sunken area, a bit like an arena with stone steps/benches. It is called the Scoop and lots of office workers eat their lunch there in fine weather.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Borough Market

3) Borough Market (must see)

Borough Market is a foodie's paradise. Located in Southwalk, London, it is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London with a market on the site dating back to at least the 12th century. The present buildings were built in the 1850s, and today the huge market sells a wide range of specialty foods to the general public.

The market attracts a huge crowd of eaters but always has a nice atmosphere. It is a great place to visit when in London. You will find all kind of cheese, salami, olive oil, oysters, and cuisines of different countries. The prices are reasonable and many venders happily providing samples to try. It is a good idea to wander around a bit before you commit because the choices are endless.

The best time to visit the market is Wednesday - Saturday when it offers the full market. On Monday and Tuesday it offers a limited market. It is closed on Sunday.

Operation hours: Mon-Thurs: 10:00 am - 5:00 pm; Friday: 10:00 am - 6:00 pm; Saturday: 8:00 am - 5:00 pm; Sunday: closed

Why You Should Visit:
This place is a foodie paradise. Huge selections of street food and specialty food.

Wander around a bit so you get to see what are on offer. Try before you commit.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Southwark Cathedral

4) Southwark Cathedral

As it stands today, the cathedral was built between 1220 and 1420. In Shakespeare's time, this was a parish church known as St. Mary Overie. It served the Bankside area in the late 1500s, and so Shakespeare and many of the Elizabethan dramatists would have worshipped and passed through here.

Edmund, Shakespeare's brother, was buried here in 1607 in an unmarked grave. A stone was later placed in the choir area. There is also a stained glass dedicated to Shakespeare's plays, along with a statue of the Bard himself, writing quill in hand.

The site began between 1106 and 1538 as a church of an Augustinian priory. When the monasteries in England were dissolved, it became the St. Saviour's parish church. In 1905, it became a cathedral when the diocese of Southwark was created.

The building was heavily damaged in the London blitz in 1941. It's estimated that Germany dropped more than 1,600 explosive bombs on Southwark throughout the war. You can see shrapnel damage on the exterior of the cathedral to this day.
Golden Hinde

5) Golden Hinde

When you want to give your children a treat while you are visiting London – or if you want to treat yourself for that matter, you couldn’t do better than to spend an afternoon, a day, or even a night on the Golden Hinde, berthed in St Mary Overie Dock.

The ship is a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s famous warship, in which he sailed round the world. The Golden Hinde you will visit today was launched in Devon in 1973 and circumnavigated the world many more times than its namesake, before being opened to the public for guided visits or for private hire – the Pirate Birthday Parties are especially popular.

Costumed educators will tell you the history of the original ship, about Sir Francis Drake and all about life onboard for both officers and crew in the 16th century. There are several themes to make sure that everyone has a great time while learning about Elizabethan weaponry and warfare.

The Maritime Workshop arranges hands-on activities where children (or adults) will learn how to measure time and speed aboard a sail-rigged war boat. You can handle navigational instruments used by Drake to plot his voyage round the world.

The Day or Overnight Living History themes allow children to dress up as crew members in Tudor sailors’ costumes. There are workshops on navigation and barber surgery; in the afternoon there are mock battles and gun-drill. The children are served biscuits and grog (apple juice).

The overnight version includes a Tudor dinner (vegetable soup and bread), sleeping on the gun-deck and a Tudor breakfast (bread and cheese). Whether you chose the paying themes or just an afternoon’s self guided visit, don’t miss the souvenir shop, where you can stock up on postcards, t-shirts and other gift items.

The Golden Hinde is open between 10.00 am and 5:30 pm daily for self guided tours. Self guided tours admission: adult - £6.00, children (4 - 16 years old) - £4.50; family - £18.00.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
The Site of the Original Globe Theatre

6) The Site of the Original Globe Theatre

The original site on which The Globe theatre once stood, first opened in 1599, is now marked by a plaque and a series of illustrative panels. Back in the day, Park Street was called Maiden Lane and was part of The Liberty of the Clink area outside of control of the City and the Surrey County Sheriff. At some point, the area fell under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester who, instead of banning them completely, taxed the theatres, animal baiting rings and even brothels operating therein.

The Globe site was discovered during excavations revealing approximately five percent of the original foundations of the first (and second) Globe, thus proving that the famed theatre was a 20-sided polygonal building and providing vital info for its future replication. It is believed that about 15 of Shakespeare’s plays, including many of his most famous productions, had their first or very early shows at The Globe once located at this site.
Shakespeare Globe Theatre

7) Shakespeare Globe Theatre (must see)

Shakespeare's Globe is a modern recreation of the original Globe Theatre. The original playhouse was built in 1599 and rebuilt in 1613 after a fire. But it was demolished in 1644, and all that remains of the building today are various academic references and evidence.

The recreation opened in 1997 with a showing of Henry V. It's regarded as a very realistic likeness, though it holds fewer people due to modern safety standards. The building is built about 230 meters (750 feet) from the site of the original. The original site was on the banks of the Thames, which is narrower than it was back then. To recreate the same atmosphere, builders decided to place the new theatre on the river bank. Plus, the original site has been built over and is covered by townhomes.

The recreation is the brain-child of American actor Sam Wanamaker, who moved to London in the 1970s and began working towards his vision. Wanamaker wanted the theatre to appear just as it did during Shakespeare's time there, so all research and designs were based on the earlier 1599 theatre building.

Why You Should Visit

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is an accurate reproduction of the original, and there's no better way to connect with the Bard than to travel back in time and view a performance. While time travel is still a mystery, the Globe comes pretty close.

The original Globe was owned by the actors who made up the Lord Chamberlain's Men, of which Shakespeare was the primary writer. He began with a 1/8th share that diminished over the theatre's lifespan as more shareholders entered the picture. It's believed that the theatre opened in September of 1599 with a production of Julius Caesar.

At the recreation, things are kept as authentic as possible. Performances are kept as true-to-form as possible, with no microphones, nor any spotlights or other modern theatre technologies.


If you can't make one of the summer plays, you can take the Globe Theatre Guided Tour anytime. This behind-the-scenes look at the original theatre and the recreation of the building.

The property includes the neighboring Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, a recreated Jacobean-era theatre. It's used during the winter when the open-air Globe cannot.

The location of the original Globe is marked with informational signs and a commemorative plaque. Viewable portions of the original foundation are also laid out in pavers. It is located on the east side of Southwark Bridge Road, just south of Park Street.

Opening Hours: Daily: 10am - 5:30pm
Tate Modern

8) Tate Modern (must see)

The Tate Modern is a National Gallery of International Art and one of the four Tate Galleries. It was opened in 2000 in the disused Bankside Power Station building on the South side of the River Thames. This wonderful gallery is a must for all lovers of modern art.

On levels three and five of this remarkable gallery you will find permanent exhibitions. On Level one, the Turbine Hall once housed the power station’s generators. Today you can visit Contemporary Art exhibitions from October to March. Level two holds temporary Cutting-edge Contemporary Art exhibitions

On Level three you will find the Material Gestures Exhibition of Abstraction Art, Expressionism Art and Abstraction/Expressionism Art, with works by Claude Monet, Anish Kapoor, Barnet Newman, Henri Matisse and Tacita Dean, among other great artists. A second gallery on this level is called Poetry and Dream, which displays Surrealist Art. Level four of the gallery holds temporary exhibitions of major art and is the only part of the gallery that charges a fee to visit it.

On Level five you can visit two fine exhibitions: Energy and Process with Arte Povera, nineteen sixties Italian Modern Art. In the second gallery, called States of Flux you can admire Cubism, Futurism, Vorticism (20th century British Modernism) and Pop Art. You will find works by Picasso, Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.

Why You Should Visit:
Something for amateur art lovers as well as serious art folk.

Time your run so you can check out the 10th-floor terrace as the lights come on across London. Awesome views, especially with a drink in your hands from the small bar up there.

Opening Hours:
Sun-Thu: 10am-6pm; Fri-Sat: 10am-10pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Gabriel's Wharf

9) Gabriel's Wharf

Tucked away on the South Bank, Gabriel's Wharf is a charming hidden enclave with lots of independent specialty shops, restaurants, bars and great value cafes. The shops, usually artist run, are full of beautiful unique art and decorative items. It is a great place to drop by and hunt for souvenirs. If you just want to take a break from your walk and have a cup of tea, you will find plenty of choices too.
Southbank Center

10) Southbank Center

Southbank Center is a complex of artistic venues in London, on the South Bank of the River Thames. It comprises three main performance venues, together with the Hayward Gallery, and is Europe’s largest center for the arts. Inside, it's a maze of mezzanines and breakout spaces where people are meeting, eating, drinking and watching shows. The Southbank Centre always has great activities on for adults and children!

The whole area around the center is alive with lots of food vendors, cafes and pubs, and happy people out for the day and evening. The upper levels of the buildings have some fantastic views of the Thames and buildings on the north bank. It is definitely a place to visit if you are in the area.
London Eye

11) London Eye (must see)

The Merlin Entertainments London Eye (commonly the London Eye, or Millennium Wheel) is an extremely large passenger-carrying Ferris wheel situated on the banks of the River Thames in Central London.

It is the largest Ferris wheel in Europe and has become the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, visited by over three million people in one year. At the time it was erected, in 1999, it was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world, until it was surpassed by the Star of Nanchang in May 2006, and then the Singapore Flyer on 11 February 2008. However, it is still described by its operators as "the world's tallest cantilevered observation wheel".

The London Eye is located at the western end of Jubilee Gardens in the London Borough of Lambeth, between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge. The site is adjacent to that of the former Dome of Discovery.

Why You Should Visit:
A nice way to gain perspective of the city, especially if it's your first time in London. You can enjoy spectacular views with Shard and London bridge on one side and Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster on the other side. The ride lasts roughly 30 minutes, and you can both stand or be seated in the pods.

Getting your ticket(s) in advance online is a good idea.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 11am-6pm; Sat-Sun: 10am-8:30pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
London Dungeon Museum

12) London Dungeon Museum

The London Dungeon Museum is a famous horror attraction in London. A great hit with ghoulish children, the museum illustrates the most bloodthirsty events of British history. You'll encounter Druids performing a human sacrifice at Stonehenge, a room full of people who die with agony from the plague and many other terrifying performances.

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