City Guides

Take A Stroll Down The South Bank

Written by Aksel Ritenis
take_a_stroll_down_the_south_banksVisitors to the city of London will be excused for feeling overwhelmed by the number of sights and tourist spots within the city. It may take you a couple of weeks, and a whole lot of travelling, to visit just half of the museums, parks, galleries and castles within the city’s borders.

If you are a tourist looking to maximise your time or a London dweller looking to rediscover some of your city’s highlights, consider taking a walk down the South Bank of the river Thames.

If you start out at Westminster tube station you will be in full view of the Houses of Parliament and London’s most well known landmark – Big Ben.

Big Ben, so named because of the 13 ton bell, towers above the Palace of Westminster where the British Parliament resides. It was designed in 1840 by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin, after the previous palace burnt down. Close by you will see the towers of Westminster Abbey.

Since 1301 each monarch including Elizabeth II has been crowned here. Many historic figures are also buried in the Abbey including Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Chaucer, Alfred Tennyson and Charles Dickens.

Continue towards the South Bank by crossing the Westminster Bridge and turn left towards the impressive County Hall. This building once housed the home of London’s elected government, but now holds the London Aquarium, the Dalí universe and the London Movieum. The Movieum is currently hosting a photographic exhibition on The Beatles (until 30 July). This exhibition marks the opening of a permanent new photographic exhibition space at the Movieum, The Getty Images Gallery.

If it is a panoramic sky high view of London you are after, stop next door at the London Eye. Erected in 2000, with a height of 135m, it is possible to see as far as 40 km on a clear day. The wheel has 32 glass capsules with a capacity of 25 people and one ‘flight’ lasts 30 minutes.

Right next to the Eye is the Jubilee Gardens where you are bound to see many buskers and mime artists. This park is also in the process of being redeveloped by a Steering Group that would like to see the space become a world class park for everyone working and living in the area.

One of London’s most well known cultural centres is also located along the walk. The South Bank Centre is a complex of four artistic venues, the Royal Festival Hall, the Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Saison Poetry Library. Events staged at these venues include classical and world music, dance, literature and the visual arts.

For a prolonged cultural injection continue along the river side, where you will come across the British Film Institute Southbank (formerly known as the National Film Theater). The June season at the BFI will include a survey of the American director Joseph Losey, a series of films that engage with the Spanish Civil War and a tribute to jazz in the 50th anniversary year of the legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club.

Close by is The Royal National Theatre where this summer you can see shows such as War Horse, The Observer and All’s Well That Ends Well.

Another well known sight in London is the art deco Oxo tower. An industrial red brick building, it was originally constructed as a power station for the Post Office, but later it was acquired by the Liebig Extract of Meat Company, the manufacturers of Oxo beef stock cubes, for use as a cold store. In the 1990s the building was refurbished and now contains design boutiques, studios, cafes and restaurants.

If by this part of your walk you are thirsting for a pint, stop at the Founders Arms where you can sit outside and be treated to great views of the city. Opposite the pub find the Bankside Gallery, this gallery is home to two historic art societies, the Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers.

If at this point your appetite for art is not yet satisfied, be comforted by the fact that one of London’s most interesting galleries still lays ahead, the Tate Modern.

The Tate Modern was created in the year 2000 after it became clear in 1990 that the Tate Collection had hugely outgrown the original Tate Gallery on Millbank. This was the birth of London’s first museum dedicated to contemporary and modern art.

The museum is housed in a former power station that was closed down in 1982. The permanent collection is displayed according to a chronological and educational order, but the museum also displays temporary exhibitions. Artists featured at the museum include Matisse, Rothko, Giacometti and Pollock. This summer there are also exhibitions by artists like Richard Long, Eva Rothschild and Per Kirkeby.

If you prefer the performing arts continue further along the walk to Shakespeare’s reconstructed Globe Theatre. This summer you can watch the classic tragic love story Romeo & Juliet or the comedy As you like it.

To end your tour with an impressive highlight, at this point you will have to cross the Millennium Bridge towards St. Paul’s Cathedral.

If you are brave enough climb the 530 steps to the top of the Cathedral, you will be treated to a 360* view of London. The cathedral was built after the big fire of 1666 and inaugurated in 1697. It was in this cathedral that Winston Churchill was buried and where Prince Charles and Lady Diana got married. The architect, Sir Christopher Wren, lays buried in the crypt next to Admiral Nelson and to see his epitaph look to floor, it aptly states: Lector, si monumentum requires, circumspice (Reader, if you are looking for my tomb, look around.).

At the end of this walk you are likely to want to rest your feet, drop in at one of the traditional London pubs in the area, like the The Tipperary or Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, or simply get on the St Paul’s tube towards home or your next destination.

About the author

Aksel Ritenis

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