A Walk Along River Thames at South Bank

London has a long association with the River Thames and it is difficult to imagine one without the other as it literally divides the city. South of the river, you will find a large population and a complex history. However, despite its rich history, the South Bank that stretches from Westminster Bridge (Lambeth) to London Bridge (Southwark) has been a neglected area for a century but periodically there have been bouts of regeneration to revive it. During the medieval period, the area of Southwark was full of inns where travellers could relax and for town houses used by church officials. From the sixteenth century, however, the area was used for bear-baiting, theatres and prisons, and industry while charitable organisations were seen in the area in the eighteenth century as the borough developed substantially.

The once active and industrial riverfront however declined in the twentieth century only to be revived with a cultural renaissance with the setting up of the County Hall, the Festival of Britain, the Hayward Gallery, the National Theatre, Tate Modern and the London Eye. These have helped in making it a tourist destination that is embellished with a traffic-free walk along the river, although the hinterland is mostly avoided. The walk is one of the best ways to see some of the major sights of the city. The entire length of the walking path along the river is quite long but small stretches have to be chosen for a feasible walk and for seeing the best attractions on the way.

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You can start the walk from the north side of Westminster Bridge where you can see the Houses of Parliament and then walk two miles to the east along the south side of the river to the renowned London Bridge. Near the bridge you will see Big Ben towering over you which is attached to the Houses of Parliament or the Palace of Westminster which is a grand building made by mixing English gothic with Elizabethan style. It looks great from the south side of the river. You can then go down the steps to the London Eye which is one of London’s most popular attractions. At its highest point you can see up to 25 miles away on a clear day and the views are spectacular.

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As you walk east, you will cross the Millennium Gardens and also see a few street performers and human statues for your entertainment. If you keep walking under a railway bridge and the Hungerford pedestrian bridge, you will reach some grey concrete buildings to your right. These include the Royal Festival Hall that was built after the end of World War II and to commemorate the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851. The buildings of the mid 20th century are not like the Victorian splendour but have a couldn’t-care-less attitude. However, they are lit up at night in different colours. Inside is the Southbank Centre which is the venue for many cultural and other events. There are several concert venues inside.

If you continue walking you will find Gabriel’s Wharf which is a complex of craft and design shops, studios and restaurants. It is also known as the OXO tower that has an elegant restaurant on the top floor along with a free public viewing gallery. Walk for another 400 metres and you will come across Blackfriars bridge on your left as well as the Tate Modern which is a famous place where you can see modern 20th century art created by modern day greats such as Monet, Miró, Pollock, Rothko, Giacometti, Matisse and many more. In front of the Tate Modern is the Millennium Bridge that opened in 2000.

Coming back to South bank you will see the Globe Theatre, adjacent to Tate Modern, which is a replica of Shakespeare’s own theatre. The present-day theatre offers an exhibition space and regular guided tours around the theatre are available. Continue walking and you will leave the river temporarily and get onto a cobbled street passing between the Clink on your right and a replica of the Golden Hinde, Sir Francis Drake’s ship, on your left. You will then reach the Southwark Cathedral that has some of its parts dating back to the 12th century. There are many monuments of famous historical figures connected to the once parish church. It sits below London Bridge that was the only bridge across the Thames until 1750, and it became London’s first suburb known as Borough. Farmers used to come here from surrounding countries and set up stalls to sell their produce. This is continuing even now leading to the development of Borough Market which is the largest farmers’ market in the UK. It is a foodie’s paradise on a Thursday, Friday or a Saturday. Vast varieties of vegetables, fruits, cheese, and meats are available here. A wide variety of delicious food to go is also available such as wild boar burgers, French raclette or Spanish paella.

For finishing the walk, you can go from the market to London Bridge where you can get fabulous views and see St Paul’s Cathedral on the north side of the river to the west and to the east is Tower Bridge which is the most iconic of all bridges.

While walking along the Thames, you will also see the HMS Belfast, one of the Navy’s retired battleships which can now be rented for weddings or parties.

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