London’s South Bank Walk  

If you want an original, unguided walk, make your way with this walk from Westminster to the Tower of London.  You will need a good street map, comfortable shoes, a camera and plenty of time.   Allow at least 3 hours if not more, distance is just over 3 miles but is very flat.   this is a great walk for photographers showing some of the best views of London.

Start at Westminster Underground station (the tube), turn left out of the station, heading east.  Opposite you is the spectacular Big Ben, part of the Houses of Parliament .  Big Ben is actually the bell, the tower is the Victoria Tower. Try to get there on the hour to hear the famous Westminster chimes.  Head up the slope and cross Westminster Bridge, heading  towards Waterloo Station.  On the far side of the bridge are some steps, before you turn left down the steps look back at the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. 

Turn left down the steps, heading north.  Right in front of you is the hugeLondon eye.  You can buy tickets at the far end of the large building on the right, London country hall.  Book in advance for the London Eye if you can .  This building used to be the home of the Greater London Council.  It now houses, two hotels, an art gallery (Salvador Dali) and the London Aquariumamongst other things.   

Continue walking past the London eye.  The Jubilee Gardens on the right was the site of the Festival of Britain in 1951, only the Royal Festival Hall remains of this large postwar exhibition.  The Jubilee Gardens are due to be developed in the near future. Ahead of you are the interestingly designed new Golden Jubilee pedestrian bridges, either side of the Hungerford railway bridge taking trains from Kent  into the dramatic looking Charing Cross Station.  These foot bridges are a considerable improvement to the previous narrow  pedestrian bridge.  If you have been diverted by the previously mentioned tourist attractions and are running out of time you can walk across the pedestrain bridge back to the north side of the river and pick up the tube at either the Embankment or Charing Cross.  Before you cross the bridge look back at the view of the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament joined by Westminster Bridge.  This is a really good photo spot, especially in the evening sunlight.  

Walk on underneath Hungerford Bridge still heading north-east.  On your right are two concert halls, the Royal Festival Hall and past  the smaller Queen Elizabeth Hall.   The whole of the South Bank site is being transformed into the Festival Riverside   Look across the river to the north bank and you will see Cleopatra’s Needle.   This is an obelisk from Ancient Egypt, nearly 3,500 years old, it arrived in London in 1878.  Continue along the river bank passing underneath Waterloo Bridge and some of the other buildings in the South Bank arts complex, the National Theatre, National Film Theatre and the Hayward Gallery.  At the SE end of Waterloo Bridge is the IMAX cinema .  A more photogenic view can be seen if you walk up the stairs onto Waterloo bridge itself  to take some photos looking east as you can see the OXO tower and St Paul’s Cathedral.

The riverside walk starts to turn east here as you pass London Television Centre,   The next major building is the Oxo Tower Wharf.  This has a gallery and some designer shops.  There are good views across the river to the Inner Temple and the City of London.  The City of London is actually very small, only 1 square mile in the centre of London, and only on the North bank.  Continue east beside the river on Queen’s Walk.  Just before Blackfriars bridge is a pub called Dogget Coat and Badge. This commemorates a rowing race for professional Thames waterman raced in single sculls since 1715.  The winner gets a beautiful coat and badge used for ceremonial occasions, such as rowing the Queen up the river (which is not very often). 

After Blackfriars bridges (railway and road) the next section of the riverside walk, the Jubilee Walkway, passes a very small art gallery, Bankside, (mainly water colours) and the very large and famous gallery, Tate Modern, home to British and International art  The two galleries are something of a contrast.   Entry to the Tate modern is free and even if you make no other diversions on this walk go into the western entrance and walk down the ramp inside this huge former power station.  Although the main galleries are free some special exhibitions are charged for.  You can get refreshments in the cafe, the restaurant on the 7th floor has excellent views across the Thames  to the City of London. 

Exit the Tate from the north entrance and you will be at the southern end of the wobbly bridge, although it is really called the Millennium bridge.  It is a beautiful new foot bridge that opens up fantastic views from the Tate Modern across the Thames to St Paul’s Cathedral.   The bridge was opened in 2000 and shut within 24 hours when the engineers spectacularly failed to predict correctly the effect of hundreds of people walking across a suspension bridge at the same time, hence in the minds of all Londoners it is still known as the "Wobbly Bridge". After a major redesign, much extra money, and additional dampeners to quieten the vibration, the bridge reopened.  It is now a worthwhile addition that London is proud of, and it doesn’t vibrate or roll when you walk across.  If short of time it is worth walking across the bridge to St Paul’s and picking up the tube at Mansion House tube station.  Look to your right as you cross the bridge and you will see the Globe Theatre.

If you continue beside the river you pass Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.   This is a modern recreation of south bank theatres such as The Globe and The Rose that blossomed in the time of William Shakespeare.   Walking further along Bankside you pass underneath Southwark bridge and the railway bridge to Cannon Street.  You loose sight of the river here, turn right into Bankend and then left into Clink street, you then come to St Mary Overy’s Dock where you will find a replica of a Tudor ship, The Golden Hinde.  The original ship was sailed around the world by Sir Francis Drake in 1577-80.  The ship is now a museum.

Turn left into Cathedral Street and you come to Southwark Cathedral. There has been a church here for over 1000 years, now it is rather hemmed in by other buildings, railways and by Borough market (mainly a wholesale fruit and vegetable market - some of Bridget Jones was filmed here) Turn left into Montague Close and pass under London Bridge.  This bridge is fairly modern having being rebuilt in the 1970’s after the previous version was shipped out to Arizona.  It is thought that the American who bought the bridge for a theme park was under the impression he was buying the more scenic Tower Bridge.  The Tudor London Bridge (1500’s onwards) was an amazing construction with houses actually on the bridge and spikes at the entrance to put traitors heads on!  There is no evidence of that bridge left and the modern bridge is rather boring in comparison.  However if you walk up the steps to the bridge it does give a really good view of Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast. 

There is an underground station at London Bridge station, also nearby in Tooley Street are the London Dungeons (not real dungeons) and the Britain at War exhibitio.(2nd World War).  If you continue alongside the river from London Bridge on The Queen’s Walk you come to an indoor shopping centre, Hay’s Galleria, which has some interesting sculptures.  Next stop is HMS Belfast moored in almost the middle of the river.  This cruiser fought in World War 2 in the Battle of the North Atlantic.  Today you can explore almost the whole ship.  There is an excellent view of Tower Bridge from the stern of the ship. 

Past Southwark Crown Court the riverside opens up around the new City Hall, home of the Greater London Authority and the Mayor for London, currently Ken Livingston (formerly leader of the Greater London Council).  There are some interesting sculptures and environment around the outside of the building.  You can visit the building and it is of striking design. There are some excellent views across the river to the famous Tower of London. Just behind City Hall is the Unicorn Theatre, a new professional theatre just for young children (age 4-12).

City Hall sits right next to Tower Bridge.  Before you cross Tower Bridge have a look through the arch into Shad Thames and Butlers Wharf, home to the Design Museum, housed in an old banana warehouse.  This street still looks like something out of Dickens with its tall warehouse buildings and hoists.

At Tower Bridge you can visit an exhibition about one of the most iconic bridges in the world.  This is a lift bridge.  When a tall ship is coming through from the Pool of London the  traffic lights turn red, the traffic (vehicles and pedestrians) stop, and the lower part of the bridge lifts in two sections.  It is really weird to see a road way lift right up in front of you.  The bridge lifts about three time a week so you will be lucky to see it up, I  have lived in London for nearly 50 years and only been stopped once, when I  was late for a meeting at Tower Hotel.  If you visit the exhibition you get access to the high level walkways with excellent views over the river and the rest of London.

Once over the bridge, on the left  you can visit the Tower of London, the original Norman Castle was built by King William of Normandy after the Battle of Hastings in 1066.    The Tower is worth a whole visit in itself on another day.  However on the right is St Katherine’s dock, walk past the Tower Hotel.  This is a worthwhile diversion as it is very attractive restored dock with shops, dock gates, bridges, waterside apartments in restored dock buildings and lots of small boats.  There are good views looking back towards Tower Bridge from the red bridge.  These days, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and St Katherine’s dock are famous landmarks on the London Marathon route.   

The walk is almost complete,  walk around the eastern and northern edge of the Tower of London (it is very big) and then turn right (north) for Trinity Square and Tower Hill tube station.  Next to the tube station is Trinity House, which looks after all the lighthouses around Britain’s coasts.  If travelling by tube (underground) around central London it is worth getting a one day travel card that means you can hop on and off buses, over ground trains and tube trains.  This is a tiring walk, if taken in one go, but shows you some of the most famous parts of London with many iconic views.