LONDON’S SUNNY SOUTH BANK
We focussed our touristing attentions on the South Bank of the Thames today, joining hordes of Londoners and visitors strolling along the Queen’s Walk. This 3 mile promenade runs from the London Eye to the Tower Bridge, taking in some great views of the River Thames, the City of London, and London’s Southbank along the way. With blue skies above us and the warmth of summer in the air, we had a wonderful day exploring the sights of Southbank and soaking in a bit more of London’s cosmopolitan vibe.
After a leisurely start and a coffee with a view, we decided to begin our sightseeing with a short cruise along the Thames, from Westminster to the Tower Bridge.
The River Thames is the longest river in England and has been central to the evolution of London city. The river is deep enough for big ships and for centuries London’s Southbank was one of Europe’s most important river ports. Today few tall ships sail up the Thames; most of the water traffic is made up of ferries that take tourists like us up and down the river. It’s a great way to see some of the city of London, and on a day like today, also a great way to soak in some rays in style.
We passed under a number of bridges along the way from Westminster Pier to the Tower Bridge Pier, including THE original London Bridge, the newly built Millennium Bridge, and, of course, the Tower Bridge.
We hopped off after about half an hour of cruising the river and strolled across the Tower Bridge. Part suspension bridge and part drawbridge, the current structure was built in the 1890s and is both beautiful and impressive.
Reaching the southern bank of the Thames we set out to walk all the way back to the London Eye and the Westminster Bridge. Once a swampy marsh, Southbank developed into London’s entertainment district in the Middle Ages. Positioned as it was outside the formal regulation of the City of London on the north bank the area evolved into a rather shady district that included theatres, brothels, and animal fighting pits. Today the nature of the entertainment venues has changed somewhat, with the Queen’s Way promenade giving access to more family friendly options like the London Aquarium, the London Eye, the National Theatre, and the Tate Gallery of Modern Art.
Along the way we passed London City Hall, the headquarters of the London City Assembly. Opened in 2002 the building has an unusual shape, intended to reduce its surface area and thus improve energy efficiency.
The Shard was visible in the background too. Standing at 310m high it is currently the tallest building in Western Europe.
We didn’t stop in but did pause to admire the sleek lines of the HMS Belfast. Originally a Royal Navy light cruiser that served in both World Wars, the ship is now permanently moored on the River Thames and functions as a war museum.
Continuing on we passed Shakespeare’s Globe, a reconstruction of the original Elizabethan Globe Theatre where Shakespeare’s plays were once performed. The Globe was originally built in 1599, but was destroyed by fire in the late 1600s. The current theatre opened to the public in 1997 and once again plays host to Shakespearian dramas for appreciative audiences. Macbeth is playing at the moment but we weren’t really in the mood for theatre today so we continued on.
Next on the list of Southbank attractions was the Tate Modern, London’s famous modern art gallery. We DID stop in for a look there, partly just to see the building itself, which was once a power station and now boasts some great airy spaces.
Modern art is often a little too abstract for us, and certainly some of the exhibitions we saw today had us scratching our heads in consternation wondering what on Earth the point of it all was (even when we read the explanation accompanying some of the pieces we still couldn’t work out what it all meant – hardly surprising though given we’re both more on the geek/nerd end of the spectrum, rather than the artsy/creative end). Still, some of the displays were really cool; the Russian propaganda posters being our favourite of the day (they also made the most sense!).
Another favourite spot that had us stopping to watch was The Undercroft, an area used by skateboarders since the early 1970s. There were a few guys practicing their tricks whilst we were there which was pretty cool.
Finally we reached the London Eye, the city’s iconic giant ferris wheel. We had planned to ride the Eye but when we saw the queue (SO MANY PEOPLE!), decided we didn’t really need to see the city from 135m up in the air!
Crossing the Westminster Bridge we stopped to admire the Palace of Westminster and its very famous clock before catching the Tube back to our neighbourhood.
We thought about exploring some of Westminster but decided to leave all that for tomorrow. For now there’s a patch of grass in Hyde Park calling out to us and we must answer its summons….