Take a walk on the south side of the Thames to discover great views, museums, markets and a vibrant street culture. Here are ten classic things to do in Southbank London.
Get a bird’s-eye view of London – as far as 40km in all directions – from a capsule on the London Eye. Also known as the Millennium Wheel, this symbol of modern-day London stands 135m high and is the world’s tallest observation wheel. As the London Eye is one of the city’s most popular attractions, make sure to book in advance or you’ll be standing in a queue for hours.
If you fancy a bit of Othello, you’re in luck! Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is a replica of the 1599 open-air playhouse for which Shakespeare wrote many of his greatest plays. It’s worth taking a guided tour of the theatre or you can simply wander through the world’s largest exhibition devoted to Shakespeare. There is a neat interactive play-reading programme that allows visitors to record their own audio performance of a character in a scene alongside pre-recorded readings performed by Globe actors. There are sword-fighting exhibits, a working printing press and flamboyant displays of Elizabethan clothing.
The London Aquarium is one of the largest in Europe. It has over 50 displays and hundreds of species ranging from sharks to stingrays. Don’t miss the daily fish feeding sessions or the shark, ray and coral talks.
Pop into one of the many cafes at Gabriel’s Wharf and rest your aching feet (your feet will get sore when exploring London on foot!) and reward yourself with an afternoon snack. The wharf also has an assortment of retail shops that sell funky jewellery, fashion and home accessories.
5-Heaven for a bookworm
Browse through hundreds of books at the South Bank book market or hunt for hidden treasures such as old maps, magazines, out-of-print books and prints. Located underneath the Waterloo Bridge, outside the National Film Theatre, the market is a bookworm’s dream. The market is open daily and is free. Make sure you haggle if you’re buying more than one book.
From France to Australia, California to Thailand, taste your way around the world at Vinopolis. This captivating wine-tasting attraction provides comprehensive information about all aspects of wine. It’s a perfect way to spend a wet afternoon (you’ll be lucky if it doesn’t rain while you’re visiting London), with wine-making exhibits and displays that offer insights on wine-growing regions all around the world.
7-Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret
Climb the narrow spiral staircase to this musty chamber of horrors. The Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret is an unsettling reminder of life before anaesthetics and antiseptic surgery. After being lost for over a century, the operating theatre was discovered in the garret of St Thomas’s Church in 1956. The Museum has exhibits of 19th-century medical instruments used by surgeons to amputate limbs, perform skull operations and childbirth, while the Herb Garret has displays of herbs and potions that would make a witch blush with pride. The operating theatre was used as a student demonstration arena where underprivileged women were operated on in public. In those days, wealthy patients were treated and operated on in their own homes.
London’s first Gothic church has a long and fascinating history. Historical highlights include heresy trials held in 1555 during the reign of Mary I, the baptism of John Harvard (founder of Harvard University) and the burial of Shakespeare’s brother, Edmund, in 1607.
In 1996, the cathedral drew the spotlight for hosting the 20th anniversary service for the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. Inside the cathedral there’s a large 19th-century stained glass window depicting scenes from Shakespeare’s plays and a statue of a reclining Shakespeare holding a quill.
There’s a memorial to the victims of the Marchioness (the pleasure boat that sank in the Thames river in 1989, killing 51 passengers) disaster and monuments honouring Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.
“A major supermarket purchased our special dry cured bacons last week” is the sign at the Sillfield Farm stall. Although this particular market has occupied its present site for over 250 years, there has been a food market on the south bank of the river for almost 2000 years. London’s Borough Market is certainly a treat. For a tasty sample of contemporary British cuisine prepared with fresh ingredients from the market, book a table at Roast.
Created in 2000 from the out-of-commission Bankside Power Station, the Tate Modern is London’s national gallery of international modern art. All the artworks displayed were created after 1900, including many works by modern British artists. The gallery is designed around four hubs (Surrealism, Minimalism, post-war abstraction in Europe and the US) and the three linked movements of Cubism, Futurism and Vorticism. Each hub has exhibits showing main proponents, predecessors and opponents of the respective movement. Love museums? Here’s a great guide to visiting London’s museums.