Bankside River Walk
Walking through history along the south side of River Thames in London
One of the best ways to experience London, England is on foot. In past visits, I’ve walked through areas in the West End and the City, where many popular tourist attractions can be found. On my most recent visit, I discovered attractions on the south side of the River Thames on a leisurely walk through Bankside. Bankside runs between London Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge. A pedestrian walkway along the river, The Queen’s Walk, offers views of the river and the north bank.
My husband and I started the day from London Bridge Station, under the shadow of The Shard, an 87-storey skyscraper almost the twice the height of any other building in London. Viewing is available on floors 68, 69, and 72. Our first stop was Borough Market, one of the oldest and largest food markets in London with over 100 stalls featuring British and international foods.
From Borough Market, we made our way to the pedestrian pathway along the Thames.
The Golden Hinde is an historically accurate representation of the ship in which Sir Francis Drake completed the second-ever circumvention of the world between 1577 and 1580, something the replica ship has also done. The ship is open for self-guided and guided tours. The Golden Hind was the only one of five vessels to return from Sir Francis Drake’s expedition.
Bankside is one of the oldest settlements in Britain. It is in the London Borough of Southwark. For centuries London Bridge was the only river crossing and anyone travelling south from London went through Southwark. In medieval times, taverns to service the tourist trade abounded. In Tudor times, because the area was outside London city boundaries and outside of control of city elders, it became a haven for prohibited activities, such as bear-baiting and prostitution. Southwark later became the focus for theatre-goers. In the late 18th century, Bankside developed into an industrial environment. Southwark was heavily damaged by German bombing in the Second World War, and after the war Bankside went into decline until its recent redevelopment. It is now a prime tourist destination.
The medieval Bishops of Winchester possessed great wealth and political power. They owned a great deal of land in Southwark. Winchester Palace was built in the 12th century to house the bishops in comfort when they visited London. It was used until the 17th century when it was divided into tenements and warehouses. It was rediscovered after a fire in the 19th century. What remains was revealed in the 1980s when redevelopment occurred.
Two prisons existed on the ground of Winchester Palace, one for men and one for women. Prison inmates ranged from priests to prostitutes and also included many political activists and rebels. The name “clink” began to be associated with the prison in the 14th century, possibly because of the sound of a blacksmith’s hammer closing the irons around a prisoner’s wrists or ankles. Today, a museum on the site examines London’s unsavoury past from 1144 to 1780.
The Globe Theatre is a reconstruction of the original open-air playhouse built in 1599, where Shakespeare worked and for which he wrote many of his plays. Tours are offered, bringing the world of Shakespeare to life and providing details about the reconstruction and current use of the building. The Globe is a working theatre so tours may not always be available. When we visited, tours ended at noon because of a scheduled matinee performance.
The Tate Modern art gallery is located in what was once the Bankside Power Station, an oil-fired power station which generated electricity from 1952 to 1981. The Tate Modern has been housed here since 2000. Entrance to the Tate Modern’s regular galleries is free. Admission is charged to visit special exhibitions.
At this point in the walk, one could chose to walk back to London Bridge, cross the Millennium Footbridge to the north bank and visit sites on that side (e.g. Tate Britain, St. Paul’s Cathedral), or continue walking west on Queen’s Walk to Royal National Theatre, London Eye, and Westminster Bridge.
We chose to walk back to London Bridge via Southwark Street. As we neared Borough Market, we noticed an interesting looking building, the Hops Exchange.
The Hops Exchange was opened in 1867 as the hop trading centre for the brewing industry. Today, it is a private office building and we did not go inside. I later learned there is a Good Beer Guide pub located underneath in the vaults of the Exchange, which would have offered an opportunity to see at least a part of the inside of the building. Something for a future visit perhaps.
Our Bankside river walk was a great way to explore the history and culture of part of London on the south side of River Thames.
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What a fabulous tour! The Tate is one of my favorites, and I do remember Winchester Castle. But this is a great way to show how walking is the best way to see all these wonderful things. I did it more hop-scotch and on different days, but this looks by far the better way!
Jacquie, I’ve seen a couple of these places before, but not all and it was fun to do the walk the way we did.
Next time I’m in London, I hope to take your advice and follow your footsteps for this walk. During our last visit to London in 2012, we stayed at the Royal Society of Medicine on the other side of the Thames on the edge of Mayfair, but we did a ton of walking, including walking across the river and walking north to the London Eye before recrossing the river on what I think was the Golden Jubilee Bridge. My favorite visits during that visit were Westminster Abbey and the National Portrait Gallery. My first visit to London was in 1969 with my parents and sisters during the year we lived in England (in Wiltshire) where my father was an exchange teacher. I must say that the food options vastly improved during the intervening years.
Suzanne, I visited the National Portrait Gallery two years ago when I was in London with my sister and loved it. And I agree, food options have vastly improved – we had wonderful meals on our most recent trip.
I love walking tours and the walk through Bankside seems to offer much in the way of history, both ancient and recent. The prison museum on the site of Winchester Palace sounds like it would be fascinating although probably gruesome as I imagine the conditions were beyond terrible. Anita
Anita, we did not go inside the prison museum on this walk. I too expect it would be fascinating and gruesome. So much to see and do in London, you can’t take in everything in one or two trips.
You took sight seeing to another level! These photographs are fantastic and truly capture the scene. I like that you have included a brief summary on each of the places of interest.
Thanks Phoenicia. I loved that we could pass so much history within a relatively short space.
Such lovely pictures! I can’t wait to visit London. It is on my to do list. I did go to a River Walk last week but it was the River Walk in San Antonio TX.
The San Antonio River Walk is beautiful. I’ve been there a couple of times and loved it. I hope you get to London soon.
Thanks for sharing this.
I have always, always wanted to see London. It is one of those places I want to visit in my lifetime. The history alone is good enough for a visit.
William, I hope you get to see London soon. You’d enjoy the history and maybe even get a few ideas for your books.
For many years I worked for a company that was headquartered in Ludgate House, just off the Blackfriars’ Bridge and near the Tate Modern. Haven’t been there for several years. But looking at your photos, I miss it.
Ken, I hope you had a few chances to visit that head office and some time left over to explore.
What a perfect way to explore that area of London. I love these pedestrian walk ways. It beats trying to compete with crowded sidewalks. That’s a gorgeous shot of St. Paul’s Cathedral. I would also like to wander through the Borough Market.
Nancie, the pedestrian walkway was great. Certainly less busy than the streets.
We have been fortunate to visit many times and you never can see it all. London is HUGE! I loved your walk and I find it so interesting to see what kinds of things that interest other people. I think you and I are on the same page.
Suzanne, there is so much to see and do in London, it’s easy to discover something new each time one visits. Of course, it is great to return to old favourites as well.
Walking is a great way to see a city like London. Your tour through both old and new is fascinating and great photos to take us with you along the way.
Thanks Billie. London is definitely one of those cities to see on foot.
Every time we see stories on London we realize how much we need to go spend some time in the city. Thanks for more great ideas for when we finally do.
Veronica, there always seems to be something new to discover in London.
Wow, your photos are amazing. I need to plan a trip to London, England. Maybe when the kids are older. The train stations look so amazing in England. In my area, it is underground and dark. Thanks for sharing.
Sabrina, I love London and think it is well worth a trip.
A great description of one of London’s most enjoyable walks. I especially love Borough Market – it looks so quiet in your photo, your timing must have been at the exactly right time of day!
Michele, we got to Borough Market just after it opened and it was relatively quiet. I also waited to take photos when they would not have any or many people in them.
What a great post! I know this walk very well and would come up from Brighton on the train and take that exact route past Borough market, etc along to the Tate. Really great to see the photos. I always loved that church with just the stained glass window left:-) Glad you had such a good trip, and explorered this area of London.
We did exactly the same thing…and at almost the same time…except for the Sky Garden! From there we walked to the St. Paul’s Cathedral, Millenium Bridge, and Tate Modern! Like minds!
Carol, it’s a great walk isn’t it?
Oh I do love the UK and have been several times, but the last trip was nearly a little over 8 years ago so thank you for the lovely memories Donna! My father’s family are originally from England and I managed to find the village where my great, great, great grandparents lived before migrating to the US and keep telling myself one day I’m going to go visit.
Marquita, I hope you get to visit that village some day. It would be an interesting experience.
Totally loved this walk with you because spending time on the river walk is one of my favorite things to do in London. I enjoy the sights, the history, the pubs, the ambiance. And the Tate Modern is a must-see!
You’re right that the South Bank is a fascinating place, all the more so because it is changing all the time. I’m always surprised at the number of Londoners who are unfamiliar with the area.
Karen, the south bank is certainly a lot different than it was twenty years ago. Definitely worth spending some time in.
I absolutely love river walks. Whenever I travel to a non-ocean destination, I usually try to find a hotel along a river walk. I’ve never done the Bankside River Walk in London but there are lots of really great sites along the way. A definite must-do!
Patti, this is a great walk and area to visit in London.
Absolutely right Donna. London by foot is the way I learned my way around the city back in the 80’s and I am sure I got to know it infinitely better than had I relied solely on the tube or buses (back then it was still all double deckers).
Tim, on a different day in London we took a taxi mid-day because we were running late for an appointment. With the traffic, it turned out we likely could have walked there as quickly! By the way, there are still quite a few double decker buses.
Thanks for sharing this. London is on my top list of places I wouldn’t like to visit one day, but after reading your post and looking at all the fabulous pictures I have the feeling that I was also part of the trip
Sharmilla, I’m glad you felt as if you were there with me. London is a great place to visitl