This was an area I had never really explored other than a previous visit to the Tate Modern so on my last London trip I decided to take a walk along the south bank area of the Thames. I took the tube to Westminster Bridge and crossed Westminster bridge then walked along to the right hand side towards Lambeth Palace. From here you get unobstructed views across the River Thames to the Palace of Westminster, much better than for photo taking than the hustle and bustle of the crowds on Westminster Bridge!
I then headed back the way and to the other side of Westminster Bridge and followed the river side pathway passed County Hall and the London Eye, through Jubilee Gardens and passed the Southbank Centre & Queen Elizabeth Hall.
I then chose to cross Waterloo Bridge to the north side of the River to head to the Temple area and St Pauls before crossing back over at the pedestrian Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern & Shakespeare's Globe. However continuing on the south side takes you passed the Royal National Theatre, Oxo Tower and Bankside Gallery before reaching the Tate Modern in the former Bankside power station.
It was a beautiful sunny day when I went so it was a nice change of pace to take a leisurely walk and explore this area.
See my individual tips for more info on specific sights as well as my travelogue and itinerary for day 5 (currently under construction!)
If you are looking for a bit of culture then you can't go wrong along the south bank area of the Thames, particularly on either side of Waterloo Bridge. To the west is the Southbank complex which is made up of 5 different arts venues including the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Hayward Gallery and covers everything from music (classical through jazz and modern), dance, literature and the visual arts as well as being a popular eating place with views over the Thames. The buildings themselves look pretty ugly to me I have to say, but they are listed buildings and considered examples of "brutalist" architecture.
Then to the east of Waterloo Bridge is the Royal National Theatre.This is one of the leading theatre companies in Britain, alongside the Royal Sheakspeare company. The building is another listed example of Brutalist architecture but contains 3 separate auditorium with the largest (with over a 1000 seats) being the Olivier, named after Sir Laurence Olivier who was the companies first director. There is also a statue in front of him portraying Hamlet.
If you’ve started to follow my review of The Queen’s Walk on the south bank of the Thames, then continuing along the path towards Tower Bridge from the London Eye will bring you to the Hungerford Bridges.
As you pass under the bridges you will come to the Southbank Centre, which consists of 3 main buildings - the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall (QEH), and the Hayward Gallery.
After WWII the labour government decided to give the nation a boost by creating a Festival of Britain. There were festivals all over the country but the main one was here on the south bank of the Thames. It opened in 1951 on what was pretty much a wasteland and included subjects like the arts, science and architecture, but the following year it was closed down when the conservatives came back into power.
The Royal Festival Hall is the only building to have survived the exhibition, with the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Hayward Gallery springing up next to it during the 1960s. From an architectural point of view the Festival Hall isn’t so bad, but the other two buildings are closed for two years whilst improvements are made - and not before time if you ask me.
The complex covers all manner of the arts. The Festival Hall is home to four orchestras and a 2,500 seater concert hall plus a poetry library. The QEH (along with the adjacent Purcell Room) is a venue for more alternative music, and the Hayward Gallery houses temporary collections of modern art.
When I popped into the Festival Hall recently there was a festival on called Alchemy, which was a platform for artists exploring the relationship between the Indian sub-continent and the UK. It was a mixture of music, dance, comedy, films, talks, artistic design and workshops. I wasn’t here for any of the main events, but it might give you an idea on what happens at the Southbank Centre.
With all this art and culture around it might well come as a shock to the system to see the undercroft of the QEH building a skateboarding area with graffiti covered walls, but it’s been here since the 1970s and I suppose it would be difficult to argue with the youngsters that use it, that it’s not art after some of the things I’ve seen elsewhere.
On the Lambeth end of Westminster Bridge is a 13ft (4m) long lion made out of Coade stone.
Coade stone is a mixture of fired clay, flint, sand, and glass and baked at a high temperature for several days. The factory that produced this stone was located where the County Hall building now stands and began business as a ceramics factory in 1769 between Daniel Pincot and Eleanor Coade. The partnership split up but ‘Mrs’ Coade (who wasn’t married) carried on the business creating statues, decorative friezes and other stone embellishments. She called her stone ‘Lythodipyra’ from the Greek word for ‘twice fired stone’ which was part of the process. Other people preferred to just call it Coade stone, and the name stuck.
Further along the South Bank where the Royal Festival Hall now stands was the Lion Brewery who commissioned a pair of Coade lions in 1837 (now under different ownership) and were among the last items made at the factory. To make way for the Royal Festival Hall the brewery was demolished in 1949, but thanks to a request by King George VI the lions were saved. For some time the South Bank Lion stood on a plinth near Waterloo station and was painted in British Rail red.
When the station was extended in 1966 it was moved to its present position on the end of Westminster Bridge, stripped of its red paint and is now looking as handsome as ever.
The other lion by the way, found its way to Twickenham rugby ground and has apparently been painted gold.
I thought that this market that takes place every December was perhaps a little expensive and most of the stall holders did not come from Britain. Belgian waffles, German sausages were among the tasty food on offer, but many stalls were selling Xmas decorations for the house or Xmas tree.
While taking a stroll one sunny Sunday morning along the Southbank by Gabriels Wharf I came across this artist creating a beautiful face out of sand. They do that as soon as the tide goes in and that gives them a few hours to make their creations [http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/vv/8b8c/]
The South Bank area (where the London Eye is) is great for a walk. Street performers favour this area and there is always something to see. Many bars, pubs and restaurants as well. Take a stroll next to the river and enjoy the views and entertainment.
It's a great occation to spend a nice afternoon out.
I think the best way to get is arriving at London Bridge train station or TUBE station.
You can also plan a walk from Tower Bridge to the London Eye or even The Parliament near Vauxhall Bridge.
I always loved Sout Bank with the great view on the Thames and the things around.
There might be banks you can sit on for a break and you can watch what happens on the Thames.
I really love the Royal Festival Hall and of course the London Eye.
At the Southbank Centre you have many things close together.
+Riverfront Bar & Kitchen (where I had a nice soup)
+National Theatre Bookshop
and a lot more...
When I went there last time in November there takes place a special (German) Christmas Market - what I thought was a great joy for me...
I could highly recommend to spend some nice quality time there:
I took a long walk from Hay's Galleria towards Westminster Station which is also nearby. It's situated not far behind the London Eye...
In this remarkable sculpture by Salvador Dali, time seems to stand still, almost as if in a time warp. The clock face appears to be melting and is attached to branches, perhaps resembling the tree of life? There is also an angel to the right kneeling by the hands of time. It is located practically next to the London Eye, and is worth stopping for a look. I found it rather interesting. There are several other examples of Dali's work along the South Bank of the Thames.
There are other works inside County Hall by the famous Spanish artist, that I would have liked to see, but I will have to plan on seeing that on my next visit, as, unfortunately, I was limited on time.
In Southbank you will find a lot of street perfomances going on all the time.
A lot of them are by the London Eye, Gabriels Wharf and Tate Modern .
It could be from musical performers, dancers, acrobatics, living statues, juggling and much more.
It's a great way of spending a few hours watching them and they are free.
Some of the acts are amazing but you have others that are not so good. Usually at the end of their perfomance they do go round so people can donate (tip) money for their act. If there are good I always give them something if not I walk away well before the perfomance finishes.
This former row of old garages was transformed in the late 1980s by some sprucing up and the addition of quaint shop-fronts. These shops are now occupied by a selection of independent retailers (designers, artists, printmakers, florists, clothing, jewellery) making it an interesting place to shop for gifts or unique pieces for the home. There are also several places to eat and drink. I have so far only been in one of these, the excellent Gourmet Pizza Company. The other options include a pub, a restaurant specialising in seafood and steaks, and a pie shop. On the decking of the wharf you’ll find seating and a slightly bizarre collection of wood-carvings, the work of Friedel Buecking who occupies one of the shops. Children are welcome to ride the wooden animals, and often do! The whole is overlooked by the painted backdrop that disguises the wall of the ITV television studios next door.
This statue of Nelson Mandela has stood beside the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank for almost thirty years, but it took on particular poignancy in the days following the news of his death in December 2013. Many admirers left flowers and tributes here , and for a short period after his death a selection of quotes by the great man were projected on to the Royal Festival Hall.
The statue, by Ian Walters, was commissioned by a former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, when he was leader of the Greater London Council., and was unveiled in 1985 by ANC president Oliver Tambo, at a time when Mandela was still imprisoned. At this time the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was very hostile to the Greater London Council, which she later abolished. It would be charitable to think that it was for this reason, rather than any opinion she may have held about Nelson Mandela, that she refused to visit the statue, though I have my doubts …
’The day after the unveiling Labour Party firebrand and anti-apartheid activist Tony Brand stood up in the House of Commons, complete with ANC T-shirt and goaded the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Would she find time, he asked, "to go to the South Bank to see the statue of Nelson Mandela erected by the GLC?" She replied with a terse "No".’
The full inscription reads:
”THE STRUGGLE IS MY LIFE”
GAOLED 5th AUGUST 1962
SENTENCED TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT
12th JUNE 1964 FOR HIS ACTIONS
ERECTED BY THE GREATER LONDON COUNCIL
UNVEILED BY OLIVER TAMBO
PRESIDENT OF THE AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS
28th OCTOBER 1985
NELSON MANDELA WAS RELEASED
AFTER 27 YEARS' IMPRISONMENT
11th FEBRUARY 1990
AWARDED THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE
10th DECEMBER 1993
INAUGURATED PRESIDENT OF THE
REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA AND
ITS GOVERNMENT OF NATIONAL UNITY
10th MAY 1994.
If you’re walking along the South Bank do make the detour, up the steps to the right of the Festival Hall as you face it, to see and pay tribute to the great man.