London: A Visitor’s Guide
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How long is the walk? Approximately 2¾ miles
How long will the walk take? About 1 to 1½ hours. This is based on a leisurely 20-30 mins per mile, but you should add on more time if you plan on stopping at any of the places
Starting point: Get the District/Circle line to Westminster, or catch the 3, 11, 12, 24, 53, 87, 88, 148, 159, 211, 453 bus
This walk begins in Parliament Square, where you’ll get fine views of Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey. You might like to spend a few snapping photos and admiring the statues of our greatest-ever Prime Ministers (including a few international interlopers!).
Once you’re ready to go, set off towards Big Ben and head over Westminster Bridge. If you’ve got the time then you might like to have a ride on the London Eye. It only takes 45 minutes to go round, and it will give you a good idea of where you’re going to walk.
There are a couple of other attractions next-door which you might like to note whilst passing – the London Dungeon and London Aquarium. They are both situated in the imposing County Hall, which used to be the home of London’s local government.
Craig has reviewed all three of these attractions in his London blog. You might like to give it a read if you fancy a go.
From this point on it’s impossible to get lost, because the entire walk will follow the bank of the river (…give or take a few little bits).
Just past the London Eye is the relatively new Jubilee Gardens, which usually has a fairground carousel somewhere along it’s length.The first bridge you come to was built for the millennium, and is actually three bridges in one – two footbridges and a railway line.
Next up is a huge entertainment complex called the Southbank Centre. It comprises the Royal Festival Hall (for music), BFI Southbank (for movies), and the Hayward Gallery (for art). It’s rather brutal concrete exterior makes it one of the least popular London landmarks.
You might like to see if there are any events at the Southbank Centre worth going to.
If you look across to the other bank then you should be able to see Cleopatra’s Needle – an ancient Egyptian obelisk that dates all the way back to 1475 BC.
After you cross under Waterloo Bridge you should find another part of the Southbank Centre, the Royal National Theatre. After that is the Southbank Television Studios, where ITV records a lot of their programs. The big black window is where their breakfast show overlooks the Thames.
You should find yourself near some rather ramshackle-looking shops now. This is Gabriel’s Wharf, with some lovely little cafés. The wooden-looking buildings all house small businesses who design their own products, and is well worth a browse around.
If you look up in the air then you’ll see the famous OXO Tower. The builders were banned from advertising their stock-cubes on a billboard, so they decided to fashion the windows in the shape of a huge O-X-O. Sneaky!
The big red bridge coming up is Blackfriars Bridge, but what are those big pillars doing in the river? They are the remains of the old bridge, which was pulled down to make way for this one. The architects had to leave them in place to protect the new foundations.
The Tate Modern gallery occupies the big brick-building that looms up on your right. This used to be one of London’s old power-stations. There is a café upstairs which offers great views of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and you might like to choose this spot for a cup of tea.
You might like to see if there are any art exhibitions at Tate Modern, or any art exhibitions in London that you’d like to see. You can also check by month: art exhibitions in June, art exhibitions in July and art exhibitions in August.
The Millennium Bridge is also known as the ‘Wobbly Bridge’, because when it opened in 2000 it exhibited a rather embarrassing wobble when lots of people marched across it.
If you look across to the other side of the river at this point then you will see a celebrated view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, with its dome sitting right above the end of the bridge – a very nice piece of landscaping.
The next landmark on our walking tour of the river is Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, an authentic reconstruction of his 17th-century playhouse. Then we head towards the next bridge on our list – Southwark Bridge.
The riverside path runs out at this point, and you will have to head inland for a little while. This will take you past the Clink Prison Museum – an infamous jail which stood here from 1144 to 1780.
Be prepared for a surprise when you reach the end of the lane, because straight ahead is a life-size reconstruction of Francis Drake’s famous Golden Hinde – the ship in which he circumnavigated the globe. You will be amazed at its tiny size!
If you’ve worked up an appetite then you might like to stop for somewhere to eat. We recommend Borough Market, which is a few minutes walk away. The posh food market sells lots of gourmet treats, with a few sit-down cafés too.
Now you can return to the river and pass London Bridge. The next landmark is impossible to miss because it’s the tallest skyscraper in London. The Shard towers more than 1,000 feet above London with fantastic views from the 72nd floor.
(This is just one of many great viewing spots in London.)
Hay’s Galleria is worth a look for the strange sculpture that they’ve got dominating the central space. It’s an old iron boat-like thing which spouts water out the fountain. It looks like something out of a Jules Verne novel.
The next stop is a much more impressive boat – a 75-year old veteran from World War II. HMS Belfast has a distinguished history which includes service in the Korean War.
The strange teardrop-shaped building that comes up next is City Hall. This is the home of London Government, and is where the Mayor of London has his day-to-day offices.
The penultimate landmark on our walk can be seen across the water… the Tower of London. This World Heritage sight is arguably the most historic site in the whole of England, and dates all the way back to William the Conqueror.9 3/4 (same as in the books)
The walk comes to an end halfway across Tower Bridge, where you can enjoy a fantastic view stretching all the way back the way you came. Check out the Tower Bridge lift times, to see if it’s going to open for you.
We recommend spending the rest of the day at the Tower of London (there are usually lots of good events at the Tower of London), but you can also catch a bus here back to Waterloo and Covent Garden (the RV1). The No.15 will take you towards the City and Trafalgar Square. If you need to catch a train then continue walking past the Tower to Tower Hill.