There are lots of wonderful walks around London – from high on Hampstead Heath to navigating East London’s canalways, we as Londoners really are spoilt for choice. That said, the stroll that we keep coming back to time and time again (particularly on sunny weekends) is the South Bank to Southwark walk along the Thames, starting at Westminster Bridge, looking towards the Houses of Parliament, and walking all the way to Tower Bridge (approx 2.5 miles / 4km in total).
We rate this ramble highly as it includes so much – history, attractions, culture, riverside views, food markets, old pubs and lots of other diversions (pretty much something to suit all tastes).
So join as we wander along the Thames South Bank for what we believe is one the best walks around London – with several pit stops to eat and drink along the way; why not have a pint in each of the pubs listed. This is the perfect way to spend one day in London.
Walks around London – South Bank walk map
Walks around London – South Bank Walk attractions
1. The Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge
The South Bank walk starts at the southern end of Westminster Bridge, looking towards The Houses of Parliament / Palace of Westminster (the nearest London Underground station is Westminster).
As of June 2020, Parliament and Big Ben are covered in scaffolding for a major refurbishment, which isn’t due to finish until around 2028 so we won’t dwell on it too much, other than to say it was built in the late 1800s (Grade I listed) and is where all the important Government decisions are (supposedly) made.
2. County Hall and its ‘attractions’
As you head east on your South Bank walk, you can see County Hall to your right, built in 1922 in a baroque style, that used to house the London Council but now is home to various amusements, including Shrek’s Adventure London (Shrek got his green colour from swimming in the Thames – fact!) and a Sealife Centre, plus a couple of hotels. We haven’t been to these attractions lately but we did go to a special silent disco at the Sealife Centre a few years ago.
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3. London Eye
Originally only intended to be here to usher in the millennium (in the year 2000, hence why it is also known as the Millenium Wheel), this is now one of London’s most iconic landmarks and Europe’s largest observation deck wheel (although the Shard’s observation deck is now actually higher). Step into one of the 32 pods to do a loop over the Thames, with views for miles around (you can see Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace for example).
The rotation lasts 30 minutes and we’d recommend you book in advance, especially during peak season. They also sometimes do special events in the capsules like pop-up pubs or yoga sessions. We once went to a comedy gig in one of the capsules but the comic was terrible and we obviously couldn’t walk out – otherwise, he wouldn’t have been the only one that ‘died’ that night.
4. Wonderground / Underbelly (seasonal)
After the London Eye, you’ll likely next come across the Underbelly pop-up performance area (seasonal so not all year round) which contains lots of bars, food kiosks, amusements and a theatre. Ticket prices for the shows vary but the site is free admission so enjoy a beer in the ‘secret garden’ during the summer months, or in winter, grab a mulled wine or hot cider in the wintery Rekorderlig Lodge.
5. Southbank Centre and Festival Hall / Food Market
Your South Bank walk now takes in the SouthBank Centre and Royal Festival Hall, two of London’s foremost performance venues. Often, there will be free festivals and pop-up performances taking place outside the Southbank Centre (we’ve often seen choirs performing on the outside stage). During the summer, there is also a rather nice roof garden – the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden and Cafe / Bar (just look for the brightly coloured luminous yellow concrete steps going up – subtle as).
On Fridays to Sundays, the Southbank Centre also hosts one of London’s best food markets, home to street food from all over the world, plus the cheapest pint of cider in London (from…erm… Somerset). It is located behind the main Southbank Centre (just look for people holding delicious food – it is easy to find).
Finally, more entertainment or potential street photography comes in the form of Southbank Skate Space, a world-famous skate park bedecked in colourful graffiti and currently under threat from development (progress eh).
6. The BFI / Southbank Centre Book Market
Fancy a flick? The BFI (British Film Institute) Southbank is a four-screen rep cinema showing a varied catalogue of classic and modern movies, with a nice bar and restaurant set-up at the front. Just outside, you’ll find several book sellers set-up underneath Waterloo Bridge seven days a week, selling all manner of old books, comics and the usual Harry Potter fare.
7. National Theatre
A few steps from the book-sellers, you’ll come across a statue of Sir Laurence Olivier, which means you’ve arrived at the National Theatre. The jury is still out on the building exterior but the inside is warm and welcoming and the shows here are some of the best you’ll ever see. We were fortunate enough to see Bryan Cranston perform in ‘Network’ here and to this day, it remains our best ever theatre experience in London. Several bars are also located inside as well as outdoor drinking areas.
8. Gabriel’s Wharf
We’re not sure who Gabriel is / was, but their wharf is very nice and remains one of our firm favourites for alfresco dining and drinking. An eclectic mix of food stalls, bars and arts and crafts, this feels almost like a mini Italian village – we’d also recommend this as a free toilet stop.
9. Oxo Tower / Wharf
A few metres from Gabriel’s Wharf brings you to the Oxo Tower, formerly a powerstation that now houses a fine restaurant on its upper levels with stunning balcony views. The Oxo name came about as a quirk to get around a ban of skyline advertising back in the 1920s – the Oxo company bought the building so they could add the 10ft high Oxo letters on the side, cheeky!
The Oxo Tower also houses several arts and crafts shops (and a gallery) on its first two floors – the wharf outside is also a nice place to get a snapshot (we often see modelling shoots or Instagram wannabies strutting their stuff on the pier).
10. Doggetts Coat and Badge Pub
If you didn’t partake in food or drink at Gabriel’s Wharf and are now a tad thirsty, enjoy a pint in the popular Doggett’s Coat and Badge pub, by Blackfriars Bridge. Set over several floors with terrific Thames views, this is a nice traditional pub (although watch your bags as our friends got theirs stolen here once).
11. Blackfriars Mystery / Vanishing Bridge
A little London oddity now – look back towards the Thames after you walk under Blackfriars bridge and you’ll see rows of red pillars in the river, which look like a bridge has vanished. These in fact are the remnants of a railway bridge built in 1864 but dismantled in the 1980s when it became too weak for modern, heavier trains.
12. The Founder’s Arms pub
After passing Blackfriars Bridge, you’ll see the (very) busy Founder’s Arms pub, one of the best riverside inns in London – and very popular with the pigeons too. Bide your time and try to bag an outdoor table, and enjoy brunch or fish and chips with fantastic views of the Thames.
13. Tate Modern
Located in a former power station, the Tate Modern has transformed into a modern art powerhouse, with permanent galleries and temporary exhibitions. It is free admission to get in, but some of the exhibitions do charge entrance fees (the large scale installations in the entrance hall are always spectacular and free to visit).
Check out the upper balconies for incredible views – the Terrace Bar is one of our favourites (with reasonably priced beer and wine). Head on up to the top floor of the Tate’s new(ish) Blavatnik Building for 360 degree views of London (and also the neighbour’s flats, although you aren’t supposed to peer in).
14. Millenium Bridge
After a shaky start (literally) when it opened in 2000, the ‘wobbly bridge’ was fixed and became one of London’s best known free attraction; it even features in movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Harry Potter – if you so fancy, do a little diversion across and visit St Paul’s Cathedral. Whilst on the bridge, check out the tiny illustrations dotted along the metal walkway by street artist Ben Wilson, who uses people’s discarded chewing gum as his canvas.
15. Shakespeare’s Globe
‘All the world’s a stage’ said William Shakespeare and he wasn’t far off (try doing a performance at No. 10 Downing Street though!). Shakespeare’s Globe is actually a reconstruction of the original Globe Theatre (1599 to 1644) which opened in 1997. Staged in the round, many productions here offer £5 standing seats which is cheaper than the price of a cinema ticket. You really can see world class theatre for a fiver – this is why London’s theatre scene is the best in the world. If you don’t have a ticket, you can visit the information centre and gift shop for free, as well as use the public toilets, or book onto a guided tour.
16. Anchor Bankside
A short 5 minute stroll from the Globe is the historic Anchor Bankside pub (there has been some form of pub on this site for over 800 years) and dependent on your outlook is either most famous as the pub where Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of London from in 1666, or where Tom Cruise had a pint in the closing scenes of ‘Mission Impossible. Either way, it is a olde world inn (rebuilt in the 19th century) that is cosy in winter (warm fireplaces) or resplendent in summer with its outdoor beer garden (Pimms o clock!). They also do a mean (i.e. good) fish and chips.
17. South Bank’s Shakespeare mural
Pass by chain restaurant staples Nandos and Wagamamas and you’ll be greeted by a huge Shakespeare wall mural, just before you reach the Clink Museum – painted by Australian street artist Mr C (you can see more of his street art in Shoreditch). In the summer months, you’ll often see a street-performer busking next to the Shakespeare mural with a fire-breathing tuba – it has to be seen to be believed.
18. Winchester Palace
A 12th century former palace that used to be the home of the Bishops of Winchester, this Scheduled Ancient Monument is now unfortunately in ruins after a fire largely demolished most of it. What you can see now is all that is left of the former Great Hall showing the rose window and the remains of the kitchen area and adjoining rooms.
19. The Golden Hinde
Like Shakespeare’s Globe, this London landmark is actually a replica of the original ship, built in 1973 and docked here in 1996 after travelling the world (the original Golden Hinde, captained by Sir Francis Drake was launched in 1577 and best known for sailing around the world in the 1570s). If all this history or walking is making you thirsty, the Old Thameside Inn next to the Golden Hinde has stunning views of the Thames and city, with ample outdoor beer garden space.
20. Borough Market
In a word, delicious – make a hard right either just before or just after the Golden Hind to discover Borough Market, one of London’s most historic markets, packed with incredible food stalls. One of our top 10 markets in London, we can’t do it justice with just a paragraph so read our dedicated guide about all the things to do in Borough Market >
21. Southwark Cathedral
Dating back to 1106 but extensively rebuilt and added to over the last few centuries, Southwark Cathedral is a free to visit place of worship with incredible stained glass windows (but admission donations are always welcomed) – there is also a little cafe inside.
22. Hays Galleria
A curious hotchpotch of shops, bars, restaurants and businesses, Hays Galleria is a small-scale outdoor shopping centre that overlooks the Thames and has a couple of interesting features. In addition to the boules / petanque area, the centrepiece is the 60ft huge, bronze moving statue The Navigators by David Kemp, a nod to the maritime history of the area; and a little piece of London steampunk in Southwark.
23. HMS Belfast
A museum ship that is no longer in service, HMS Belfast is a surviving Second World War Royal Navy warship that was originally launched in 1938 and saw service in all over the world before being decommissioned in the 1960s. Admission is £16 for adults (as at June 2020).
24. The Scoop / The Tower of London
The penultimate leg of London’s best walk (in our humble opinion) takes you past City Hall on the left (built in 2002) – during the summer, they sometimes hold free stage plays and performances in the ‘scoop’ area here. To your right across the river, gaze at the Tower of London, built in the 11th century and the secure location of the Crown Jewels, the famous Beefeaters and once home to the Royal Mint and Royal Armouries.
25. Tower Bridge / Potters Field Park
In front of you now stands your final London landmark on this walk, the iconic Tower Bridge (if it is good enough for Mary Poppins, it is all good with us)! Built over 125 years ago, the jewel of the river Thames is an engineering marvel; it still opens up occasionally when the tall ships come through) and you can visit the inner workings via the Tower Bridge Experience (£12.80 admission as at June 2020).
Nearby Potters Field Park is very popular for picnickers and one of the best spots to sit down and view the Tower of London.
Instead, we’d recommend you save your money and do a free walk over Tower Bridge itself and then potentially reinvest some of the money saved by either jumping on a red double decker bus that goes over it or getting aboard a Thames Clipper boat that goes below (best to view it from all angles!).
If you have finished this walk around London and still have energy – how about now continuing across Tower Bridge, into London’s historic heart and explore the ‘Square Mile’? Read our full guide to the City of London here >
Check out our other London blog posts
- Top things to do in Greenwich
- Things to do in Camden Town
- Things to do in Leicester Square
- 10 best stadium sports tours & museums
- Traditional English food – best dishes to try in the UK
- Things to do in East London – travel guide
- Queen Elizabeth 2012 Olympic Park in London
- The Churchill Arms – the most colourful pub in London
- A guide to Victoria Park Village and park
- Columbia Road Flower Market – a complete guide