A historic walk around the Thames and Bankside
This walk, as introduced to me by a university Professor, is made up of two legs - City of London and Bankside - and can take anything from a couple of hours to a full day, depending on how many sites and monuments you choose to visit. I recommend allocating it at least a half day to make the most of it.
1) Start at Saint Paul's cathedral (tube: St Paul's, the cathedral is just behind it).
For a long time, St Paul's was the highest point in the city; nowadays buildings in the area (on both banks of the river) are required by law to be lower than the cathedral's iconic dome, so as to preserve the setting. Under special circumstances, permission can be granted to bypass that protected view law.
The present cathedral, at least the 4th to have stood on this site, was built in the late 17th-early 18th century, after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London - and was the first one built after the Church of England detached itself from the jurisdiction of the Pope.
Open mon-sat. 8.30-4.30, last entry at 4pm. I'd recommend getting there around 9.30-10 am to make the most of your day. Admission is £16, £7 for children. Don't forget to visit the crypt and go up to the dome before you leave!
St Paul's website has a great section about exploring the Cathedral.
St Paul's towering over the cityscape through the ages. From left to right: in the 18th century (by Italian painter Antonio Joli), in the 19th century (Edward Angelo Goodall), early 20th century (Frederick Edward Joseph Goff), during the Blitz ('St Paul's Survives', photograph by Herbert Mason, 29th December 1940) and in the 21st century (photo by me).
2) Admire City of London Boys' School if you want, or take a stroll along the riverside...
From the Cathedral's south entrance, walk towards the river (which you should be able to see - if not, follow the signs that say 'Millennium Bridge'). Just before you get onto the bridge, you will see a red brick building on your right - this is the City of London School for Boys, a private school known for having taught the likes of Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and Skandar Keynes (Narnia). Little known fact, under its north wing lies a Roman bath house complex - atop of which now lies the school swimming pool.
Before you cross over to the south bank, go down the steps immediately right of the bridge - the riverbank outside the school is a nice place to stop and take pictures.
3) Millennium Bridge
The London Millennium Footbridge is a steel pedestrian walkway opened in 2000, linking the City to Bankside over the Thames. It is perfectly aligned with St Paul's, which makes for some breathtaking sights, and at night is lined with magnificent blue lights. Fun fact: it is, also, the very same bridge that gets destroyed by Death Eaters in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. As you reach the end of the bridge, don't forget to look back and enjoy the view.
4) Tate Modern
As you step off the bridge, you will see the Tate Modern in front of you, on the right. Famous for its exhibitions and permanent collections in modern art, the Tate is always full of fun, intriguing pieces. Do go in - admission to the permanent galleries is free - but if you want to reach Borough market in time for lunch, I do recommend that you come back after the walk.
For opening times and current exhibitions, visit the Tate website.
5) Shakespeare's Globe
Turn right after exiting the Tate (or left coming off Millennium Bridge). Barely will you have walked a few steps that you will find yourself in front of Shakespeare's Globe theatre. Built in traditional Elizabethan style, the modern Globe is a reconstruction of Shakespeare's playhouse, where most of his plays debuted - the original having been demolished in 1644. Interestingly, after the Great Fire of London, thatch roofs were banned by law - the Globe was the first building to ask for an exemption, provided they compensated with extra security precautions.
Today the Globe is used for regular performances, mostly - although not only - of Shakespeare's works. Yearly theatre season ends in autumn, as the shows are open-air - the venue is surprisingly intimate, despite its capacity, and tickets start at £5. However, there are tours running every day, all year round: for £13.50 (£8 children), you can be guided around the venue and downstairs exhibition. I do recommend the tour, as it is the only way to get into the Globe theatre off-season, yet again I suggest you come back in the afternoon as your visit will likely take over an hour, and tours run until 5 pm. Click here to take a virtual tour!
6) The Rose Theatre
To reach the Rose from Shakespeare's Globe, take the first right and turn left when you hit Park street. On the second left is Rose Alley, where you'll find the building hosting the remains of the Elizabethan Rose theatre, open for visit every Saturday (from 10 to 5).
The Rose theatre was one of the first purpose-build theatres to open in London, in 1587, and the first to be erected on Bankside. A typical Elizabethan playhouse, it would have looked a lot like the Globe, circular and open-air, but on a smaller scale. Some of Marlowe and Shakespeare's first plays debuted there, and it enjoyed a few years of popularity before it was eclipsed by competition from the bigger Globe, newly opened further down the road.
The building's remains were unexpectedly discovered during construction of the building that now stands on top of it - to make up for the 'lost' ground floor, contractors were able to obtain exemption from the height restrictions and build an extra floor. The site itself was partially excavated by archaeologists in 1989. Unfortunately, the foundations of the theatre are very fragile, and, due to lack of funding for adequate maintenance, they have now been reburied, encased in a protective layer of concrete until an alternative display solution is found.
However the original layout of the theatre is highlighted on the ground, and during your visit it is possible to view a short film about its history and excavation. The venue is currently used for a variety of events including workshops, plays (on the tiny stage!), talks and concerts, and hosts a giftshop - profits go to the Rose Theatre Trust. Do try and donate!
7) Original site of the Globe theatre, Winchester Palace and the curiosities of Clink street
Retrace your steps out of Rose Alley and onto Park street. Cross the road, and to your left you'll find a plaque marking the original site of the Globe theatre, built in 1599 by Shakespeare's playing company. The foundations are marked in white on the floor, and a panel gives further information about the site. Shakespeare's playhouse burnt down in 1613 following a production accident with a canon. It was subsequently reconstructed and finally demolished in 1644.
Keep walking down Park street past the Globe site and take the second left onto Bank End. Cross the road and turn at the first right into Clink street. Do take time to appreciate the possibly-once-shady historic streets of Bankside. Three tall medieval walls still stand on Clink street, on the right hand side. They are all that remains of 12th-century Winchester Palace, recycled into warehouses in the 17th century and destroyed in a fire 200 years later.
8) The Golden Hinde and Southwark cathedral
Emerging on the other end of Clink street, you will find yourself face to face with the Golden Hinde, replica of the ship Francis Drake used for his journey around the world. This replica ship happens to also have sailed around the globe (pun intended...sorry), and no offers guided tours and a variety of special events. Tours are £7 for adults and £5 for children, and are expected to last an hour.
Turn left past the pirate ship to enjoy a complex of Victorian warehouses and a few coffeeshops. The Clink Prison museum is open nearby for those interested, and charges £6 for admission. The gothic Southwark cathedral, a 2 min. walk away, is also worth a visit, if only for its beautiful interior and Voldemort-esque artistic choices.
9) Lunch at Borough Market and a pint at the George Inn
Continue walking straight down from the Golden Hinde II to find your way to Borough Market, great wonder of British civilisation, where you will find anything and everything you need for a marvelous lunch. Prices can be a bit steep but you do pay for quality ingredients, and as such you really get your money's worth.
A few roads down, hidden in a secluded part of Borough High Street, is a pub that's not to miss: the George Inn. Established in medieval times at that location, the current facade of the building dates back to 1677, when it was reconstructed following a fire. Yes, in the olden days there were a lot of fires.
You can either end your walk here and make something else of your afternoon, or - I would recommend - go back to the riverbank and take a tour of the Globe, and then visit the Tate Modern. Hopefully, by the time you come back out it'll be night time, and you can enjoy the millenium bridge in its full lit-up blue splendour.
Photography by me unless otherwise stated.