2012 is London’s year. Last year’s royal wedding still fresh in everyone’s mind, the diamond jubilee celebrations barely over, all eyes will again focus on London this summer – the 2012 Summer Olympic games are soon to begin. Aong with the athletes, it is London’s turn to shine. Immerse yourself in London – there is no better way to get to explore and see the city than by walking the streets of London’s South Bank.
County Hall, the Festival of Britain, the Hayward Gallery, the National Theatre, Tate Modern and the London Eye have all contributed to the cultural renaissance of a once active and industrial riverfront which fell into decline during the twentieth century. Walking the South Bank of the River Thames is now a destination unto itself where Londoners and tourists alike can enjoy a stroll down this historic stretch of the Thames.
The London Eye lends a carnival atmosphere to the South Bank with the iconic giant ferris wheel providing the most spectacular views of the city. On a clear day one can see 40 kms in all directions! A very popular tourist destination, it is well worth it to buy your tickets in advance as the lines can be long.
The heritage of shakespeare lives on in the Globe Theatre – Completed in 1995, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre is a reconstruction of the original Elizabethean thatched-roof, wooden Tudor theatre of 1598–9 which burned down in 1613. Built close to the original site in as authentic a manner as possible by the architects Pentagram Design, this is the place to experience both the atmosphere and the rudimentary comfort afforded by the Shakespearian playhouse….wander back in time and see the fascinating exhibit of the Globe’s history. Catch a matinee, or perhaps watch the theatre under the stars with the limited engagements of midnight matinees.
Tate Modern – Having been left empty for years, the Tate Modern is yet another success story from the Millennium Project. Now a fundamental part of the London tourist bucket list, this huge steel-framed building with a central tower/chimney 325 feet (99 metres) high, directly opposite St Paul’s Cathedral, it was not until Herzog and de Meuron transformed the empty building from its original function as an oil-burning power station that most people knew it was there. The successful reinvention of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s monolithic masterwork of 1947–63 in 2000 that the Tate Modern became known as the premier national gallery of modern art. The Tate Modern, an aesthetic beacon on the South Bank, is worthy of a visit, not only for the art that is housed within its walls, but for the stunning architectural features, including the dramatic entrance space that was once the turbine hall. Accessibility and visibility have been greatly improved by walkways along the South Bank and across the river on the Millennium Bridge.
The iconic Tower Bridge, recognized the world over . Built in 1894, the neo-Gothic towers and amazing suspension bridge captures the imagination of visitors. Bring your camera and enjoy the stunning views of London from the walkways high over the Thames River. For the curious, visit the Victorian Engine Rooms to learn about the inner workings of the Most Famous Bridge in the World.
Tower of London – while my time in London was short – it was the Beefeater tour of the Tower of London that really captured my imagination. The Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary, popularly known as the Beefeaters. They are the ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. In principle they are responsible for looking after any prisoners at the Tower and safeguarding the British crown jewels, but in practice they act as tour guides and are a tourist attraction in their own right.
Today the Tower of London is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. It is cared for by the charity Historic Royal Palaces and is protected as a World Heritage Site. Founded towards the end of 1066, the peak period of the castle’s use as a prison was the 16th and 17th centuries. The Tower of London is also well known for the beheading of Anne Boleyn, one of the wives of Henry VIII, and the start of England’s break from the Roman Catholic church.
So much walking is sure to build up an appetite. Be sure to stop and enjoy some traditional pub fare, or perhaps finish with a river cruise to relax the feet and view the city from a different perspective.
Walking London’s South Bank – you are only just scratching the surface!