London is truly one of the world’s most amazing cities – let’s get that straight from the beginning. Its culture is so rich and so entwined in just about everything you do and see; it can be daunting to know where to start. One thing is sure – you visit London to be immersed in all that history, and it’s on that theme that we recommend an easy way to enjoy 1,000 years of history along the River Thames in one day – and it’s all on foot.
— VisitBritain (@VisitBritain) March 27, 2015
1. Tower of London
A great starting point is on the north side of the Thames at the Tower of London. Built in 1078 by William the Conqueror after he won the Battle of Hastings in 1066, over the centuries it’s hosted all manner of guests, including royalty, imprisoned royalty (Elizabeth I was kept here before she was crowned Queen), less-than-royal prisoners, ravens, ghosts and wild animals in the royal menagerie. It houses the Crown Jewels and is a hugely popular tourist attraction with tourists never failing to be moved by the story of the little princes locked in tower. Redolent with pomp, pageantry and history, and with its King’s Landing vibe, it’s a perfect starting point.
2. Tower Bridge
Built between 1886 and 1894, this London icon is a short walk from the Tower of London, and will take you across to the Thames’ south side. How a suspension bascule bridge that can be raised to let river traffic through became the most photographed bridge in the world is testament to the key role it plays in London’s famed and well-documented history. As well as being a tourist magnet, it’s an important bridge for cars, bicycles and pedestrians crossing the river. Its pen-air walkway makes it pretty safe amid the traffic and with its historic engine rooms, and a glass floor walkway it’s a pretty cool bridge to cross. Not content with past history, Tower Bridge continues to play an active role in London’s story, most recently displaying the Olympic rings in August 2012 when London hosted the Summer Games and the Paralympic Games symbol just after that.
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3. Southwark Cathedral and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
Once you’ve crossed Tower Bridge, turn right and start heading west. Not far on the left are another two historic landmarks where we head way, way back in time. Near London Bridge is Southwark Cathedral. Its full history is lost in time, but there has been a church on this site at least since 606AD, (that’s right, 606AD!) and it has been rebuilt and repurposed many times over the centuries. A little further down, just before Millennium Bridge is Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Originally built in 1599, it was burnt down, rebuilt and the demolished in 1644. This new accurate recreation was built in 1997 and is home to live theatre. Despite its recent refurbishment, authenticity is still an important factor when you experience theatre the way Shakespeare liked it, including simple wooden benches to ensure you remain uncomfortable enough to stay awake throughout most performances.
4. Tate Modern
Next we speed through history and arrive in 1900 the old Bankside Power Station which since 2000 houses the Tate Modern featuring modern and contemporary art dating from 1900 right up to the present day. It’s a vast, overwhelming space with some equally astonishing art, organised thematically, and changing on a regular basis. It’s certainly one of London’s most vibrant cultural spaces and one of the coolest galleries you’re ever likely to visit.
— South Bank London (@southbanklondon) March 22, 2015
5. Southbank Centre
A bit further along the Thames is a collection of theatres, which started life with the Royal Festival Hall built for the Festival of Britain in 1951, and now, includes the Royal National Theatre, Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Hayward Gallery and BFI Southbank. A popular hangout for culture seekers looking to meet other culture seekers.
6. London Eye
There’s no mistaking that this recent addition to the Thames’ south bank has made it a thriving tourist hub. Also known as the Millennium Wheel when it opened in 2000, it’s Europe’s largest Ferris wheel, and is truly the best way to gain a unique and breathtaking view of London. Take our advice and book ahead for one of the great rides of your life.
Congratulations, you’ve just walked back through time! From here, the city is your oyster. Sorry, that’s your public transport card.