South Bank is one of my favorite walks in London. You pass places of historical importance and architectural beauty, as well as iconic cultural locations, plus great places to eat and drink alongside the River Thames while people-watching in this fantastic city. I set my Brooke & Daniel crime thriller trilogy in this area and I do this walk whenever I’m in London.
If you walk the route from end to end without stopping, it will only take you about an hour or so to do the 5km along the Thames Path. But if you make the most of everything along the way, you could be busy for a week or more. It’s a great way to orientate yourself if you’re new to the city where so many get the Tube or a taxi when it’s easier and often quicker to walk.
Start at London Bridge Station which is a major transport hub for overground and underground trains. There are many different exits but it’s easy enough to find the river!
The Shard is next to the station. You can pay to look out over the city at The View From The Shard, which is worth it on a glorious day.
The Old Operating Theatre is also near the station, Europe’s oldest operating theatre, pre-dating anaesthetic and antibiotics.
Borough Market is a top foodie destination in London, and depending on the season and time of day, you can get coffee and pastries, or wander the food halls for hot mulled cider and hog roast. There are plenty of bars and restaurants in this area, including Roast, which perches above the market and serves wonderful roasted meat and vegetables, or try the Wright Brothers for oysters across the road.
Just behind Borough Market towards the river, you will find Southwark Cathedral, a site of worship for 1000 years, and where I started my pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral in October 2020.
From Southwark Cathedral, if you walk to the riverside and keep the river on your left, it’s not far to walk to Tower Bridge with views of the Tower of London on the north side.
If you walk to the riverside from Southwark Cathedral, keeping the river on your right, you’ll find the replica of The Golden Hinde, the ship of Francis Drake, and the ruins of Winchester Palace, where the Bishop of Winchester had his residence. The Rose Window is all that remains.
The Bishop of Winchester licensed brothels in medieval times but although the money went to the church, they refused to bury the sex workers and their children on sacred ground. These Outcast Dead were buried a few streets away, now Crossbones graveyard and Memorial Garden.
Walk back towards the river, past The Clink and The Anchor pub onto Bankside, walking with the river on your right.
You will soon reach The Globe, a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. You can take a tour of the building or book to see a live performance.
Soon after The Globe is The Tate Modern art gallery.
Book in advance if you want to see a specific exhibition, although there are galleries that you can just walk through without booking (at least you could pre-pandemic). They also have toilets, a cafe, and a lovely shop.
Right outside the Tate Modern, you can walk across Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral. There are often buskers and street artists around here as well as food trucks.
Carry on walking with the river on your right. The Founders Arms pub has outside tables if you want a drink on the riverside. Go underneath Blackfriars bridge (also a transport hub if you need to get on the train).
You’ll pass the OXO Tower Wharf which has some funky shops, then emerge next to a garden and Gabriel’s Wharf, which has more restaurants and shops. There is a section of beach on the river here where you will sometimes find sand artists creating wonderful things, so definitely stop and have a look.
There are always interesting pop-ups on this next section — food trucks, street artists, art installations, and buskers — as well as barges, tourist boats and ferries on the river.
Keep on walking past the National Theatre and then the BFI which sits just under Waterloo Bridge. There is a secondhand book market here.
Walk on past the skate park with its street art (sometimes just graffiti!) to the South Bank Centre and the Royal Festival Hall. There are toilets in the foyer, and lots of cafes around here. You will also find a branch of Foyles Bookshop, which is excellent.
You can also visit The Hayward Gallery here, and there is often a food market on the roadside towards Waterloo Station, which is another significant transport hub.
If you walk over the Golden Jubilee Bridge here, you reach Embankment Station and Charing Cross, an easy walk to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, as well as Covent Garden and Soho.
To continue along South Bank, walk under the Golden Jubilee Bridge and into a busy and touristy section where the London Eye looms high above. You need to book well in advance, but it is well worth it for the views on a lovely day. The Dungeons and the Sealife Aquarium are also here, so it is often packed with families at weekends and on school holidays. While I have never had a problem in London, I definitely keep an eye on my bag here as it’s known for pickpockets because of the number of tourists.
Walk under Westminster Bridge, staying on the path by the river, with views of the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey behind.
Walk up and over the bridge if you want to visit Westminster, and definitely book well in advance. You can also reach Westminster Tube station or walk back to Waterloo.
More about London
- 7 Literary Landmarks for Book Lovers in London
- 25 Quirky and Unusual Things to Do In London
- History as a Fine Art: Victorian London with David Morrell
If you enjoy crime thrillers featuring a British detective, check out my Brooke & Daniel crime thriller trilogy which is set in this area of London. Available in your favorite online bookstore in ebook, paperback or audiobook. Also available in a trilogy omnibus edition.
That was fun! In 2019 I stayed in a flat in Lambeth and walked this almost every day for two months. I miss doing that so I hope to return soon.