London’s labyrinthine streets and crowded town squares have often made it hard for travellers to navigate their way through the capital’s must-see sights. And, as London is one of Europe’s centres of art and culture, it can be a difficult task to accommodate the city’s wealth of museums, galleries and historical landmarks in a single trip. But if you’ve only got a few days in London and you’d like to see some of the best it has to offer, there’s one simple answer: the South Bank.
When Londoners talk about the “South Bank”, they’re referring to a riverside area of central London located along the south bank of the River Thames. Since the early 1990s, the South Bank has seen a large amount of investment and redevelopment, and today is one of London’s most lively cultural hotspots, popular with both visitors and residents.
Of course, the South Bank’s most famous landmark – the London Eye – needs no introduction. Although one of the newest additions to the capital’s architectural landscape, the Eye is already one of its most recognisable and is estimated to attract over three million people a year. But it’s not the be all and end all of what the South Bank has to offer – wander further along the river and travellers will find some of Britain’s most famous galleries and theatres.
Tate Modern, for instance, is a huge gallery that could take the better part of a day to see in its entirety. The building itself, converted from an old power station, is a treasure and many artists have made use of its unique spaces – most recently, Doris Salcedo’s 167-metre long “crack” in the floor of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. Other notable galleries on the South Bank include the Hayward Gallery, (located in the South Bank Centre and well-known for its contemporary art collection) and the Imperial War Museum, home to the World War Two cruiser HMS Belfast. The Saatchi Gallery, previously one of the hallmarks of the South Bank, has now moved to new premises in Chelsea.
No tour of the South Bank would be complete without a visit to County Hall, previously the home of the Greater London Authority as well as the Saatchi Gallery. Here, visitors can explore a varied selection of attractions, such as Dali Universe and the London Aquarium. What’s more, anyone hoping to sample London’s rich and diverse theatre scene will find pleasant respite from the ubiquitous West End at the South Bank. Shakespeare’s Globe – perhaps one of the most famous theatres in the world – only stages productions each summer, but visitors at other times of the year will be able to take a tour of the theatre itself. Additionally, the National Theatre, located right next to the British headquarters for IBM, promises a wealth of new and classic productions each year and has previously been responsible for some of the highlights of British theatre over the last forty years, such as Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III and The History Boys.
Even if you don’t have much time to spend discovering the hotspots along the South Bank, be sure to take the time to walk along this famous area of London. The South Bank is easily accessible by tube, so whatever hostel or hotel in London you’re staying at, it will be easy to locate. The official South Bank site offers detailed guides of South Bank walks, so finding your way around this exciting and vibrant part of Britain’s capital will be simple for even the most inexperienced visitors to London.