Boasting some of the most picturesque views in London, this self guided River Thames Walk will take you along the River Thames, taking in historic sights and beautiful skyscapes. This walk can be done both at night and in the day time – depending on your preference. Here is a link to the map.
START: Westminster Underground Station
When getting to the station, take the EXIT for the River Thames and Westminster Pier. As soon as you exit the station you will see this statue:
STOP 1 – Statue of Boudica
Boudica was queen of the Iceni tribe, who rose up against the Romans around AD60. After abuses to her family suffered at the hands of Roman soldiers, Boudica led her tribe to destroy the cities of Camulodunum (modern day Colchester) and Verulamium (modern day St. Albans). After a lengthy and hard-fought battle in London, Boudica’s Britons were defeated by the Romans and Boudica killed. She is commemorated here, along with her daughters, in a statue that was commissioned by Prince Albert and erected in 1905.
BEHIND you is PORTCULLIS HOUSE – dominated by a number of black chimneys that actually serve as an outlet for all the hot air generated by Westminster Station below. Today this building holds a number of committee rooms and is full of offices for various Members of Parliament.
With the river to your RIGHT, walk away from the statue. Stop opposite the long building with the green tower in the centre.
Stop 2 – London County Hall
The building across the river from you is County Hall – previously headquarters of the London County Council. Today it is better known as home to the London Sea Life Aquarium! Boasting over a million visitors a year and with tanks holding 2 million litres (530,000 gallons) of water, the London Aquarium focuses on conservation and education about aquatic life. It is open to the public all year long.
CONTINUE in the same direction for around a minute before standing directly opposite the LONDON EYE.
Stop 3 – The London Eye
Originally intended to stand here for the millennium and then be removed, it’s hard to imagine London now without the London Eye! Previously the world’s tallest ferris wheel (135m / 443ft tall), before being surpassed by the Star of Nanchang in 2006, the London Eye is still the tallest ferris wheel in Europe. The most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, the Eye is construction of 32 10-tonne capsules that can hold up to 25 people. Traveling at only 10in a second, it takes 30 minutes for a single rotation!
Continue in the same direction. Go under the bridge until you reach CLEOPATRA’S NEEDLE on the edge of the river (your RIGHT).
Stop 4 – Cleopatra’s Needle
You are now looking at the oldest monument in London (guarded by two sphinxes) – dating from around 1450BC! Presented to the United Kingdom in 1819 by Muhmmad Ali, the one-time ruler of Egypt and Sudan, this fixture was supposed to be a commemoration of the victories of Admiral Lord Nelson at the Battle of the Nile in 1801. Although a gift to the country, there were mo previsions made to pay for the transport of the needle from Egypt to the U.K! Weighing 224 tons and standing 21m (69ft) high,t he government here refused to shell out any money and it was up to Sir William James Erasmus Wilson (an anatomist and dermatologist) who personally paid for it’s transport.
The ship carrying the needle nearly sunk and 6 crew members on a recovery vessel were killed when their boat capsized near the Bay of Biscay in 1877 during the effort to bring the needle to London. Their names are listed on a plaque attached to the bottom of the mounting stone. The Needle was finally put into this position in 1878 and contains a time capsule that was inserted to commemorate Victorian England. The capsule contains items such as: 12 photographs of the best looking English women, a portrait of Queen Victoria, a Bible, a map of London, 10 daily newspapers and a razor…as well as other bits and pieces!
Continue in the same direction, under another bridge. On your LEFT will be SOMERSET HOUSE.
Stop 5 – Somerset House
Originally the site of a Tudor palace belonging to the Duke of Somerset, and in the 17th century a base for King Charles II’s wife, Catherine of Braganza, today Somerset House is a neoclassical building now home to the Royal Academy. Hosting London’s most popular ice skating rink in the winter, and filled with exhibitions throughout the year, Somerset House also has a museum dedicated to the history of the building which is free to visit.
Continue until you reach the traffic lights. The statue on your left is of ISEMBARD KINGDOM BRUNEL.
Stop 6 – Isembard Kingdom Brunel Statue
Brunel was an English civil engineer, primarily known for his work on the Great Western Railway and his pioneering efforts on underground tunneling – setting the stage for the London Underground. He was responsible for the first ever accessible tunnel under a river (now part of the London Overground Network) as well as constructing and designing Paddington Station.
Stay along the river and continue walking until you see MIDDLE TEMPLE LANE on your LEFT.
Stop 7 – Temple Gardens
Temple Gardens here are located in Inner Temple – one of the four Inns of Court that act as local authority and a centre for the English law profession. Standing here since the 12th century, the buildings here date from any given time over the last 900 years, including fine works of Georgian and Tudor architecture. The gardens here are a rare tranquil spot in this heavily business-oriented part of London and the Temple grounds are free for the public to explore. Oftentimes used for filming, the offices, Halls, churches and gardens here are a wonderful place to try to get lost!
Shakespeare fans take note: It is in the gardens here that William Shakespeare claims the Wars of the Roses began, as depicted in his work Henry VI Part I – which had it’s original stage debut at Temple Church located within the grounds.
If you wish to explore Temple Gardens, please do so. When you are done, return to the river and take note of the tall tower on the opposite side.
Stop 8 – OXO Tower
Originally a power station in the 19th century, today the OXO Tower is an iconic building on the other side of the river, holding a bar and restaurant. One of the few Art Deco designs to be seen in London, the building was redeveloped in the late 1920’s to the style you see today. The design of the windows is what makes this building a true London treasure. The windows spell out the word OXO, the name of the company who were using this building for cold storage (Oxo is best known for manufacturing cooking stock). Originally, Oxo wanted illuminated signs on their building to advertise their company but planning permission for the signs was rejected. To get around this, the windows were designed to “coincidentally” spell out the name of the company!
Continue on until you reach Blackfriars Bridge. Continue along the river path UNDERNEATH the bridge. Stay on this path until you hit the MILLENNIUM BRIDGE. Walk across the Bridge, pausing in the middle for some good photo opportunities.
Stop 9 – Millennium Bridge
This is the only pedestrian only bridge in the City of London and is known to most people as either the ‘Harry Potter Bridge’ or the ‘Wobbly Bridge.’ Firstly, because it was destroyed by Death Eaters in one of the Harry Potter films – and secondly because of problems with the Bridge when it was opened to the public in the year 2000.
As soon as the Millennium Bridge was opened to the public and people began to cross, the entire bridge started to wobble and shake! It was closed almost as soon as it was open and it took another 2 years and £2million to finally stabilise it…meaning the Millennium Bridge actually was only properly opened in 2002! The design you see today was created by Arup, Foster and Partners and Sir Anthony Caro and is a total length of 325m (1,066ft).
At the Southern side of the Bridge is the TATE MODERN MUSEUM.
Stop 10– Tate Modern Museum
The world’s largest and most visited modern art museum, the Tate Modern is housed inside an old power-station! One of London’s free galleries, the gallery has been here since the year 2000 and is the home of the National Collection of British Art. The Tate is open 7 days a week – so pause for a visit if you like!
Get off the Bridge in front of the Tate Modern. As you step off the Bridge onto the Southbank, the Thames will be in FRONT of you and the Tate will be BEHIND you. Head to your RIGHT to visit SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE THEATRE.
Stop 11 – Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
In the late 16th century, this side of the river was home to London’s vice. Outside the jurisdiction and laws of the City of London north of the river, the south became home to thieves, gambling, prostitutes and theatres (all of which were considered in the same category!). It was near this site that William Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre stood. Lost in a fire in 1613, the theatre you see today is a reconstruction, completed in 1997.
The campaign to rebuild the Globe Theatre was led by American actor Sam Wanamaker who spent nearly 3 decades to bring his idea to life! Shakespeare’s Globe is built as close to the original design as historical architects can surmise and is the only thatched-roof building in the entire capital (thatched roofs being outlawed after The Great Fire of London in 1666). Showcasing performances throughout the spring and summer, visitors can get tickets to the Globe for as cheap as £5…if you’re willing to stand during the performance!
In January 2014, next door to Shakespeare’s Globe, a second theatre opened known as the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. This is an indoor theatre, built on the design of a Jacobean playhouse which shows performances throughout the winter months.
Keep the Thames on your LEFT and continue walking. You will cross under SOUTHWARK BRIDGE. Continue on until you walk past THE ANCHOR pub. The River path will then veer to the RIGHT. Follow it and you will be led underneath another Bridge toward THE CLINK.
Stop 12 – The Clink Prison
With all the vice and illegal behaviours taking place south of the river, it’s no wonder there has been a prison located on this site since the 12th century at least! The Clink is the original prison of this name, lending it’s name to a slang-term that can now mean prison/jail the world over. Easily the oldest prison in England, the Clink was run by the Bishop of Winchester and prisoners here were kept in the worst possible conditions.
Prisoners could beg through the iron gratings on the ground (which you can see) to passers –by or family and friends who could bring them food, blankets and goods and slip them between the bars into the subterranean cells. Although this location is accurate, the Clink Prison Museum that stands on this site is in a modern building, as the original Clink burnt to the ground in riots here in 1776.
Keeping the Clink on your RIGHT, continue down the cobbled path-way until you can see the ruins on your RIGHT.
Stop 13 – Winchester Palace
These ruins are all that remain of a 12th century palace that previously stood on this site. Home of the Bishops of Winchester for centuries, the original Palace was lost in 1814 by a destructive fire. Redevelopment in the 20th century uncovered the pieces of the structure that you can see today – part of the old Great Hall.
Just AHEAD of you is a Ship. Walk to it, your next stop.
Stop 14 – GOLDEN HIND
Here you are looking at a replica of a 16th century ship captianed by Sir Francis Drake. Drake’s ship navigated the globe, taking his crew of around 80 men all the way around the southern tip of South America. It was onboard the Golden Hind that Queen Elizabeth I bestowed a knighthood onto Sir Frances Drake – despite is notorious reputation as a pirate. Take a minute to appreciate how small the ship is and imagine living on board for months at a time with 79 other people! For naval or military enthusiasts, it is possible to buy a ticket to go on board.
With the Golden Hind on your LEFT, walk down the road and then you will be facing SOUTHWARK CATHEDRAL.
Stop 15 – Southwark Cathedral
There has been a site of worship at this location for more than 1,000 years, but the Cathedral you see today was built between 1220 and 1420. The gift shop here has a hidden treat for visitors: a glimpse of a Roman road that was uncovered on this site during renovations to the side of the Cathedral. The Cathedral is the burial site of William Shakespeare’s brother, Edmund, and the founder of Harvard University (John Harvard) was baptised here in 1607! It is free to visit the Church, but donations are appreciated.
Here you have two options to finish your walk –
Stop 16a – London Bridge?
With the Cathedral IN FRONT of you, go to the LEFT and head down the path. On your LEFT side you will come to a set of stairs. CLIMB THE STAIRS. This puts you on top of LONDON BRIDGE. Directly across the street from you is a piece of modern-art: a tall, large spike sticking out of the ground. This is to commemorate the fact that previously, in Medieval times, there were 30 spikes placed on London Bridge, displaying the heads of traitors against the crown.
The Tube and Rail Station are to your RIGHT and if you walk to the middle of the Bridge you can get stunning views of the City, as well as Tower Bridge.
Stop 16b – Borough Market?
With the Cathedral IN FRONT of you, go to the RIGHT and head down the street. This will bring you into BOROUGH MARKET. There has been a market here since the 13 century at least. London’s largest and oldest food market, Borough Market is filled with countless stalls selling every kind of food, drink and ingredient imaginable – all of them British. The wholesale market opens every morning from 2 a.m. but the retail market is Wednesday – Saturday 10am to 5pm. If your walk coincides with these days and times – you’ve simply GOT to make Borough Market the last stop on your tour!