South Bank London Self Guided Tour
Welcome to the London South Bank! This hub of entertainment and the arts is a must-see for visitors to London. Many of these sites are featured in our South Bank London, City of London, and London All-in-One walking tours. However, if our tour calendar doesn’t work for you or if you would just prefer to explore London South Bank by bus on your own time, then here is an excellent tour for you.
To take this FREE self-guided bus tour, simply go to the Tower Bridge and take the RV1 bus route from STOP “TL.” The map below indicates each of the tour highlights. The tour takes 30 minutes if you stay on the bus, but around 2 hours if you get off at each stop. With a daily bus ticket of less than £5 (make sure you have the exact fare), you can spend all day hopping on and off public buses.
Follow these links for more information regarding our Self Guided Bus Tour of Posh Piccadilly and Kensington or our Self Guided Bus Tour of Old and New London.
Start: Tower Bridge (Opposite the Tower of London, on the road with traffic heading toward Tower Bridge. STOP “TL”)
Finish: Covent Garden
Click the map to enlarge or view our movable map
[For sites that you CAN NOT see from the bus, you will need to “hop-off.” For sites that you can see FROM the bus, look for the asterisk: *]
Opened to the public in 1894, Tower Bridge is arguably the most famous bridge in the world. Often mistaken for London Bridge, Tower Bridge has a total length of 801ft (244m) and stands 213ft (65m) tall. The main light blue areas, as well as the red and white painted parts on the Bridge were painted in 1977 to coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee – originally it was all blue: Queen Victoria’s favourite colour! Tower Bridge is a draw bridge which is frequently used, opening around 1,000 times a year on average. The bridge also contains a museum and covered walkway along the top which is open to visitors all year ‘round. Read more on the Tower Bridge.
Originally a World War Two Cruiser that saw action during the landings at Normandy (Winston Churchill had intended to sail aboard to supervise the landings but was told he was not allowed by the Prime Minister!), this ship later went on to serve in the Korean War before finally being retired. Launched in 1938, once Britain entered into more peaceful times, the ship was destined for the scrap heap. A campaign went underway to try to preserve the ship, containing impressive names such as the National Maritime Museum, the Imperial War Museum and the Ministry of Defense. Their campaign was successful and today HMS Belfast is permanently moored here and operates as a museum.
[Inisde Tip: Right above the small ticket shop is a bar that not many people know about! It’s got one of the best vantage points of any pub along the Thames so consider stopping in for a cheeky one!]
Southwark Cathedral has been located here at least since 1106 and the stone-work guests see today is primarily from between 1220 and 1420, although the nave inside is a Victorian reconstruction. The cathedral has been the parish church of this location for centuries and William Shakespeare’s brother, Edmund, is buried inside! There is a stained glass window which is dedicated to William Shakespeare as well as a statue of him inside the Cathedral – which is open to the public all year.
Originally, William Shakespeare’s Globe theatre that stood near to this location was his primary playhouse. The original, however, burned to the ground during a performance of Henry VIII in June 1613. The present structure was the life’s work of actor Sam Wannamaker who fought for the reconstruction of the building for over three decades, although he did not live to see his work actualised. The current theatre has been rebuilt using the exact same materials and methods the original Globe was made with. There is a museum inside and performances on throughout the year. In the summer, tickets can be bought for just £5.00…although £5.00 ticket holders must stand for the performance. Read more on Shakespeare’s Globe.
The most visited Modern Art gallery in the world, the Tate Modern hosts around 4.7million visitors every year. Located inside a former power station, the Tate is home to the National Collection of British Art from 1900. The brick façade of the original building still stands – made up of 4.2million bricks. The gallery as it is today was opened to the public in 2000. Read more on the Tate Modern.
Many people know the Millennium Bridge, but most know it as the “wobbly bridge.” Designed by Arup, Fosters and Partners as well as Sir Anthony Caro, the bridge was intended to be opened to the public to coincide with the turn of the millennium at the end of 1999. The bridge was finally opened to the public in June 2000 but it was shortly discovered that the bridge was not stable. As the public were walking across the structure, the entire bridge began to shudder and sway. In fact, the bridge moved around so much it had to be closed…for another two years! £5 million over budget after the repairs were made, the Millennium Bridge was re-opened, but with its’ new nickname.
The London Eye*
Initially intended to be a temporary addition to the London skyline, the London Eye was created for the millennium in 2000 at a cost of £70million. When it was first erected, it was the tallest Ferris wheel in the entire world – although today it is the 4th, but is still the tallest in Europe. The wheel is 443ft (135m) tall and hosts around 3.5million visitors annually. It is open to the public both day and into the night all year ‘round. Read more on the London Eye.
Named after the British victory over the Dutch and Prussians at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 the current version of Waterloo Bridge was opened in 1945. The true magnificent part of this bridge is not actually the structure itself but is the fact that the bridge is widely regarded to provide the best view of London from any bridge in town – making it worth the time to walk across, or at least snap pictures as your bus goes across.
This Neoclassical building sits on the site of an earlier Tudor building, which was the home of Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford and Duke of Somerset…although the Duke was executed before he was able to live in it! The building was redesigned in 1776 by architect William Chambers. Today, Somerset House holds the Royal Academy, the Government Art School, as well as the Courtauld Institute of Art. Films are played here during the summer, London’s most popular ice skating rink is erected here during the winter, and all year long the courtyard is used a concert venue and film location (look for Somerset House in Goldeneye, Shanghai Knights, The Duchess, Sherlock Holmes, Sleepy Hallow) just to name a few!
Today, Covent Garden is in the heart of London’s West End, filled with street performers, theatres, shops and restaurants. Originally, Covent Garden was simply countryside OUTSIDE of London! Eventually the area became settled in the 16th century and there has been a market here since at least 1654. There is still a market here, visited by Londoners and tourists alike, as well as dozens of shops and places to eat. Covent Garden is also a hot-spot for nightlife and shopping and is absolutely to be explored at the end of your bus journey. [Keep an eye out for La Perla Bar and Restaurant – guide Margaret’s favourite place in town!] Read more about Covent Garden.
There are budget-friendly ways of sightseeing in London – really! Free Tours by Foot offers London walking tours for every budget, you name the price. As many travelers know, there is no better way to explore a city than by walking its many streets. But of course that can be strenuous, so why not complement our walking tours with self-guided free London bus tours. London For Free also offers some pretty good suggestions for a self-guided bus tour. Instead of spending lots of money on an organized bus tour, do it yourself and be your own guide!