Europe · Travel

A Festive Stroll Along London’s South Bank for Christmas

London’s South Bank runs along the River Thames for many, many miles. This walk is going to take you along 2.6 miles of it, from London Bridge to Westminster Bridge. It can of course be done in reverse, but this is the way we like to do it. Along the way, we are going to take a look at some of London’s most festive offerings…’tis the season! A walk along the South Bank has long been one of my favourite strolls in London in the summer, and in winter. It is a particularly pleasant way to spend an afternoon, and this article will tell you all about how to make the most of it on a winter’s day.

START: London Bridge underground station

Borough Market

Bringing delicious food to the masses for over 1000 years, Borough Market is a foodie’s dream. In recent years it has undergone somewhat of a transformation and you can now buy fresh cooked goodies as well as the high quality produce. Start here and get something nice and warm to set you up for the walk ahead. On this occasion we decided to indulge in a couple of our favourites; a scotch egg from Roast (£3) and a large (and potent) mulled cider from The Cider House (£5).

I hugged my large cup of cider to keep my fingers warm as we wandered past the Golden Hinde, the galleon of Sir Francis Drake, and the surviving wall of the 12th century Winchester Hall.

This busker has the right idea, keeping warm with a flaming tuba.

The Anchor

The Anchor pub is built very much like a ship, with lots of nooks and crannies. Find yourself a cosy wooden-clad corner and indulge in a drink whilst you warm up. If you are hungry, you’ll find a few festive specials on the menu. The festive burger with brie, cranberry and bacon sounds absolutely delicious!

 

Around the Globe

Back out onto the streets and you’ll pass a large white building, seemingly built hundreds of years ago; a recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe. You might think this is just a summer destination, as it’s most famous stage is al fresco, but they have nice warm, studio spaces that house their winter program.

Shakespeare’s Globe was reconstructed using original techniques, but is a little less flammable than the original.

Just outside, on the riverfront, you will find something very special taking place after Christmas Day. This coming year, on 7th January, the South Bank will ring to the sounds of The Lion’s Part. These thespians will be celebrating twelfth night with a traditional Mummers play, a procession and lots of other folk traditions from the pre-Victorian era. I think they can describe it in better terms than I so check out their website and get down there. I have seen it before, and it was great fun.

The Tate Modern

On your left you will see a large chimney rising from a huge brick building. This is the Tate Modern, housed inside the old Bankside Power Station. The main collection here is totally free and full of works from the world’s most renowned modern artists.

As a child, I always imagined living in those perfect little houses on the left. Now I think I want to live in that new building, South Bank Tower.

The Tate is definitely worth a visit, if only to use the toilets which are clean and free, or nose around in the gift shop, which is full of great Christmas presents for those who love art and design.

Plus, look at the view of St Pauls Cathedral, just across the river, from their balcony!

OXO Tower Wharf

Further west, you will find another old London building, the OXO tower, so named for it’s previous owners (yes, the stock cube guys). Most people just walk straight past it, but if you take a little time you will find lots of independent shops, cafes and galleries.

We looked around at Dazzle, a beautifully curated collection of modern jewellery. You can marvel at the creations, and even purchase them for that special someone at Christmas.

National Theatre

Love it or hate it, the National Theatre‘s brutalist facade is certainly striking. Housing three different performance spaces and putting on some of the country’s best theatre, a show here is very special. This December, they have a production of Pinocchio featuring some beautiful stage effects and songs from the original Disney film. It is sure to be magical.

Even if you can’t stop for a show, there is a cafe with awfully trendy sandwiches and free, warm toilets.

BFI

The British Film Institute is a building of two halves. Under the bridge, opposite the endlessly diverting book market, you will find their lovely public bar. This a great place to stop for a drink or for a spot of dinner. Their Christmas menu sounds divine.

As you’d expect, the BFI are putting on plenty of festive films throughout the holiday period. Maybe they are playing your favourite Christmas classic. Check it out here.

Around the South Bank Centre

This is where the crowds will thicken again but it’s OK because it is a very merry spot. The first thing you will see is Jimmy’s Lodge, a bar and fondue restaurant with some very special dining rooms. Most people head to the refuge restaurant up stairs for some gooey, cheesy goodness.

Alternatively, you can hire a whole igloo for your friends and you to dine in. If they are booked, or you don’t want dinner, you stop in the covered bar area for a warming glass of mulled wine, or their special hot cocktails which looked great. The French Hot Toddy, a heady concoction of lemon vodka, benedictine and cinnamon has me aching to return. I would have tried for you on that day but I was already slowly hungover from my pint of hot cider.

The South Bank Centre, also known as the Royal Festival Hall is the large glass building rising from the riverside, on two different levels. This is another performance venue with toilets. (I know I sound obsessed but in London, it’s really good know…especially after a pint of cider). They often hold free lunchtime concerts so you can sit inside, warm up and watch a world class musician, a local choir or join in with a workshop. This Christmas, Slava’s Snow Show is coming to the South Bank Centre. This is an interactive, multi-sensual and bonkers show, and would make a great alternative to a traditional Christmas pantomime.

 

Head towards the bridge in front of you and you will come across a Christmas market. here you can buy food from all over the world, purchase some beautiful presents or just enjoy the wafts of waffle that drift across the crowd.

Around the The London Eye

On the other side of the bridge, you will see a large entrance. This is the Rekorderlig Cider Lodge. Through the gate and past the Christmas trees, you will find a two storey Scandinavian style bar. You can bet there will be even more hot cider here. Suck it down and then shake yourself up on the carousel outside.

If you like your spinning rides on a more vertical plain, you could take a rotation on the London Eye, London’s giant big wheel. This is not the cheapest of London’s attraction, but you get a wonderful view and it is definitely exciting.

Can you spot the Rekordalig Cider Lodge? Taken on a Tuesday, MUCH quieter!

Finally, walk north across Westminister bridge ignoring every tout, scam artist and hustler that tries to catch your attention. You’ll pass Big Ben (sadly covered in scaffolding at the moment, and see the Houses of Parliament. It is a very nice way to top of this festive stroll.

END: Westminster London Underground Station

I hope you enjoyed this post, and do let us know if you do get the chance to take this walk.

Rosie xx

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