The Romans built the first bridge from Londinium to the south side of the river, roughly at the site of present day London Bridge. It was the go-to neighborhood for stew houses (brothels), bear-baiting arenas and theaters. Gradually the area gave over to docks and warehouses and after WWII, declined to a no-go zone.
Now Bankside, the riverside stretch between Blackfriars and London Bridges, has come full circle as a lively entertainment zone, but without the bear baiting and brothels. Start a day here at Borough Market before the crowds get too thick. The full market is only open Weds-Sat. but lunchtime hot food stalls are here on Mondays and Tuesday. It would be nice to say that Londoners buy all their groceries here but in truth it’s expensive for daily stock-ups. The market has become hugely popular with tourists who wander among the regional traders and sample the many hand-outs. Locals go early and leave; tourists wander and munch. If you’re clever, you can garner a meal from tastings.
After breakfast (or lunch for later risers), head towards the river and stop in at Southwark Cathedral, the oldest cathedral church building in London. The courtyard garden is a lovely spot for a summer picnic.
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Continue along Cathedral St. toward the river and directly ahead you will see the reconstructed ship of the 16th-century explorer, Sir Francis Drake. Although The Golden Hinde II is billed as fun for the whole family, programs here are directed toward children. If you survive the pirates, head west along the cobblestones towards Blackfriars Bridge until you see the impressive rose window of Winchester Palace on your left. This stunning feature and a few walls is all that remains of the urban residence of the 12th– century bishops of Westminster.
As you walk west toward the Globe Theatre (about one-half mile away), there are plenty of restaurants and cafes along the river. None are especially noteworthy but what a location! The upstairs riverside portion of Nando’s is fun because booths seem to be tucked in beneath the arches of Southwark Bridge.
And then there it is – the star of Bankside: Shakespeare’s Globe. The reconstructed theater is, quite simply, one of London’s most precious gems. Not only is the story of its revival inspiring, but the authenticity, humor and dedication of productions make this one of the most memorable places you can visit.
A bit further upriver, Tate Modern is no less impressive. The expansive spaces in the Tate where kids can be kids make it a popular place for local families so it can be a bit chaotic on weekends. But it’s another “must.”
After the Tate, it is at last, time to walk across the Millennium Bridge (have camera ready!) which is the best point in London to appreciate the city’s unusual juxtaposition of ancient and modern. If you’ve spent long enough in the Tate, you might arrive at sunset. After leaving the bridge, walk straight towards St Paul’s Cathedral and turn right on Queen Victoria St. Cross and make a left onto Distaff Ln and follow until you reach the office building at One New Change. Take the lift to the top floor, where there is a public roof terrace that virtually backs up on the iconic dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Madison, the rooftop restaurant, is a good place for a cocktail; otherwise enjoy the free show as the lights go on in London Town.