Or: How to burn as many calories as possible
“The Thames is liquid history”
– JOHN BURNS
Today, I’d like for you to join me on a walk along one of Britain’s longest and certainly most historic rivers: the Thames. Before you start worrying if this is going to be some sort of history lesson, I can assure you that I have no intention to bore you to tears. No, today we’re going on the longest walking tour through London I’ve ever been on: We start at Vauxhall and end at Tower Hill. So, I hope you had a rather substantial breakfast and I recommend you put on your most comfortable walking shoes because today’s stroll is going to be a long one.
We exit the tube at Vauxhall and walk towards the headquarters of Britain’s Intelligence Service MI6. Most will immediately recognize the iconic façade from the James Bond movies wherein it appeared several times over the years. If you can manage to tear your gaze away from MI6, you’ll find some very chic and modern apartments to your right. Vauxhall is, in fact, growing and getting more and more popular among the millennials. Therefore, the borough has seen a boom over the last years and the architecture has leaned more towards a contemporary and young style. If you’re thinking now that living here might not be the worst place in London, I’d recommend putting some extra money aside. Rents are at approximately £3,000 a month. On the upside: With MI6 as a neighbour, you’ll never have to worry about burglars.
While enjoying the stunning view of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye, we walk down the steps until we’re standing right in front of the MI6 building and then start strolling down the Albert Embankment. If it’s as beautiful as today, you’ll find fewer people on this side of the Thames than beyond Westminster Bridge, because this side of the river doesn’t offer as many tourist sights.
The next bridge you’ll come across is Lambeth Bridge. If you want to take a photo of the Houses of Parliament without dozens of heads in the way or other tourists in the background, I recommend taking it now.
We continue our walk towards Westminster Bridge. Throwing a look to your right reveals one of the best and most relaxing spots near the Thames: the St Thomas Hospital Gardens. On busy days, this little patch of green is probably the only sitting opportunity you’ll come across for a while. Take your time here and enjoy the amazing view.
In order to avoid the tourist masses, we now cross Westminster Bridge an continue our walk on the other side of the Thames. I recommend to keep walking and to keep a close eye on your bags since this is a popular spot with pickpockets despite police presence and CCTV.
As we stroll down the pavement alongside the Thames, we walk past New Scotland Yard and the The Battle of Britain monument. During World War II, the Germans attacked Britain in a series of heavy air raids which are also known as the “Blitz”. Many ports and major cities, London amongst others, were bombed and destroyed. In order to remember this last warfare on British soil, this monument was created in 2005.
On the other side of the road, right next to New Scotland Yard, you’ll find beautiful Victorian architecture hidden behind high trees and hedges. And it’s easy to imagine that members of the upper class must have enjoyed their walks through the small gardens. In fact, this part of town, which goes by the name of Whitehall, was once the home of the British monarchy. Until today, many government offices are located in this area although the monarchy has long moved their home to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.
By now, we have reached the Hungerford Bridge and Golden Jubilee Bridges. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful views on Big Ben and the London Eye you can possibly wish for. As we cross the bridge, we take a moment to enjoy the view and listen to the songs of the seagulls.
After leaving Hungerford Bridge, we’re now standing on what is known as the Southbank. Every year in May, the BAFTA awards ceremony by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts is taking place at the Royal Festival Hall and the BFI, the British Film Institute, is located right behind it. The beauty of the architecture is debatable, but the ugliest building (by far) is the National Theatre. You’ll find it right behind Waterloo Bridge and its bald and dismal façade was referred to by Prince Charles as the “nuclear power station” of London.
After passing the OXO Tower and walking past the Blackfriars Bridge, we’re now approaching the Tate Modern. What has been a power station once is now one of the biggest art galleries in the world with ever-changing exhibitions by well-known international artists. As every state-run museum in Great Britain, it’s free – only exclusive exhibitions require an entrance fee.
If you’re not much for paintings, maybe the next sight will be up your alley: the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Of course, it’s not the same theatre in which the original plays were performed, but the replica is so authentic and beautiful that it’s hard to believe that it hasn’t been there since the first time Shakespeare picked up pen and paper to write his first play. To everyone who is interested in English culture, history or literature, I highly recommend the tour through the theatre for it is a very unique experience that you won’t forget.
Our walk now takes us past two of London’s most famous bridges: the Southwark Bridge and the London Bridge. Especially the London Bridge, which exists for approximately 2,000 years and was built by the Romans, is one of the oldest architectural sights on today’s walking tour.
Equally impressive is the Golden Hinde, the exact replica of a ship that once belonged to Sir Francis Drake. Drake was one of very few pirates that were allowed to work for the crown. He sailed under Queen Elizabeth I and was hired to attack foreign ships and to hand over a certain percentage of his booty to the Queen. In return, he didn’t have to fear for his life unlike most pirates and was even named vice-admiral.
Despite his circumnavigation, Drake’s heritage is not as golden as many would like it to be. He was involved in murders, slavery, and other cruel crimes that were considered normal for his time period.
On a brighter note, we have almost reached the end of our walking tour and I do hope that you’re still up for a little detour. To your right, you’ll find the Shard Tower, the City Hall, and the London riverside. And straight ahead the Tower Bridge, of course. What many people don’t know: The Tower Bridge is not as old as she appears to be. Construction works began in the late 19th century but the architecture should match that of the Tower of London. Therefore, the architects decided to imitate the unique style and created what has become one of London’s most famous landmarks. If you want to see the bridge open, you should time your visit so that you’re near the sight at 05.30 p.m.
I previously mentioned a small detour on the way to the underground station and that takes us to the St Katherine Docks. On our way there, I recommend stopping at the Fountain of the Dolphin and the Dancing Girl. You probably recognise the view from postcards of calendars because it’s such a beautiful view. For the perfect photograph, drop by in the afternoon for the light will work in your favour at that time of day.
Now, we keep walking alongside the Thames and turn left to the left. The St Katherine Docks are still somewhat an insider when it comes to tourists. Among expensive and pretentious yachts, you may catch a glimpse of the Queen’s Barge, named Gloriana.
You have now either the opportunity to take the boat back to Westminster or to take the tube from Tower Hill. Or, if you haven’t had enough walking for the day, you may as well walk the entire way back, but I doubt that many will choose that option. I, for my part, am quite done with walking for some time. And the only liquid history I’ll be consuming for the rest of the day is a nice cup of Earl Grey. Cheers!