London is a world class city with much to explore, given the sights at almost every corner. But you won’t be able to call your visit to London complete without a walk by the Thames itself. With the exception of the markets and some museum, many of London’s main attractions and viewing sites are all conveniently located along the iconic River Thames itself, particularly along the stretch from Westminster to the tower bridge totaling about 5km (a 2-3 hour brisk walk). A slow west-bound casual walk between these two locations (with lots of photo opportunities) will take about 5 hours tops- perfect if you wish to spend an afternoon enjoying the sights and sounds of the River.
You can start your journey making your way via the underground to Westminster, just not too far off the Parliament square. You will be greeted by the Westminster palace upon popping up to ground level as well as the iconic Clock tower where the Big Ben resides. Contrary to what most people think it is, Big Ben is actually the bell which lives inside the clock tower, not the name of the tower itself. You can hear it’s iconic loud chimes set to ring at 12 noon daily.
On the Victoria embankment side, you can pop by areas of interest such as the Westminster palace along Abingdon street as well as the nearby Victoria Tower Thames House by the St.Millbank, all within a good kilometer radius from the station itself without straying too far off the intended path. Crossing the Westminster bridge over the Thames will bring you awesome overall views of the palace in the background as well as the County Hall & aquarium across the bankside. There are many eating places around the county hall as well the entrance to the London Aquarium. There are mini-exhibition halls in the vicinity along the embankment where short term displays can be held right in front of the iconic London eye. The eye is surprisingly crowded for a weekday too, it’s always buzzing with tourists hoping to catch a ride on it, but it is not cheap either at £18 per person, it pays to plans your London eye flight- booking online with bundled tickets to other attractions in town or as a group can bring you savings as much as a third the walk in rates.
Many renowned bridges can be found dotted along the Thames itself, these includes a vast assortment of vehicular bridges such as The Hungerford, the Golden jubilee bridges and the waterloo bridge to name afew. Iconic pedestrian bridges will include the Millennium bridge found just off the main walk from St Pauls. Personally I’ve lost count of the number of bridges I’ve personally passed along my route by the Thames, but I guess it’s about 20 I reckon? There are river cruises bringing you along the Thames passing through similar start and end points of my walk (from Westminster to The Tower bridge) too, these tours are complimented by audio dialogues which introduces you to the various bridges you see along the way, but nothing really beats walking and being on the bridges themselves.
The sights are not the only offering of the Thames, lined throughout the embankments are various lively street buskers and performers. These free roaming entertainers usually spend the day looking strange or performing various magic or dance acts, often drawing large groups with can be seen all along the Victoria embankment and queen’s walk. Popular hang outs by street performers will usually by the open spaces by the Jubilee gardens, where break dancing is more evident. Painted standing or cycle statues are also not a rare sight. I always remember seeing this invisible guy who usually makes his rounds around the bankside as well as spots along St Pauls, but hey you got to give him credit, he’s good. More often, these performers usually aim to amuse than to ask for givings, though there are some explicitly performing and asking for keeps for their efforts out of courtesy. After all it pays to keep a good image to visitors in London, considering that most people there are all infact tourists, it’s a pretty healthy mix.
With bridges and entertainers aside, the art scene is also evident with various theaters lined along the route. Heading further west will bring you past the National theater, the Globe theater and Shakespere’s globe. These areas are usually lined with cafes and road shows promoting the various exhibitions adding to the the vibrancy by the Thames walk. The iconic Tate modern stands in front of the Millennium bridge linking the northern and southern banks and forms a link towards St Paul. The Tate is London’s premiere museum for contemporary art, it was previously a bank side power station which ceased operations in 1981 and converted to what it is today. Much of the remnant of the power station still remains, particularly it large cavernous spaces inside the turbine generation halls now used to hold large art exhibitions.
Passing by the OXO art gallery building Blackfriars Bridge railway station (Built 1864) will bring you down to the darker past of the city of London. The Clink along the Clink street is a narrow, dark and cobbled road leading to the historic location of the notorious Clink prison. The prison was burned down in riots during 1780, and a small museum and tourist attraction now occupies part of the site telling much about it’s past. The Clink Street is situated rather close to the River Thames itself, but requires a short detour by the bankside to access, as there is no through access under the Blackfriars Bridge.
As with various sights along the Thames, the Clink is also no stranger to buzzles of television. The Doctor Who episode, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, was filmed in this area, as was the final sequence in the 1981 John Landis film An American Werewolf In London. A replica of the Golden Hind shop is moored in a small dock at the eastern end of the street too, offering expected photo opportunities as you carry on your Thames journey.
And once you thought you are done, the sights just gets better. You will get to cross the iconic London bridge, (which is definitely not falling down during my visit). The beautiful Winchester palace and Southwark cathedral greets you along the route followed by the HMS Belfast as you near the end of the walk towards the Tower bridge. Battleship belfast HMS Belfast is a museum ship, permanently moored in the River Thames and operated by the Imperial War Museum, who also have another attraction down at South Kensington. The Belfast was originally a Royal Navy light cruiser and served during World War II and Korean War. Here, Borough market is not too far off a walk, there are several markets in London, namely the Camden and borough market, but they are only open on the weekends.
Further down the queen’s walk past Belfast will be the Tower Bridge, but not first passing by the Hay’s Galleria and City Hall. These iconic glass caded, modern buildings are landmarks in the contrast to all the old architecture near the tower bridge. The Scoop looks like a walnut or giant ant bottom and is also home to the nearby London Telectroscope. This remarkable piece of steam-punk like machinery is a secret tunnel completed in May 2008 (more than a century after it was begun) which runs deep beneath the Atlantic Ocean. It’s essentially an extraordinary optical device which miraculously allows people to see right through the Earth from London to New York (with another Telectroscope on the other end) and vice versa.
The tower bridge opened in June 1894 is a combined bascule and suspension bridge over the River Thames. It is close to the Tower of London, which gives it its name. It’s colour is well preserved and dates back from the 1977 when it was painted red, white and blue for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. It has become an iconic symbol of the city of London itself. The tower bridge is still very much function today too, and actively raises and lower it’s road bridges which serves both vehicular and sea traffic on the Thames as well. It pays to check the bridge lifting times for the day on the Mayor of London website.
Just of the north end of the tower bridge is the St Katharine’s Docks, one of the best kept secret locations in Central London. The docks is London’s premiere luxury yacht Marina, situated right in the heart of the financial district, next from the former hospital of St Katharine’s by the Tower, built in the 12th century. The London Tower offers great day and night views of the London Thames and the war memorial from the distant knoll. The walk very much ends here, where you can check out the various gift stores around the Tower area or smaller merchant stores for a better souvenir bargain. Thereafter you can link up with the nearby Tower hill underground station for your ride back.
Much more photos of the Thames river walk here.