52/52 – (my) Southbank
Is there anything more lovely than London in the summertime?
I love London when the streets are wet with rain and the puddles reflect the tops of the skyscrapers, and I think the cold grey days have a sombre kind of beauty to them, but honestly I live for the days when this city basks in the first rays of summer sunshine.
I know London’s not for everybody – it’s big and dirty and crowded and you might get your stuff nicked if you’re not careful – but honestly, if you can stand on the south bank of the river Thames on a sunny day without feeling like everything is suddenly right and beautiful in the world, there is something seriously wrong.
Since I am properly in love with London (did I mention that?) I’ve kind of taken it upon myself to try and make sure my friends and family enjoy/explore/adore this city too. So here it is, my favourite place in London, and my favourite place in this whole wide world. Whether you love London or not, let me take you, as it were, by the hand, and show you my dearest slice of this incredible city.
I start at Waterloo, mostly for the sake of nostalgia and the convenience of the Jubilee line – you could do almost the same route from Embankment but if you can get to Waterloo, start there. Leave the station by the fifth exit and head in a straight line, under the bridge and up the steps. This will bring you out right onto Southbank, just underneath the Golden Jubilee Bridge.
Get down to the river bank, bask in the sun and wander along the river (away from the London Eye). There are lots of lovely, family friendly restaurants along this part of the river, (Wagamamas is my favourite) and the Southbank centre often has free events and exhibitions, especially during the summer. Just past the Festival Pier is the Undercroft. Covered in graffiti, this open air skatepark, tucked away under the edge of the Southbank Centre, is always full of skateboarders, BMXers and even the odd roller skater. Mostly the skateboarders ignore the interested audience of tourists (and locals!) who lean on the railing and watch them, but every now and then you’ll see them glance up if they land a particularly impressive trick just to make sure somebody saw it.
The community of skateboarders who use this park actually recently campaigned to save the Undercroft after it was threatened by redevelopment, and their Long Live Southbank Campaign (LLSB – You Can’t Move History) supported by thousands of skaters and bikers in London and around the world successfully secured the future of the Undercroft. I could honestly stand here and watch for hours but just beyond the undercroft there’s a huge book market which means I can never linger for too long before I’m drawn to the rows and rows of books, to run my fingers along the spines and see if I can find any hidden gems.
The book market is just past Wahaca (an amazing Mexican street food restaurant), it’s not particularly well organised so trying to look for something specific could end up driving you insane. I just look through all the titles and always come away with something that’s caught my eye. This time I left with a copy of Trainspotting – it cost me £4 so it’s not charity shop prices but it beats Waterstones any day of the week.
Under the bridge, the huge red tower of the National Theatre towers over the rather lower concrete building which houses the theatre proper. There’s a great café tucked away inside of there, and it’s always worth wandering in for a coffee as there are often photography exhibitions and it’s a great place to spot celebrities (I don’t want to brag but I once saw one of the midwives from Call the Midwife wandering through the foyer).
Between the National Gallery and Gabriel’s Wharf there’s a long row of benches and trees. This is my favourite place on Southbank. Sit yourself down on a bench facing the river, look out over the water, enjoy the sun, read a book, chat to a friend, plan world domination, or eat your lunch. It is just the most beautiful place.
Next on your right is Gabriel’s Wharf, a tiny courtyard full of vintage shops and great restaurants, (there is also a public toilet here for those of you who like to know that kind of thing) and then it’s a pleasant wander right along the river, under the OXO tower and through Blackfriars, you’ll end up right next to Shakespeare’s Globe (well worth a look and, of course, the best place to see Shakespeare performed – turn up on the day for £5 tickets or book online if you’re prepared to pay more for seats). The Tate Modern is also, of course, always, always worth a visit and it’s worth checking for upcoming exhibitions as they often have some really amazing stuff.
From here you could carry on over to Borough Market, but I always cross the Millennium Bridge (just before the Globe) for amazing views along and across the river. This (in my opinion) is the best view of St Paul’s you can get, and approaching it this way always sends shivers down my spine – it is just so so impressive and beautiful, I will never get over it.
This is normally the end of my wanderings, and more often than not I’ll just turn around and retrace my steps to Waterloo because I enjoy this part of London so much, but you could go ahead and explore St Paul’s and the surrounding area, or jump on the tube from Blackfriars.
If you need something to do in London on a sunny day, if you fancy some Mexican food or you just want a break from revision, this little wander will cheer you up, chill you out and heal your soul. If you don’t love London, take this walk and see it it can change your mind.
I hope you’ve enjoyed discovering London with me this year! This is end of my London/52 series, you can look over all the places I’ve been here. I hope you’re inspired to visit these places and hopefully you’ll find a treasured place of your own in this seriously incredible city.
Love, PV x