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Things To See & Do at South Bank

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by Bryony Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published June 25th 2013
Watch, Play, Eat
Spend some time at South Bank

Big Ben
Big Ben


London is one of the world's biggest tourist hotspots, and there is no question as to why. Whether it is a fantastic show your after, an educational visit, or the chance to absorb some British culture on a tour of some of our most iconic buildings, there is no shortage of things to do. In fact, there is so much to do, the only question you really have to ask is, 'what to do first?'

Located immediately adjacent to the Thames, South Bank covers a long narrow stretch along the riverside between Lambeth and Southwark. Although commercial growth was comparatively slow compared to the north side of the bank, due to a focus on industry, Out of all the places in London South Bank now probably has the most to offer. The area is crammed with places to visit, and they are in such short distance of one another that you can fill your entire day with activities rather than travel.

If you are someone who likes to plan in advance, then there are loads of shows to pre-book, but if you prefer to be more spontaneous, you can still wing it, arrive without any plans, and find tons of things that need no advanced purchase. Whichever type of tourist you are (or even if your a Londoner through and through), here is a quick guide to South Bank.

For the Planners

Film &Theatre

Shakespeare's Globe
Shakespeare's Globe


There are four theatres worth your attention at South Bank, and the first I should mention is probably is Shakespeare's Globe. With all the charm and features of the original sixteenth/seventeenth century Globe Theatre, it is place to see all the plays of of Britain's best playwright in history: William Shakespeare. He takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotions; laugh at his comedies, weep over his tragedies, and be stimulated by his imaginative historic reenactments.

The Old Vic is synonymous with some of the best acting talent in Britain, including Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Peter O'Toole. It was built in 1818. At the Southbank centre there are currently two theatre venues. The first is the permanent National Theatre, and the second is a recent pop-up venue called the Shed, which will be open until April 2014.

If you prefer screens to live performances, then the BFI is the home of revital house cinema. See classic films, classic stars, and classic directors.

Music

If you like classic orchestral music, the Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre has a rich and never ending series of events. The London Philharmonic Orchestra play there on a regular basis, as do the Philharmonia Orchestra, various symphonies, and choirs. For more avant-garde performances, then book a show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. It is the second biggest venue at the Southbank Centre, and has jazz musicians, dance performers, poets, and lots of other exciting gigs.

Sightseeing

London Eye
London Eye


London is full of iconic buildings, and you can see them all in half an hour without even moving a muscle. How? Take a trip on the London Eye for a 360 degree view of the capital's skyline. Technically, this does not require an advanced booking, but it is highly recommended, or you could be waiting in line for hours.

tower bridge
Tower Bridge


Another speedy way to tour the city is on a ThamesJet cruise. It will be full steam a head as you travel across the waves at maximum speed. You'll experience sharp turns, rushing wind, and the occasional breather, with a live commentary.

the shard
The Shard


Not for those with a fear of heights, The Shard is the tallest building in Western Europe, and will take you eight hundred feet for a grand vertical view of the city.

The quirkiest and most unique way to see London is probably on a Duck Tour. Take a ride over road and river on a bright yellow submar - sorry, a bright yellow amphibious bus, all of which, have been revamped from genuine D Day vehicles. The seventy-five minute tours are given by guides who provide entertaining, insightful, and personal live commentaries.

For the Spontaneous

Film

To see all the latest films, head over to the BFI IMAX, where you can have the ultimate HD 3D experience.

Music

Enjoy free live music at various venues at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge and County Hall

Sightseeing



You don't have to book a tour to go sightseeing. You can simply take a look at the views from one of the many bridges along the Thames. You can also buy some tour tickets on the day you are there, such as with a City Cruise. Boats leave every half hour from various points, and give you a three hour ride along the Thames.

Attractions

shark, london aquarium, sea life


Although most of London's attractions can be booked in advance, there is nothing stopping you buying a ticket on the day. There are plenty of places to choose from, depending on your interests. Animal lovers won't want to miss out on a trip to the Sea Life Aquarium. Discover over five hundred species from every part of the world, including giant sea turtles, crocodiles, and pirahnas. New features include the Penguin: Ice Adventures, where you can get up an close with the Gentoos, and the Shark Reef Encounter, with an extended walkway.

Those who like a scare should visit The London Dungeon. It is a sensory experience, with theatrical actors playing the part of historic London figures, including gruesome characters such as Sweeney Todd and Jack the Ripper. There are also terrifying rides such as Henry's Wrath Boat Ride and Drop Dead.

For the culture vultures, The Haywood Gallery is an art gallery in the Southbank Centre, which hosts three or four modern and contemporary exhibits each year. Some of these need to be booked, but some are free, like Oliver Castel: Imaginary Lives and Louise Weiss.

Street Entertainment

Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin grabbed me and took our photo.


As you walk from attraction to attraction, there won't be time for your mind to wander. The path along South Bank is buzzing with activities. There are about half a dozen street entertainers performing at any one time, including jugglers, giant bubble blowers, limbo dancers, singers, Charlie Chaplin, and even a red telephone box.

festival of neighbourhood,


There are also various installations throughout the year. At the moment it is the Festival of Neighbourhood, and the pavements are filled with all kind of garden features.

And if you are feeling peckish, don't forget the street food. You can buy sausage rolls as big as your fist, shortbread with thick layers of caramel, and, yummy scrummy ice creams with a chocolate flake.

caricatures, artist


You'll probably want to take lots of pictures to remember the day, but don't worry if your battery starts to run out. Kodak is a life saver, and have a pop-up stall on the street, where you can get it recharged. While you wait, there is a caricature artist right next door, where you can get your sketch drawn too.
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Why? Fun for families
When: Anytime
Where: South Bank
Cost: Prices vary
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