This South Bank Walk is 4 miles long and passes some of the most iconic landmarks, art galleries, and markets in London. Soak up the heart of London’s cultural scene with our self-guided walking route of London’s Southbank.

By: Mark Barnes | Published: 31 Dec 2023 | Last update: 26 Jan 2024

The Southbank in London is one of the cultural centres of the city. This dynamic riverside walkway is lined with historic pubs, iconic landmarks and world-renowned arts venues.

Our 4-mile self-guided walking tour of the South Bank starts at the Houses of Parliament and explores some of the best attractions London has to offer. Visit one of the best modern art galleries in the world, climb London’s premier skyscraper and feast on street food from the city’s best food market.

It’s one of the most popular walks in London.

You can simply walk the route and be done in just under two hours, or pop into all the sights and take the whole day.

southbank london

ABOUT THE SOUTH BANK WALK

This South Bank Walk initially follows the Queen’s Walk – a shorter and popular promenade on the River Thames. But rather than crossing the river over to St Paul’s, it follows the south bank of the Thames collecting famous landmarks and cool neighbourhoods.  

MAP | SOUTH BANK LONDON

Use our map to navigate the South Bank Walking route so you don’t miss any of the major sights.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


WHERE TO START?

We recommend starting at Westminster tube station and finishing at Tower Hill tube station. However, you could also do the walk in reverse.

HOW LONG?

The walk is 3.8 miles (6.2 kilometres) and, if you walk without stopping, it will take about 2 hours. There’s plenty to see along the way, so allow at least half a day.

tower bridge from the south bank
TOWER BRIDGE

PALACE OF WESTMINSTER

Take the underground to Westminster tube station. Exiting the station, the Palace of Westminster, one of the most important buildings in English history, is directly in front of you.

Built in the 11th century, it was the primary home of kings of England until 1512. Westminster Hall (the oldest part still standing) was where Curia Regis (the predecessor to parliament) met when the king was in residence.

Two fires destroyed much of the building, but Westminster Hall survived and was incorporated into the current building which was completed in 1847.

The monarch departed many years ago, but parliament remains and still passes laws in its two famous chambers – the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

BIG BEN

Rising above Westminster Palace is the famous clocktower, nicknamed ‘Big Ben’ after its largest bell. It looks spectacular since its restoration was completed in 2022.

Tours // Taking a tour of Westminster Palace is one of the best things to do in London.

NATIONAL COVID MEMORIAL WALL

Walk over Westminster Bridge enjoying the excellent views over the river Thames and back to Westminster Palace. At the end of the bridge turn right and take the steps down to the riverfront.

To your left, you’ll find the National Covid Memorial Wall. Created in 2021, over 220,000 individually hand-painted red hearts, each representing a person in the UK who died of Covid-19, stretch along a 500-metre section of wall.

Some of the best views of Big Ben and Westminster Palace are just opposite the wall.

KIDS’ ATTRACTIONS

Now head under Westminster Bridge and follow the south bank of the river as it heads east. The London Eye is in front of you but there are several good attractions for kids along the way.

The Sea Life Aquarium contains 500 species in 14 themed zones. There are sharks, octopuses, penguins, and jellyfish as well as coral reef inhabitants.

Shrek’s Adventure is an immersive experience of the films. It includes a 4D flying bus, interactive meetings with characters, and a treasure hunt.

The London Dungeon is a mix of themed rides and shows that bring to life London’s haunted past. Meet Jack the Ripper, Sweeney Todd, Guy Fawkes, and other murderers.

LONDON EYE

Continue along the South Bank to The London Eye, one of the iconic images of the city. The 135-metre-high observation wheel makes a full rotation every 30 minutes providing an excellent view over London.

Built for the millennium, it was originally intended to be temporary, but 25 years later it is still going strong.

London Eye Tickets // Queues can be long so book in advance.

LEAKE STREET

Next, make the short but very worthwhile detour to the Leake Street Arches (directions are on the map above).

Leake Street is a pedestrian walkway that tunnels under the railway tracks outside Waterloo Station. The walls are a vibrant and colourful mix of graffiti and street art. The ceiling, which is harder to reach, contains enduring images from famous street artists.

The detour is 400-metres of extra walking each way and takes 10-15 minutes. If, like us, you are a fan of street art, try our street art in Shoreditch self-guided walk.

// brunch

The detour also passes near the Black Penny, an excellent spot for brunch or a coffee.

SOUTHBANK CENTRE

Continue along the pedestrian walkway and under the Golden Jubilee Bridges to reach the Southbank Centre. This arts centre combines several different attractions.

First up, during the winter months, the Southbank Winter Market has pop-up bars and cosy igloos.

Next is the Royal Festival Hall, London’s leading classical music venue, whose suspended auditorium and symmetrically designed staircases has become known as an ‘egg in a box’.

The Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room, housed in a brutalist box of concrete, holds gigs and performance events.

Behind them is the Hayward Gallery (£18) containing world-renowned contemporary art. Every three months it showcases an adventurous or influential artist from across the world.

While most of the shows cost, the odd one is free so check the Southbank Centre website.

SOUTHBANK BOOK MARKET

Our Southbank London walk now passes under Waterloo Bridge. Tucked beneath its arches is the Southbank Book Market. Open every day from 10 am to 5.30 pm, it’s been operating for over 40 years and carries hundreds of second handbooks, maps, and comics.

ROYAL NATIONAL THEATRE

A little further along the river Thames is the Royal National Theatre, often just called the National. It’s another brutalist building, but the balance of horizontal and vertical elements inside has earned it a place on both the 10 most popular and 10 most hated buildings in London.

While you can see the foyer for free, you need to go to a performance or join a guided tour to get inside the theatres. Check the National Theatre website for details.

Don’t miss the Laurence Olivier statue and the other celebrating Pride just outside.

GABRIEL’S WHARF & OXO TOWER WHARF

Continue eastward along the South Bank. As views open up towards St Paul’s Cathedral and the skyscrapers of the city, the walk now passes through a couple of attractions.

Gabriel’s Wharf is a small square home to independent art galleries and clothes stores.

Oxo Tower Wharf houses an eight-floor building with the bottom two floors home to independent artisans and design studios. Oxo Tower Bar & Brasserie, on the top floor, is a great spot for a nice lunch overlooking the river.

There’s a free public viewing gallery, but the views are better from the Tate Modern Café which is coming up.

FOUNDER’S ARMS & BANKSIDE GALLERY

Continue along the Thames, pass under Blackfriars Bridge to reach the Founder’s Arms. This is a great pub to grab a drink while sitting at the outside tables taking in the views.

Behind the pub is Bankside Gallery. Owned and run by the Royal Watercolours Society, it presents a collection of affordable watercolours which you can buy. It’s free to enter.

TATE MODERN

Next up on the Southbank is Tate Modern. It houses the UK’s national collection of modern and contemporary art in the converted Bankside Power Station. It’s a magnificent art gallery in a splendid building and it’s completely free to visit.

The giant Turbine Hall often houses enormous installations. The galleries contain several notable works by Lichtenstein, Mondrian, Picasso and many more.

Head to the Tate Modern Café on Level 10 in the Blavatnik Building for free views over the city of London. Members can get an even better view from the Level 5 Members Bar in the Natalie Building.

MILLENNIUM BRIDGE

The Millennium Bridge is just outside the Tate. This steel suspension pedestrian bridge was opened on 10 June 2000. On its very first day, as people walked over the bridge, it began to oscillate and sway. It was closed later that day and nicknamed the “Wobbly Bridge.”

Today there’s no need to worry and it’s worth taking a short detour onto the bridge for the excellent views up the river and over to St Paul’s Cathedral.

milllennium bridge from tate modern cafe
VIEW FROM TATE MODERN CAFE

SHAKESPEARE GLOBE

Return to the South Bank and continue along the embankment to Shakespeare’s Globe. This theatre is a realistic reconstruction of the original Elizabethan playhouse, first built in 1599, for which Shakespeare wrote his plays.

True to the original, the circular design has seats running along its edge and a large uncovered standing area for cheaper tickets.

Plays generally run from April to October, but you can join a Globe Theatre Guided Tour any time of the year.

shakespeare globe queens walk london
SHAKESPEARE GLOBE

CLINK STREET TUNNEL

Continue walking along the South Bank. After passing under Southwark Bridge, the path leaves the river and heads under the railway lines via the Clink Street Tunnel.

The arches here are often covered in street art. Last time we visited, a Woskerski commission by Wagamama of a kid eating noodles brightened up the walls. Just beside it, Jimmy C’s usual pointillist style captures Shakespeare holding a skull.

You can see more of their work on our Shoreditch Street Art walk.

CLINK PRISON

Next up is Clink Prison Museum. Dating back to 1144, it’s one of England’s oldest and most notorious prisons.

Southwark has always been the unruly neighbour of The City (read our City of London walking guide). Clink prison held the more raucous citizens. Tours of the prison relive the scandalous tales of famous inmates. As a special treat, you can also handle old torture devices.

clink prison south bank walk
CLINK PRISON

GOLDEN HINDE

Exiting the railways arches you’ll find a docked wooden boat. This is a 1973 full-size replica of the Golden Hind, the galleon captained by Sir Francis Drake during his circumnavigation of the world between 1577 and 1580.

You can take a guided tour or use a self-guided audio guide to explore the ship. However, it’s currently being restored and not looking its best.

BOROUGH MARKET

Heading away from the South Bank on Cathedral Street, and passing the towering spire of Southwark Cathedral, you’ll arrive at Borough Market. One of the best markets in London, it is an epicurean delight.

Dating back to the 12th century, the food market showcases a mix of local British produce and international flavours. Find artisanal breads, fragrant cheeses, strange ales, and decadent sweets.

Sitting under the railway arches, the market can be a wonderfully moody experience. Steam rises from the old street stalls and smells waft in the air. It’s a great spot for a bite to eat, a coffee (Monmouth) or a glass of wine.

THE SHARD

Exit Borough Market, cross over the A3, and head down St Thomas Street towards The Shard.

Officially known as ‘The Shard of Glass’ this iconic building was completed in 2012. With 95 floors reaching up to 310 metres it is the highest in skyscraper London and almost twice as high as any other viewpoint in the city.

There’s an observation deck on the 72nd floor with excellent views over St Pauls and the River Thames, but tickets aren’t cheap. It’s slightly better value to have a drink at Aqua Shard (on the 31st floor). Alternatively, you can enjoy a deluxe cocktail experience at Gōng on the 52nd floor. 

At the Shard turn left off St Thomas Street and wind your way through the vaults of London Bridge Station following signs for Tooley Street. Turn right on Tooley Street, then left through pretty Hays Galleria, and finally right again to re-join the South Bank.

HMS BELFAST

Next up on the South Bank is HMS Belfast, one of the last remaining vessels of its kind from World War II. It’s a floating museum on a Royal Navy cruiser and part of the Imperial War Museum.

It’s easy enough to see the ship from the South Bank but if you want to explore the decks and learn about its storied history, then you’ll need to buy a ticket.

hms belfast southbank london
HMS BELFAST, TOWER BRIDGE & TOWER OF LONDON

TOWER BRIDGE

Leave the South Bank and walk over Tower Bridge. London’s most ornate bridge was built between 1886 and 1894. The two bridge towers are connected at the upper level by two horizontal walkways and at the lower level by a pair of bascules that open to allow boats to pass underneath.

It’s free to walk across the pedestrian footpath on the lower levels. You’ll need to buy a ticket to head up the towers, visit the Victorian bascule engine rooms, and look through the glass floors of the upper-level walkways.

tower bridge from the south bank london
TOWER BRIDGE

TOWER OF LONDON

The final attraction on our self-guided South Bank London Walk is the Tower of London. It was founded in 1066, but the white tower that gives the castle its name was built by William the Conqueror in 1078.

It was expanded in the 12th and 13th centuries to occupy an imposing location by the river Thames and the general layout has remained ever since.

It’s free to walk around the outer walls, but to see the Crown Jewels and explore the White Tower, Medieval Palace, and torture exhibition you’ll have to head inside. It’s one of the best things to do in London but be sure to book a time slot in advance.

This South Bank walk ends at Tower Bridge tube station. We hope you enjoyed it.

MORE LONDON SELF-GUIDED WALKING GUIDES

Walking is a great way to see London. Here’s a list of some of our favourite London walking routes.

Also, check out all the fantastic country walks outside London and soak up some beautiful landscapes.

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