London is a city full of fascinating neighborhoods and areas; going deeper than just “Central London” or “the East End” opens up a diversity of experiences that make it one of the best cities to explore as widely as possible for as long as you can. That said, most of us are short on time during a London trip, and we need to focus – pick a few areas, and see all the best things in that area.
London’s Bankside is a small but extremely accessible (and endlessly fascinating) area in South London. You’ve likely heard of some of the best things to do in Bankside, but in this post, I’m putting it all together.
I used to spend a lot of time in Bankside – it was part of the running route I used when living in London – and I’ve seen/done almost everything on this list. (I was supposed to finally ascend the Shard during my September 2022 trip, but food poisoning waylaid those plans!)
To learn where Bankside is, understand if you’ll be passing through, and discover what there is to do in London’s Bankside, read on and get inspired for your upcoming trip.
Where is “Bankside” in London?
So, to answer the age-old question: Where is Bankside in London? In short, It’s within a region known as the London Borough of Southwark.
For some perspective, you’ll be on the River Thames’s southern bank, where the city’s glorious sights are waiting for you. The Southwark Bridge and Millenium Bridge — which are beautiful in their own right — connect Bankside to central London and the City of London.
You’ll see the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral from across the river and the Tower of London from different spots along the river in Bankside. Simply put, it would be silly not to add this quintessential location to your London bucket list, but I might be biased because it’s my favorite building in all of London.
But enough about what is on the other side of the river, it’s time to show you all the best things to do in Bankside.
1. Explore the Tate Modern
Whether it’s just a day trip or you’re spending ten days in London, a visit to the Tate Modern should always make your itinerary if you love museums. The building dominates Bankside and can be seen from just about every part of the neighborhood, but its facade is not what draws the crowds.
The Tate’s collection has a vast range of artistic palettes. You can discover sculptures like Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss (1882) or modern contemporary films in the Tate Modern’s Starr Cinema.
It gets even better, as entry is free (some special exhibits may have an admission, but the permanent collection is by donation). The museum is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm, and to help you get a picture of how busy it is, roughly 5.7 million visit people each year (or about 15-16,000 people per day!). Don’t let that deter you, though, because every exhibition here is as unique as the next and worth a visit.
2. Cross Millennium Bridge
The Millennium Bridge was first opened to the public on June 10, 2000, and its unique shape makes it a popular photography spot. The arrowhead shape directs your gaze perfectly toward St. Paul’s Cathedral.
After walking across it, you may start to recognize it from films like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Guardians of the Galaxy, and Namaste London.
3. See a Show at Shakespeare’s Globe
No more than a three-minute walk from the Millennium Bridge, you’ll find Shakepseare’s Globe. It’s hard to miss, mainly because … well, it’s a round building; there aren’t many of these in London. It’s a remodel of the Elizabethan playhouse, the Globe Theatre, so you can enjoy all of Shakespeare’s classics in an authentic fashion.
Enjoy a show of anything from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth to modern classics like A Comedy of Errors. You’ll experience all the emotions during the shows, from laughs to tears and everything in between.
4. Grab a Pint at The Anchor
There’s nothing more English than grabbing a pint and mingling with some friendly faces, and in Bankside, there’s no better place to do this than at The Anchor. Built in 1676, this traditionally British establishment is the last survivor of the riverside taverns, making it a must-visit London pub.
You can enjoy the energy at the main pub or book the private dining room for a bespoke experience. It’s also a fantastic sundowner’s destination thanks to its scrumptious meals and magnificent riverside views.
5. Visit The Clink Prison Museum
It’s easy to forget that London was once a Medieval city that had plenty of lawlessness. While the Tower of London might be the city’s most famous prison, the Clink Prison Museum is one attraction that encapsulates this part of London’s intriguing and tragic past.
Discover the ancient torture devices, tragic histories, and uber-interesting political turmoil this prison has seen over its almost 900-year existence. Its educational exhibits allow you to engage with Bankside’s history through all five senses, so booking a museum tour is a no-brainer.
6. See the Ruins of Winchester Palace
Not far from the Clink Prison Museum, you can explore the ruins of Winchester Palace. Located along Clink Street, this once-opulent building now lies in tatters, but still holds its architectural significance within the region.
Constructed in the 13th century, its Grand Hall and enigmatic chambers were home to the Bishop of Winchester. A fire in 1814 demolished much of the building, but its architectural prestige can still be seen to this day on the remaining walls of the Great Hall. You simply need to look at the gorgeous rose window at the west gable to understand what was “great” about it.
Although you can’t enter the interior of the ruins, you can walk through the pristine garden in the Great Hall.
7. Step Aboard The Golden Hinde
It’s not often you’ll find a literal ship nestled amongst some buildings, but Bankside is full of surprises. The Golden Hinde is a remake of the historic vessel that Sir Francis Drake captained during his circumnavigation of the globe from 1577 to 1580.
Much like the original ship, this vessel has endured several expeditions since 1974. So this magical museum has all the bells and whistles of the original ship as well as its own history.
8. Sample Borough Market
Of all the fantastic things to do in London’s Bankside, the Borough Market is a culinary extravaganza packed with flavor. It’s one of the best London markets for a reason, as it’s home to some of the most delightful food scenes around.
Dive into a delightful Middle Eastern mezze at Arabica Bar and Kitchen or discover the art of cheesemaking at the Bath Soft Cheese Co. But there’s more than just food here, as traders like Neal’s Yard Remedies offer boutique skincare products.
Best of all, it’s open every day of the week so there’s no missing it.
9. Ascend the Shard
Your list of things to do in London’s Bankside isn’t done just yet, as ascending The Shard is an unmissable activity. This building dominates London’s skyline with a viewing platform that outshines all other perspectives of this magical city.
Aside from the 360-degree panoramic views from the 72nd floor, The Shard also coined the phrase “The Vertical City”. This is thanks to its brilliant combination of offices, restaurants, bars, shops, and accommodations. So technically, you could stay here forever, but then you’d miss out on all the other fantastic things to do in Bankside.
Admittedly, ascending the Shard isn’t cheap – tickets start from £32 per person – but it’s included in the London Pass which is why I recommend grabbing this discount ticket card as part of planning your London trip.
Ready to set out and explore all that Bankside has to offer? Let me know any questions about these top things to do in Bankside in the comments below!