Following my list with things to do around Tower Bridge, here’s a your ultimate guide to the top things to do near London Bridge. Because despite common belief and confusion, London Bridge and Tower Bridge aren’t the same! This guide covers common questions asked by first-time visitors to London, such as: What is there to do near London Bridge? And: What is near London Bridge Station? The answer: there’s lots of fantastic things to see and do! To help you on your way around London Bridge, I marked all London landmarks mentioned in this article on the handy free map at the end.
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Facts about London Bridge
- London Bridge was originally built by the Romans in 55AD. It’s therefore one of the many remaining historical Roman London sites.
- London Bridge was the only crossing over the river Thames in London until the 18th century. Subsequently, it used to be a strategic target for invading enemies, which leads us to the following point.
- It’s believed that the famous nursery rhyme London Bridge is Falling Down refers to the Viking Attack when Olaf II of Norway invaded London around the year 1010.
- Besides enemy attacks, London Bridge has also had its fair share of destructive fires that burned down the bridge several times. And in 1091, it was even destroyed by the London Tornado!
- Unable to carry the weight of modern vehicles, i.e. cars, London Bridge was for sale in the 1960s. The American oil magnate McCulloch ‘paid $2,460,000 for the bridge and $7 million to have its granite blocks disassembled and shipped across the ocean.’ (source) London Bridge was then reconstructed over a lake in Arizona where it’s now a tourist attraction in the desert. Considering the great amount of money and effort he went through, many people suspect that McCulloch bought London Bridge ‘by accident’, thinking he had purchased the way more beautiful and iconic Tower Bridge. McCulloch, obviously, denies this.
- 15th-century London Bridge was far more characteristic than it is today. As you can see in the mosaics below, it was then lined with shops, houses and even public buildings such as a church, resonating the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence of today.
15 best things to do near London Bridge
Looking at the photo at the top of this article, it’s pretty clear that when it comes to appearances, London Bridge is rather inconspicuous and far from memorable. However, what it might lack in good looks, London Bridge makes up in history. Being the oldest bridge in the city, London Bridge has always been in the heart of the action. So without further ado, let me tell you about the best things to do near London Bridge!
1. Visit Borough Market
Open from Monday till Saturday, bustling Borough Market is one of the top attractions in London. Located just across the road from London Bridge Station, Borough Market is the dream destination for foodies.
Here you’ll find dozens of stalls selling anything from fresh fish, (smelly) cheeses to freshly prepared paella. And if that’s still not enough to satisfy your appetite, you’ll also find plenty of top restaurants, cafés and bars around the market.
2. Admire Southwark Cathedral
Positioned right between Borough Market and the through road Borough High Street, Southwark Cathedral is a much overlooked sight. Yet, since it’s situated right next to London’s oldest river crossing and historical entrance to the City of London, Southwark Cathedral has an incredibly long and rich history. However, dating back to at least the 7th century, the history of Southwark Cathedral is not entirely clear.
What we do know for certain is that it became an Augustinian Priory in 1106 which was dissolved by Henry VIII during the Reformation. Known as St Saviour’s Church by then, a group of merchants called ‘the Bargainers’ bought the church from King James I in 1601 for the whopping amount of £800.
Due to its proximity to several playhouses, including Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (number 9 in this list), its congregation was a curious combination of wealthy merchants, actors and theatre workers. One of the few notables who lie buried here, therefore, include Edmund Shakespeare, William’s brother.
Eventually St Saviour’s Church was re-founded as Southwark Cathedral in 1905. Southwark Cathedral is open for visitors and they even offer guided tours.
3. Enjoy panoramic views from The Shard
Standing 310 metres high, The Shard has been the tallest building in the UK since its opening in 2012. Unlike most of London’s tallest skyscrapers, this 95-storey tall giant combines both residential flats and commercial spaces.
In addition, The Shard is also home to London’s highest viewing platform. The View from the Shard viewing gallery and open-air observation deck is located on the 72nd floor, at a height of 244 metres.
The View from The Shard offers the best panoramic views over London, but with prices starting at £25 per person it might not be for everybody. It’s a great London activity if you can afford it, but for a budget option, opt for the free and equally spectacular views from nearby Sky Garden.
Combine your visit to The Shard with a hop-on hop-off river cruise and enjoy amazing views of London both from the water and sky! Book your special combination ticket here.
4. Visit the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret
The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret at just a stone’s throw away from London Bridge Station is a true hidden gem in London. It’s located on the busy St Thomas Street, but chances are you’d probably walk right past it without taking any notice. Not anymore of course after reading this blog post about the best things to do near London Bridge!
Located in the attic of St Thomas’ Church, this Victorian operating room is the oldest surviving operating theatre in Europe. And if you look at the layout, you’ll immediately understand the term ‘operating theatre’. In the past, medical students would be seated on the surrounding benches whilst the surgeon performed the operation.
Considering anaesthetics were pretty much non-existent for the first decades, I wonder how many students fainted at the sight of these gruesome operations. You can find out all the stories and history of this remarkable London museum during a visit (open Monday-Saturday) or talks in the weekend.
5. Visit the Golden Hinde galleon
The Golden Hinde is yet another curious sight near London Bridge. I had seen this ship many times without realising it was one of the most important London landmarks. I was so excited to discover it’s actually an accurate replica of the historical galleon Golden Hind (without the ‘e’ at the end) in which Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe between 1577 and 1580.
Besides being remembered as the first English ship to sail around the world, the Golden Hind(e) is also associated with secret looting sanctioned by the Crown. Queen Elizabeth I unofficially deployed Sir Frances Drake’s services to raid faraway countries and other ships for their gold and other treasures. Furthermore, the Golden Hinde was also used in several defining sea battles that would eventually escalate into the Anglo-Spanish War in 1585.
After the original Golden Hind was destroyed due to rot, they made a few replicas of the ship that has played such a significant role in British history. The most famous one is the Golden Hinde in London located at a 5-minute walk from London Bridge. A self-guided tour of The Golden Hinde costs only £5 (price as of June 2020) and is a great suggestion if you’re looking for unusual things to do in London.
6. Behold the ruins of Winchester Palace
Right next to the Golden Hinde you’ll find the ruins of Winchester Palace. With basically only one wall left of it, it’s hard to imagine this was once one of the largest and most important buildings in medieval London.
Built in the 12th century, it served as the luxury London residence of the Bishop of Winchester. Sadly, most of Winchester Palace was destroyed by a fire in 1814.
Surrounded by coffee chains and a London souvenir shop, all that remains of Winchester Palace today is part of its Great Hall and eye-catching rose window. Thankfully, being an English heritage site, the Winchester Palace ruins have been conserved and can be seen from up close by visitors.
7. Discover the horrors of Clink Prison
Continuing on Clink Street, leaving the Golden Hinde and Winchester Palace ruins behind you, you only need to walk for 1 minute before you arrive at the next attraction: Clink Prison Museum. The historical Clink Prison, originally housed in the Winchester Palace, consisted of two prisons: one for men and one for women.
Going through an eerie tunnel, you’ll see a blue plaque saying this was the site for some of the most notorious London prisons for several centuries. If you’re interested in the grim history of London, then this is obviously a must-visit for you.
8. See exhibitions at Tate Modern
Located in a former power station, contemporary art gallery Tate Modern is one of my favourite buildings in London. I love its bold industrial looks and simply can’t get enough of photographing it. I took this photo from the viewing platform of St Paul’s Cathedral just opposite the river.
Tate Modern is one of the most important modern art museums in the world and attracts around 6 million visitors a year. The great thing is that you can see the permanent collection and gorgeous architecture for free. Also the viewing platform on the 10th floor is free to access for all. Make sure you do, because it offers beautiful views of St Paul’s Cathedral!
And while there’s enough to see at Tate Modern for free, it’s definitely worth paying for their temporary exhibitions. There are at least four top-notch shows on at any time and deciding which one to visit might be difficult indeed.
Did you know that the chimney of Tate Modern was cut in size?
Standing at ground level, it’s difficult to see who’s taller, Tate Modern or St Paul’s Cathedral. If it were up to the architect of the original power station, Tate Modern would’ve been the winner of this competition. However, because St Paul’s Cathedral’s significant status, the chimney couldn’t exceed the cathedral’s height of 111 metres. Therefore, the chimney of Tate Modern is now ‘only’ 99 metres tall.
9. Catch a play at Globe Theatre
Compared to its neighbour Tate Modern, Globe Theatre really is a dwarf. However, while it might not measure up in height, its cultural significance is just as important! Because Globe Theatre is a replica of the 16th-century theatre of Shakespeare’s company which used to stand about 230 metres away from the current site.
While the original Globe Theatre was destroyed by fire in 1613, the replica was founded by American actor and director Sam Wanaker in 1997. Due to its open roof, theatre plays are only performed here from April to October. However, after the opening of the intimate Sam Wanaker Playhouse in 2014 next door, you can now also enjoy indoor candle-lit performances here between October and April.
Besides Shakespeare plays, Globe Theatre also stages plays by other playwrights. The first play I saw here was Christoper Marlowe’s Faust. Having no idea what to expect, I was completely blown away by the actors and stage design. However, being seated on the uncomfortable wooden benches for three hours, my bottom was less pleased. But instead of a seat, you could also choose for a standing ticket which costs only £5!
Tip! If you want to learn more about the fascinating history of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, then I recommend joining one of their guided tours! Book your ticket here.
10. Marvel at St Paul’s Cathedral
Home to the world’s second largest cathedral dome, St Paul’s Cathedral is one of London’s most famous landmarks. And I have to say that it really is one of my favourite London sights indeed. Since it’s located right across Tate Modern, there’s an interesting juxtaposition between the raw industrial architecture of Tate Modern and majestic St Paul’s Cathedral.
The first Christian church on this site dates back to 604 AD. You can imagine that when the 1666 Great Fire of London destroyed St Paul’s Cathedral, that was a great disaster. Thankfully it was rebuild to an even more glorious building afterwards by renowned British architect Christopher Wren.
Good to know: You can enjoy glorious views of St Paul’s Cathedral from the free viewing platform at Tate Modern.
Besides its impressive dome and elegant exterior, St Paul’s Cathedral is truly stunning on the inside as well. And while I usually hate audio tours, I recommend opting for it when visiting St Paul’s Cathedral because the snippets are really short, entertaining and informative.
While it’s not allowed to take photos inside, you might have seen it in Mission Impossible 6 when Tom Cruise was running (obviously) across its hall, up to the roofs of surrounding buildings and ending up on top of the Tate Modern chimney. (yikes!)
Buy your discounted fast-track tickets here and enjoy direct access to St Paul’s Cathedral!
11. Find the hidden artworks on Millennium Bridge
Opened in 2000 – what’s in a name? – Millennium Bridge must be one of the most striking bridges in London. This suspended pedestrian bridge is not only extremely photogenic, but it also offers great views of St Paul’s Cathedral at the north end and Tate Modern and Globe Theatre at its south end.
Walking over the bridge, there are too many sights to take in, but do make sure you stop and look at your feet for your moment. Because then you’ll discover that the bridge is filled with tiny artworks!
These miniature artworks are created by artist Ben Wilson. His canvasses consist of the trodden down pieces of chewing gum, disgracefully discarded by pedestrians crossing the bridge. And if you look closely, you’ll find dozens of these chewing gum artworks on Millennium Bridge. It’s a fun link to the nearby renowned contemporary art gallery Tate Modern.
12. Enjoy London’s iconic skyline
In this article I’ve already shared some of the best viewing points in London: The Shard, Sky Garden, St Paul’s Cathedral and Tate Modern. However, simply walking along the south bank of the river Thames from Tower Bridge to London Bridge provides stunning views of London’s iconic skyline.
You will catch the best Instagram London spots on this route. From Tower Bridge to London Bridge these are: St Katherine Docks, Tower of London, Butler’s Wharf, The City skyscrapers, HMS Belfast, Scope Theatre, City Hall, Hay’s Galleria, Monument and The Shard.
When you continue your walk from London Bridge to the futuristic Millennium Bridge, you’ll see the sights in the photo above. From left to right these are: St Paul’s Cathedral (left back), Millennium Bridge, Tate Modern (the tall chimney in the foreground), The City skyscrapers and The Shard.
13. Explore Bermondsey
Right behind London Bridge Station lies the brand-new Vinegar Yard. Home to quirky market stalls and also food stalls, this has become a popular destination for Londoners and tourists alike at the weekend.
Vinegar Yards sits right at the edge of the London neighbourhood of Bermondsey. Lined with stunning warehouse buildings, I always imagine this is what Charles Dickens’s London must have looked like.
In recent years Bermondsey has developed into a desirable London neighbourhood. I therefore certainly suggest having a wander around the area. Besides numerous unique shops, cosy cafés and great restaurants, Bermondsey is also home to yet another one of my favourite London galleries: White Cube Gallery. Other Bermondsey highlights include the Fashion and Textile Museum and Maltby Street Market.
14. Walk from London Bridge to Tower Bridge
The route between London Bridge and Tower Bridge is one of my favourite walks in London. Following the river Thames, you could walk to Tower Bridge from London Bridge in only 15 minutes.
However, considering the numerous famous London landmarks you’ll pass on your way (as mentioned at entry 12 in this list), you might need to add another hour. During the busy Christmas season it will take you even longer due to the crowds visiting the atmospheric Christmas stalls on this route.
15. Walk to the Southbank and Westminster Palace
Instead of walking eastwards to Tower Bridge, you can also walk towards West London from London Bridge. Still following the riverfront, you’ll come across other iconic London sights such as OXO Tower, the Southbank Centre, London Eye and Westminster Palace. Especially that latter London landmark deserves a special mention as it’s one of the four UNESCO World Heritage sites in London!
The best things to do in London Bridge: free map!
Want to discover these activities near London Bridge on a self-guided walk? Then use this handy map I made for you, including the main sights mentioned in this article. Click on the map to see a legend of the London landmarks.
Which of these attractions near London Bridge are you most interested in visiting? Let me know in a comment below!
Thanks, Zarina xx
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