London is a great city for walking. You’ll find loads of pedestrian friendly pathways, green spaces and fabulous sightseeing walks that will allow you to explore the city at a slow, relaxed pace. There are already a zillion blog posts about “must see sights in London” and “ultimate guides” for you to use when you plan your visit. So, rather than create a guide, I am just going to share one possible trail along London’s Thames Path from Tower Bridge to Big Ben.
When Marc and I lived in London we regularly walked along varied versions of this walk. We were never really sightseeing, but it can be nice to see the gorgeous landmarks and soak up London’s history as you explore. You can follow the trail either side of the river, depending on which famous landmarks you’d like to see. The Southbank is normally more busy, but they are both lovely areas to explore.
London sightseeing walking map – Tower Bridge to Big Ben
My London sightseeing walk – the basics:
We walked from Tower Bridge to Big Ben along the river Thames. With plenty of options, you can make up any route that suits you. You can’t really get lost if you stay close-ish to the Thames Path on either side of the river.
Elevation Gain: Minimal
Time: We walked for 2 hours, but you can easily shorten or lengthen it.
What to bring:
You don’t need to carry much. Anything you forget can be purchased easily.
There aren’t enough dogs in central London, but you can walk them here, just keep them on a lead and remember to pick up their poop.
How hard is it?
Easy! This walk is pretty flat, easy to follow, and whenever you get tired they’ll be a tube stop nearby.
We started our walk from Bank Station. I love TFL and the London Underground, but often the distance between stations is quite short, so it can be more effort to change lines than to just walk to your destination. We were staying in tourist central, Tower Hill, so we figured it would be nice to walk from Bank and see how the City’s architecture has changed since we moved away from London.
I love the way this part of the City of London has beautiful stone-faced older buildings that are overshadowed by the new giant towers.
Tower of London
We wanted to go for a wander along the Thames Path, so we went past the Tower of London, one of London’s most popular tourist attractions. My parents took me to visit the Tower back when I was at school, but not for the normal reasons, like a love of history! I was a raven in a school play, so we visited to see the ravens so I could copy the way they walk.
I do like visiting the Tower of London but the queues are always crazily long, so I am not keen to go unless we arrive super early in the morning. For this walk, we were content to wander past and admire the walls.
Views from Tower Bridge
I have soooo many photos of Tower bridge. When we lived in London most weekends Marc and I would walk along the Thames past Tower Bridge to get tasty food from Borough Market.
The views from Tower Bridge are gorgeous in all directions. It’s always fun to look back at the City and the Tower of London…
Then in the opposite direction you can see the Southbank, including the mayor’s office and the Shard.
This is the view back to Tower Bridge from the South Bank. The blue paint looks so nice when there is a blue sky!
Follow the Thames Path
Next we walked along the Thames Path. There are routes on both sides of the river Thames, so we tend to cross over to whichever side has more sunshine or fewer people. Walking along the Southbank, the first major landmark is HMS Belfast.
Southwark Cathedral and Borough
Once you reach London Bridge you can continue to walk close to the water, or go behind Southwark Cathedral to visit Borough Market for some tasty food. We opted for food.
I really like the streets around London Bridge and Borough Market. The market itself was crazily busy, so we escaped and found really tasty burgers nearby. Then kept walking along Southwalk Street towards the Tate Modern.
The Shard looks so good when it is lit up by golden winter light.
Heading back to the Thames
Full of lunch, we headed back to the Thames path. The views are gorgeous along the river.
We had a quick peek into the Tate Modern. I looove the view from here over to St Paul’s Cathedral – it’s the best part of any London sightseeing walk.
We crossed the Thames at Blackfriars Bridge to keep wandering along the Northbank (I think it’s also called the Victoria Embankment)
The Dolphin Zone
Although it is tempting to look up at all the buildings along the Thames Path, is is also worth stopping to look at the benches and lampposts on the north side of the Thames. You’ll find countless bronze dolphins (although they look nothing like dolphins, or even sturgeons, which some people say they represent.)
These lampposts were based on similar statues in the Piazza del Popolo in Rome. They were designed by George Vulliamy to light up the brand new walkways that were created when London improved it’s road and sewer system in the 1870. You can read about the history of the fishy statues here.
Cleopatra’s Needle and Sphinxes
Cleopatra’s Needle is an obelisk that was originally erected in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis around 1500 BC, then it was taken and moved to Alexandria by the Romans in 12 BC. The Needle was brought to London and erected here in 1878. It is a little embarrassing to see stolen treasures like this in the post colonial era. I always wonder when we’ll send it back to Egypt.
In addition to the stolen ancient obelisk, we found plenty of cool art and statues along this part of the Thames. The Sphinx benches are my favourite part of this dolphin zone.
Each side of the obelisk are two large sphinxes, designed by the dolphin man, George Vulliamy. They were installed backwards, so they are looking at the obelisk, rather than guarding it. If you look carefully at the bronze, it is scarred by shrapnel from a bomb that was dropped here during WWI in September 1917.
We kept wandering along the Thames Path to Westminster and Big Ben. Elizabeth Tower (the clock tower, Big Ben is the name of the bell) is surrounded by scaffolding at the moment, but there are still great views of the Millennium Wheel across the Thames.
As it was getting dark, we hopped onto the tube to go south and visit friends. Hopefully this gives you an idea about what it’s like to make your own London sightseeing walk. You might be self-isolating at the moment due to CORVID-19, so even if you can’t explore London now, at least you can go on this tour vicariously.
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