With the focus firmly on London and the 2012 Olympics this summer why not take a few hours to discover some well-known and some not so well known gems along the river Thames?
London’s South Bank
You can walk along the river from the London Eye to HMS Belfast in about 45 minutes.
EDF Energy London Eye
The 135-metre high observation wheel has been an iconic part of London’s landscape since 1999 and carries approximately 15,000 passengers every day. There are 32 pods on the eye with each one representing one of the London Boroughs. The views from the London Eye are spectacular on a clear day and you can see as far as Windsor Castle-approximately 25 miles away!
During the Olympics the London Eye will be open for late night rides until midnight for those that want to get a bird’s eye view of London during what is set to be an amazing three weeks. London Eye website
South Bank Centre
The South Bank, at twice the size of the New York’s Lincoln Center, is one of the largest centres in the world. It encompasses the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Hayward Gallery, the Purcell Room and the Saison Poetry Library. The Queen Elizabeth Hall is a music venue that hosts various music and dance performances daily while the Hayward Gallery is one of London’s main venues for large classical and contemporary art exhibitions. It is free to enter the South Bank Centre building and worthwhile just to sit with a coffee and soak up some cultured atmosphere in the foyer. South Bank Centre website
Originally a war ship, HMS Belfast is now a floating naval museum operated by the Imperial War Museum. Originally built in Belfast, the ship played a key role during World War II leading the ‘D Day’ landings at Normandy and was retired from service in 1963. The museum consists of nine decks and is split into three sections; life on board, inner workings and life at war. You can experience what life was like on board including the gun turret and the cramped living spaces. HMS Belfast website
London’s North Bank
You can walk along the river from Cleopatra’s Needle to Inner Temple Gardens in about 15 minutes.
Standing at 60 feet high this monument is pretty hard to miss. It is known as Cleopatra’s Needle as it was brought to London from Alexandria, Cleopatra’s Royal City, in 1819 although it dates back to 1475 B.C. The monument has earned its place on Victoria Embankment as it endured a terrible sea journey and was cast adrift in a storm and nearly sank. Six men died trying to save it and their names are commemorated on one of the plaques at the base. When the needle was erected in 1878 a time capsule was buried underneath it containing among other things; photographs of the 12 best looking women of the time, a box of cigars, a map of London and a portrait of Queen Victoria.
The Duke of Somerset, Edward Seymour, built Somerset House in 1551, however he was executed on the grounds of treason a year later and Somerset House was seized by the Crown. The palace was home to Princess Elizabeth I before she was crowned Queen Elizabeth I in 1558 and also 3 further queens including Anne of Denmark, Henrietta Maria and Catherine of Braganza.
The building currently houses the Royal Academy of Arts as well as having a packed programme of events including exhibitions, family workshops, an ice skating rink in winter and it is also the home to London Fashion. For a special occasion ‘Tom’s Terrace’ named after Michelin starred chef Tom Aikens, is an al fresco bar set on an 18th century terrace of Somerset House. It provides stunning views over the Thames and is lit at night with funky coloured lights. Somerset House website
Inner Temple Gardens
Inner Temple Gardens are joined to the Inner Temple, home to the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court. (To practice as a barrister in England & Wales one must belong to one of these Inns) The gardens were noted for their roses and William Shakespeare claimed that the War of the Roses started here. The gardens are open Monday-Friday from 12.30 until 3.00 pm. Inner Temple website
If you want to find out more about the history of London’s riverside landmarks, including those mentioned, ‘The Thames: London’s Crown Jewel’ is a great interactive iPad App that explores the Thames from Chelsea to Tower Bridge. Its features include bite size informative text, visual table of contents, 90 stunning full screen images, music, audio and timelapse videos of the river. It is available on iPad and costs £1.99 with 50% of profits going to the Thames Diamond Jubilee Foundation.
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