Last updated on September 22nd, 2022
Bankside was once a cacophonous pleasure zone with brothels, bear-baiting, gaming dens and four Tudor theatres: The Globe, The Rose, the Swan and the Hope. Shakespeare and Dickens lived here. Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire light up the London sky from here in 1666. So, if you’re visiting London, make sure you visit Bankside – it’s steeped in London history, it’s a mecca for literary lovers, and it’s one of the capital’s top foodie destinations.
Get thee to the Globe
The magnificent Globe Theatre is a replica of the original 1599 playhouse, owned by the Bard himself. It was destroyed by a fire in 1613, thanks to an explosive cannon during a performance of Henry VIII. You can see the site of the original Globe on Park Street, but “as good luck would have it,” you can head over to the new Globe on Bankside for some of the best productions this side of the sixteenth century. (I always recommend the standing seats in the yard – you can soak up a good dose of Shakespearian atmosphere that way). Please note: the Globe is currently closed due to Coronavirus restrictions, but you can book a tour here.
Visit Shakespeare’s tomb and statues
OK, not Will’s tomb but that of his brother, Edmund, who was also an actor at the Globe and was buried in Southwark Cathedral, London’s oldest church building. The exact location of the grave is unknown, but there is a memorial stone in the choir area. Make sure you also check out the Shakespeare statue inside and the stained-glass window, featuring several Shakespearean characters. Budding knights will want to check out the 1280 AD wooden effigy of a knight. There is also a spanking new Shakespeare statue in the church yard. Perfect for some banter with the Bard. Check the website for events.
Drop in to the Rose Playhouse
The Rose was the first public theatre to stage one of Shakespeare’s productions. By 1603, it had vanished into thin air, but an excavation in 1989 during an office redevelopment led to the discovery of some of the remains of Bankside’s first theatre. Today, you can visit The Rose and see the location of the original stage, pit and courtyard from a viewing platform. The Rose also holds events throughout the year. More details here.
Follow in Clarice la Claterballock’s footsteps
The City of London didn’t fancy the idea of prostitution within its walls, but it was seen as a necessary remedy for its frisky male population. The solution presented itself in the form of Bankside, only a stone’s throw away from the respectable side of the river. Back in 1161, the Bishop of Winchester was granted a licence for brothels and prostitution in this area, named Liberty of the Clink. The Clink prostitutes were known as Winchester Geese, one of the more famous being Clarice la Claterballock. Henry VIII would shut down the Bankside brothels three centuries later, and when Puritanical Cromwell got his mitts on the area, much of the entertainment industry was snuffed out. What I want to know, is how did Clarice get that fabulous name?
Have a tipple in the only bar in the country that doesn’t require a licence
Back in 1611, James I granted the Boot and Flogger a special dispensation as a “Free Vintner,” granted by the Worshipful Company of Vintners. It’s the perfect pit-stop during your Bankside walkabout.
See the unhallowed graveyard with stories to tell
Walk along Redcross Way, opposite the Boot and Flogger pub, and you’ll come across a sea of ribbons tied to railings. This marks the gate to the Crossbones Graveyard, which is thought to contain the bodies of 15,000 people. It’s unhallowed, so there is no record of who is buried there, but the story goes that this was the resting place for prostitutes and paupers. It was referred to as the Graveyard for Single Women who were denied burial in St Saviour’s nearby due to their profession.
Before Banksy, there were ghost signs. The Take Courage one is the most Instagrammed ghost sign in the country. The 1955 advertisement for the famous brewery on Redcross Street was designed to lift the spirits, in the liquid sense. You can catch it on foot or by train, as you leave London Bridge Station, the city’s oldest surviving station.
Drink with Dickens
The George Inn is London’s only surviving galleried inn and one of the city’s oldest pubs. Elizabethan customers could come here to watch plays, and it is likely that Shakespeare was a client. Dickens liked to have a tipple at The George – the pub gets a mention in Little Dorrit.
View the original bollards of Bankside
Once Nelson had made mincemeat of Napoleon’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar, the Brits looted the French boats, taking home these cannons and installing them throughout East London. What a perfect way to shove two fingers in the face of the French.You can see other examples in Shoreditch’s Boundary Passage.
If you’re potty for films….
7 Stoney Street is the door to the Leaky Cauldron in Harry Potter and the Prince of Azkaban. This is where Harry is dropped off after his mind-bending journey on the Knight Bus. Next door is the Market Porter pub which was transformed into Harry Potter’s Third Hand Book Emporium.
Have a glass of Chardonnay with Bridget Jones
Pop over to the Globe Tavern on Bedale Street for a glass of Chardonnay. The flat above was Bridget Jones’s singleton digs, although I think by now she’s living the country life with Darcy.
Check out the place where Christopher Wren didn’t actually live
At No 49 Bankside, next door to Shakespeare’s Globe, is a pretty “blue” ceramic plaque. It claims Christopher Wren lived here during the construction of his beloved St Paul’s, and that Catherine of Aragon, first queen of Henry VIII took shelter here when she landed in London. But it’s just a clever piece of fake news. In 1945, the then owner of the house erected the plaque in a bid to preserve the house from a council-led demolition order. Lucky for us, the hoax worked, as it is a very pretty house indeed.
Get arty in the museum designed by the red phone box architect
I’m not a big fan of the Tate Modern’s titanic, rather unwelcome galleries, but it puts on some stellar exhibitions every year. And it’s designed by the same architect behind the red phone box, the very talented Giles Gilbert Scott. And what would London be without Mr Scott’s iconic design? (PS. You can see the original phone box prototype tucked behind the gates of the Royal Academy).
Walk along Wobbly Bridge
The Millennium Bridge, affectionately known as the Wobbly Bridge, connects Bankside to St Paul’s Cathedral. Harry Potter fans will remember it from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when the Death Eaters attack London. When it opened on the 10 June 2000, it started to sway and subsequently had to be closed down for over two years. The bridge was re-opened on the 22 February 2002 following a £5 million bill to fix the problem. You’ll be pleased to know it doesn’t wobble anymore, but I can’t guarantee you won’t meet a Death Eater.
Grab some street food in London’s oldest fruit and veg market
Borough Market claims it was born in 1014, and by the nineteenth century, was one of London’s busiest food markets. These days, it’s also one of London’s top food destinations, with stalls selling fruit, vegetables, cheese, spices, and breads. Rest your weary feet in a warren of restaurants and cafes, but expect to queue for the more popular ones.
Thank you to Mr Londoner and to Visit Bankside for letting me tag along on a tour.
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Erin Gustafson | Oregon Girl Around the WorldMarch 13, 2019 at 2:38 pm
Oh! I’m showing my daughter who’s class is headed to London for their Year 8 class trip in May. I’m quite jealous as they get to explore this area and go to the Globe. She is also reading all the Harry Potter’s at the moment and will be doubly thrilled at all the references in this area! Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin
ScarlettMarch 13, 2019 at 5:39 pm
How fantastic, I hope she has a great time getting Pottified in London!
hilaryMarch 12, 2019 at 11:15 pm
We love Bankside, and always make it a point to spend quite a bit of our London time there. I admit I haven’t seen a play at the Globe Theater yet, because my family always says no, but I will get inside one of these visits, maybe this summer? We have a photo of the Take Courage ghost sign (I love ghost signs), but I had no idea it was the most photographed one on the country. Have you been to Where the Pancakes are? It’s near there, and so delicious! #farawayfiles
ScarlettMarch 13, 2019 at 5:40 pm
The Globe is absolutely fantastic, even my kids love it. I don’t know Where the Pancakes are but sounds like I should!
Clare (Suitcases and Sandcastles)March 11, 2019 at 2:54 pm
Great post, Scarlett. I visit Bankside often because our trains go into London Bridge and I often walk along the river there. Turns out there are lots of spots I didn’t know about so I shall be saving your post for my next visit. I always make a point of passing the Golden Hind and the kids loved our trip to The Clink. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles
ScarlettMarch 11, 2019 at 3:51 pm
Thanks so much Clare. There is always so much to see and do along that slice of the river. The Golden Hind is a very special landmark as well, easily overlooked where it’s tucked away!
Rhonda AlbomMarch 9, 2019 at 7:27 am
I didn’t realize there is so much in Bankside to see. I did go to the replica Globe theatre, the Tate Modern, and walked across the Millenium Bridge (didn’t get into St. Paul’s as it was closed for a special event). I do like the canon bollards – they make me smile.
ScarlettMarch 9, 2019 at 5:05 pm
They are funny Rhonda – I imagine they had great fun taunting the French with those!
Catherine’s Cultural WednesdaysFebruary 6, 2019 at 9:24 pm
I love Bankside, there is so much to see and do and history round every corner #CulturedKids
ScarlettFebruary 9, 2019 at 12:34 pm
In every nook and cranny!
ZenbabytravelFebruary 6, 2019 at 1:18 pm
Oh the Bankside, always a winner for us! Loving the controversial history and names 😉 Tate Modern for us also iconic and v special – it did the trick for me second time round – after long walks and debates about modern art with the 3 years old and the other half, went straight to Chelsea & Westminter to have baby No 2 😉 #culturedkids
ScarlettFebruary 6, 2019 at 6:21 pm
Oh my goodness, maybe we should send all overdue mums to the Tate!
Kids of the WildFebruary 2, 2019 at 10:17 am
I thoroughly enjoy your London mini guides. Some of these places I’ve visited, some I’ve never heard of and I’ve learnt new things about places I thought I knew. #CulturedKids (rather slow on my commenting this time!)
ScarlettFebruary 2, 2019 at 2:54 pm
Thanks so much Lucy!
LauraJanuary 30, 2019 at 4:31 pm
So many fantastic things to see and do!
Nancy | MapandFamilyJanuary 28, 2019 at 3:29 pm
I’ve only re-discovered Bankside in the last 12 months and there really is lots to do and see there. Beautiful views of the river too?
ScarlettJanuary 31, 2019 at 9:25 am
And it’s great for the teems, Nancy. Wink wink.
Trish @ Mum's Gone ToJanuary 28, 2019 at 1:03 pm
Well I never! The things you find out when you’re reading blogs. Clarice’s surname is absolute gold!
I’ve stayed in the Mondrian hotel a couple of times and thought I was quite familiar with the area yet you’ve given me lots more to hunt out when we head back over the river again. Brilliant! #culturedkids
ScarlettJanuary 31, 2019 at 9:26 am
Thanks Trish! The Mondrian is a great hotel, love the name Sea Containers. I imagine Clarice really knew how to strut her stuff!
the Curious PixieJanuary 28, 2019 at 12:24 pm
One of my favourite parts of London. A huge fan of the Globe Theatre, but not of the butt ache after three hours. And I could just live in Borough Market #CulturedKids
ScarlettJanuary 31, 2019 at 9:27 am
He he, that’s why I like to mix it up with Standing tickets in the Yard.
JennyJanuary 27, 2019 at 6:41 am
Gosh – you really know all the London things! I’ve walked this way many times and missed so much of this. I love the Christopher Wren plaque! And I’m now decided I must go to the Globe – I’ve never been.
ScarlettJanuary 27, 2019 at 11:25 am
Jenny, you must! And the fake news plaque is just a few doors down.
LouiseJanuary 26, 2019 at 3:59 pm
I love, love, love Borough Market sooo much! Also The Millenium Bridge is a fan of mine!
I still haven’t been inside Shakespear’s Globe – I really must! The George Inn is lovely (but my food wasn’t amazing! Go there for a pint of beer/ glass of wine instead!)
(Oh! Did I mention, that I love Borough Market!)
ScarlettJanuary 27, 2019 at 11:26 am
I’m not surprised you love Borough market, Mme Foodie London! You will love the Globe, and the Swan restaurant inside does some lovely food.
Liz GodfreyJanuary 26, 2019 at 1:29 pm
What fantastic detailed information! I can’t wait to explore this area more on my next trip to London.
ScarlettJanuary 27, 2019 at 11:26 am
Thanks so much for having a read Liz!
scots2travelJanuary 26, 2019 at 11:08 am
Love this part of town. The Globe was fascinating – they have wonderful tour guides there. Winchester Castle is new to me, and would be next on my list 🙂
ScarlettJanuary 27, 2019 at 11:27 am
I haven’t been inside, but keen to visit the Castle as well. I hope to bump into some interesting ghosts!
Emma RaphaelJanuary 26, 2019 at 10:01 am
I really love this part of London, so much history (although I love big industrial-esque buildings so I am definitely a Tate Modern fan :D)… I had no idea about the Bishop of Winchester and his Winchester Geese, I had wondered where that term came from! 🙂 #CulturedKids
UshaJanuary 25, 2019 at 7:23 pm
Bank side is so beautiful. I have not been inside Shakespeare’s Globe. One of my to dos for this year. This is such a lovely compilation of Bank side. I am saving it for a wander around in the city. #culturekids.
ScarlettJanuary 28, 2019 at 10:01 am
The Globe is well worth a visit, Usha. Hope you enjoy Bankside when you visit.
Vyki from Museum MumJanuary 25, 2019 at 5:56 pm
I love the way you’ve evoked the riotous past of Bankside. And even this long time Londoner has learnt a few things – I’ll definitely be looking out for the fake news plaque and looted French cannons on my next visit! #CulturedKids
ScarlettJanuary 28, 2019 at 10:01 am
Thanks Vyki. The blue plaque is a wonderful story it’s these little morsels that make London!
AnnabelJanuary 25, 2019 at 11:52 am
I can’t believe I’ve never been to the Globe, thanks for reminding me that I really should pay it a visit! #culturedkids
ScarlettJanuary 26, 2019 at 8:24 am
It’s definitely worth a visit, Annabel. Great for the kids as well.
Nell (Pigeon Pair and Me)January 25, 2019 at 9:55 am
Nell (Pigeon Pair and Me)January 25, 2019 at 9:55 am
I love the front of 49 Bankside’s owner! A very clever move. You’ve reminded me that I need to pay the George a visit. I used to go there a lot, but it’s literally been years now…. this is possibly my favourite part of London, full stop. So many happy personal memories there – and all that history….
ScarlettJanuary 28, 2019 at 10:04 am
I covet 49 Bankside!
Nell (Pigeon Pair and Me)March 8, 2019 at 2:28 pm
I remember so well when the wobbly bridge was launched, then promptly shut. Seems strange to think that now, walking over it! Nice to revisit this fantastic post via #FarawayFiles.
ScarlettMarch 8, 2019 at 5:02 pm
Thank you Nell. It was a very expensive exercise, but at least London has a magnificent bridge to show for it now. And no Death Eaters in sight!