In Tudor and Stuart London, the chief reason for crossing the Thames to what is now Southwark was to visit the disreputable Bankside entertainment district around the south end of London Bridge. Four hundred years on, Londoners are heading to the area once more, thanks to a wealth of top attractions – led by the mighty Tate Modern – that pepper the traffic-free riverside path between Blackfriars Bridge and Tower Bridge. The area is conveniently linked to St Paul’s and the City by the fabulous Norman Foster-designed Millennium Bridge, London’s first pedestrian-only bridge.
More about England
Find out more
Bankside is dominated nowadays by the awesome Tate Modern. Originally designed as an oil-fired power station by Giles Gilbert Scott, this austere, brick-built “cathedral of power” was converted into a splendid modern art gallery in 2000. The best way to enter is down the ramp from the west so that you get the full effect of the stupendously large turbine hall. It’s easy enough to find your way around the galleries, with levels 3 and 5 displaying the permanent collection, level 4 used for fee-paying special exhibitions, and level 7 home to a café with a great view over the Thames. Along with the free guided tours and multimedia guides, various apps are available (Tate has free wi-fi).
Works are grouped thematically. Although the displays change every year or so, you’re still pretty much guaranteed to see works by Monet and Bonnard, Cubist pioneers Picasso and Braque, Surrealists such as Dalí, abstract artists like Mondrian, Bridget Riley and Pollock, and Pop supremos Warhol and Lichtenstein. And such is the space here that several artists get whole rooms to themselves, among them Joseph Beuys, with his shamanistic wax and furs, and Mark Rothko, whose abstract “Seagram Murals”, originally destined for a posh restaurant in New York, have their own shrine-like room in the heart of the collection.
Dwarfed by Tate Modern, but equally remarkable in its own way, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is a more or less faithful reconstruction of the polygonal playhouse where most of the Bard’s later works were first performed. The theatre, which boasts the first new thatched roof in central London since the Great Fire, puts on plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, using only natural light and the minimum of scenery. To find out more about Shakespeare and the history of Bankside, the Globe’s stylish exhibition is well worth a visit. You can have a virtual play on medieval instruments such as the crumhorn or sackbut, prepare your own edition of Shakespeare, and feel the thatch, hazelnut-shell and daub used to build the theatre. There’s also an informative guided tour round the theatre itself; during the summer season, you get to visit the exhibition and the remains of the nearby Rose Theatre instead.