As we were staying so close to the Thames on the Southbank, we decided we had to have a walk along this wonderful river. We had watched the Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the river the weekend prior to our trip to London, so this inspired us even further to try and explore the banks of the Thames and the wonderful sights there are to see.
The River Thames has always been important to London and has affected the growth and character of this great city all through the ages. London actually began as a small Roman settlement built next to the Thames and the first London Bridge. Now, 2,000 years later, the river is still important to this massive city. There are a lot more bridges but the river still winds and snakes its way through London. Its importance was definitely highlighted by the wonderful Diamond Jubilee Pageant.
The Second World War did a lot of damage to this area of London, but afterwards there was a lot of rebuilding and the whole area was regenerated. After the war, the South Bank was chosen to be the site for the Festival of Britain. This was intended to cheer up the country after the very difficult war years. They cleared the riverside and it was the site in 1951 of the Festival of Britain, a national celebration. The Royal Festival Hall was built then and can still be seen today. Many other venues followed, which make the Southbank, nowadays, a very interesting place.
Despite a bit of a blip in the 1970's when things went downhill in this area, there was a further regeneration effort in the 1980's. There are now lovely parks and walkways by the riverside, lots of new housing and plenty of festivals and art displays.
We started off at Westminster Bridge. It opened in 1750 and was the first bridge to connect Westminster with the Southbank. They opened a replacement bridge in 1862 and painted it green - apparently this matches the benches in the House of Commons in the Palace of Westminster. You get a great view of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben from this bridge.
The Houses of Parliament or Palace of Westminster is one of my favourite buildings in London. It is so impressive and grand, built for the Kings of England, it has been the heart of government in the UK for a thousand years. Henry VIII moved out in 1512 and that was when the palace became the Houses of Parliament. There was a big fire in 1834 which destroyed the buiding, it was replaced with what you see today. Most impressive of all is the huge clock tower which contains Big Ben - a 13.8 tonne bell. Be sure to stand on the bridge when Big Ben strikes the hour - a wonderful experience.
We came off the bridge and walked alongside County Hall. It is now a tourist venue which houses many different attractions including the London Aquarium and 2 hotels. There are also restaurants and bars - it always seems to be heaving with people and is so noisy and busy. At one time though, it was actually home to the London County Council. The building is 6 storeys high and took 25 years to complete. The Greater London Council was abolished in 1986, and now this building caters for tourists.
Perhaps one of the most iconic sights in this part of the Thames is the London Eye. Right next to County Hall, you simply cannot miss it. Again, it always seems to be busy and there always seems to be a big queue to ride on this big wheel. All the parts that made up the London Eye were brought down the River Thames by boat. They were then assembled by a huge, floating crane.
The London Eye is the largest observation wheel ever built. Its supports are steel legs on one side only. It opened in the new millennium and hangs over the river. It can carry 15,000 passengers a day. There are 32 observation pods. It rises up to a height of 135 metres and apparently you can see up to 25 miles over the city on a clear day. I have been on the London Eye twice, both times it poured with rain and we could hardly see beyond the Palace of Westminster. I am sure though, that on a good day, the views would be spectacular.
On this visit, we just contented ourselves with looking up at the magnificient wheel and admiring its construction from the ground.
Near the London Eye is a lovely adventure playground for children. It is free to use and has some great wooden aparatus to play on. Our 8 year old thoroughly enjoyed spending half an hour in here, it was a break from sightseeing for him and a way to let off some steam.