Southbank to St. Paul’s: three days in London

view from the Eye

The last time we visited London was in September 2007. September is a great time to visit, as the temps are usually mild but still warm, and with little rain. We chose London for that year’s vacation for a few reasons. First, neither of us could take much time off, really just a couple of days, so a long weekend was the most we could manage. It’s a relatively short flight for us, and airfare prices were reasonable that year. And because we’d been to London before, it was an easy trip to plan. But the tipping point for London was when Rob heard that Brian Wilson was premiering his new album, Lucky Old Sun, at London’s Royal Festival Hall. London was indeed calling.

Just because we’d been to London doesn’t mean we’d seen everything, of course. London, like all the great cities of the world, is a place you can visit again and again, always discovering something new. Royal Festival Hall is on the Southbank, and so for this visit we decided to stay on the Southbank as well. We found a great hotel: the Mad Hatter, close to Blackfriar Bridge and central to many things we wanted to do while there.

We were in London for three full days, plus a half day on the day we arrived. Although we did do a few things all around London, we spent a good bit of our long weekend exploring the Southbank.

fishmongers at Borough Market

We discovered the fabulous Borough Market, where you can have a delicious boar sausage sandwich for breakfast (with HP sauce, naturally!), or just browse the dozens of vendors in this huge, open air market selling all types of produce, meats, fish, cheeses, flowers, and sweets. Also above Borough Market is Roast, a great place for a splurge lunch or dinner, which we’ve written about in this post.

A great museum to visit on the Southbank is the Tate Modern. As with many of London’s museums, entrance is free, and with art ranging from modern to contemporary, there’s something for everyone. Plus, with free admission you can pop in for a visit and stay as long as you like without feeling like you need to “get your money’s worth”.

The museum is right by the Millennium Bridge, a pedestrian walkway across the Thames which is a lovely walk on a nice day. As you cross the bridge, you’ll to see the dome of St. Paul’s directly in front of you. We decided to test our mettle and climb to the very top of the dome. If you do this, plan on wearing very comfortable shoes. But really, the view is worth it.

The Blackfriar

While we were on this side of the river, we took the opportunity to seek out the Jerusalem Tavern, one of the oldest pubs in London (occupying different locations since the 14th century, current location since 1720) and which serves St. Peter’s ales, which are hard to find here in the US. We’re very glad we found it because it’s a charming little pub, with nooks and crannies to sit in for a quiet pint.

For this quick weekend, we planned ahead and got tickets to a play at the Globe Theater, a reproduction of the theater from Shakespeare’s day, which stands on the Southbank just a few hundred feed from where the original stood in 1599. We went to a matinee production of Merchant of Venice, which was really fantastic.

And one of the best discoveries, right across Blackfriar Bridge from our hotel, was The Blackfriar. A really pretty little pub serving very good, very reasonably priced food (I can still remember the chicken and mushroom pie).

sushi conveyor at Yo! Sushi
sushi conveyor at Yo! Sushi

We also managed to fit in a ride on the London Eye (you have to do it once), a visit to the British Museum, and trying out the sushi conveyor belt at Yo! Sushi (as weird as it sounds, but fun).

Did we miss any of your London favorites on our quick weekend? Tell us about them in the comments.

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