80 Minutes In
80 minutes in Southbank
By Sam Rogg
Stretching 5km along the River Thames, London’s South Bank has it all for an 80-minute self-guided tour. Begin at Westminster Bridge (painted green to match the benches inside the House of Commons) and make your way east, past the SEA LIFE London Aquarium and London Dungeon.
Stop to marvel at the Coca-Cola London Eye – which rises 135m into the sky and has 32 capsules to represent the number of boroughs in the city. Supermodel Kate Moss likes it so much she’s been on it 25 times! Continue onto the largest single-run arts centre in the world, the Southbank Centre, a complex of venues created in 1951 for the Festival of Britain. Pass through the Grade I-listed Royal Festival Hall, where you can often find temporary exhibitions, plus world-class performances. Take a moment to ponder the graffiti-clad Undercroft beneath the centre, where crowds gather daily to watch London’s finest skateboarders practice. Carry on towards the National Theatre, which actually houses three performances spaces, and head up to the free Sherling High-Level Walkway for fantastic views into the workshops – you can see productions being created before they reach the stage. Further along the river, you’ll come to the OXO Tower, home to designer boutiques and the OXO Restaurant & Bar with its glorious garden terrace and panoramic views of London’s skyline – perfect for a bit of retail therapy and cocktail pit-stop . Pass under Blackfriars Bridge – the world’s largest solar-powered bridge (it fulfils up to 50 per cent of Blackfriars Station’s energy needs) – and you’ll soon be greeted by the newly expanded Tate Modern gallery on your right. Save time by joining a free guided tour of the permanent collection highlights (various times, daily). Carry on along the Thames, past Shakespeare’s Globe, and you’ll eventually begin to veer right, away from the river. Follow Bankside until it becomes Park St and this will lead you all the way into Borough Market where you can revive with some gourmet street food – we recommend La Tua Pasta and the queue-worthy chorizo buns from Brindisa. By now, you’ll be ready to put your feet up – head back towards Bankside Pier where you can hop on a river bus or sightseeing cruise.
80 minutes in Covent Garden
By Sarah Riches
Begin your tour by browsing Covent Garden Market, which dates back to 1654. Originally a fruit and vegetable market, the covered arcade is now lined with stalls selling hand-crafted souvenirs such as jewellery made from old cutlery and framed watercolours of London. The Jubilee Market sells antiques on Mondays; clothes, food and presents Tuesday to Friday and crafts at the weekend, while in the courtyard of the market’s lower ground floor you can watch live performances of classical music and opera year-round.
Stroll into the cobbled square outside the market and no doubt you’ll see jugglers, hula hoopers, escapologists and other street entertainers, while on nearby James Street by the tube there are living statues, mime artists and classical musicians.
The rather grand Royal Opera House is just around the corner putting on concerts and ballet shows. Enzo Plazzotta’s statue of a stretching ballerina is across the road.
Film fans will want to visit the London Film Museum, next to the Royal Opera House. It takes about an hour to browse Bond in Motion, the largest official collection of James Bond vehicles. As well as original sketches, the exhibition displays Rolls-Royces, Aston Martins, motorbikes and submarines as well as video clips showing the scenes in which they featured.
Meanwhile, near the English National Opera you’ll find The Salisbury, a pub with etched glass mirrors, framed pictures and a mahogany-panelled bar. Back when homosexuality was illegal, the pub was a haven for the theatrical gay community, while in the 1960s it became known as ‘the actors’ pub.’ Recognise it? That’s because it’s featured in the 1961 crime drama Victim, the 1972 comedy Travels With My Aunt starring Maggie Smith and the 2009 comedy, The Boat That Rocked, starring Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans and Kenneth Branagh.
80 minutes in Carnaby Street
By Kohinoor Sahota
Walk south of Oxford Circus, and you’ll stand at the epicentre of the Swinging Sixties. Carnaby Street is still loved for it: film spy Austin Powers had his ‘pad’ here, and when the Simpsons visited London, Bart and Lisa came here to buy mod gear. Only a few centuries ago, Soho was still open fields. In fact ‘Soho’ was the name of an old hunting cry. In the 17th century the area housed a ‘pestilence house’ and plague put to bury victims. By the 1950s it was home to bohemians and prostitutes, but by the 1960s this changed. Begin your visitor at 1 Carnaby Street - here you will find a plaque to John Stephen, the man who was dubbed the ‘King of Carnaby Street’, as he was a fashion entrepreneur who turned the area into the shopping destination that it is today. Suddenly famous faces, such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, could be spotted shopping on Carnaby Street.
The connection to music is still apparent today. Each July there is Carnaby Sound, a free music festival. While you are there, pop into Pharrell Williams’ Billionaire Boy Club to Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher’s Pretty Green.
When you set foot in the department store Liberty, it is like entering another era, thanks to its mock-tudor style building. You’ll find high-end brands alongside the traditional haberdashery department. The stationary and scarves are iconic for their prints.
We Built this City is perhaps London’s quirkiest souvenir shop with items ranging from stuffed pigeons and bottled London rain.
Kingly Court, a three-storey collection of boutique shops, restaurants and bars buzzes in the evening. Visit Cahoots – that’s if you can find it – this hidden bar, which only has the size ‘To Trains’ outside the door pays homage to the world’s oldest underground train serve: the Tube. Make a toast to your trip while you sit in old tube carriages, drink cocktails and listen to some cabaret. This is one place that’s definitely still swinging.