London’s Hidden Gems – Southwark

Most people are familiar with the ‘chocolate box’ images of London: Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, The London Eye. While all of these places should indeed be included on your ‘to see’ list, you will miss out on the heart and soul of the greatest city on earth if you just to stick having your picture taken in front of the ‘tourist icons’. The London’s Hidden Gems series is aimed at those of you who want to go a little deeper when visiting London. First stop: Southwark.

Southwark is (as the name indicates) the part of London on the Southern Bank of the River Thames. It was for a long time the only ‘official’ part of London proper that was situated on the South Bank. In olden days it was famous for its bear pits, tanneries and as the starting point for the pilgrimage to Canterbury (made famous in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales). It was also a ‘theatre district’ with the Bard himself being a regular sight on the streets of Southwark.

It is still possible to hear and see some echoes of Southwark’s colourful past. A few suggestions on how to spend a day there:

  • Walk across one of the most famous bridges of all times: London Bridge. The present bridge is relatively new (1971) as the previous one was sold to a Lake Havasu City in Arizona!
  • ‘Tread the boards’ by visiting a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe. Better still, if you visit in summer be sure to catch a performance of one of the Bard’s plays in the setting that it was written for.
  • Visit one of the most famous medieval prisons The Clink, and be very thankful that you can actually leave it when you want to…
  • Have a drink in The George next to the site of the ancient Tabard Inn. The Tabard Inn was famous as one of the traditional starting points for the pilgrimage to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Sir Thomas Beckett. Take a copy of the Canterbury Tales and see if you can identify some of the characters while ‘people watching’.
  • A weekend visit to Southwark will confirm that London’s reputation as a place where it is very difficult to eat well belongs firmly in the past. Borough Market is a shrine for foodies of all descriptions and a place where you can get the best ‘take away’ food in all of London. Take your meal and have a picnic in the garden of Southwark Cathedral.
  • Good food should always go with good wine. No fear! Southwark is also home to London’s ‘city of wine’ Vinopolis. Tour, taste and sing an ode to Bacchus!
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