I enjoy living near London. It’s always great to jump on a train for 25 minutes and be in our vibrant capital city. There is just so much to explore, and with constant new developments popping up, the decisions on what do are almost endless. One part of London that I haven’t explored in great detail until now is the London Bridge area. I’ve visited a few times, usually as a meet up point, a quick drink, or just to pass through. But, having recently been asked to explore the neighbourhood and discover some cool bars, restaurants and event spaces, I happily took up the challenge and jumped on the train.
My twenty-something niece has recently moved to the city, so it was a great excuse to catch up with her and take some tips on places to visit. Given the variety of places to discover in the area, rather than rushing away to catch a train home, it’s worth checking out some hotels in the London Bridge area to make a weekend of it. A vibrant neighbourhood on the south bank of the river Thames, London Bridge is packed full of markets, restaurants, bars and tourist attractions. With London Bridge Railway Station as the centre point of the area, this is the likely location to arrive to start the day.
Disclaimer: This post is a collaboration with Hotels.com. The spending money was gifted, but all views are my own.
We arrived in London mid morning on a busy Saturday and met up with my niece. Our first challenge was to find a decent coffee spot were we could make a plan for the day. We decided to head to one of the most thriving and bustling parts of the neighbourhood – Borough Market. Borough Market is one of London’s oldest markets selling a whole range of products from local and international producers. From fruit and vegetables, fish, meat, bakery and speciality foods it’s a kaleidoscope of colours, textures and aromas.
The market was crowded on a Saturday morning, and as we wandered through the maze of stalls and kiosks searching for our caffeine fix, we finally stumbled across a stall that ticked our boxes – Change Please.
Change Please is a project backed by The Big Issue, that has been set up to help homeless people by training them up to be baristas. This, in turn, provides them with the minimum London wage and helps them off the streets. With several coffee cart locations around London, the carts are also available to hire for events. I think we’ve all walked past a Big Issue vendor several times without buying a copy, but as a nation of ever growing coffee drinkers, we’re more likely to part with our cash and walk away with a decent quality coffee. It’s a great concept that works, and on top of that the coffee tastes great!
Coffee stop done, it was time for a spot of brunch. I’ll admit the real intention here was to have a late breakfast so this should have been our first stop of the day. The Breakfast Club on Southwark Street is step back to the 1980’s. A retro caf (not a café) serving awesome breakfasts, brunches and all day classics, it’s part of small chain of 11 restaurants that were formed in 2005. With kitsch decor including a bright pink ceiling, pineapple table lamps and shiny wood panelling, the vibe is cool, quirky and lots of fun.
Arriving at 11am, we were met with a queue outside and an hour wait for tables, hence the coffee stop. Thankfully, the hostess took our details and text me when our table was ready, which meant we were free to explore the area while we waited. Once inside and seated at one of the booths, we had to make the tough decisions of what to choose. Would it be pancakes, club breakfasts, benedicts or burgers? Myself and Amy opted for a pancake stack, while Pete went for one of his favourites – chicken and waffles. Service took a while, but as the place was pretty crowded, it wasn’t a problem. When the food arrived, it was definitely worth the wait. We all loved our meals and struggled to finish them.
I could tell you all about the company’s Dirty Little Secret bars – but guess what, I can’t. They are all a secret and it’s much more fun to do your research and seek them out. Actually, I might mention one of them later if you read on.
Our stomachs full of pancakes, chicken and waffles it was time to have a walk and burn off some of those calories. The London Bridge area is full of attractions that the tourists will flock to in their droves. We chose to look for one of the smaller attractions that wasn’t as prominent on the tourist map. We decided on The Golden Hinde, a full sized reconstruction of the 16th century ship in which Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the world between 1577-1580. The original warship rotted and was broken up and this replica was created.
Located in St. Mary Overie’s Dock near Southwark Cathedral, the admission cost of £5.00 per person grants access to explore the ship on a self guided tour. It was fascinating exploring the ship and imaging how the crew would have lived out at sea. The reconstructed galleon was built and launched in 1973 and sailed over 100,000 miles. We explored the deck areas, the very low headroom gun deck, the bow and stern of the ship with the armoury and great cabin. There were also ‘crew’ on hand and available for more in depth tours and information about the ship. It was a nice way to spend some time, and to get away from the market crowds.
By this point, it felt like we had earned a beer. You can barely walk ten metres around the London Bridge area without stumbling across a pub, but we were once again looking for something a little different. That something ended up being The Rake – a speciality beer bar on the outskirts of Borough Market. This fairly small bar has a variety of local and international beers with a wide range of American Craft Ales. The changing draught beer menu is displayed on a screen mounted on the fall wall of the bar. It reminded me of some of the more modern bars in Bruges – a city famed for it beers.
I opted for a local ale from the Siren Craft Brewery in Berkshire, which was great. There is a small courtyard area off to the side of the bar with plenty of seating. It’s something of a sun trap as we found out when we sat out there for a while. Beers were priced by the pint or 1/3 pint. It’s advisable to check the prices before making your decision, as some of the beers on tap were upward of £10 per pint.
If you are anywhere in the region of the South Bank in London, be sure head up to the river to take in the views. The London Bridge area has some fantastic river landmarks. We took a walk up to the Thames through the Hay’s Galleria, a shopping arcade with a beautiful vaulted ceiling structure made of steel and glass. The area, the Hay’s Wharf in the 1600’s, was redeveloped in the 1980’s and opened in 1987 as a new commercial centre. From Hay’s Galleria, steps lead up to the riverside with fantastic views across to London City including buildings such as 30 St. Mary’s Axe (The Gherkin) and 20 Fenchurch Street (The Walkie Talkie).
Look to your left and you’ll catch sight of St. Paul’s Cathedral and to the right, Tower Bridge and the HMS Belfast, another popular tourist attraction in the area. There are plenty of bars and restaurants along this stretch of the Thames if you want to spend some more time here.
Looking for a quirky outdoor space that combines street food, bars, flea markets and cool artwork? Well, Vinegar Yard is just the spot. A large derelict space in the centre of London Bridge, the area has been transformed into a vibrant open space that’s buzzing with atmosphere. From the outside it looks like a fairly temporary setup behind large yellow fencing panels. Head inside though and there is a lot going on. Saturdays and Sundays see Flea London, a popular flea market take up much of the space with stalls of vintage goods including clothing, antiques, jewellery and more. Running down the side of the space are shipping containers converted into pop-up retail spaces for small independent traders to sell their wares.
Street food traders are located around the space including Up in my Grill, Baba G’s and The Gentlemen Baristas. There’s a Prosecco Bar and another large outdoor bar area. There is also an indoor bar with an awesome art installation featuring Joe Rush‘s mechanical sculptures. Outside you’ll see a large train carriage and mutant ants designed in his unique style. If you are familiar with Arcadia at Glastonbury and some of the Mutoid Waste Company installations around the festival, this will all seem quite familiar.
Having spent an hour or two at Vinegar Yard it was time to check out some bars. Not pubs or chain bars, but secret bars! London is full of speakeasies and secret bars. Do your research and it’s awesome to try and find them. The London Bridge area has a handful of these secret bars to explore. If you remember earlier, The Breakfast Club group has several scattered around London. We chose to search out one of these – Call Me Mr. Lucky. Getting into Call Me Mr. Lucky is pretty easy, as long as you have the password. This password will grant you access via a stairway and through a working kitchen to a secret subterranean dive bar.
If you’re a fan of cocktails or tequila, in a super cool environment, then this the place for you. We arrived during happy hour where there were 2 4 1 offers for some of the cocktails. In general cocktail prices were around the £8 – £10 mark. The place gets busy, and gets rowdy. There’s a wheel of fortune set up behind the bar. Spin at your own risk. You might end up with free tequila shots for everyone or you might have to sing the theme tune to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. It’s all part of the fun!
For something a little more sophisticated, check out The Green Room. It is a plush cocktail bar hidden behind a curtain in a large restaurant. Large chandeliers and comfortable furnishings give this more of a classic living room feel from the 1940’s. Cocktails and beers are on offer as well as some food options. It was very cool.
There are many tourist attractions in the area, of varying sizes and popularity. The most iconic landmark building in the area is The Shard. At 1,016ft high, it is the tallest building in the UK. With London’s highest viewing platform, guests can visit the 68, 69 and 72nd floors for panoramic views of the city. Be sure to book ahead, as it gets really busy. The Shard is also home to the luxurious Shangri-La Hotel and a number of restaurants and bars. For a family friendly attraction, the London Bridge Experience & London Tombs is an interactive journey into the history of London, told by costumed actors with some frights along the way. Some lesser known attractions in London Bridge include The Old Operating Theatre Museum and The Clink Prison Museum. These provide an interesting look at the history of the area.
We had an awesome time exploring the London Bridge area. There is so much to do in this vibrant part of London. Always look past the obvious though. It’s so easy to step into the nearest pub, cafe or chain restaurant. Dig a little deeper and you will find some real treasures. We barely scratched the surface on our day out, which means we’ll need to go back and explore some more.
Have you visited London Bridge? What were your best finds, and do you have any tips?
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