Top 5 Things to Do in the Borough of Southwark in London

by Catherine Valentine

It is impossible to round up a top 5 list for the world city of London, England, being far too vast and offering too many experiences to speak about. However, highlighting just one borough of London will allow you can get a taste of all that London has to offer. The borough of Southwark on the South Bank is rich in history and well worth the time to explore. Here is a five of the best experiences in this fascinating borough of London.

Tie a ribbon at the Cross Bones Graveyard.
Tie a ribbon at the Cross Bones Graveyard. Photo by Catherine Valentine

1) Dine on Proper Fish and Chips

When you spend any time in the city of London, England, you soon learn that fish and chips are a staple in the local diet. Making your way through the unplanned streets of London, you will come across many signs on the windows and doors of little hole-in-the-wall diners and pubs proclaiming fish and chips ready to “take away.” However, not all fish and chips are alike and you might come across some that do no appeal to your palate. Even following the advice of your guide is no guarantee of a good meal. 

The Borough Market of Southwark is full of food of every kind with winding alleys crammed with people buying their lunch in the open air. It is here you will find “Proper Fish and Chips.” Fish and chips are offered just a stone’s throw away, but none compare to those of the Borough Market. As every traveler knows, to fully experience a new place is the try the local cuisine. Look for a large sign stating “Proper Fish and Chips” and you will find a delightfully tasty lunch. Be sure to bring an umbrella—this is an open air market. 

2) Pay Your Respects at the Cross Bones Graveyard

While in Southwark it is well worth your time to pay your respects at the Cross Bones Graveyard. It is here that the “Winchester Geese” were buried—the prostitutes operating on the South Bank, falling under the rule of the Bishop of Winchester in Medieval times. Witches and other outcast dead were also buried here and it became a pauper’s graveyard. This was unconsecrated ground and today there is a battle to preserve the graveyard and to erect a Garden of Remembrance for all the outcast dead. 

Perhaps in your family tree there are one or two individuals with a colorful history. It is here at the Cross Bones Graveyard where you can pay your respects to the “black sheep” of the family. Remember them and other outcast dead. Hang a ribbon or leave a memento at the gates where many others have done the same.

3) Visit the Clink Prison Museum

The South Bank was considered the seedier part of London during the medieval era. Brothels and theatres were located here, as well as a notorious jail—the Clink Prison. This is known to be the prison that gave its name to all others. Take the steps down through this museum and you are transported to a time where prisoners tethered to a ball and chain were considered the lucky ones. On every side you hear voices of people in stocks and chains—bringing to life the dark days long gone. The museum will bring to mind the haunted houses of the Halloween season, but this place rings of true history. 

Clink Prison is dark and eerie, but also has a wealth of information. Bishops, fiddlers, madams, actors, thieves, and debtors were all held at the prison and their stories can be gleaned from the plaques on the walls. This museum commemorates a very dark period in history where prisoners were condemned to horrific conditions for the most minor of crimes. The Clink Prison Museum does an excellent job in preserving the less than savory, but important, part of medieval history

4) Attend a Shakespearean Play at the Globe Theatre 

The world famous Globe Theatre is located in Southwark on the banks of the Thames and it promises an authentic Shakespearean experience. The Globe theatre stands several yards from the original location and the modern day Globe was built to accurately depict—to the best of the builder’s knowledge—the 1599 Globe Theatre. This reconstruction includes a thatched roof and white lime washed walls. It stands in stark contrast to the modern glassed enclosed buildings along the river side. 

To be a groundling—or stand in the courtyard of the theatre—will cost £5 and if seats are desired, the cost will be higher. For the shorter plays, such as All’s Well That Ends Well, being a groundling is well worth it—though comfortable shoes are recommended. The Globe theatre is part of the character of the South Bank and Southwark in particular. To understand the history of the South Bank a visit to the Globe theatre is a must. 

5) Shop at Hay’s Galleria

One last stop in Southwark would be to visit the Hay’s Galleria right on the banks of the Thames. The Hay’s Galleria was constructed on the same location as the Hay’s Wharf which welcomed ships from India and China 150 years ago. It is easy to imagine tall beautiful ships edging their way along where now stands a courtyard with a vaulted glass ceiling. On either side of the courtyard shops and cafes offer a relaxed and fun atmosphere. A 60-foot bronze sculpture of a ship called The Navigators occupies the center, and pays homage to the area’s shipping history. 

One side of the galleria offers a wide view of the Thames and is a relaxing place to enjoy a cup of coffee. The other side faces a narrow street where there is a quaint little Christmas shop that should not be missed. Inside the galleria you can buy works by Britain’s greatest writers at the Riverside Bookshop and chic clothing at the Next store. The Hay’s Galleria is the place to visit before leaving Southwark. 

London offers famous landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, and Big Ben. However, each borough of London has something new and different to offer that is often not found on the tourist map. As you explore the richness of Southwark, remember that this is only a taste of what London has to offer and each borough is unique with its own character.  Get off the beaten path and explore.