Free Views on Southbank
Updated: Oct 6, 2018
Modern art is a thing that I do not enjoy. Growing up, I was dragged to many museums devoted to this particular medium by my father, who recently told me that he did this not so much because he enjoys modern art but because he enjoys my snarky commentary in said museums.
Look at that picture, what a monster.
Anyways, one of the world's most famous modern art museums is the Tate Modern, on the south bank of the River Thames. Housed in a Victorian-era building, it's one giant warehouse of all things modern art. If that's your jam, definitely stop in. If it's not your jam, stop in anyways.
While I struggle to appreciate the contents of the museum itself, what I can appreciate is what this building offers. First of all, the building itself is such an incredible connection to the Industrial Revolution (shout out to my fellow traveler, Alyssa, for this fabulous picture of the Tate Modern taken from St. Paul's cathedral). While the building was not a factory (it was a power station, built in 1891 to supply electricity to the City and parts of Southwark), it strongly echoes the vibe of its textile-creating cousins. It's one thing to sit in class and hear about these buildings that littered the English landscape in the 19th century, it's entirely another to walk into one. You step through the doors and are immediately struck with just how large this complex is and how large the other complexes must have been, all with the immense smokestack really making the point hit home.
Secondly, it has an observation platform that offers great views of the area. And best of all, because the Tate Modern itself is free, so is the platform! Towards the back of the museum you will find an elevator that will take you up to the 10th floor (you might need to ask where this elevator is, it's a bit hidden).
Once up there, there is a 360º view of the surrounding area. Directly in front is St. Paul's, though you'll need to peer around that infamous smokestack in order to see it. Continuing clockwise, the unique skyscrapers of the City give way to the River Thames and the Southwark neighborhood. As you continue, Western Europe's tallest building, the Shard, juts into the sky. The tall building next to it in this picture is part of Guy's Hospital, right next door to the Shard. I lived in that little corner, next to both buildings, for one incredible year.
Continuing clockwise, the surroundings turn rather residential. This is a bit contentious, actually. There are luxury apartments next to the museum that have brought a lawsuit against the museum for allowing a viewing platform right next to their £1,000,000+ apartments. To be fair to the museum, the apartment complex's construction began the same year that the platform was announced, so it's not as though these home owners have known a more private life in these apartments. To be fair to the home owners, that would indeed be real annoying.
If you crane your neck around these apartments, you will see parts of Parliament and the London Eye. However, the views on this side (the west side) of the museum are not as good as the other side because there are simply too many tall buildings in between you and what you're trying to see. It's nice to be on this side of the platform because it's not nearly as crowded but there is a reason for the lack of people in your way - nothing to observe!
As the observation platform is a part of the museum, it adheres to museum hours and closes at 5:30. However, because London is so far north, wintertime means a very early sunset and therefore it is very easy to ascend to the 10th floor and see the City, the Shard, Canary Wharf in the distance, and everything in between in all of their lit-up glory.