There are few places on Earth where a short walk takes you from the one-time theatrical home of the greatest playwright in history to one of the world’s premiere museums of modern art.
On a recent trip to London, I took time to walk through London’s South Bank district along the mighty River Thames. Home to a recent wave of renovation and development, the South Bank is one of Central London’s hottest neighborhoods for young locals, tourists and business developers.
Famous landmarks old and new dot the South Bank skyline. St. Paul’s Cathedral dominates in the distance while The Shard overlooks the action nearby.
The Shard is the tallest building in Europe. The 95-story office and commercial glass tower wrapped up its construction in April of this year and opened for the public three weeks before the 2012 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremonies.
So, as multitudes began piling into London to prepare for the Games, it dominated the cityscape. The Shard packs 72 floors with an enclosed viewing gallery and and an open air observation deck offering a view of London for 40 miles in every direction. An elevator brings visitors 800 ft. up the structure in 30 seconds. The rest of the 1,016 ft. is spire.
Meandering through South Bank’s bricked courtyards and back alleys full of pubs and outdoor markets brought me to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre – London’s headquarters for everything Bard. While the Globe was the premiere spot for many of William Shakespeare’s plays during the reign of Elizabeth I, this current replica stands a short distance away from the theater’s original location. Fire took care of The Globe classic, and this replica was built on the Thames in 1997.
During my visit, “Taming of the Shrew” and “Richard III” were on the menu every evening. During the day, The Globe is home to a theater museum, training school and multiple Shakespeare-themed art and costume exhibits.
A bit more footwork brought me to the Tate Modern, London’s museum of contemporary art and the cultural center of South Bank Life. A massive, multi-level concrete complex, The Tate was hosting an impressive double dip of special exhibits. There was the comprehensive look at the works of David Hirsch, perhaps most famous for his display of a full size Tiger Shark suspended in a tank (“The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”).
A short escalator ride up brought me into the world of Edvard Munch. While most famous for his four versions of “The Scream,” Munch also produced countless other moody paintings and disturbing sketches. While “The Scream” was not on primary display (probably because it’s the single most stolen painting in history with three successful attempts mounted to prance off with versions of Munch’s work), the rest of his unique works drew in visitors by the drove.
Currently, Tate Modern is hosting an overview of the Pre-Raphaelite movement – identifying it as the Victorian idea of “modern art."
My day along the South Bank only scratched the surface of the attractions there, and London can be sure I’ll be back before too long.