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London's South Bank -- once a center for heavy industry and the inspiration for William Blake's "dark, satanic mills" -- is being transformed into a vibrant cluster of arts attractions. You also get some of the best views of the attractions of the North side of the river from here -- particularly the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London.
The best way to explore the area is by foot; there's a walkway all the way from Westminster to Tower Bridge and beyond. Starting from Parliament Square, cross Westminster Bridge to County Hall (Riverside Building, Westminster Bridge Road) -- once the home of London government, famously abolished amid a welter of homophobic media scare stories, and now housing apartments, restaurants and the London Aquarium (+44-20-7967-8000). Close by, you will see Jubilee Gardens and the site of the British Airways London Eye Ferris Wheel (book in advance online at www.londoneye.com) -- now one of London's top visitor attractions and a great way to look out over the city. The "flights" take half an hour. Tickets from County Hall next door.
From here, you can walk to the Royal Festival Hall (Belvedere Rd.; +44-2-871-663-2501), built to celebrate the Festival of Britain in 1951. Here you can enjoy free lunchtime and Friday-evening "Commuter Jazz" concerts, T-dances and foyer exhibitions, as well as three concert halls offering up top London and international orchestras. Next door, the Hayward Gallery (Belvedere Rd.; +44--871-663-2501) is one of London's leading centers for modern art. Brave the famously bleak modernist architecture leading you under Waterloo Bridge, and discover the BFI Southbank (box office: +44-20-7928-3232) which hosts over 2,000 screening events each year, many with gay themes.
Nearby, the National Theatre (box office: +44-20-7452-3000, info: +44-20-7452-3400) is one of the world's largest and most advanced theater complexes. Open 10 a.m.-11 p.m., it also provides a bookshop, restaurant, caf?s, live foyer music and free exhibitions. The latest addition to the South Bank's movie credentials is the BFI IMAX Cinema (Southern Approach, SE1; +44-87-0787-2525), a striking building with a giant Howard Hodgkin mural running around it. Keep walking to Gabriel's Wharf and Bernie Spain Gardens, one of the riverside's finest open spaces, and then visit Oxo Tower Wharf (Bargehouse St, SE1). This beloved landmark houses bars, restaurants, shops, retail design studios and a public viewing gallery, from which there are spectacular views of the river and St. Paul's Cathedral.
From here, it's just a short walk to two great theaters: the Old Vic (The Cut, SE1; box office: +44-870-060-6628) and the Young Vic (The Cut; +44-20-7922-2922). Continue along the river until you come to the giant new Tate Modern (Bankside, SE1; +44-20-7887-8008) -- a converted power plant now housing one of Europe's largest modern art museums. Even if you don't like the art, the building is superb and worth a visit. Almost next door is the reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe (New Globe Walk, SE1; +44-20-7902-1400), an open-air recreation of the original, hosting Shakespeare productions in summer. You can continue along the South Bank Walk past Tower Bridge as far as Butler's Wharf, where the elegant restaurants, wonderfully refurbished old warehouses and superb modern Design Museum (28 Shad Thames, SE1; +44-20-7940-6933) bring the walk to a stylish end.
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