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Secret City: Southeast London

Grand Square outside the Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich

The UK is known for its history, industrial links, cultural diversity and incredible opportunities – and London is at the heart of it all. London is a city that embraces people from all over the world, and you can see this in the variety of music, food, events, fashion and vibrant student life – all day and all night!

Southeast London is a great place to start. The area is made up of the boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark, and it’s where you'll find some of London's best museums, parks, heritage sites and days out. Here, Joanna Dyal from the University of Greenwich gives us a tour…

Greenwich – the Royal Borough

One of the most famous things about London is the Greenwich Meridian (the line of 0° longitude, marking the middle of a world map) and Greenwich Mean Time – this is the place where time begins!  Greenwich is also one of the newest ‘Royal Boroughs’ and there’s a lot to see and do, but these are some of my favourites.


View from the sky: Greenwich, the Isle of Dogs, and the O2 arena at the far right (Photo ©Folio Photography)

1. See one of the best views of London from the top of the hill in Royal Greenwich Park – a pretty and hugely popular park, which hosted the equestrian events and modern pentathlon in the London 2012 Olympics.

Even better, there are spectacular views of the UNESCO World Heritage Site centred on world-famous architect Sir Christopher Wren's Royal Naval College, where one of the university's campuses is located.

2. Visit the Old Royal Observatory. This observatory has played a major role in the history of astronomy and navigation, but it’s probably best known as the location of the prime meridian – which separates east from west (imagine standing with one foot in each hemisphere!), and sits at the centre of the world’s time zones.


Where time begins: Standing on the prime meridian (Photo ©VisitBritain/Britain on View)

3. Stroll around Greenwich Market, with its classy mix of bohemian arts and crafts. Come here for handmade gifts, vintage accessories, art for your student room and delicious street food from around the world. You’ll also find an array of restaurants, bars and cafés nearby.

4. Be entertained at the O2, and the iconic silhouette of the former Millennium Dome. The O2 is a venue for all kinds of entertainment, from live sport events to world-class concerts and exhibitions. You can even trek across the roof for a panoramic view of London from the unique viewing platform!


Do you dare walk on the roof of the O2 arena? (Photo ©VisitEngland)

5. The Old Royal Naval College has been a landmark of the Greenwich riverfront since the early 18th century. While most of the buildings are now part of the University of Greenwich, two blocks are open to the public: the beautiful Painted Hall and the nearby Chapel. Many major films have been shot here, including Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The Golden Compass, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The King’s Speech, Thor: The Dark World, Les Misérables and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows!

6. Other cultural attractions include the National Maritime Museum, the Fan Museum, the Queen's House gallery and the restored Cutty Sark – all are worth a visit.

Southwark – a hub of London landmarks

The London Borough of Southwark is directly south of the River Thames and the City of London (London’s financial district), and forms part of Inner London.  There are a lot of world-famous landmarks to tick off your must-see list here…

1. Iconic bridges such as Tower Bridge, the Millennium Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge, Southwark Bridge and London Bridge all connect Southwark to the City of London.


Basking in the sunshine, with a view of London's famous Tower Bridge (Photo ©VisitBritain/Jasmine Teer)

2. Currently the tallest building in western Europe, the Shard is an unmissable skyscraper in southeast London – although you’ll probably see it long before you’re nearby! The viewing gallery has floor-to-ceiling windows that give you an amazing view of London from 244 metres above ground level.

3. Ponder over Picassos at the Tate Modern and Constables at the Tate Britain by visiting both Tate galleries in a day!  Ride the Tate Boat, which runs along the Thames between the Tate Britain by Vauxhall Bridge and the Tate Modern on Bankside every 40 minutes during gallery opening hours.


Art can make you feel small sometimes: An exhibition at the Tate Modern (Photo ©VisitBritain)

4. The original Globe Theatre was built in 1599 by the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the theatre company which Shakespeare belonged to, and was destroyed in a fire on 29 June 1613. Shakespeare's Globe is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, and welcomes thousands of visitors to see world-renowned productions of Shakespeare plays every day.

5. Museums in this area include the Imperial War Museum (a national museum which has three branches in London and five across England), the Clink Prison Museum and the Design Museum.

Explore Southwark as if you're really there (almost!) in this short film:

Bexley – bordering Essex and Kent

Bexley is an Outer London borough, meaning it has large areas of open space, clusters of early villages and suburban residential areas.

The largest of the open spaces are Lesnes Abbey Woods, Danson Park and Hall Place & Gardens. There are also many golf courses and sports fields. Hall Place is a former stately home, which now has a museum of local artefacts. In the gardens there is a topiary lawn, herb garden and tropical gardens to explore. There are also long-distance footpaths for lazy summer walks, running or cycling.

The Thames Path passes through here – this is a National Trail which opened in 1996 and follows the length of the River Thames. If you have a bike (or why not rent one?), the Thames Path cycle route is a mapped route that follows the river between Putney Bridge and Greenwich.


Part of the Thames Path in west London (Photo ©VisitBritain/Joanna Henderson)

Bromley – one of London’s largest boroughs

The London Borough of Bromley is perhaps the most rural of London boroughs. It is known for being the home of Charles Darwin, the English naturalist and geologist best known for his contributions to evolutionary theory. 

Learn more about Darwin at Down House, his former home – the house, garden and grounds have been restored and are open to the public. Then visit Crystal Palace Park, see the nearby lake (noted for its population of sculptures depicting dinosaurs and extinct mammals), and enjoy the mix of open space, athletics facilities and woodland.


The formal Victorian gardens in front of Charles Darwin's home, Down House (Photo ©VisitBritain/Ian Shaw)

Next, walk the ‘caves’ of Chislehurst! Chislehurst Caves is a 35km-long series of tunnels, a local tourist attraction – though while they are called caves, they are entirely man-made. They have been used as music venues and appeared in several TV programmes, including Dr Who and Merlin.

Last but not least

The London Borough of Lewisham nestles between three of the other boroughs, but has its share of sights. In Blackheath, the pretty All Saints Church is a prize sight after you’ve taken the long walk up through Greenwich Park and across the heath – a popular area, where you’ll also find many quaint restaurants, bars and pubs. 


Walking across Blackheath toward the All Saints parish church (Photo ©VisitBritain/Simon Kreitem)

The heath is well-known as the starting point of the London Marathon, and as the site of spectacular fireworks displays on Bonfire Night (November the 5th). There is also a long history of kite flying on the heath, and more recently kitebuggying – it’s fun to see these kite-powered buggies among all the joggers, cyclists and dog-walkers!

The Horniman Museum in Forest Hill has a bit of everything, including a natural history collection, a small aquarium and a display of anthropology. Outside, marvel at the unusual architecture, 16 acres of gardens and views towards central London.

On a final note...

Meeting new friends and enjoying a social life is part of what student life is all about. Of course you’ll have world-class libraries, museums and galleries in London – but you’ll also meet people from far and wide who will really make the experience memorable!
 

Read more:

   •  12 things you need to know about London
   •  Budgeting: Our top money-saving tips
   •  Explore North London

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