The South Bank of the River Thames is abundant with cultural and artistic institutions, offering educational and inspirational experiences to visitors and locals of London. Constantly adapting to benefit the public, South Bank is located a stone’s throw across the river from the iconic Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s Cathedral. This bustling part of London is one of the city’s most prominent cultural hotspots.
The Old Vic is a site of extreme historical importance within British theatre and is currently under the artistic direction of Kevin Spacey. Synonymous with historical iconic names in acting such as Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins and Peter O’Toole, it is one of the oldest and most famous artistic institutions in the world. The year 2013 marks the 195th birthday of the theatre, and to commemorate this event organisers are holding a series of tours scattered throughout May to August, during which time the public can learn about the long history of this iconic building.
Initially planned to commemorate the dawning of a new millennium, the London Eye is a landmark on the banks of the Thames River standing at 135m tall, making it the tallest cantilevered observation wheel in the world. Built over seven years, the design of the structure resembles that of a bicycle wheel and can be seen for miles. The wheel is striking due to its simple aesthetic design and engineering. Once aboard the relatively young structure, passengers of the 32 large glass pods are comfortably and slowly lifted sky-high enabling them to cast their views over the city’s horizon.
This world-renowned centre for the arts was erected in 1951 to observe the Festival of Britain and is a top location for anything arts-related. The site is home to several important venues holding varying events such as comedy stand-ups, variety shows, musical performances, intellectual and educational programs, and festivals. In addition to managing the Arts Council Collection and helping to curate artistic touring exhibitions across the country, the centre is important as it allows young talents as well as established professionals to display their abilities to a diverse audience.
These gardens have seen several changes since their initial construction in 1951, when they held temporary structures to mark the Festival of Britain. Ashamedly, the park became a car park once these buildings were deconstructed, until 1977 when the lot was rejuvenated for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Designed by West 8, in recent years the park has seen some surface changes, as the area of Southbank has become increasingly popular. However its main function still lies at serving the needs of the public, by promoting sustainability and providing facilities and community participation schemes at the public’s benefit.
The BFI Southbank is run by the British Film Institute, a charity-run organisation which has been active since its origins in 1933. The charity is responsible for a number of other art and culture institutions across London, and hosts the London Film Festival in addition to the Future Film Festival, and London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. Neighbour to the London IMAX Cinema, the centre supports UK film and promotes young and emerging talent within the worldwide film industry by hosting a number of annual events including documentary features, film screenings, interviews and previews. Film fanatics will revel within the centre’s cinemas, gallery and film store.
The building which now houses the Tate Modern was once the Bankside Power Station, but has been home to the contemporary art gallery since its opening in 2000. Technically speaking Tate Modern exists on Bankside and not South Bank, but this comprehensive list would not be complete without it. The building is vast, and jaws are guaranteed to drop as visitors enter the expanse of the turbine hall. The Tate is predominantly a charity, and focuses on raising funds for various projects. Housing an impressive collection of modern art and regularly changing temporary exhibitions, the Tate Modern is Britain’s national gallery of international modern art.
The Royal National Theatre is one of the leading theatres in the United Kingdom and took residence within its current location in 1976-1977. In its youth, the company situated itself within the Old Vic, before being relocated. A publicly funded organisation, the large plot is home to three auditoriums which display a variety of different productions from contemporary to classic. In addition to this, the theatre boasts regular exhibitions and music events, as well as organising educational workshops for visitors.
The landmark building of Oxo Tower Wharf has had a rich history and varying functions since its initial construction in 1930. Today, it is home to retail outlets and eateries, as well as individual designer studios. Located in the three-storey warehouse is the Bargehouse, which displays the work of established artists and newcomers, with regular group shows. In addition, gallery@oxo focuses on the display of designers’ works, often curated by charity organisations.
The Founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale is a historical icon, earning her status during the Crimean War when she helped countless wounded soldiers, and also with her nursing school at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, where the museum is located. This museum outlines her many contributions to nursing, and enables further understanding of her life by giving details of her childhood and later travels. A self-funded organisation, the museum’s research into the history of nursing is extensive.
A hidden garden of Eden, the Bernie Spain Gardens are tucked away between Gabriel’s Wharf and Oxo Tower Wharf along the South Bank. Regularly hosting local festivals and events, the gardens are particularly notable in the Summer when they contain The Mayor’s Thames Festival and the Coin Street Festival; a one day event exhibiting performances in the visual and performing arts. These range from live music, dance and spoken word to local food and drink stalls.
For all information on visiting Southbank London, visit their website.