A Guide to South Bank, London

This space by the Royal National Theatre is a good place to hang out in summer
This space by the Royal National Theatre is a good place to hang out in summer | © Gregory Wrona / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Cajsa Carlson
Architecture & Design Editor22 July 2019

London’s historical entertainment district attracts people from all over the city (and the world) with its theatres, art galleries, restaurants and glorious view over the Thames.

South Bank is one of the few London areas where the city actually looks like it does in the movies, with its picturesque, vibrant mix of historical and modern buildings and its proximity to the river. The neighbourhood, which also has a lot of eye-catching Brutalist architecture, is located on the south side of the Thames (hence the name) and covers the area between Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge.

There is a second-hand books market by the river | © nebluelight.com / Alamy Stock Photo

One of South Bank’s biggest attractions is the river itself – the riverside walkway is enjoyed by everyone, from early morning joggers to tourists out for an afternoon stroll and late-night theatre visitors. It also hosts popular markets for food and second-hand books, as well as the atmospheric annual Winter Market, when traders in wooden huts covered in sparkling fairy lights sell mulled wine and Christmas gifts.

Jeppe Hein reinvented the park bench in this South Bank series of benches | © Nick Moore / Alamy Stock Photo
It’s a great place for a jog | © Nick Moore / Alamy Stock Photo

South Bank has a lot more to offer than just scenic surroundings, though – the neighbourhood has been a go-to place for entertainment in London for centuries and was the site of the Festival of Britain in 1951. The Old Vic, perhaps London’s most well-known theatre, has been in the area since 1818 and today this is also where you’ll find the BFI, the Young Vic and the National Theatre.

The National Theatre is on London’s South Bank | © Sam Barnes / Alamy Stock Photo

It’s also one of the city’s top destinations for art, both fine art and street art. The newly renovated Hayward Gallery has been brought back to its former glory and has a great exhibition programme, while the Leake Street Tunnel under Waterloo Station is an ever-changing graffiti showcase. Don’t miss the Southbank Centre, where you can experience everything from classical music to the spoken word, and make sure to check out the street art and skaters who glide and jump through the Undercroft Skate Space.

The Undercroft Skate Space is accessible 24 hours a day | © Clem Onojeghuo / Unsplash
Leake Street Tunnel is a graffiti hotspot | © Rachel Megawhat / Alamy Stock Photo

After a few hours of wandering around the area, you’ll be ready to stop for a drink or meal at one of its many good bars and restaurants. While there are plenty of tourist-friendly options, South Bank also has a host of more authentic eateries and some good upmarket options. For the ultimate London experience, choose a restaurant or bar where you can sip on a cocktail while taking in the view of the river.

South Bank has a host of authentic eateries | © Peter Moulton / Alamy Stock Photo

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