Unrivaled views of the Thames, imposing brutalist architecture, and an immersive concentration of creativity, design, and entertainment – London’s South Bank offers what few other cities in the world are able to match in terms of cultural and artistic innovation.
National institutions sit alongside mouth-watering food stalls, skateboarders, and the very best of the contemporary arts; all year round it’s an area buzzing with activity. Here are 10 things to do on the South Bank…
British Film Institute, Southbank | Belvedere Road, SE1 8XT
The BFI raises the flag for the appreciation of all things film. The venue boasts four cinemas which show over 2,000 classic and contemporary films a year with film seasons, director and actor retrospectives, and extended re-runs of classics. The ‘BFI Mediatheque’ allows visitors to access over 1000 hours of free film and TV. It’s also home to an IMAX screen, and if you’ve never had the IMAX movie experience, you’ve got to give it a go. it’s the biggest cinema screen in Britain, where film screenings become a completely immersive experience.
Shakespeare’s Globe | 21 New Globe Walk, SE1 9DT
A like-for-like reconstruction of the Elizabethan Globe Theatre showing Shakespeare’s plays in the open air with a seating capacity of 857 and 700 standing. Tours are available all year round with some productions filmed for DVD release. It contains a modern lobby, restaurant, gift shop and visitor centre. In 2014, the venue launched the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – their indoor candlelit space, used for winter productions.
Tate Modern | Bankside, SE1 9TG
The Tate Modern showcases the UK’s collection of modern and contemporary art from 1900 to the present day. If you step into the museum’s grand Turbine Hall, you can see phenomenal work from artists such as Warhol, Picasso, Bourgeois, Cézanne, Bonnard, Matisse, Rothko, Dalí, Pollock and more – at no cost. The Tate Modern currently has 7 floors, so you can make a day of it and there is certainly something for every art lover or newbie. Watch out for the Tate Modern’s new space, opening in 2016.
National Theatre | Upper Ground, SE1 9PX
Britain’s publicly funded national theatre and home to some of the best productions London has to offer. From Shakespeare, to international classics, musicals, comedies to new plays by contemporary playwrights – every taste is catered for. There are three theatres in total, with each being able to play up to three shows at any given time – guaranteeing a wide and varied programme. Recent successes that have played to audiences far beyond the South Bank include War Horse, One Man, Two Guvnors, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Wonderground London | Belvedere Road Coach Park, SE1 8XX
Within the Southbank Centre, this jaw-dropping extravaganza includes a regular programme of circus, cabaret, comedy, magic, live acts, entertainment for the whole family and much more – all taking place in a beautiful 1920s Paradiso Spiegeltent. Every show is different consisting of one off or recurring acts. Expect oddities, curiosities and eccentricities like the 60-metre high Star Flyer which really must be seen to be believed. Wonderground is owned by Underbelly Ltd which also runs Udderbelly – extremely similar to and pretty much in the same branch as London Wonderground.
Royal Festival Hall | Belvedere Road, E1 8XX
Another British treasure, this Grade 1 listed, 2,500 capacity venue is a world leading performance venue featuring concerts, dance and talks, with over a million visitors each year. This grand building houses the auditorium, The Clore Ballroom, The Poetry Library, Spirit Level, (including Blue, White and Yellow Rooms) Southbank Centre Shop, Riverside Terrace Cafe, Central Bar and Skylon restaurant.
The Classic Car Boot Sale | Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX
Every year, London’s Southbank Centre welcomes over 100 vintage vehicles and shoppers to the banks of the river Thames for the Classic Car Boot Sale, from the Vintage Festival team. With over 8000 visitors, traders assemble the finest vintage fashion, homewares and pop culture memorabilia, operating from the boot of their beautiful vintage vehicles. Showstopping car displays include vehicles of all shapes and sizes; from classic cars to VW campervans and vintage bicycles. Vintage style spotters roam for style-savvy car booters, with Best In Show judges awarding prizes for the Best Dressed, Best Car and Best Vintage Trader. The event also boasts some of the finest food traders, serving premium street food from converted vans and campers.
The Vaults | Leake Street, SE1 7NN
An underground (literally) multi-disciplinary arts platform for those who like to think outside the box. What you get here is a revolutionary programme of international artists, stare-worthy art exhibitions and immersive performances spread across 30,000 sqft of original Victorian vault space and brickwork across eight arches with a total capacity of 1000. The Vaults also features a theatre which seats 176. It’s a feast for the eyes and mind.
Real Food Market | Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX
It pretty much does what it says on the tin, this renowned artisanal market showcases the finest seasonal produce and street foods from over 40 stalls. You can expect to find cuisine from independent traders and small producers with the main focus being sustainably and ethically produced food. Churros, tapas, African stews, chocolates, Middle Eastern treats, South Asian delights, sushi, burgers, meats and cheeses – it’s every gourmands dream (vegans are well catered for too).
Somerset House | Strand, WC2R 1LA
Overlooking the River Thames, this Neoclassical building is home to exceptionally large scale exhibitions and events including London Fashion Week, the London Design Festival and the Skate Somerset ice skating rink. You can pop in any time of the year for the best in art, culture and creative exchange.
And don’t forget to check out the Theatres Online website for all the latest shows across London.
CITY ACADEMY VENUES IN THIS AREA…
St John’s, Waterloo – for Singing Lessons.
Soho Gyms, Waterloo – for Absolute Beginners Dance.
Colombo Center – for Street Dance, and Burlesque Classes.