More Shark Guides
South Bank is a vibrant neighborhood that developed a bit differently than the rest of London north of the River Thames. From a seedy entertainment district, to an important area of industry, to today's mix of offbeat shops, galleries, and cultural landmarks, South Bank has a little bit of everything and a great year-round calendar of events and activities.
Location and Getting There
South Bank is about two square miles on the southern side of the River Thames, in the boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark. Just across the river, connected by Westminster Bridge and Waterloo Bridge at the west end and London Bridge just past the eastern boundary, are bustling downtown London and such landmarks as Big Ben, Parliament, Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square.
Besides walking, visitors to South Bank can also easily take the tube. Waterloo Station is the most centrally located stop, but other nearby stations include Southwark to the east, and the Embankment and Westminster stops just across the river to the west.
Visitors can also use ferry services on the River Thames itself, and a number of bus and train options at the Waterloo Station transportation hub.
Prominent among the South Bank attractions is the world-famous London Eye. The London Eye is the tallest ferris wheel in the Western hemisphere - the Singapore Flyer holds the title for tallest in the world. This iconic observation wheel, which can hold 800 passengers at a time and reaches 135 metres at the top, is located right on the River Thames next to the Jubilee Gardens, a short walk away from Waterloo Station. Beautifully at night, the London Eye also features attractions such as the 4D Experience, a river cruise, and wine tastings.
Next to the London Eye is the family-favorite Sea Life London Aquarium, featuring the new Shark Reef section. Visitors can also enjoy the outdoors at beautiful outdoor spaces such as the Riverside Walkway and the Bernie Spain Gardens. Next to the Gardens is Gabriel's Wharf, a trendy riverside wharf filled with art galleries, bohemian shops, and plenty of fun bars and restaurants.
History buffs will also enjoy the Imperial War Museum on Lambeth Road. The museum has exhibits covering wars from World War I to the present day, with a special emphasis on British involvement and experiences.
Arts and Entertainment
Arts in South Bank revolve around the Southbank Centre - one of the largest arts centres in the world with 21 acres of space and five venues. Built in 1951 for the post-war Festival of Britain, the centre has undergone several renovations and additions over the decades. The venues include Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room, Hayward Gallery, and the Saison Poetry Library. The centre hosts elite international programming in music (from rock, pop, and jazz to classical and opera), dance, literature, and the visual arts.
Special festivals at the Southbank Centre include the London Wonderground, a circus-style amusement park featuring cutting-edge cabaret, acrobatic acts, and more from around the world, and the Udderbelly festival, a springtime event featuring a quirky lineup of musical guests.
The centre also hosts a Winter Festival and a Chocolate Festival around Easter, plus several events that are part of the London Film Festival.
Other cultural institutions in South Bank include its numerous art galleries, the Royal National Theatre, and film-focused venues such as the National Film Theatre, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the BFI IMAX theatre.
One very unique venue not to miss here is the Old Vic Tunnels. Managed by the Old Vic Theatre and located in historic unused railway tunnels underneath Waterloo Station, the tunnels host innovative and offbeat performances and art in a unique subterranean atmosphere. Past events have included an underground cinema showing indie films, plays, concerts, and multimedia art installations.
Dining and Shopping
From beautiful riverside restaurants to quaint cafes and takeout joints, this neighborhood has a dining experience for everyone. Beautiful views of London await at the famous OXO Tower Restaurant, while quality British cuisine can be found at the more casual Canteen or Archduke hidden deeper in South Bank. Families will enjoy the comfort-food and fun vibe of Giraffe, located just outside Royal Festival Hall, while the more upscale Gillray's Steakhouse serves up incredible steaks and features a trendy new bar.
Adventurous shoppers will also love this area, characterized by funky designer boutiques and quirky vintage shops scattered throughout South Bank's main drags and side streets. Also check out the outdoor South Bank Book Market, nestled underneath Waterloo Bridge. Considered a hidden gem of London, this market has a ton of secondhand books and unique titles to peruse.