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101 things to do in London: south London

Seek out the best things to do in south London with our south-of-the-river selection

It may not be so well served by the tube network, but hop on a bus or the overground and you’ll find loads of great things to do in south London. The lively communities of south-east London and south-west London have some pretty unusual things to do, including high-altitude aperitifs, bountiful cafés and coffee shops and an over-inflated mammal – all waiting for you south of the Thames.

RECOMMENDED: 101 things to do in London

The best things to do in south London

Get your Strictly on at the Rivoli

Fancy gliding around with someone special? It’s a lot easier when you’re on a specially sprung dancefloor like the one at the Rivoli – London’s last remaining authentic 1950s-style ballroom. In sumptuous gold and red, the Rivoli has been the star of many a TV show and pop video, but for more retro pleasures, glam up for Jacky’s Jukebox on the first Saturday of the month (ballroom, Latin and salsa) and Jive Party on the third Saturday each month, for a live band and all the jivin’ you can handle.

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Brockley

Be a Womble

Even the beautiful wilds of Wimbledon Common need care and attention once in a while. The regular ‘health scrub’ sessions and other volunteering tasks hosted by the Wombles’ homeland are the ideal way to get some fresh air, exercise and venture to the heart of one of London’s most beautiful and historic commons. The chi-chi cafés of Wimbledon Village are an easy walk for a caffeinated reward afterwards.

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Wimbledon Village

Drink a toast to London’s innovators

We suspect Industrial Age legends Marc Isambard Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel would have approved of what the Brunel Museum has done with the southern entrance to their Thames Tunnel. The world’s first underwater crossing, it quickly became London’s hottest tourist attraction in the 1800s and, while their groundbreaking feat of civil engineering is still a working rail tunnel, the museum hosts subterranean dining and clubbing events, and in the summer months, campfire cocktails on the roof at the wonderful Midnight Apothecary events, overlooking the river and the city.

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Rotherhithe

Meet the walrus at the Horniman Museum

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Victorian south-east London was far more fascinating than most other parts of the capital thanks to tea trader Frederick John Horniman, who wanted to ‘bring the world to Forest Hill’. He began to collect specimens and artefacts of natural history and culture from all over the world to create his own museum in the late 1800s. The present museum opened in 1901 and the 130-year-old over-stuffed walrus is still its star attraction!

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Forest Hill

Go birdwatching at London Wetland Centre

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Although most visitors to the capital won’t get further than the common pigeon, there’s a whole lot more to birdlife in London than the feathery pests of Trafalgar Square. Venture out to leafy Barnes in the south-west and, as well as a picturesque landscape, there’s the opportunity to spot kites, sandpipers, kingfishers and more at London Wetland Centre. Over 200 species of bird have been spotted in total, along with various reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and – eep! ­– bats.

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Barnes

Find out what the containers are hiding at Pop Brixton

A pile of colourful shipping containers are carefully arranged to create Pop Brixton, which feels a little like a giant Lego fort where all the bricks are filled with treasures. The thoroughly modern mall was commissioned by Lambeth Council to provide affordable workspaces and venues for local independent businesses, and is already home to some stellar shops and food outlets. The hungry are spoilt for choice but we advise prioritising a visit to Kricket for their delicious Indian small plates.

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Brixton

Savour the soul at the ‘twenty-first-century church of chill’

That’s how the CLF Art Café at Peckham’s Bussey Building likes to describe itself. And yes, there are soul music nights – along with a variety of other great clubbing sessions here, plus art exhibitions, live shows, comic-book and vinyl market events, a bar and good food. Like Hornsey Town Hall in north London, it’s one of the best local gems for culture vultures that you don’t have to be local to enjoy.

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Peckham

Celebrate the seasons at Kew Gardens

The colours at Kew change throughout the year – from February’s stunning sea of two million purple and white crocuses and March’s pink blossom Cherry Walk, to the rich red poppies that bloom in August and the autumn fruit of the berberis plants.

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Kew

Get up early to bag a doughnut from St John's Bakery at Maltby Street Market

Whether you’re on your way home from a night’s clubbing or you’ve been up since 5am with your three-year-old, gloriously quiet mornings in central London are your reward. Head for St John Bakery, just behind Maltby Street Market for their famous freshly made doughnuts oozing with jam, or go Proustian with just-baked madeleines dipped in your cup of tea.

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Bermondsey

Float past dinosaurs at Crystal Palace Boating Lake

Hire yourself a pedalo in Crystal Palace Park and you’ll be able to admire the Victorian (anatomically incorrect) concrete dinosaurs which inhabit the banks of the lake from a brand new angle. You can even take a waterborne dinosaur selfie, which should win you some Instagram points. Other good reasons to visit the park include a maze, a children’s farm and the ruins of Crystal Palace proper’s aquarium.

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Crystal Palace

Harness up and scale the O2

See that big white thing held up by yellow sticks by the Thames in Greenwich? It was originally called the Millennium Dome, and Londoners hated it. But it’s enjoyed a new lease of life since being repurposed as a live music venue, and even if there’s no international megastar playing a gig, there’s still plenty to do. The latest attraction is Up at the O2 – a 52-metre climb up and over the venue’s roof. Book a dusk slot and look westward for one of the most spectacular city views going. 

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Greenwich Peninsula

Walk the Ripper’s streets then hit the gin

The London Dungeon is a journey through the real stories of London’s nasty past, and it’s done with such energy and humour it’s a shame to leave it to the tourists. Funny thing is, even though you know it’s all actors and props (the rats are real), by the time you’re lead into a dark recreation of Jack the Ripper’s Whitechapel, you might as well give in to the screams. The new bar at the end of your 90-minute tour comes as a welcome addition – steady yourself with a ‘bootleg’ beer or a gin cocktail.

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South Bank

Watch the tennis at Wimbledon

In late June leafy south-west London becomes the focus of the world’s greatest lawn tennis championship. Top tickets must be applied for by ballot (UK applications start the August before) but there are also tickets available each day during the tournament for those prepared to queue. The action is also broadcast for free on a big screen just outside the grounds, on Aorangi Terrace.

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Wimbledon

Enjoy your brew with a view

Ever since Frank’s Café set up one of the sexiest bars in London on the roof of Peckham car park, mixologists have been spending nights on the tiles – turning their rooftops into funky spaces for dining, drinking, cinema and even mini-golf. As a result, sky-high terraces are no longer the sole preserve of posh hotels (though our list of the London’s best rooftop bars does include a few bust-the-budget gems). And be assured that a nation obsessed with the weather plans for everything – blankets, heaters and hot cocktails make an appearance as the temperature drops.

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Peckham

See a nineteenth-century clipper from below

The stunning centrepiece of Greenwich’s maritime heritage, the Cutty Sark spent the end of the nineteenth century keeping London supplied with one of its favourite commodities: tea. The ship was nearly destroyed by fire in 2007, but reopened to the public in 2012 looking more handsome than ever. The £30 million restoration has seen the ship elevated three metres above its dry dock, allowing visitors to get closer than ever to its 65-metre-long gilded hull.

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Greenwich

Do some thinking with your drinking at the Beefeater Distillery

When it comes to booze, it doesn’t get more London than Beefeater Gin. They’re even named after our Tower’s guards. Celebrate our city’s very own alcoholic output with a visit London’s to oldest gin distillery to find out how the 150-year-old company cook up mother’s ruin and learn facts and figures about the spirit’s history. And your attentions will be rewarded with a generous G&T, naturally.

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Kennington

See Nelson’s blood-stained uniform from the Battle of Trafalgar

The National Maritime Museum collection includes great works of art and incredible treasures from centuries of naval and commercial ocean-going heritage and wonderful interactive play zones for kids, but most remarkable is the Nelson, Navy, Nation gallery. See souvenirs revealing how the great admiral was the subject of the hottest-selling merch in late eighteenth-century England, find out what life was like for ordinary sailors at sea and check out the actual clothes Nelson was wearing when he was fatally wounded on board HMS Victory.

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Greenwich

Forage for antiques on Bermondsey Square

A few blocks south of Tower Bridge, Bermondsey Square has been developed as a classy enclave of bars and arty hangouts. However, the Friday antiques market is no new arrival. For years it’s been a savvy spot for browsing vintage homeware, furniture and jewellery. The hardcore buyers show up when it opens at 6am but you’ve got until 2pm to surf the stalls.

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Bermondsey

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