9 Love It
Save it

South Bank area guide

Keep abreast of all the cultural happenings along this lively stretch of the river

Ed Marshall

An estimated 14 million people come this way each year, and it's easy to see why. Between the London Eye and Tower Bridge, the South Bank offers a two-mile procession of diverting, largely state-funded arts and entertainment venues and events.

The area's modern-day life began in 1951 with the Festival of Britain, staged to boost morale in the wake of World War II. The Royal Festival Hall stands testament to the inclusive spirit of the project; it was later expanded into the Southbank Centre, alongside BFI Southbank and the concrete ziggurat of the National Theatre. But the riverside really took off in the new millennium, with the arrival of the London Eye, Tate Modern, Millennium Bridge and the expansion of Borough Market.

Love London Awards: this year's winners

The Table
Restaurants Book online

The Table

This slick café not far from the Tate Modern serves excellent breakfasts and brunches. A chargrill dominates the open-plan kitchen, but those wanting something lighter than a cooked brekfast should look to the selection of fruit-yoghurt-muesli combos. Weekend brunches see the likes of buttermilk pancakes, sweetcorn fritters and The Table’s signature ‘stack’ featuring home-made baked beans, chorizo, poached eggs, hollandaise and red pepper pesto.

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Read more
Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden Bar & Café
Restaurants

Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden Bar & Café

'Contentment!' came a slightly exasperated voice, from around the next purple-painted olive tree planter overflowing with vermillion flowers. 'Contentment!!' 'CONTENTMENT!!!' The mysterious diner may have been struggling to get their point across, but there's no such confusion for most people having lunch or sipping drinks in this rooftop allotment-cum-woodland-cum-wildflower meadow. At sunny lunchtimes, you'd be hard put to find a prettier setting for a sandwich in central London – it's all tangles of nasturtiums, pergolas dripping with lilacs, boldly sprouting cabbages and an actual garden shed. Make sure you follow the walkway at the back all the way around the corner, to commune with the thickets of full-sized birch trees. Food and drink come from a smart wooden bar area run by Company of Cooks. Don't hold out for a full meal or a fry-up, but the short menu of light salads, sandwiches, cakes and snacks suits the civilised, slightly otherworldly vibe (there's no smoking, and a cap on crowds). A salad of trout, fennel and radish came in a pre-packaged box but the ingredients were perfect – spanking fresh and at just the right temperature, brought to life by a squeeze of lemon. For a sundowner, things like wild strawberry bellinis or passion fruit mojitos available by the jug sound extremely promising.  And did we mention the view, across rooftops and the sparkling river? And that the volunteer gardeners are part of a charity that promotes gardening as therapy? Oh fine, we

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Read more
Love and Scandal
Restaurants

Love and Scandal

A lovely little shabby-chic café situated behind Waterloo station that serves fry-ups alongside sweets such as chocolate beet cookies, which turn out alluringly pink.

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Read more
Lower Marsh Market
Shopping

Lower Marsh Market

Lower Marsh Market is rapidly expanding, after starting as a weekday foodie strip to service the Waterloo community with street eats for office workers. Lower Marsh launched their Saturday Market in March 2013, and this particular day of the week veers away from the weekday street food and instead sells speciality ingredients and produce such as artisanal charcuteries from Cannon & Cannon, award-winning meats from Boarstall Meats and unusual fruit leathers from Snact.

Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Read more
Shakespeare's Globe

Shakespeare's Globe

The original Globe Theatre, where many of Shakespeare's plays were first staged and which he co-owned, burned to the ground in 1613 after a special effect malfunction (a cannon set fire to the roof) during a performance of 'Henry VIII'. Nearly 400 years later, it was rebuilt not far from its original site, using construction methods and materials as close to the originals as possible. Despite some initial scepticism, Shakespeare’s Globe has been an unbridled success, a hugely popular and iconic theatre that's as popular with Londoners as it is with tourists. When it opened in 1997 it was with one theatre, the outdoor, April to October Globe Theatre, but since 2014 it has had year-round programing thanks to the indoor Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, an intimate Jacobean-style playhouse. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of its programming revolves around the works of Shakespeare, though its second artistic director Dominic Dromgoole – who followed the great actor Mark Rylance – introduced a spirited (if mercurial) programme of new writing. Its third artistic director will be Emma Rice, former artistic director of Kneehigh, who takes on over in 2016. Even without seeing a show, Shakespeare's Globe is an afternoon out in itself, with exhibitions and tours throughout the year. There's also fine drinking and snaking opportunities, and if you want to sit down for a full meal the attached Swan restaurant is a solid choice. Though Shakespeare's Globe is unsubsidised, tickets are kept as cheap as

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Read more
See the full results of this year's Love London Awards

Restaurants in South Bank

Pulia
Restaurants

Pulia

Venue says: Join us for an authentic southern-Italian experience in the heart of London!

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Read more
Tapas Brindisa
Restaurants

Tapas Brindisa

The upsurge in Spanish food quality in London since the 1990s can in part be dated from the arrival in Borough Market of food importers Brindisa, bringing first-rate Iberian hams, cheeses and other essentials to the city almost for the first time. The firm’s showcase tapas restaurants are equally a benchmark. In early 2011, star chef José Pizarro left to start José, but we haven’t noticed any drop in standards, so you’ll still find an ideal blend of superb ingredients and refined cooking (the latter normally confined to larger dishes). At the original Brindisa in Borough Market, ‘black rice’ (cooked with squid in its ink, with unusually fragrant aïoli) had a superbly smooth flavour, without any acridity; ham croquettes gained extra depth from the quality of the meat. Padrón peppers (Galician peppers simply fried and salted) exemplified wonderful produce being allowed to shine. The style is easy going, prices very reasonable – though inescapably higher for delicacies such as the finest Ibérico meats. Wines are sophisticated and priced accordingly. The only drawback is that it’s often impossible to get a seat at the Borough and Soho branches, as there’s no booking; fortunately, South Ken’s Casa Brindisa does now take reservations.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Read more
Arabica Bar & Kitchen
Restaurants Book online

Arabica Bar & Kitchen

With its fashionable buzz and lively energy, there’s no other Levantine restaurant in London quite like Arabica. The setting at this enclave of proper Middle Eastern cooking in Borough Market is neither ‘Arabian Nights’ theme park nor brightly lit marble palace. The room has lots of bare brick and steel – it’s a Victorian arch, after all – but the lighting’s low and atmospheric.A French map from the 1960s on the wall shows ‘Asie Occidentale’ with the Levantine countries hightlighted in yellow: Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. In those days, Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East – a playground for the rich and cosmopolitan. It was a golden age, and a moment in history that this new restaurant in Borough Market tries to recapture.Muhummara is a dip that, once discovered, can become as addictive as swaying your hips to rai music. Roasted red peppers, here with toasted nuts, form a rough paste which in its native Aleppo is then flavoured in many variations. The versions I’ve had in Syria and Turkey were far hotter; but this one, though lacking the full drama of flavours, was spicy enough.Meze dishes are the highlight of Lebanese cooking, and here the fried snacks such as lamb or spinach kibbeh – which look a bit like scotch eggs – were excellent. The vegetarian dishes are inventive; baby pickled aubergine is stuffed with red pepper and walnut for the attractively textured dish called magdous.Sit at the polished concrete bar, and you can watch the kitchen at work. Flatbr

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Read more
Gillray's Steakhouse & Bar
Restaurants Special offer

Gillray's Steakhouse & Bar

Gillray’s occupies a large site inside the former County Hall (now a Marriott hotel), facing the Eye and Houses of Parliament. Be warned, however, that many tables in the restaurant don’t have good views, as they are set far back from the small windows. Gillray’s majors in steak, Aberdeen Angus raised on English farms. There is a range of cuts both on and off the bone; the one to order if you're brave enough is the 'Bull's Head', a full kilo of meat on the bone. There are other mains as well if you're not a steakavore, and starters are mostly fairly simple presentations of well-chosen British produce. The oysters, at £9 for 6 or £18 for a dozen, are notably well priced for a restaurant of this type. Breakfast is solid stuff and priced in accordance with Gillray's presence in an expensive London hotel. The Sunday roast rib of beef, by contrast, costs just £17.57 including a Bloody Mary. (Why £17.57? The satirist James Gillray, who gives the restaurant its name, was born in 1757.) The bar presents some interesting items, especially its excellent list of gins and a long list of cocktails that delve deep into history. And you can usually get a comfy seat.   

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Read more
See all restaurants in South Bank

Things to do in South Bank

London Eye
Things to do Buy tickets

London Eye

On a clear day you can see as far as Windsor Castle, 25 miles away, from the top of the London Eye, one of the world's largest observation wheels. A circuit on the London Eye will show you all the city's key sights in 30 minutes, and each of the 32 capsules (one for every London borough) is equipped with a touchscreen to explain what you're looking at. There are usually tickets available for walk-ups, but tickets are more expensive than if you book ahead online; disabled visitors and wheelchair users must book in advance. These days there are also a number of variations on the basic trip: Champagne, Hotel Chocolat tastings, perhaps a private capsule, or combining your visit with a London Eye River Cruise.  

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Read more
Clink Prison Museum
Museums

Clink Prison Museum

The Clink Prison Museum houses an exhibition tracing the history of one of England’s oldest prisons, located on the site of the original ‘Clink’ prison at Bankside, a red-light district in earlier times. The displays include instruments of torture and restraining devices.

Users say
  • 1 out of 5 stars
Read more

Comments

3 comments
John L
John L

Growing up, the South Bank was desolate until the skaters came in. It's been great seeing the spaces come to life around it, and we now have a buzzing vibrant place with lots to see, do and eat but hats off to the pioneers who brought their own street culture there and I hope it is retained exactly as it is. I'm a big fan of the food market at weekends and love the bigger food festivals which spread along the front.

Sue B
Sue B

Just love the southbank. so much to see and do. perfect day out whatever the weather, from the Tower to the nooks and crannies, around the Cathedral and the Golden Hind. what an adventure. have done this walk several times and I still love it.