Recent events have made it momentarily notorious, but Borough High Street and its surrounds have been a buzzing epicentre of London life for two millennia, and there’s no sign of that coming to an end. The road itself – a bustling thoroughfare leading to London Bridge – might be traffic-choked, pedestrian-packed and dotted with banks and chain bars, but it’s far more than a simple boundary between Tate-dominated Bankside to the west and artsy, gentrifying Bermondsey to the east.
Until 1750 there were no London bridges apart from the actual London Bridge. Borough High Street was the only route between the City of London and the south of England, making it a major thoroughfare and a busy commercial hub. As a result the whole of old Southwark is packed with historical interest.Apart from the ancient Borough Market, now revived as a one-of-a-kind foodie institution, and Southwark Cathedral, you’ll find archaic inns and literary hotspots: Chaucer mentioned the long-departed Tabard Inn in his Canterbury Tales, while the church of St George the Martyr is heavily associated with Dickens. This is a place where the bygone brims just below the surface – though you’d be forgiven for missing it in the honking chaos of rush hour. Long may it stay that way.
After-work snifters at the always-bustling Market Porter pub, just off the High Street. It also opens from 6am-8.30am for clocking-off market workers (and any early bird boozehounds out there).
A pint at the George Inn – tucked down a little side yard, this National Trust-owned boozer is supposedly London’s oldest pub, and only surviving galleried coaching inn.
A flat white from Monmouth on Park Street – spitting distance from the High Street. It’s still the city’s high-water mark for caffeine.
Steins of Bavarian beer at subterranean bierkeller Katzenjammers. BYO lederhosen.
The ‘cacio e pepe’ at Padella. Made of just cheese, pepper and pasta, it’s a thing of minimalist beauty.
A gringa quesadilla from El Pastor, a 30-second stroll down Stoney Street. It’s a hot mess of melted oaxaca cheese and pastor pork.
Croquetas from Tapas Brindisa, a textbook classic from the joint that put tapas on the (tube) map.
An Eton mess gelato from Rimini’s finest, Gelateria 3Bis, on nearby Park Street.
Wallet-busting cookware and gastro-gadgets at Borough Kitchen. Big Green Egg, anyone?
‘Post-Poo Drops’ at Park Street’s snazzy Aesop store.
Elaborate bouquets and dainty posies at Chez Michele, the fragrant Stoney Street florist.
Attend the monthly vigil at Crossbones Garden on nearby Redcross Way: a ceremony remembering the ‘outcast dead’ of this old paupers’ graveyard.
Have a moment of peace at Southwark Cathedral’s regular choral evensong service.
Attend a meeting of the South East London Folklore Society and learn about the eldritch, arcane and bizarre. They meet on the second Thursday of every month, upstairs at the Old King’s Head pub.
And if you only do one thing…
Lose yourself in Borough Market. Its fresh produce stalls, hip shops, zeitgeisty restaurants and always-full pubs mix trend and tradition, and it’s an even tighter community since the attacks.