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Photograph: Tricia de Courcy Ling

The best things to do in south London

From rooftop cocktails to art deco palaces, here's some of the best of what south London has to offer

Lucy Lovell
Written by
Paula Akpan
&
Lucy Lovell
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When it comes to picking something to do in London, there's simply so much choice: world-class clubs, inspiring galleries, and mind-blowing restaurants – we’ve got the lot. The downside? Frankly, it's a lot to take in. The intrepid urban explorer can check out our ultimate list of 101 things to do in London, but here you’ll find a focused guide to south London – a vibrant area with everything from brilliant brunch spots to bustling street food markets.  

From Peckham to Greenwich, Crystal Palace to Brixton, south of the river has never looked more appealing. We’re sure you’ll agree – south London has got it going on. 

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in west, north and east London 

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27 brilliant things to do in south London

  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Peckham
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? Frank’s in Peckham is a festival-like outdoor bar (re-opening in the summer from May 2019), where Londoners flock to grab a drink and admire views across the city. 

Why go? Because where better to sup a Campari and watch the sunset than the top of a multi-storey car park? If that wasn’t enough, the rooftop space is a not-for-profit venture by Bold Tendencies. They’ve hosted everything from opera to orchestras – check out their website for up-to-date events

  • Attractions
  • Ships and boats
  • Greenwich

What is it? The world’s last surviving tea clipper. An imposing vessel, Cutty Sark now delicately perches on the Thames’s edge in Greenwich.

Why go? The ship was nearly destroyed by a fire in 2007, but reopened to the public in 2012 after an extreme makeover. The £30 million restoration has seen her elevated three metres above the dry dock, allowing visitors to admire the 65-metre-long hull from below. 

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Browse historic Greenwich Market
  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs
  • Greenwich

What is it? A historic eighteenth-century market – London’s only one set in a World Heritage Site.

Why go? Open seven days a week from 10am to 5.30pm in the heart of charming Greenwich, the ever-reliable indoor market houses around 120 stalls selling jewellery, clothes, second-hand furniture, unusual gifts and general bric-à-brac. Go on Tuesday and Thursday for a greater number of antique stalls, or any other day for an arts and crafts focus. On any given day, you’ll find around 40 food and drink stalls selling street bites, sweet treats and artisanal goodies. 

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Crystal Palace

What is it? This south-east London park is a popular hangout during sunny spells. It’s peppered with pretty walks, sports facilities, and ...erm, dinosaurs.  

Why go? For the fairly incorrect-looking dinos. Hire yourself a pedalo and you’ll be able to admire the Victorian sculptures which inhabit the shores of the lake from a brand new angle. Other top reasons to visit the park include a maze and the ruins of the old Crystal Palace’s aquarium.

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Meet the walrus at the Horniman Museum
  • Things to do
  • Forest Hill

What is it? A popular museum opened by tea trader John Horniman in 1902, best known for its taxidermied animals (the most famous being an over-stuffed walrus).

Why go? Far from stuffy, this south London gem allows visitors to interact with many of the artefacts displayed (some can even be held or tried on). Aside from impressive anthropology and natural history collections, the museum also boasts 16 acres of beautiful gardens.  

Climb the roof at the O2 arena
  • Music
  • Music venues
  • Greenwich Peninsula

What is it? Built as the Millennium Dome to mark the year 2000, these days the O2 Arena is best known for being a major live music venue.

Why go? It welcomes amazing artists from all over the world, so there’s that of course. But the best part of the O2 Arena is the rooftop. Book a dusk slot for Up at the O2 – a 52-metre climb – and look westward for the most spectacular view of the city. 

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  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs
  • Bermondsey

What is it? This bustling weekend market in Bermondsey is a foodie paradise with a community feel.

Why go? Nestled around the atmospheric Victorian rail arches of the Ropewalk you’ll find around 30 artisan food and drink traders selling everything from craft beer to Mozambique-style peri-peri meats. Top tip: it’s open from 10am Saturday and 11am Sunday – beat the crowds and don’t leave it too late to visit.

Have a boogie at Rivoli Ballroom
  • Music
  • Music venues
  • Brockley

What is it? This restored 1950s ballroom is the last of its kind in London, with a meticulously preserved Grade II-listed art deco interior. 

Why go? There are all sorts of events hosted beneath the chandeliers: chill out at a pop-up cinema screening or make the most of the sprung dancefloor at their regular funk, disco and salsa nights. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Clapham
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? An experimental little bistro next door to its bigger, more sensible, sister restaurant The Dairy.

Why go? The tiny Counter Culture (there are just 15 seats) basically gives the chefs an excuse to geek out, serving a range of small plates that are technically complex and always delicious. Just as importantly, it’s friendly, unpretentious and BYOB – a must-visit for food fans. 

 

Admire art deco Eltham Palace
  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Eltham

What is it? Two palaces for the price of one. Visit for the remains of a Tudor palace and the impressive Great Hall but don’t miss the art deco mansion next door. 

Why go? The biggest draw is the art deco property built adjoining the Great Hall in 1936 by textiles heir Stephen Courtauld. The furniture and fittings look like a film set – check out the pink leather chairs, ornate black and silver doors and moulded maple veneer in the dining room, or the onyx and gold-plated taps in Virginia’s glamorous vaulted bathroom. The house was way ahead of its time when it came to mod cons, including underfloor heating, ensuite bathrooms and a quirky vacuum-cleaning system. 

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Pop in to Pop Brixton
  • Restaurants
  • Brixton

What is it? A lively selection of restaurants and indie businesses operating out of an eclectic jumble of shipping containers.

Why go? On site there’s a greenhouse space for communal dining and a changing schedule of music and events. Don’t miss Smoke & Salt – the celebrated restaurant serving small plates that go big on technical skill and flavour.

Explore Dulwich Picture Gallery
  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Dulwich

What it is? Lending weight to the idea that the best things come in small packages, this (relatively) bijou building is the oldest public art gallery in the UK.

Why go? Its bright spaces house a brilliant collection including Rembrandt, Rubens, Poussin and Gainsborough. It has recently branched out with an annual pavilion commission, just to give the Serpentine a run for its money, and its temporary shows are more than worth a trip across town for.

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  • Nightlife
  • Nightlife venues
  • Peckham

What is it? Saved from demolition in 2007, the CLF Art Café is a multi-floored arts and music venue that has thrived as a warehouse-style club by night and a top exhibition space during the day.

Why go? Top promoters consistently bring in some of the best DJ names, leaning primarily towards house, deep techno, garage and disco. The Bussey also hosts The South London Soul Train, making it one of the best venues in London for funk and soul.

  • Attractions
  • Kennington

What is it? London's very first dedicated gin distillery visitor centre, Beefeater Gin explores the extraordinary history behind one of the world’s top spirits.

Why go? The best section is the first, a replica of a Hogarthian street in which you learn about the heady days of the eighteenth-century gin craze. You’ll finish on a G&T too – not bad for an educational day out. 

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Set sail for the National Maritime Museum
  • Museums
  • Military and maritime
  • Greenwich

What is it? You'll find the National Maritime Museum right in the heart of the Royal Museums Greenwich. It also includes the Queen’s House next door, historic clipper Cutty Sark, and the Royal Observatory.

Why go? The collection includes works of art and incredible treasures from centuries of naval history, but most remarkable is the ‘Nelson, Navy, Nation’ section. Here, you can check out the actual clothes Nelson was wearing when he was fatally wounded on board HMS Victory.

Hunt for antiques at Bermondsey Square Market
  • Shopping
  • Bookshops
  • Bermondsey

What is it? Situated at the end of buzzy Bermondsey Street, this lesser-known market takes over the south London square every Friday.

Why go? Locals flock here like magpies to trawl around 200 stalls for bargain china, silver, furniture, glassware and pottery. Sure, not everything here would have David Dickinson in a tizz, but sifting the fab from the tat is all part of the fun.

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  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Herne Hill
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? A cosy European neighbourhood restaurant in Herne Hill.

Why go? Where do we start? The interiors are stylish yet unshowy, the drinks list includes extremely well curated, and the service is impeccable. Best of all is the hearty European food: from meltingly tender Hereford beef-shin ragù atop creamy polenta to a sexed-up niçoise salad filled with confit rabbit meat.

  • Sport and fitness
  • Herne Hill

What is it? A glorious 50-metre pool surrounded by art deco Grade II-listed buildings. Check their Facebook page for pool temperature updates (useful during the chilly months) and up-to-date opening hours. 

Why go? Not only can you embrace the great outdoors and swim alfresco, but the poolside Lido Café is light, bright and has a short but hearty menu which spans everything from breakfast to burgers. 

 

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Order knockout pasta at Artusi
  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Peckham
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? A simple, sophisticated Italian with accomplished dishes and a carefully chosen drinks list. 

Why go? There’s a confidently short menu – full of punchy propositions such as smoked ox heart with romesco sauce plus outstanding own-made pasta and wickedly good ice cream. It’s a classy venture on Peckham’s poshest street.

Explore seven-storeys of culture at Peckham Levels
  • Things to do
  • Event spaces
  • Peckham

What is it? This former car park has been transformed into a seven-storey arts space, showcasing the best of the local artistic talent and indie businesses. 

Why go? You could happily get lost here for days. Inside you’ll find music venue Ghost Notes, a cocktail bar, yoga studio, and all manner of creative start-ups, plus more delicious food traders than you can shake a seitan sausage at. 

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Grab a bite at Brixton Village and Market Row
  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs
  • Brixton

What is it? Two popular indoor markets that have established themselves as epicentres for London’s culinary scene, housing nearly 130 independent traders.

Why go? This fertile foodie ground is home to the likes of Franco Manca and Honest Burgers, both of which started in Brixton Village before multiplying across London. Aside from food, a stroll through the arcades will reveal a treasure trove of shops selling clothing, jewellery, art, music and much more. 

Have a South African braai at Kudu
  • Restaurants
  • South African
  • Peckham
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? A good-looking restaurant specialising in South African-inspired small plates in Peckham. 

Why go? Dishes here are packed with flavour from open flame and cast iron skillets – order anything that’s been cooked in a pot or by fire – especially the BBQ ‘braai’ lamb neck with a cheese and herb crust.

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  • Cinemas
  • Independent
  • Brixton

What is it? One of south London’s oldest picture palaces (it originally opened in 1911), today the Ritzy keeps a little of its glamorous old-fashioned interior across its five screens. 

Why go? As well as a well-balanced line-up of blockbuster and independent films, the Ritzy has two bars, one offering a view across Windrush Square, the other tucked upstairs and playing host to an array of club nights, stand-up shows and free gigs.

Go full kitsch at Little Nan’s bar
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Deptford
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? Owner Tristan Scutt set up Little Nan’s in honour of his late grandmother (who made it to 104). Inside, it’s full-throttle ’80s front-room fetishism, with cocktail menus hidden inside Charles and Diana memorabilia books, and OTT mocktails served in leopard-print mugs.

Why go? It’s ridiculous and fun and nothing makes sense. Order a cocktail by the teapot and tap your toes to a storming disco soundtrack. 

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Catch a niche horror flick at Deptford Cinema
  • Cinemas
  • Deptford

What is it? This charming little 44-seater screen is run as a non-profit community project by local residents, who tend to favour classics, obscure horror and intriguing foreign films.

Why go? It’s the best place to be inspired by off-the-wall cinema. Look out for its brilliant regular events such as Latin American film night, Sci-fi Sundays, and inventive seasons that take place throughout the year. 

  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Herne Hill
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? A slick cocktail bar serving expertly-made drinks themed around health and nutrition, featuring home-made shrubs (vinegar-based syrups that make for thrilling flavour bases) and fresh fruit juices. 

Why go? Head and shoulders above your average themed cocktail bar, First Aid Box is from the team behind the wildly popular Shrub and Shutter. Essentially, they can do no wrong in the world of booze. 

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Make Sparrow your local restaurant
  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Lewisham
  • price 3 of 4

What is it? A subtly brilliant restaurant serving small plates inspired by flavours from around the world.

Why go? Sparrow is flying the flag for great food in SE13. Expect thoughtful, humble, heartwarming food, and a top brunch menu that’ll cure any hangover. 

More amazing things to do in London?

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