A Comprehensive London Southbank Guide
A hub of arts and culture overlooking the River Thames, London's Southbank is a must-visit.
When you think of London, it’s very probable that Southbank comes to mind. This bustling entertainment district on the southern bank of the River Thames (hence the name) draws people from all over the world thanks to its museums, theatres, art galleries, food and all-round fun, relaxed vibe. Here, London really does look like it does in films, with the Thames a backdrop to the street stalls, cultural venues and historical buildings between Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge. Here, the travel experts at Plum Guide present our ultimate Southbank guide.
While Soho is known for entertainment, Southbank is a worthy contender. The Royal National Theatre is one of the most renowned and most recognised theatres in the world. Instantly identifiable thanks to its Brutalist architecture, it contains no fewer than three theatres: the huge amphitheatre-style Olivier, the smaller Lyttelton and the Dorfman, a smaller stage for more niche productions. Plays here often get sent on to the West End, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that a ticket to a show at the National Theatre equals a fun, interesting and thought-provoking time. If you ever auditioned for a school play (and secured a spot in the back left chorus, most likely), you’ll feel starstruck as soon as you walk in the doors.
The building itself is a popular hangout space, with several bars and restaurants to get your pre-curtain G&T fix and plenty of nooks and crannies for people watching if you’ve got a few hours to kill before a performance. The theatre shops are a treasure trove of plays, memorabilia and trinkets. In the summer the performances even spill out onto the Southbank sidewalks with a lineup of outdoor events.
If you’re a theatre nerd and want to be as close as possible to the action, this pad has a view of the National from the rooftop terrace. Tucked down a cute street that is as quintessentially London as it gets, you’re minutes away from your seat in the front row.
You can’t have a Southbank guide without mentioning the river itself. The walkway by the water is enjoyed by all, from joggers to skateboarders to street performers. There’s almost no more peaceful activity than strolling along, looking out over the river and planning which of the waterside eateries to have dinner in. In fact, we'd argue that strolling along the Southbank rivals visiting Buckingham Palace when it comes to quintessential things to do in London – though you could do worse than being the Queen's neighbour at one of these Westminster homes.
There are popular markets along the river if you fancy some shopping - a daily open-air book fair inspired by the second-hand books sold along the Seine in Paris is well worth browsing through. You never know when you’ll find a rare literary gem that will impress your old university professor. At the weekends there’s a food market selling everything from crepes to BBQ to Korean rice bowls. You’re sure to find something delicious to sink your teeth into no matter what diet you’re currently trying. And at Christmas, there’s a Winter market - perfect for pretending that you enjoy drinking mulled wine and finding presents for those awkward relatives.
If you love the river so much you want a view of it from your window, this penthouse delivers. A rooftop terrace means you can watch the water all day long while lounging on the comfortable outdoor furniture. It doesn't get more luxurious than this.
One of London’s most famous and important art galleries, you can’t have a Southbank guide without mentioning Tate Modern. It opened in 2000 in the old Bankside Power Station, making the building almost as impressive as the art. With more than 800 works by artists from more than 50 countries - with a 50-50 split between male and female artists for the solo displays - there’s a lot to see.
With works from Picasso, Matisse and Barbara Hepworth, among many others, it’s not exactly the kind of gallery where you can keep an eye out for something to fill the empty space on your living room wall, but that just makes it all the more impressive. If you’re hoping to see one of the perennially popular temporary exhibits, make sure you book your tickets in advance because they often sell out.
For a house almost as sleek and modern as the Tate, try this gorgeously restored house just a short walk away from the museum. Dating back to the 1820s, it’s been flawlessly restored and now combines modern architecture and history in a very pleasing way.
A multipurpose, ever-impressive saviour to the bored, the Southbank Centre never fails to deliver when you need it. It’s the largest arts and entertainment centre in the UK, so whether you’re after something to entertain whiny children (should have left them with the grandparents) or are looking for the perfect date night activity, you’ll find it here.
The London Literary Festival and Women of the World festival are both held here, and the Royal Festival Hall sees performances from classical music to scientific talks. Poetry, art, sport and performance all have a home at the Southbank Centre.
If you’re more in the mood for a snack than for a panel discussion (we don’t blame you), there are plenty of restaurants in the complex to choose from, and in the summer, the Queen Elizabeth Rooftop Garden is the ideal place for a sundowner with a spectacular view of the river.
This stylish, modern flat has all the amenities for a night out on the town - it’s very close to the Southbank and the funky yet sleek interiors mean your friends and family will be as impressed with your discerning London holiday booking acumen as they will with your cultural prowess.
Now you've read our comprehensive Southbank guide, why not explore the rest of what London has to offer? Our guides to the city cover everything from tips on what to pack to where to stay in Wimbledon. That's right: we're more than just home rental experts – though we are pretty good at that.