Things to do in South Bank, Bankside and London Waterloo

There's a wealth of heritage and innovation dotted along the south side of the Thames. Bring the whole family for a day of theatre, art, adventure, gourmet food and much more.
  • Attractions along the South Bank include the SEA LIFE London Aquarium, the London Eye and the Southbank Centre.

  • For entertainment, you'll find the National Theatre, BFI IMAX, the Old Vic and Young Vic Theatres all nearby.

  • For eating and drinking explore the restaurants along The Cut, Gabriel’s Wharf, or Borough Market.

  • Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe are both in the area.

Just across the river from the Houses of Parliament, the South Bank area of London was energised during the 1951 Festival of Britain by the iconic modern architecture of the Southbank Centre, featuring the Royal Festival Hall, Hayward Gallery, the Purcell Room and Queen Elizabeth Hall.

This area stretches between Westminster and London Bridges on the south side of the river, and is a perfect location for a sunny day's stroll. 

There is always a special event going on, as well as a fantastic range of entertainment, arts and dining venues to discover. For a more high-adrenalin sightseeing tour, you can even whizz down the Thames on a speedboat and take in the spectacular views.

Things to see and do in London Waterloo

If you head towards the river from London Waterloo, you will find the Florence Nightingale Museum, SEA LIFE London, the London Eye, the Southbank Centre, the BFI Imax and The London Dungeon.

Venturing south instead, will take you to theatregoers' favourites the Old Vic, the Young Vic as well as the shops and market stalls along Lower Marsh. 

There are plenty of great dining options in this area, from riverside dining at Skylon to dim sum at Ping Pong, or gastro-pub grub at the Anchor and Hope. If that's enough to tempt you into an overnight stay in the area, there are plenty of hotels close to Waterloo.

East of Waterloo Bridge on the South Bank

The riverside walkway is perfect for people watching, spending lazy afternoons in a pavement café or browsing in one of the area's many book and art shops or regular markets. 

Catch a show at the National Theatre, browse the designer boutiques in the Oxo Tower and Gabriel's Wharf, or enjoy family fun at BFI Southbank

You'll also find a range of Italian and French cafés at Gabriel's Wharf; while the National Theatre's Terrace Bar is perfect for a relaxing drink.

Things to see and do in Bankside

East of Blackfriars bridge, the area becomes known as Bankside. This is one of the oldest parts of London – entrepreneurs, artists and revellers have flocked here for almost 2,000 years. Bankside is also one of London's most vibrant areas, with a heady mix of culture, foodie delights, attractions and architecture.

Situated along the Thames, Bankside is dominated by Tate Modern, one of the world's finest art galleries. The quirky streets around Tate Modern are perfect for exploring on foot – with galleries including Bankside Gallery and Jerwood Space, and the trendy shops and restaurants of Bankside Mix waiting to be discovered. 

Playwrights have gathered here since Shakespeare's time, and the area remains a centre for creativity. Shakespeare's Globe exhibition and tour is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture of the Bard's time, and the converted Menier Chocolate Factory offers world-class productions. It's also a great area for an immersive historical experience: try the Golden Hinde ship or the Clink Prison Museum.

Tate Modern. Photo: Jon Reid

Markets, bars and restaurants on the South Bank

Time for a drink? Historic pubs such as The George and The Anchor have long been favoured by famous Londoners – from Charles Dickens to Samuel Pepys – or search out The Rake, London's smallest bar. If you're looking for a cocktail, head to Sea Containers London's destination bar, Lyaness, which mixes unusual creations with sweeping views of the Thames.

Bankside was once known as London's larder. It's a title that lives on today in the fresh produce of Borough Market and the wealth of fine restaurants, pavement cafés and outlets surrounding it.

For more information about this great destination, look at Visit Bankside and South Bank London or download the excellent free app to discover more about the area. 

Trains to London Waterloo

London Waterloo train station is convenient for access to the South East of England by train. Destinations to and from London Waterloo include Bournemouth, Southampton, Exeter and Weymouth.

Travel to Bankside, South Bank and Waterloo

Bankside, the South Bank and Waterloo are easy to access: use London Bridge, Waterloo, Blackfriars, and Southwark stations, or take one of the numerous buses that travel to the area. London Waterloo is served by the Jubilee, Northern and Bakerloo lines on the Tube.

If you're going to be in London for more than a day, it's worth buying a Visitor Oyster Card in advance. The Visitor Oyster Card is delivered to your home before you arrive in London. It is one of the easiest ways to get around London.

If you do not have a Visitor Oyster Card, but still plan to travel around London for more than a day, buy an Oyster card at the Tube station. Learn more about Oyster Cards.

You can also take a river cruise along the Thames from Waterloo Millenium Pier next to the London Eye with City Cruises.

Explore more London neighbourhoods

Where to now? Check out other London areas.