London's South Bank: a guide The Shard, © Visit London/Britain on View

London's South Bank: a guide

Discover the Thames-side jewel privy to a £10 billion redevelopment and 2,000 scintillating years of history.


London Editor

From barbarian outpost to industrial mecca, arts destination extraordinaire and now iconic of new London: proud, beautiful, modern and fearless, the South Bank has enjoyed many faces during its multi-millennial history, each with its own distinct character and purpose.

Stretching from the Lambeth Palace, Tudor seat of the archbishopric, to ancient Southwark via the burgeoning Bankside district, the area has been subject to one of the most extensive redevelopment programmes in living history, estimated to be valued at around £10 billion.

Oxo TowerOxo Tower, source: Flickr/Paul Hudson

Today receiving 28 million visitors a year, there has been a settlement on the South Bank district of Southwark since pre-Roman times. During the Medieval era the area was a hub for theatre, bear-baiting and brothels – as evidenced in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare. Centuries later, Charles Dickens visited his father in Marshalsea prison, setting to Little Dorrit and close to the infamous Clink.

The area's shallow banks and mudflats made it ideal for docking and manufacturing, and so its 19th-century reinvention is today told in gorgeous Industrialist architecture, now reclaimed by Tate Modern, the Oxo Tower, Sea Containers et al. In 1951 it was redeveloped to raise the nation's post-War spirits with the Festival of Britain, although the brutalist architecture conceived for that is said by some to only dampen it today.

Now, with the gleaming edifices of The Shard, Sea Containers and the US Embassy due to relocate here in 2017 and their ripple effects throughout the area, the South Bank comprises one of the most investible – both culturally and fiscally – and multifarious areas the capital holds today.

River-Rooms-and-Suites-ViewBlackfriars Bridge

What to see

Marvel at the major and inaugural artists' retrospectives descending on the South Bank's world-leading institutions this season, from the minimal canvases of Agnes Martin and vibrant, abstract designs of Sonia Delauney at the Tate Modern (where the permanent galleries showcase the most seminal collection of contemporary art on this planet) to Carsten Holler at the Hayward Gallery.

The Belgium-born artist presents 'Decision Dilemma,' curating works from the past twenty years and a perception-bending series of installations.

Millennium-Bridge-Tate-Modern-VL353091260Millenium Bridge and Tate Modern

What to do this summer

Experience a show at the Southbank Centre, artists and aethestes from all disciplines come together for year round shows, exhibtions, lectures and readings. Don't miss the second installation of its Festival of Love (27 June - 6 September) then book out a private pod for a ride on the London Eye.

Listen to TS Eliot's poetry in the 50th anniversary since his death at the Poetry International Festival (22-26 July) and the music at The Royal Festival Hall (April - June).

YogaYoga at the Shard,

Start your day with a yoga session at the highest vantage point in Western Europe, the breathtaking View From The Shard. Don't miss the Totally Thames Festival in September, the month-long series of events enveloping regattas, river races and concerts cascading across the river.

VL2009460Golden Jubilee Bridge

Cultural attractions

The National Theatre is home to what are arguably the most acclaimed theatrical programmes and advanced sets in the world. Nearby you'll find the historic Old Vic, run by Kevin Spacey and currently staging High Society, or get a taste for The Bard over The Merchant of Venice in his ancestral homeland at Shakespeare's Globe.

Globe-VL2009340Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

Where to eat

Head for the heights at Hutong and Oblix at The Shard, duck out of the madding theatre-going crowds at Skylon or take a post-show aperitif on the ultimate summer terrace of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Enter the hidden depths of the National Theatre in the atmospheric The Understudy bar or take in a tipple overlooking The Thames at the Oxo Tower.

Oblix at the ShardOblix at the Shard

Afterwards, grab a table at the newly-opened and super-stylish Sea Containers (it's housed in the iconic building of the same name), or meander along the river to London's most-loved food hub, Borough Market, where you can savour the finest tastes from Europe, among them The Ginger Pig, Brindisa and Konditor & Cook, all presided over by the sleek, smart fine dining room of British stalwart Roast.

ExteriorSouth Bank

Butler's Wharf is the Victorian former tea warehouse now home to classic riverside restaurants including the eponymous chophouse and Parisian fine dining legend La Pont de la Tour. Don't miss the 'Butler's Wharf Blackout' where you dine in the dark during September.

Related: London's best restaurants with a view

1 Borough Market
2 Butler's Wharf
3 Le Pont de la Tour
4 Oblix, The Shard
5 Skylon Restaurant
6 OXO Tower
7 Sea Containers Restaurant
8 The National Theatre
9 The Old Vic
10 Shakespeare's Globe
11 Totally Thames Festival
12 Hutong London
13 Tate Modern
14 The Shard
15 Southbank Centre