The South Bank of the River Thames was once a marshland, accessible only by ferrymen and their boats. As the Industrial Revolution took hold in the early 1800s, the area grew and developed with the construction of industrial wharves, tanneries, waterworks and leadworks. Over the next 150 years, the South Bank’s appearance changed significantly.
South Bank really emerged in 1951, six years after the end of the second world war, thanks to the Festival of Britain. It was organised to lift the nation’s spirits with a celebration of science, technology and architecture in the area. This gave the South Bank of the river a new life, one far removed from its industrial past.
It is now a two-mile procession of largely state-funded arts and entertainment venues and it’s extremely popular with Londoners as well as the millions of travellers who visit every year.
So how best to enjoy this area? We’ve gathered a list below of the best things to do in South Bank.
South Bank is ranked amongst the best, in terms of the views of London’s famous skyline and Thames river. To capture them, the iconic London Eye and the spectacular Shard both offer amazing viewing spots such as the platforms on floors 69 and 72 in the Shard. Both are open to the public and the views are sweeping!
However, nothing worth seeing comes for free and it’s the case here. The tickets are quite expensive for these two landmarks, therefore we would recommend to head to the Oblix on the 32nd floor of The Shard. With still great views at a fraction of the price, we think it’s a great option for budget travellers.
If you are looking for lesser-known spots, the Level 5 Balcony at Royal Festival Hall or Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden Bar & Cafe are both really good options. Finally, we recommend that you book a cruise on the Thames, which offers a very different point of view, particularly for interesting photography opportunities.
South Bank got its name on the map thanks to the Festival of Britain in 1951. Since then, it has grown a strong identity as a neighbourhood for gatherings and amazing, uplifting festivals. In fact, many events take place in the numerous venues across the area , including some of South Bank’s historic industrial buildings, which have been repurposed. The Underbelly Festival Southbank is probably the most known nowadays, although if you’re not around then we recommend you stay on the lookout for the other cool events planned during your trip.
South Bank counts many venues that your whole family will enjoy such as the Sea Life Aquarium. If you are exploring the city with teenagers, we recommend you go to the London Dungeon for a scary tour of London’s gruesome history. Expect darkness, sudden loud noises, flashing lights, and lots of unpleasant smells as you shuffle through themed rooms where actors, often covered in fake blood, tell creepy stories and goad visitors. It’s interactive, it’s spooky, and it’s a lot of fun.
Finally, if you are here during Summertime, search for the zip line. You will once again catch an amazing view of the city skyline and tame your adrenaline craving.
Theatre and Art
As our last point in this article, we’d like to mention all the great Art venues located in South Bank. Situated along the Thames, the bank is dominated by Tate Modern, one of the world’s finest art galleries. The quirky streets around it 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.
For an unusual outing, head to the Sherling High-Level Walkway, which is free to access and offers visitors views into The National Theatres busy backstage area. The walkway is high above the production workshops for set construction and assembly, scenic painting and prop-making.
To end with, we recommend you check out Shakespeare’s Globe. This authentic Shakespearean theatre is a wooden ‘O’ without a roof over the central stage area, and although there are covered wooden bench seats in tiers around the stage, many people (there’s room for 700) do as 17th-century ‘groundlings’ did, and stand in front of the stage. It promises to be a very unique experience, although you should keep in mind that umbrellas are not allowed inside the Globe, just in case London’s famous weather rears its head.
Where to stay
South Bank is an area we’ve just recently expanded to! It is very close to the heart of the city where we already have numerous properties. See some below! If you’d like to discover other areas of London, check out our many guides: Camden, Chelsea, Portobello, Kensington…
If you’re in the South Bank area and you are interested in becoming a City Relay Host it’s quick and easy to do so. Simply click the button below and fill out your details to view your property’s earning potential!