Blog · London · Everything To See and Do in London’s South Bank

Everything To See and Do in London’s South Bank

March 13, 2024
London's South Bank

If you love walking, you’ll love London. There are plenty of beautiful city strolls that double as sightseeing tours all around the capital. However, if you only have time for one, I’d suggest the London South Bank, passing many of the city’s most famous landmarks along the way.

Even after over six years living in London, I still come back here again and again, especially on a sunny day. There’s so much to see and do in the area that you can easily spend a whole day here. From the London Eye opposite Westminster and Big Ben to Tower Bridge, here’s everything to see in London’s South Bank.

London's South Bank

1. Get a bird’s-eye view from the famous London Eye

The London Eye

The London Eye is Europe’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel, so be prepared to have London at your feet at 135 meters (443 feet) above ground. 

While the ride — or flight as they call it — isn’t the cheapest thing you can do in London, it’s a classic experience with spectacular views that’s absolutely worth the trip. In fact, the London Eye is now the U.K.’s most popular paid tourist attraction.

Fun fact: This is also a popular place for marriage proposals!

You’ll spend 30 minutes up in the air, so there’s plenty of time to snap pictures of all the London landmarks. 

2. Immerse yourself in art at the Tate Modern

The Tate Modern

The Tate Modern is one of the best art galleries in London. And to make the deal even sweeter, most of their exhibitions are free to visit (even though the museum welcomes donations).

Unless you want to see one of their special shows — Yoko Ono is currently on until September 2024 — you can just pop in without a ticket and start exploring.

While contemporary art is undoubtedly the main draw, their gift shops are equally worth a visit, especially if you’re looking for artsy London souvenirs. The museum also runs tons of events such as talks, hands-on art workshops, and even yoga classes (with stunning skyline views).

3. See all the highlights on a South Bank tour

St Paul's Cathedral

London can feel quite overwhelming for first-timers, especially if you’re on a tight schedule, so if you want to see all of the South Bank’s highlights in a nutshell, it’s a good option to head out with a guide.

4. Check out graffiti artists at the Leake Street Arches

Leake Street Arches
Credit: Astrid Hofer

If you love street art, the Leake Street Arches, London’s longest legal graffiti walls, located beneath Waterloo station, are a must-see. 

It all started with Banksy hosting a graffiti festival inside the tunnel in 2008, and street artists have been coming here ever since. You can watch sprayers at pretty much all hours of the day and snap cool Instagram shots or test your own skills side by side with the pros (don’t forget to bring your cans!). 

Local tip: If you need a break from the spray paint smell, head to Draughts, a mix of cafe and cocktail bar where you can also play boardgames. 

This ultra Instagrammable spot in South Bank is also on our guided tour. It’s a must when you’re in the area! 

5. Catch a show at the Southbank Centre

Southbank Centre
Credit: Astrid Hofer

The Southbank Centre is the U.K.’s largest art center and one of my all-time favorite places in the area. The charity-run venue puts on events year-round, ranging from concerts and plays to exhibitions, festivals, talks and dance performances. I’ve seen Placebo and Annie Lennox perform at their Royal Festival Hall to name just two.

A highlight for music fans is the Meltdown, a 10-day music festival that is curated by a different British artist every year. In 2024, it’s Chaka Khan, past curators included The Cure’s Robert Smith, Patti Smith, and David Bowie.

Local tip: Visiting on a weekend? Stop for a street food lunch at the market right behind the South Bank Centre. 

6. Stock up on second-hand books, magazines and prints

South Bank Book Market
Credit: Astrid Hofer

Just a stone’s throw from the Southbank Centre, right under Waterloo Bridge, you’ll find the South Bank Book Market, which has been around for four decades and continues to thrive. There are eight different stalls (more like long tables) full of science fiction, cooking books, children’s literature, books, maps, postcards, and more.

I always stop by here when I’m walking along the Thames and have left with a bag full of new books more than once. If you are a collector, look out for early prints of Harry Potter and other new classics. 

7. Catch a movie (or celebrity!) at the British Film Institute

British Film Institute
Credit: Astrid Hofer

If you’re a movie geek like me, you’ll love the British Film Institute

This huge complex houses a cinema showing blockbusters and arthouse films as well as a library and shop with all things movies, a restaurant, a cafe, and a popular bar. Rainy day? Head straight to their Mediatheque, make yourself comfy and choose from the BFI’s massive collection of 95,000 TV and film productions.

British Film Institute
Credit: Astrid Hofer

Save the date: An annual highlight is the two-week celeb-filled BFI London Film Festival in October where you can watch movie premiers, artist talks, and Hollywood stars on the red carpet. Get all the info on the BFI festival website.

8. Shop souvenirs from local designers at the OXO Tower

OXO Tower
Credit: Astrid Hofer

One of my favorite go-to places for gifts is the OXO Tower on the South Bank. 

Home to dozens of independent shops, this is where you can get truly unique London souvenirs. Check out Suck UK and Band Academy on the ground floor, where you’ll find everything from cute lamps and socks sporting cocktails to trendy passport covers and guitar-shaped bottle openers. Then make your way upstairs for fashion, jewelry, and homeware shops. 

And if you get hungry while hunting for new accessories, there are cafes and restaurants too!

9. Watch Shakespeare at the (almost) original theater

Shakespeare Globe
Credit: Astrid Hofer

London has a centuries-long theater tradition and there’s no better place to get a taste than Shakespeare’s Globe on the South Bank. 

While the original theater William Shakespeare wrote his plays for burnt down in the early 17th century, we have the next best thing. Another landmark on our South Bank walking tour, the Globe has been reconstructed true-to-history just 230 meters (750 feet) away. 

You can watch a Shakespearean play here still today. Just keep in mind that there’s no roof, so bring a rain jacket for bad weather or plenty of sunscreen on a hot day. 

Savings alert: If you don’t mind standing, try to get your hands on their £5 rush tickets, which are released every Friday at 11 a.m. for the following week. You’ll be closer to the stage than anyone else for a bargain price. 

10. Watch a play at the National Theatre for a bargain price

National Theatre
Credit: Astrid Hofer

Nearby, the National Theatre is another go-to place for fans of the performing arts. It goes without saying that the program keeps changing, so check before you head there. 

Every Friday for a brief half hour (12:30-1 p.m.), they release £10 Friday Rush tickets online for the following week. It’s a bit of a gamble but at the same time a great chance to see more plays without stretching your vacation budget too much. The theater also runs tours for those interested in behind-the-scenes peeks.  

11. Have a pint and burger at a former smuggler’s drinking hole

The Anchor
Credit: Astrid Hofer

The Anchor is a South Bank institution that has been around for 800 years, even though it had to be renovated and partly rebuilt several times over the centuries due to fires. 

A former favorite of smugglers and pirates, it later became an artist hotspot as it’s just a few minutes walk from the Globe. William Shakespeare himself was a regular along with many of his leading actors and actresses. 

Their menu features all the British classics. I recommend their Beyond Meat Burger as well as the apple pie. 

Summer or winter, there are usually buskers at The Anchor’s doorstep, so be prepared to sing along to Oasis’ “Wonderwall” and Ed Sheeran’s latest hits. 

12. Snack your way through Borough Market

Borough Market

Speaking of food, if you get hungry while exploring, head to Borough Market, one of the most popular food markets in London. It has been around since 1756 and today features more than 100 stalls, bars, and restaurants selling dishes from around the world. 

Want to really experience the market? Our London Borough Market Food Tour is a great way to get the stories and insider insight while sampling some of the best flavors. If you have a sweet tooth, don’t leave without treating yourself to a dessert at Humble Crumble

Local tip: Borough Market is also where local foodies do their grocery shopping. My go-to place is Spice Mountain, a stall selling spices from around the world. 

The best of the South Bank

So there you have it — the best of London’s South Bank! As you can tell, there’s a lot to explore here. Take one of our London tours to see it all with a local or just wander and see where your feet take you. Either way, this walkable corner of London is one you can’t miss on your trip to the capital.