This post is part of my London Neighbourhood Guides series. Fancy visiting another area of London? Check out my other guides here, which all include information regarding the sights, history, charm, food and drinks of the area you’re curious about.
Admittedly, most of the well-known places in London lie north of the River Thames. For whatever reason, the southern part of almost every city I know always has a different feel than the northern part. Southern London neighbourhoods have struggled as the outskirts of the city. But, in recent years, there has been a ton of redevelopment projects which has created amazing neighbourhoods out of already unique places. Borough, named after the fact that it was the only borough outside the City of London, is one such place. Borough is roughly the area running long the Thames from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge.
As a child I walked through the streets of South London through the eyes of Charles Dickens. He wrote about Southwark (now a huge borough) and all the problems facing society. Remnants of theatres, factories, and inns still line the streets.
Well, I can tell you that the area is now flourishing. There is so much to see and do, and plenty of the most modern buildings exist right here. The Shard, a pinnacle point along the London skyline, is the EU’s tallest building.
The geography of this area is a bit confusing and there are many names thrown around. The areas are roughly defined by the bridges crossing the Thames. To the west we start at Westminster Bridge. From Westminster to Waterloo Bridge is the area of Waterloo. From Waterloo Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge is South Bank. East of Blackfriars Bridge is an area known as Bankside.
Waterloo: Dominated by Waterloo station, the area largely consists of commuters rushing to catch the train home. However in recent years the area has tried to transform itself into something more. The London Eye is here, as well as the Southbank Centre.
South Bank: Technically a separate neighbourhood from Borough, South Bank adds a couple great attractions to the south of the river scene like the National Theatre and the OXO Tower.
Bankside: Perhaps the greatest feature of Borough is the river! Being a riverside neighbourhood has its perks, and the walk along Bankside has to be one of my favourite walks in London. Bankside runs from Blackfriars Bridge to London Bridge. Sights along the way include the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe, but you also get some of the best views of the city.
Arts & Entertainment
Honouring its association with theatre, Borough has plenty of venues and art centres. The reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe stays active throughout the year. The outdoor globe theatre is open during the summer and it’s truly an unique experience. If you have standing tickets, make sure you get there early. This may be obvious, but seriously you’ll thank yourself for following it.
The brutalist National Theatre is also in this area. I used to always see this building from the bus on my way back home across the river. It is one of the United Kingdom’s three most prominent publicly funded performing arts venues.
One of my favourite venues is the Southbank Centre. It’s a community centre that offers a wide range of events and activities. So far I’ve been to numerous concerts and events. From an electronic jazz concert to an interactive tour through Moominland, you never know what Southbank is going to offer next.
Famous for its architecture, the Tate Modern houses the UK’s collection of modern and contemporary art. It is one of four ‘Tates’ and is pretty cool because it is located in an old power station making it incredibly iconic.
The museum has so many conceptual spaces, so sometimes it is a bit difficult to describe what the museum has to offer, but you will learn a lot. You will also experience a lot. Some artists exhibited at the Tate Modern include Picasso, Klee, and Braque. I think the best part of the Tate Modern is its exhibitions. They are really well curated and they pump in so many exhibitions throughout the year.
BEST FOR: Modern and contemporary art
HIGHLIGHTS: Andy Warhold, Picasso, Dalí, Rothko
WHERE: Bankside, London SE1 9TG
COST: Free for permanent exhibitions
HOURS: Daily 10am – 6pm (until 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays)
TUBE STATIONS: Blackfriars, London Bridge
Fashion & Textile Museum
Another museum in the area is the Fashion & Textile Museum. It is the only museum in the UK solely dedicated to showcasing developments in contemporary fashion, so take a look if that is more up your alley! They do not have a permanent collection, choosing to rotate exhibitions throughout the year.
BEST FOR: Fashion lovers
HIGHLIGHTS: Dior, Balenciaga
WHERE: 83 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XF
COST: Adult £9.00; Concession £8.00; Student £7.00; Children under 12, free
HOURS: Tuesdays — Saturdays 11am – 6pm (until 7pm on Thursdays); Sundays 11am — 5pm; Closed Mondays
TUBE STATIONS: London Bridge
Food & Drink
The most obvious stop for food in Borough is, well, Borough Market. It is an endless market of food, drinks, sweets, and more. There are small restaurants around the edges, like El Pastor, but there’s plenty of snacks inside the market itself. From honey tastings to raclette on potatoes, you’ll be sure to find something to satisfy your tastebuds.
One of my favourite fancy cocktail bars in London is right along the Thames: Dandelyan. It’s located inside this swanky hotel and is led by a man who has the title of World’s Best Bartender 2015. It’s a very art-deco kind of place, with velvet chairs and mirrored tables. Dandelyan is inspired by botanists!
Do not underestimate South London. It has so much going for it and is really where all the hip locations are. There’s lots of to do, and things are opening all over all the time.