Things to do in South Bank

The South Bank forms a cultural and entertainment hub in central London. This small strip of land between Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge is packed with places to see and things to do.

Once a marshy and often inaccessible part of London, the South Bank is now a vibrant area with excellent transport links.

The South Bank punches well above its weight in terms of top attractions per square mile. The London Eye, the Imperial War Museum, Sea Life Aquarium and the London Dungeons are all within comfortable walking distance.

This part of London is renowned for culture. World class theatres and galleries offer a range of performances and exhibitions to suit all interests. Modern street art is celebrated too in the impressive Leake Street tunnels.

From fine dining to the best in street food, the South bank is a great location for food lovers. For those looking for a little retail therapy there is plenty here for you too, from well known brands to a host of local, independent stores.

Here's our selection of the 10 best things to see and do in the area.

1. The London Eye

The London Eye during sunset
The London Eye during summer
Skyline photography of the London Eye under white cloudy sky during daytime

One of London’s most iconic landmarks, the London Eye is also one of London’s most popular attractions.

This is the opportunity for stunning 360 degree panoramic views from 135 meters above this historic city.

You will be able to spot Buckingham Place, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and so much more.

The 32 self-contained high tech glass pods provide a comfortable viewing experience, with the rotation taking 30 minutes to complete. On clear days you can see as far as Windsor Castle, 40 miles away.

The standard ticket costs from £24.50 when bought online, with a family ticket from £22 per person. Priority fast track tickets to beat the queues start from £34.50. If you are planning on visiting other attractions there are combination tickets available to save you money.

Among the tempting London Eye experiences are the Champagne experience and the pub pod. The London Eye river cruise takes you on a 40 minute circular cruise on the Thames, and can be booked as a singular activity or as part of your admission to the London Eye.

2. The Southbank Centre

Outdoor events at The Overture, a free three-day festival to mark the reopening of Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall, attended by over a quarter of a million people.
The Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre in 2010 (© Aurelien Guichard, CC BY-SA 2.0)
A view of the South Bank River Walk taken from an Italian restaurant near by (© Lewis Clarke, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The complex of buildings that form the Southbank Centre combine to create the largest artistic centre in the UK.

There is always something going on at this bustling venue, complemented by an array of bars and restaurants.

Culture and dining combine to make an ideal day out.

The focal point of the Southbank centre is the Royal Festival Hall, the sole surviving building from the Festival of Britain held on the site in 1951. This grade 1 listed venue is renowned for world class performances. The centre also houses the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Purcell Room and the Hayward Gallery, showcases for the best in drama, music, literature and modern art.

Both the indoor venues and outdoor spaces around the centre stage a huge range of cultural festivals throughout the course of the year. Restaurants, bars and cafes also offer a choice of indoor and outdoor dining options, with street food to the fore.

3. Shrek’s Adventure

Shrek at St Patricks Parade in 2014 (© Sheba_Also 43,000 photos, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Come and meet Shrek, Princess Fiona and their friends at this immersive family attraction within the County Hall on the South Bank.

Join these much loved characters from the Dreamworks films for an interactive adventure through 10 fairytale themed live shows.

The live shows include a journey on a 4D flying magic bus, a trip to the Poison Apple pub where you will meet Puss in Boots, as well as a meet and greet with Shrek himself. You will also enter the Dreamworks play stations where you will get to meet characters from more of their popular films like Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda.

This is a great family adventure whether you are a Shrek fan or have yet to watch the films. Shrek’s Adventure opens daily from 10am, with the exception of Wednesdays when admission is from 11am. Standard ticket prices start at £24 for adults and £19 for children above the age of 3 years.

The interactive walk-through experience lasts 70 minutes, which includes the 4D magic flying bus and your family’s fun-filled adventure search for Shrek.

4. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

The thatched roof of the reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe
A performance at Shakespeare's Globe

Slightly further along the river and in to Bankside you will find the world famous Globe Theatre, a must see attraction for any visitor to this part of London.

The theatre experience does not get any more unique then this stunning recreation of the theatre from the days of William Shakespeare.

Visually the Globe is quite breathtaking. It is an oak and thatch replica of the theatre which sat on this site in the 16th century. Visitors can delight in a performance of one of Shakespeare's plays from the wooden seats surrounding the stage. A guided tour will take you around the Globe and tell you the story of this important theatre.

Next to the Globe is the indoor Sam Wanamaker theatre, modelled on the candlelit theatres found in Shakespeare's London. This is another lovely intimate space to watch a performance, with the painted ceiling mural a beautiful decorative piece.

The guided tours last around 50 minutes and costs £16 per adult and £9 for children. The Globe has the Swan bar and restaurant serving seasonal British produce, plus a shop offering books, DVDs, prints, clothing, homeware and more.

5. National Theatre

The National Theatre from Waterloo Bridge (© Aurelien Guichard, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Axis view of Royal National Theatre from ground level (© Saval, CC BY-SA 4.0)
An artistic lighting scheme illuminating the exterior of the Royal National Theatre (© David Samuel, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The National Theatre follows in the South Bank tradition of producing world class theatre on the banks of the Thames.

The theatre stages a varied programme of plays and performances to inspire and enthral its visitors.

Since opening in 1976 the theatre has built a reputation for nurturing new talent across all the skills required to stage a show.

The National Theatre has three auditoriums where you can enjoy the best in drama, comedy and musical theatre. Why not take a backstage tour to learn the ins and outs of producing world class theatre, or a costume tour where you can explore the cutting room, the dye shop and the wig room. Further tours include a theatre tour where you will learn about the building and the work within.

The National theatre also stages free exhibitions such as the Costume exhibition, while The Lyttleton Lounge allows you to digitally delve in to the theatre’s history. For a relaxed place to enjoy a drink the theatre’s Understudy bar is ideal with its riverside location. From Wednesday to Sunday the KERB food market offers a selection of street food just outside the theatre building.

6. Dining

A beautifully looking Steak Board (© Lyricalll, CC BY-SA 4.0)
An asian dish at a fayre on the south bank of the Thames (© mattbuck, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The South Bank has a wide range of dining options, from fine dining through to excellent street food. The following are a sample of the quality choices available.

Oxo Tower Restaurant & Brasserie

This is fine dining with a view. Located on the top floor of the Oxo Tower, you are sure of incredible views across London. The restaurant provides a refined dining experience, while the brasserie with its open kitchen offers a more relaxed vibe. Why not try an indulgent afternoon tea from £35 per person, or £45 with champagne on arrival.

Gillray’s Steakhouse & Bar

This is a quintessentially British steakhouse serving the best in locally sourced, seasonal produce. You can dine at this restaurant on the Thames with the London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament as your backdrop. Dine on a 225g rump steak from £22, or perhaps select the three course set menu from £25. Gillray’s gin bar has an impressive selection of 100 gins to choose from.

Mulberry Bush

This is a traditional pub in the heart of the South Bank near Gabriel’s Wharf. Visitors to the Mulberry Bush will be treated to classic pub dishes, plus good Vegan options including the Vegan Fried ‘Chkn’ Burger. There is also a Sunday roast offering, with slow roast beef rib and all the essential trimmings one of two meat options. The pub provides a Vegan alternative to ensure non-meat eaters do not miss out on their Sunday roast.


The South Bank area of London is well known for its street food. From Wednesday through to Sunday the KERB trucks bring all that is good in street food and street entertainment to the grounds of the National Theatre. The five trucks serve a variety of cuisines fresh from their grills. Ice cream vans and a beer truck complete the ‘menu’, while music helps create a vibrant atmosphere for all to enjoy.

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7. Sea Life

The Sea Life London Aquarium is located on the ground floor of County Hall on the South Bank of the River Thames in central London, near the London Eye (© Drow male, CC BY-SA 4.0)
The underwater walk of Sea Life London Aquarium (© Ox, CC BY-SA 4.0)
A shark at the Sea Life London Aquarium (© Phalinn Ooi, CC BY 2.0)

Fourteen themed zones take you on a journey through the world beneath the waves at Sea Life, the largest aquarium in London.

There are over 500 species on view, including sharks, rays, octopus and everyone’s favourite, the penguins.

The Aquarium zones start with the Shark Walk, where you can watch these majestic animals swimming beneath your feet. Further zones include the Ray Lagoon, Shipwreck and the glass Ocean Tunnel where you will be able to watch the sea life, including huge green sea turtles, swim around you.

Sea Life also provides an insight in to the world of the rainforest with a specially designated zone. You will immerse yourself in all the sights and sounds of the rainforest, including snapping turtles and the largest collection of piranhas in the UK.

Standard admission is from £27 when tickets are bought online, which includes the interactive public feeding sessions and touch pools. There are also a range of combination tickets available to help you make savings when visiting Sea Life and further London attractions.

8. Shopping

Gabriel's Wharf, Upper Ground Street, London A delightful area on the south side of the river Thames. Ganesha is a Fair Trade shop. See (© Peter Church, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Stores at Gabriel's Wharf, Waterloo (© MikeStnly, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The South Bank is home to an eclectic mix of stores, ranging from famous brands through to independent boutiques and art and craft shops.

There are also popular markets such as the Southbank centre book market, where avid readers can browse among a wide choice of paperback and hardback titles.

Both Waterloo station and the Oxo tower have a large choice of stores. Branded names you will find when shopping in South Bank include Lush, Hotel Chocolat, Boots, Kiehl’s, M&S, Joules and more. These sit alongside a raft of independent stores selling a wonderful range of unique items.

Gabriel’s Wharf

You can pick up unique gifts among the stores at Gabriel’s Wharf. This is a popular arty enclave of the South Bank, where you can shop for designer fashion and jewellery, accessories and artwork for the home. Gabriel’s Wharf is home to an eclectic mix of independent stores, bringing hand-crafted goods and a personal service to their customers.

Southbank Centre Food Market

Over 40 stallholders set up store every Friday, Saturday and Sunday just behind the Royal Festival Hall. Cuisines from across the world are represented in this colourful and vibrant food market. Street food and a range of drinks traders completes a little slice of foodie heaven at the weekend. This is considered to be one of the top food markets in the capital.

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9. Imperial War Museum

Founded as the Imperial War Museum in 1917, the museum was intended to record the civil and military war effort and sacrifice of Britain and its Empire during the First World War. (© Peter Trimming, CC BY-SA 2.0)
The new atrium at the Imperial War Museum, July 2014. The exhibits include a Supermarine Spitfire, a V-1 flying bomb, a V-2 rocket, a Harrier Jump Jet, and Jeremy Deller's Baghdad, 5 March 2007, the wreckage of a car destroyed by a bomb during the Iraq War. (© Ashley Pomeroy, CC BY-SA 4.0)
V-1 flying bomb on display at the Imperial War Museum (© Peter Trimming, CC BY-SA 2.0)

From the moment you see the two huge naval guns at the front of the building you will not forget your visit to the Imperial War Museum.

Military hardware, artefacts and personal testimonies chart the devastating impact of war and conflicts across the world.

The museum was founded during World War One and the gallery dedicated to this conflict tells you the horrific story of the ‘Great War’. There are over 1,300 artefacts on display in this gallery alone, where you you can have an immersive trench experience.

The Holocaust Exhibition is another important section of the museum, although not one recommended for children under the age of 14. The museum also holds the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses, which you can view while also learning about the stories of the incredible bravery behind them.

Open daily during the summer months, entry to the museum is free although donations are welcome. There is a cafe just off the main atrium in the museum where you can enjoy a selection of hot and cold food and drinks.

10. London Dungeons

The London Dungeon is a tourist attraction recreates various gory and macabre historical events in a gallows humour style. (© giggel, CC BY 3.0)
Entrance to the old London Dungeon building. (©, CC BY 3.0)

Located next to the London Eye, the London Dungeons takes you on a scary trip in to some of the darker tales of the city’s past.

Special effects, rides and actors combine to provide a thrilling interactive experience as you descend in to the dungeons via the Medieval lift.

Some of the unsavoury characters you will meet include Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd. Immersive scenes include the Conspirator's Walk, escaping the Great Fire of London and the Torture Chamber. The Drop Dead: Drop Ride rounds off an exciting journey through the London Dungeons.

A standard ticket to the London Dungeons costs from £27 when bought online. There is also an Escape Room option for £22, where you have an hour to beat the ‘executioner’. For anyone looking to visit further attractions there are also combination tickets available to help reduce costs.

11. More things to do in South Bank

Entrance to the Florence Nightingale Museum in London (© Joyofmuseums, CC BY-SA 4.0)
A stained glass window of Nightingale, on display at the museum (© Amanda Slater, CC BY-SA 2.0)
"View of the Jubilee gardens from the London Eye (© joinai, CC BY 3.0)"

The area around the South Bank is packed full of attractions and places to visit.

The following are some more ideas for things to see and do around the South Bank.

Florence Nightingale Museum

This is a museum dedicated to the founder of modern nursing, with over 3000 artefacts helping detail the life and work of Florence Nightingale. The museum is located in the grounds of St Thomas’ hospital, close to Westminster Bridge, and concession admission prices start from £7

Important artefacts you will find at the museum include Florence Nightingale’s iconic black dress, as well as one of the actual lamps used by the famous ‘lady with the lamp’. The museum is dedicated to the memory of this Victorian trailblazer, charting her life including her time as a nurse during the Crimean War as well as her campaigning for better healthcare for all.

Jubilee Gardens

The landscaped Jubilee Gardens are open all year round, providing a park where you can relax in the heart of the South Bank. The gardens are located at the foot of the London Eye and offer riverside views to its visitors. Access to the gardens is from the Queen’s Walk by the river or via Belvedere Road.

This is a sustainable park, whose combination of grassland, flower beds and gravel paths are ideal for anyone who wants to enjoy a pleasant walk or just sit and relax for a while. There is an adventure playground for the little ones to enjoy which opens at noon.

Leake Street Arches

Set within eight former railway arches, this is a place to come and enjoy vibrant and colourful modern urban culture. Street art, music, food and drink come together to create a lively community beneath Waterloo station. This is a complete celebration of urban art and culture.

The arches adjoin the public Leake Street tunnels, London’s longest legal graffiti wall, which acts as a fitting introduction to the cultural creativity you are about to enjoy. Inside the arches you will find a collection of independent restaurants, bars and entertainments bringing life back to this previously disused space.

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