People tend to discover Southbank in different ways, and it’s not surprising given its diverse range of bars, restaurants and attractions. That’s why we’ve put together this incredibly handy Southbank taxi driver’s guide. So you’ll always know where you’re going. By harnessing the knowledge of our city’s finest cabbies we’ve managed to create this comprehensive but compact guide to this bright and lively strip of the river Thames. Proving not only that a taxi driver know best, but also that you don’t always have to be north of the river to have a good time. For such a small area, London’s Southbank manages to pack an awful lot in. Crammed in between Blackfriars and Westminster bridges, the entirety of the district spans no more than a couple of squared miles. But with iconic buildings like London’s British Film Institute, The National Theatre and the enormous London Eye at its heart, it’s no wonder people flock to visit from all corners of the world. There are two ways to approach Southbank. By the river or from the south. Walk along the riverbank and you’ll immediately be taken aback by the obvious clash of architectural styles. The brash and unforgiving concrete of the BFI and the Tate Modern, and then the gentler art deco style of the OXO Tower. Even Southbank’s graffiti marked skatepark is widely considered to be a genuine piece of the area’s heritage. Follow our essential Southbank taxi driver’s guide to unveil the very best bars, pubs, cocktail parlours and restaurants the area has to offer. We’re certain you won’t be disappointed.
Where to drink
There are few men in the world quite like Dandelyan creator Ryan Chetiyawardana. His first bar, White Lyan blazed a trail by exclusively serving cocktails that had been pre-prepared and then bottled. His second, a more lavish affair, still retains that edge of originality. It just allows its bartenders a little more scope to create in front of the clientele. Set inside the beautiful Mondrian hotel, Dandelyan looks every bit the Mad Men style drinking den. The cocktails are unbeatable and the bartender’s knowledge is equally impressive. Be prepared to settle in for a while, if you can afford it.
20 Upper Ground, SE1 9PD
Southbank’s such a beautiful area and if it’s great views you’re after, you won’t get much better than the Skylon. Peering impressively over local attractions like it’s just so much better than them, the bar is The Royal Festival Hall’s crowning glory. They serve a range of beer, wine and cocktails if you’re feeling fancy. And also have one of the district’s best known and loved restaurants should you get hungry. A good stop if you want somewhere to go before the theatre or an evening out.
Royal Festival Hall, Belvedere Rd, SE1 8XX
If you’re the popular kind – anyone who likes to go out in groups larger than two – you might want to reconsider before heading down to The Rake. A teeny, tiny pub that somehow manages to stuff in around 130 different beers, this friendly little boozer/off licence is still one of the best places to get a drink in the area. The sheer range of libations on offer (they also serve cider and wine) make it hugely popular with visiting tourists and thirsty locals. Even though it’s small, it’s still so much more than a novelty.
14 Winchester Walk, Borough Market SE1 9AG
Where to eat
Looking at the OXO Tower, you’d be forgiven for just assuming it was a tourist attraction. A remnant of a bygone era. But take a peek inside and you’ll find an epic restaurant with some of the best views in London. Made famous when – contrary to the Queen’s law – it snuck a piece of branding into its facade in the name of stylish architecture. This excellent eatery now offers up lunch, dinner and even a pretty impressive afternoon tea to those willing to make the trip.
Oxo Tower Wharf, Barge House St, SE1 9PH
Always busy, usually tough to get a table at and, you guessed it, they don’t take bookings. Tapas Brindisa couldn’t be more hip if it tried. There are few tapas restaurants in London that have enjoyed the enduring success of Brindisa, and it’s got little to do with being cool and all to do with its excellent food. One of the great benefits of being based right next to Borough Market is the ability to source the most incredible ingredients from neighbouring businesses. The result is a vibrant menu that’s full of charm and character. Worth waiting around for, even if you can’t get a table at first.
18-20 Southwark Street, SE1 1TJ
Anchor & Hope
Another place that doesn’t take bookings (but is usually a bit easier to get into) is the lively gastropub Anchor & Hope. Part traditional pub, part British brasserie, this place is all charm and character. There are whole host of excellent English ales on draught, while the wine list feels suitably up to date for the impressive food menu. Most of what’s on offer could be described as being British-European but don’t be surprised if you find the odd curveball hidden in among the classics.
36 The Cut, SE1 8LP
What to do
The British Film Institute represents the absolute pinnacle of London’s cinema scene. Not only is it a place where you can go to watch movies (they have blockbusters and arthouse films), there are also dozens of talks and presentations which are worth visiting for any major cineaste. For us though, it doesn’t get much better than the IMAX. The screen is enormous (the biggest in Britain) and when it’s not showing 3D extravaganzas there are any number of fascinating films on for adults and kids alike.
1 Charlie Chaplin Walk, SE1 8XR
What better way to see the city than from the impressive apex of the London Eye? Essentially a giant ferris wheel (expect with luxury pods rather than rickety chairs), this enormous attraction is at the top of most people’s London bucket lists. On a good day, it’s said you’ll be able to see all the way to Windsor Castle in rural Warwickshire. And even though the Shard now offers a higher viewpoint of the city, it’s never going to be quite as much fun.
Southbank, SE1 7PB
Another titan of London iconography is the incredible Tate Modern. Set in the one time Bankside Power Station, this is one of the world’s foremost modern art museums. On every level of the museum there are different themed rooms, meaning that if you want to find a particular artist you may have to get through the whole thing. But given just how much amazing art there is here, that’s not necessarily a bad deal. Entrance is mostly free although there are certain paid exhibits hidden inside. Even the large entrance hall is worth visiting just to feel the sheer awe of its massiveness.
Bankside, SE1 9TG