The cultural hub of one of the world’s cultural hubs is London’s Southbank. Situated alongside the river Thames, just down from the London Eye, the area is filled with theatres and galleries and is the place in London to promenade along the river on a sunny afternoon browsing the book stalls and watching the skateboarders in their specially built and graffitied concrete undercroft.
The Southbank Centre dominates the area and includes the Royal Festival Hall, built in the 1950s and one of the world’s leading performance venues. I’ve been there for rock concerts, poetry readings and plays. The associated Queen Elizabeth Hall hosts the smaller performances, ie the poetry readings. Nearby is the 1960s era Hayward Gallery, one of the city’s best contemporary art spaces. And above the Festival Hall is the Poetry Library if your tastes run to less showy forms of art.
It’s a shame the area was developed during the time of brutal concrete architecture but the powers that be are doing their best. A recent redevelopment has given the area a more user-friendly vibe with cafes, restaurants and shops opening along the front promenade. London’s great bookhop, Foyles, now has a small branch here as do many of the city’s good chain eateries: Eat, Giraffe, Canteen and Le Pain Quotidien. Through summer there are special festivals such as the Festival of Britain, lining the promenade with beach boxes and a sandy beach plus lots of deckchairs to while away the hours in, and Udderbelly, a 12-week festival of comedy, cabaret and theatre. Further down the river, the culture continues with small design shops at the Oxo Tower and then Tate Modern gallery (unfortunately at the moment you do have to leave the riverside walk to get there), and the Millenium Bridge. In a city where transport links are crucial, Southbank is close to Waterloo Station and just across the bridge from Embankment and Charing Cross Stations.