With attractions such as the London Eye, Sealife Centre, Southbank Centre, National Theatre, London Dungeons and Shrek's Adventure on South Bank, it's no wonder the area draws tourists in vast numbers. But what about when you've done all the big attractions or want to dodge the crowds altogether? Here are some alternative things to do on or near South Bank.
Just behind the Oxo Tower and Gabriel's Wharf is Coin Street Community Centre, set up to bring local residents together, but open to everyone. The building often hosts events including film screenings, exhibitions and family-friendly events such as Easter egg hunts. Check the website to see if anything's happening while you're in the area.
Florence Nightingale Museum
Considering its central location, we reckon the Florence Nightingale Museum is one of London's most undervalued museums. It's aptly situated close to St Thomas' Hospital, and tells the story of the famous Crimean War nurse, and her continued legacy in nursing today. 3,000 artefacts relating to her life are on display — the museum packs a lot into a small space, and manages to be child-friendly while keeping adults interested too. Check the website for details of current exhibition and upcoming events.
House of Vans
Just behind the tourist-y area around County Hall sits House of Vans, a multi-purpose venue in the arches of Waterloo station. It's often-overshadowed by better-known neighbour The Vaults, but has good quality events — past examples include an interactive Toy Story exhibition. Regular happenings include live music and film screenings, often family-friendly, mostly free to attend. There's even an indoor skate park. Keep an eye on the website for future listings.
Art lovers in this part of London understandably head for the behemoth that is Tate Modern, or the Southbank Centre, but just beside that famous brick chimney is Bankside Gallery, which offers a rotation of exhibitions by the Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers. Nothing there that catches your eye? Check out what's on at Skylark Galleries or Southbank Printmakers for further doses of art without the crowds.
Oxo Tower Wharf
Sure, you know about Oxo Tower — it's hard to miss those neon red letters. You've probably written the restaurant and bar off as out of your price range, but in this case, it's what's underneath that counts. Oxo Tower Wharf is home to several independent shops and businesses at ground level, including unusual gift shops, craftspeople selling their wares, and gallery@oxo, which has free exhibitions throughout the year, from wildlife and travel photography to student art shows.
Just across the river from the Palace of Westminster is a lesser-known palace; Lambeth Palace. It's home to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but that doesn't mean it's off-limits; guided tours take place on selected dates, when the public can visit the 13th century chapel and the State Rooms, among other parts of the building. The gardens also open once a month, from March to October
A bit further 'inland' from Lambeth Palace is the Imperial War Museum, free to enter, with some fascinating (and moving) artefacts, and some top-notch temporary exhibitions (there may be a separate charge for these).
Get a boat out of there
Overshadowed by the London Eye is London Eye Pier. Thames Clippers and City Cruises both run services from the pier, and a TfL river route can take you as far as Woolwich. Beats squashing onto the Jubilee line at Waterloo.