If you’re not familiar with Bankside, it’s time to get to know London’s emerging cultural quarter and top foodie destination. Situated on the south-side of the River Thames, conveniently located between South Bank and London Bridge, Bankside boasts stunning riverside views of St Paul’s Cathedral and the City, but also a wealth of character and history in its backstreets.
The changing face of Bankside
A place once full of depravity and debauchery, Bankside’s past is one of brothels, bear baiting bits, playhouses and gambling dens. It formed the setting for many of Dickens’ novels and was the place where some of Shakespeare’s most famous works were written and performed. Historic Bankside was a sinful world, harbouring illicit entertainment (which included playhouses at the time) outside of the city walls; immune to the authority of the City of London. While it’s quite a different story now, the back streets are still full of history and character.
At the turn of the new millennium, the area began to see a significant shift. In 1997 Sam Wanamaker’s full reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe opened to the public. This faithful reconstruction of the open-air playhouse proved to be a huge success, bringing Shakespeare enthusiasts to Bankside from all over the world. The site of the original Globe theatre, which burned to the ground in 1613, can still be found just around the corner. The Globe’s theatre season runs all year round. Visitors can catch outdoor performances from April to October, and indoor performances from November to March in the Jacobean theatre, The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
A simple stroll along the river from the Globe and you’ll soon find Bankside Power Station, or rather the iconic Tate Modern. Now one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary art in the world, Tate Modern opened in 2000 and has become a real cultural powerhouse. The pulling power of Tate Modern grew even further in June 2016 with the launch of the new iconic Switch House – home to over 800 works by 300 artists from more than 50 countries. There’s also an impressive viewing terrace where visitors can admire 360 degree views of the city skyline.
Something for foodies
With an extraordinary thousand year heritage, Borough Market is London’s oldest food market and still thriving today. From small-scale artisan producers to more established names, there’s exceptional produce from a variety of stalls. Open Monday to Saturday, it’s also the perfect pit stop for lunch – from Pad Thai to the much-coveted Bread Ahead doughnuts. Aside from the market, there’s a host of surrounding bars, pubs and restaurants. Look out in particular for Roast, Rabot and Bedales wine bar.
Flat Iron Square is the newest addition to Bankside’s food scene. Here you can find an exciting hub of new restaurants, bars and food trucks located in seven repurposed railway arches just off Union Street. Open daily from 10am until late, it’s one of the first stages of Bankside’s Low Line – an ambitious long term project to re-open a pedestrian walkway along the railway arches.
Beyond the riverside
Whilst the riverside boasts some of London’s most famed visitor attractions, it’s worth discovering the hidden streets of Bankside. For theatre lovers, the new Union Yard Arches is a fantastic setting to enjoy a range of small, contemporary productions. Located in two recently renovated railway arches, here you can find the Union Theatre and the Cervantes Theatre will soon be opening.
Once famed for its taverns, Bankside has managed to stay true to its roots and has a variety of fantastic pubs. Adorned with mahogany panelled walls, The Boot and Flogger is a popular choice for a quiet mid-week drink. For a real traditional experience, The George Inn on Borough High Street is a particularly well known establishment. Now London’s only surviving galleried coaching inn, the pub used to be frequented by Charles Dickens and is even mentioned in ‘Little Dorrit.’
Better yet, Bankside’s central location makes it an extremely accessible area to travel to. If you’re inspired to do a bit of exploring, take a look at our Getting Here page.