United Kingdom

Exploring London’s Colorful South Bank

London’s South Bank draws in record numbers of tourists every year due to its spectacular views of the city along the Thames and its many tourist attractions, like the London Eye, the London Dungeon, and the Sea Life Aquarium. But the part of the South Bank that appeals to me the most is its more colorful side.

Exploring London's Colorful South Bank

Exploring London's Colorful South Bank

Exploring London's Colorful South Bank

Southbank Undercroft

The Southbank Undercroft is undoubtedly one of the most vividly colorful spots in the area. Skateboarders and artists have used this unique space under the Queen Elizabeth Hall since the 70’s, but it is now in danger of being replaced by retail units as part of Southbank Centre’s expansion plans. Many locals oppose this new plan and have created a campaign called Long Live Southbank to petition for the preservation of the Undercroft as a cultural landmark. I, for one, hope they win – the last thing London needs is more shops and cafes.

Exploring London's Colorful South Bank

Exploring London's Colorful South Bank

Southbank Centre Book Market

My second favorite spot around South Bank is the Southbank Centre Book Market, tucked away beneath the Waterloo Bridge. This large book market is open every day, rain or shine, and there are many treasures to be found. Their wide assortment of secondhand books, from bestsellers to the more obscure, means that there is something here for everyone, assuming you like to read. (Because who doesn’t?) The books are generally fairly priced, particularly in their expansive children’s section.

Exploring London's Colorful South Bank

South Bank Carnival Rides

Speaking of kids – bring them along to South Bank, too! A small section along the river features a couple of children’s rides and food trucks selling fair-style cuisine, like hot dogs and cotton candy (called candy floss here). There is also a very popular Mexican food truck in this section. You know I never pass up good Mexican food…

Exploring London's Colorful South Bank

Exploring London's Colorful South Bank

South Bank Classic Car Boot Sale

Every time we pay this part of town a visit, it seems like there is some sort of special event going on. This last time we got a little blast from the past when we ran into a British version of a yard sale with a vintage twist. The South Bank Classic Car Boot Sale is an opportunity for classic car owners in the area to showcase their vehicular beauties while also making a little money selling antique goods out of their boots. (In Britain, a car’s boot is its trunk.) Many people attending were also dressed up in vintage clothing, making the event feel even more colorfully retro. (I’ve got plenty of good Halloween costume ideas now!)

Exploring London's Colorful South Bank

Exploring London's Colorful South Bank

South Bank Buskers

It’s not just things and places that make South Bank so colorful, though – it’s also the people. There are some pretty interesting characters hanging around this part of town. Besides the “painted people”, we also caught sight of Charlie Chaplin and Mr. Bean performing along the riverside Queen’s Walk. Busking is quite a popular profession in London and you’re unlikely to go anywhere found in travel brochures and handbooks without seeing at least a few of them.

With so many major tourist attractions to visit in the same area, it’s easy to overlook the lesser known parts of the South Bank, like the Undercroft and the book market, but you’d be missing out. It’s hidden gems like these that really round out London’s fascinating personality!

Did you enjoy this article or find it helpful? Save it for later on Pinterest!

Exploring London's Colorful South Bank

Share this post:

  • Anna
    October 28, 2013 at 11:00 AM

    I love the South Bank and you’ve captured it so beautifully. The only downside is the restaurants round there I’d say… but yay for Mexican food truck.

  • Nicole
    October 25, 2013 at 3:54 PM

    I have always said that I love when graffiti is done tastefully-and this stuff is! It’s beautiful! What a shame it would be to get rid of this eclectic area of the city that has so much character. I hope they can keep it.

  • Kaho
    October 25, 2013 at 4:18 PM

    London looks so fun through your lens! Great photos!!

    • Sarah Shumate
      October 25, 2013 at 5:17 PM

      Hi Kaho! Thank you for all of your comments! I’m glad you looked at some of the old India posts, too. We were there last summer visiting and loved it! How are you enjoying living there?

      • Kaho
        October 26, 2013 at 7:31 AM

        Your India posts are timeless! I love your photos. They are crisp and clean look! I love living in Mumbai. I’m very happy here.

        • Sarah Shumate
          October 28, 2013 at 5:12 PM

          Oh wow! Thanks! Those photos were all taken with my dinky little point and shoot camera. I wish so badly I’d taken my nicer one with me on that trip!
          My parents liked living in Mumbai, too. They were in the Powaii area. We stayed with them there when we visited last summer!

          • Kaho
            October 31, 2013 at 3:21 PM

            Seeing your photos, I have to say that your photos did not look like you took with a point and shoot! Great skills!

  • Robert Hill
    October 25, 2013 at 10:31 AM

    The Southbank is by no means one of my favourite areas of London, I find it far too ‘touristy’, and besides the occasional visit to the BFI, there’s not a great deal else in the area that draws me there. Having said that, there’s no denying the Southbank has improved a lot over the years due to the regeneration programme, the street art is impressive, and it occasionally hosts some pretty awesome food/wine markets (when is food and wine not awesome?!) so it’s probably worth visiting when in London.

  • Daphne
    October 24, 2013 at 7:56 PM

    The Southbank is without a doubt my favorite place in London. I love walking from St. Pauls, cross the Millenium Bridge and then head over towards Westminster. Especially at night. Best thing there is, and its free!

  • Emmymom
    October 24, 2013 at 8:42 PM

    Those painted people are awesome! I love used books, I just bought a whole bag full of kids books from a thrift store I like to go to this week.

  • Jo
    October 24, 2013 at 11:46 AM

    Awesome! I’m going to have to go check it out! Just know know when!

  • Alex Fahey
    October 24, 2013 at 2:33 AM

    Stop stop stop! You are making me miss England so bad! All your pictures are so wonderful. That’s it- I’m buying a ticket right now!

  • Stacie Stamper
    October 23, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    Totally want to eat from a food truck! And I would go crazy with all of those children’s books, E cannot get enough of books lately.

  • Katrin
    October 23, 2013 at 5:59 PM

    You are right, everything is so beautiful there! :) I love all your pictures! Thanks so much for sharing! Now I want to go to the book market and eat some Mexican food! :)

  • Tina @ Girl-Meets-Globe
    October 23, 2013 at 5:38 PM

    That places looks so familiar! And much more of a happening place then when we were there. Did you go on the weekend?

  • Mandy Southgate
    October 23, 2013 at 5:20 PM

    What a beautiful blog you have! Very nice.

    I love the Southbank area and I love the way you’ve made the area come alive in your beautiful photos. I have to admit I’ve been walking through Southbank for 18 months now and had no idea about the Southbank Book Market. I shall have to track it down immediately.

    • Sarah Shumate
      October 23, 2013 at 7:19 PM

      Hi Mandy!! Nice to meet you! And thank you for the compliment!

      The book market is a bit further down the Queen’s Path, so it’s easy to miss. But that also means it’s a little further away from the hot spots, so it’s not as crowded. You need to go find it – you’ll love it!

  • Keith Wynn
    October 23, 2013 at 11:35 AM

    Finding your blog last month has really been a blessing to me. I am so enjoying seeing all these posts and traveling vicariously through your wonderful blog :)

  • Kari Holtkamp
    October 23, 2013 at 3:24 PM

    What a vibrant and colorful place! I hope they win, and it doesn’t get converted into shops. There’s too much “progress” building over the cultural things that make places unique.

  • Tammy Chrzan
    October 23, 2013 at 1:09 PM

    Stop this :) :) !! I’m pining for London!!!!!
    I love to walk along the Thames, I have seen some very interesting things doing just that, people watching in London is a spectators sport.
    I love the photographs, I often am so torn about graffitti being called art. But then I think of Bansky and Roe and I love their work… Ahhhhh I’ve thought about doing a piece on street art … perhaps I’ll capture more of it in November before I write on it. The street “art” in East London is interesting! Thanks for this …. I can’t wait for Thanksgiving when I can get over!
    Tammy xx

    • Sarah Shumate
      October 23, 2013 at 7:14 PM

      I haven’t explored much in east London. I met my cousin at a pub in Shoreditch for a few hours, but that’s the extent of my knowledge of that part of town!

      So you’re set to be here at Thanksgiving?! Are you bringing the kids, too?!

      • Tammy Chrzan
        October 27, 2013 at 5:02 AM

        Hey girly, No I will be alone, I come to see friends over Thanksgiving and the kids are with their dad and then I have Christmas and New Years with the children. The East End is amazing, so rich and full of history. I don’t suggest ever checking it out at night though! What are you up to for Thanksgiving?

  • Nicole @ Treasure Tromp
    October 23, 2013 at 1:08 PM

    gorgeous! I’ve never really experienced a lot of street art honestly but this looks incredible.

  • Jessica
    October 23, 2013 at 12:42 PM

    We took some of our engagement photos at the skate park/ graffiti walls. I loved how colorful they were! Birds of a feather….

  • Emma @ AdventuresofaLondonKiwi
    October 23, 2013 at 12:14 PM

    I have such a soft spot for Southbank (except in the depth of Summer). Have you been to the Real Food Market behind the Royal Festival Hall? It’s all streetfood vendors and so very very good!

    • Sarah Shumate
      October 23, 2013 at 7:11 PM

      I haven’t gotten any food there, but I’ve seen it! We went on a weekend and it was packed! (They may not even be open during the week – not sure…) I’ll go back sometime and actually try it out!

  • Miwa
    October 23, 2013 at 6:45 AM

    What a colorful area! And I bet I’d be able to spend hours at that book market! I definitely need to stop by this area the next time I have the chance to travel to London :)

  • Shaylynn
    October 23, 2013 at 5:20 AM

    America is the worst. THE WORST.

    I kid, it’s so lovely and bright, and wonderful.

  • Sara Louise
    October 23, 2013 at 5:47 AM

    I love street art!
    And I’m more than a little jealous of the Mexican food truck. Next time you see it, please ask them to head southeast and to keep going until they reach Le Petit Village. Thanks ;)

    • Sarah Shumate
      October 23, 2013 at 7:09 PM

      Hahaha! Will do! I take it there’s even less Mexican food in France than there is in the UK?

      • Sara Louise
        October 24, 2013 at 8:11 AM

        I’m not sure about Paris (they have a Chipotle!) but Mexican is REALLY hard to find around me :(