From early nineteenth-century slum to Victorian London’s centre for tanning hides and pelts, Bermondsey has reinvented itself once more and is now a lively area of south-east London with a bar, pub or restaurant on every corner and a real community feel. It may have gone up in the world but there are plenty of affordable options; here are our 12 top tips.
1.Grab a coffee – with or without vodka
Chapter 72 is a cosy little coffee shop; home to skinny lattes, flat whites and every type of espresso martini your caffeine-hungry little heart could desire. Specialists in the iconic cocktail (reputedly invented by London bartending legend Dick Bradsell in response to a now-famous model’s request for a drink that would wake her up and, erm, ‘muck’ her up), Chapter 72 have a whole menu of variations at around £12 each. Salted caramel, popcorn, cardamom and gingerbread are all favourites. See here for more on late night cafes in London.
2.Browse Vinegar Yard Flea Market
Flea London has a vintage and makers market running every weekend from 12-5pm at Vinegar Yard. Halfway between London Bridge station and Bermondsey Street, you can’t miss the site – just look for a train carriage with giant red ants crawling over it. Hand-made items, vinyls, books, clothing and all the cool retro stuff you don’t know you need until you see it, most at bargain prices.
See our article on flea markets in London for more vintage shopping outside of Bermondsey.
3.Watch artists blow glass
While away a hypnotic hour or so watching molten glass become art at London Glassblowing. The gallery itself is beautiful but the hotworking studio at the back is where the magic happens, with glassblowers working at two furnaces; the seated viewing area has been temporarily removed due to Covid but there is some standing room available.
4.Get Wimbledon-ready at Tanner Street Park tennis courts
Fees have only recently been introduced for the four hard courts in Tanner Street Park but if you can play before 4pm on a weekday it’s just £2.80 for 30 minutes or £5.60 for an hour – and now you can book a guaranteed slot rather than just turning up and hoping.
5.Lunch at Bermondsey Larder (or Brunch at the Last Talisman)
If you fancy something fancy for lunch, nip down the alleyway between The Last Talisman and Hakata Ramen to renowned chef Robin Gill’s Bermondsey Larder, basically a reincarnation of The Dairy in Clapham. Thursdays and Fridays sees a great value set lunch available between midday and 3pm; £20 will get you two courses and a glass of wine.
Or if you to upgrade to a big brunch and it’s the weekend, The Last Talisman is featured in our picks for best bottomless brunches in London – they also have a magician and mind reader providing live entertainment on Saturdays.
6.Visit the White Cube
A leading contemporary art gallery, White Cube has regularly changing exhibitions that are free to enter. Represented artists include Tracey Emin, Gilbert & George, Sarah Morris, Damien Hirst and Antony Gormley but don’t miss out on less familiar names – you might catch the next rising star. The gallery is small enough not to be overwhelming but large enough that a relaxed browse would take around half an hour. Great date option.
For a potential free bonus glass of wine with your gallery visit, check out our article on free gallery private views in London.
7.Sip a cocktail or G&T in an underground bar
Turn sharp left as you enter the excellent Italian restaurant Flour & Grape and stairs will lead you down to 214, a cosy basement gin bar and home to one of the best happy hours in London. Between 5-6pm, double G&Ts are yours for a fiver whilst a selection of signature cocktails are a pocket-friendly £6 (excluding December); they also run a series of partner events with special offers.
8.Bag some nearly-new bargains at a boutique charity shop
More designer threads than threadbare seconds, Mary’s Living & Giving Shop for Save the Children is well worth a browse for some great value upmarket finds. Affordable wardrobe revamp for you, essential funding for Save the Children and brownie (greenie?) points for championing sustainability in the notoriously throwaway world of fashion.
9.Craft beer & culture combo
Entertainment doesn’t come much more affordable than at Morocco Bound, indie bookshop and events space just off Bermondsey Street. They have a whole calendar of completely free cultural events including a weekly foreign film screening, poetry readings, book clubs and workshops; just make sure you’re there early to bag the best seats. Comedy nights are a laughable £6 for six acts plus a craft beer of your choice, while artists’ talks and jazz nights are £5.
10.Lunch at Maltby Street market
Weekends sees the railway arches along Maltby Street packed with delicious street food from around the world. Gyoza, steak & chips, Ethiopian flatbreads, bánh mì, duck frites, bangers & mash – it’s all here, along with covered seating and a couple of wine bars for good measure. If you’re more of a beer person, duck under the arches and you’re at the start of Bermondsey Beer Mile.
11.Antiques and all that jazz
Bermondsey Square hosts free jazz afternoons on alternate Sundays over the summer, and a popular antiques market on Fridays from 6am-2pm. Serious antique hunters start hovering as the stalls set up from 4am but if you’re feeling more like a relaxed amble then lunchtime is a perfectly acceptable option.
12.Visit the Bermondsey tank
UPDATE: Stompie has been removed, apparently for renovation. We await his return with hopeful hearts.
Check out Stompie, Bermondsey’s very own Soviet T-34/85 tank, once used to crush the Prague Spring and now a permanent protest against council planning rules. Used in the filming of Richard III in London, Stompie was bought by a local businessman and placed on an empty plot of land for which he had repeatedly been refused planning permission. Rumour has it that the gun turret points towards the council offices.
More ideas: See our article 101 Free Things To Do in London.