It may be best known as a busy commuter hub, but there are plenty of great things to do in Waterloo. From riverside city views to culture and hidden gems, here are our pick of reasons to explore the Waterloo area.

Stroll along the South Bank

Photo by Morley von Sternberg

We could easily spend the whole piece on this area alone. The South Bank is a two-mile stretch of arts and culture venues, loved by Londoners and tourists alike. If you’re short on time, it’s worth taking a stroll to look at the skyline, Brutalist architecture and views across the river.

In the summer, head to the terrace in front of The Royal Festival Hall, or the rooftop at Queen Elizabeth Hall. In the winter, grab a hot drink and enjoy a festive stroll beneath the fairy lights. The South Bank is home to the South Bank Centre, BFI Southbank, Tate Modern and The National Theatre. You’ll also find frequent pop-up performances and free events happening in the area.

Check out the Mosaics in the Arches

Waterloo mosaic
Waterloo mosaic

If you’re leaving Waterloo by the main entrance and heading down the sweeping steps to catch a bus, take a moment to look under the railway arches and notice the mosaics: tongue-in-cheek versions of classic paintings (think Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières) with a London Transport makeover.

If you make you way out via the Lambeth side exit, you can find a series of around 70 mosiacs dedicated to the life, work and glorious paintings of English poet William Blake, who lived nearby from 1790-1800. The works can be found in the three railway arches along Carlisle Lane, Virgil Street and Centaur Street.

Eat Global Cuisine at the Southbank Centre Food Market

INDIA ROPER-EVANS-Provided by Southbank Centre
Photo by India Roper-Evans

If you want an alternative to the chain eateries on the riverfront, head down the steps at the side of the Southbank Centre for the food market: it runs Friday-Sunday (and Bank Holiday Mondays) from February. We can vouch for the dosas at Horn OK Please, an Indian veggie stall, and the pasteis de nata at Galeta. Just follow your nose to find loads of other delicious international dishes.

Options include Mauritian curry at The Curry Shack, pork sausages from The Polish Deli, vegan Ethiopian-inspired food from Ethiopiques and shawarma from the Levant Kitchen. You’ll also find plenty of sweet treats, like freshly-cooked crêpes, cannoli and cakes (including some dairy and gluten free). You can wash all that down with a visit to one of several drinks stalls, which sell everything from coffee and tea to beer, wine and cocktails.

It’s likely to be busy, so you might need to wait a few minutes if you’re looking for a table; it’s probably worth splitting up to reserve a spot if you’re with a group. Oh, and loos are available in the neighbouring Royal Festival Hall.

Hungry for more? be sure to check out our London street food guide.

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Get High on the London Eye

Thames Clipper London ferry boat
Photo by iStock.com/ablokhin

On a clear day (or even better, night), the massive wheel is a prime spot for sweeping views. It’s worth shopping around for ticket deals in advance, as it’s more expensive on the day.

The London Tour takes about 30 minutes, during which you should be able to see most of London’s most famous landmarks. Keep an eye out for the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace.

Tickets to the London Eye are available as a bundle with 3–4 other attractions as part of London Turbo Pass or The London Pass. These schemes both allow free access to a huge range of attractions, and can save you a bundle if you’re planning a day (or for even better value, several days) of wall-to-wall sightseeing. Alternatively, given that a standard ticket for the London Eye is £32.50, getting a combo ticket for the Ferris wheel plus two of London’s top attractions from £60.00 (four for £90.00) or plus a river cruise from £43.00 is pretty decent value.

Browse Second-hand Books under Waterloo Bridge

Just under Waterloo Bridge on Queen’s Walk lies the Southbank Centre Book Market which has hundreds of second-hand books. These range from classic and contemporary fiction to non-fiction, maps, antique books, prints and comics. Happily, the bridge provides enough shelter that the book market can stay open come rain or shine.

Admire the Street Art at the Leake Street Arches

Street art image of paint can & face
Street Art, Leake Street Arches | Photo by Amanda David

The Leake Street Arches (aka the Leake Street Tunnel) is home to an ever-changing gallery of graffiti and street art. Head down at the weekend and there’s a pretty good chance you will see the artists in action, a music video being made or a modelling shoot in progress. It’s as cool as it gets, and also home to some great little indie businesses.

Get your Philly Fix at Passyunk Avenue

Philadelphia-inspired dive bar in the Leake Street Arches offering US sports on a big screen plus a decent menu including cheesesteaks (obvs), buffalo wings (ditto) and Tater Tots with a side of Wiz. Wash it down with a Citywide Special (a beer and a shot of bourbon for the uninitiated) or choose from a range of beers and whiskies plus the usual bar list. There’s shuffleboard, super-friendly staff, a rocking playlist and some great midweek discounts (£1 wings anyone?).

Organise a Board Games Tournament

Draughts Cafe
Draughts Cafe | Photo by Amanda David

A particularly good option for a group of mates – or a date, if you want a fast-track way of checking if they are a keeper – Draughts has over 1,000 board games in its library for you to play. There is a good menu of tasty nibbles and a drinks menu offering beer, wine and cocktails to fuel you to your inevitable victory.

Go Underground at The Vaults

A colourful neon-lit tunnel
Photo by David Ogle

Sitting beneath Waterloo Station, The Vaults is literally and figuratively home to underground culture in the area. It’s an arts venue and theatre that shows immersive, experimental and alternative programming and runs an annual festival every January to March.

Enter via the Leake Street Arches to discover a maze-like series of cavernous spaces, filled with bright lights and outlandish décor. The Vaults play host to jazz nights, art classes, immersive performances and all kinds of other weird and interesting events.

Overload your Senses at Vaulty Towers

Back on ground level, and across from Leake Street on Lower Marsh you’ll find Vaulty Towers. Its a bonkers-looking boozer that is owned by good people behind The Vaults. It’s an explosion of maximalism and kitsch, festooned with giant lips and treehouses.

The sign above the door promises “Fun Fun Fun”. If that doesn’t convince you, the solid selection of cocktails might. Also, here’s a handy little Cheapo hack: if you have a ticket to the Vaults that night, you can claim a 10% discount on your drinks.

Hang out at Scootercaffe

London doesn’t have much in the way of nighttime café culture compared with other European cities, but that is very much the vibe at Scootercaffè.

It’s a friendly hangout day or night, with a roaming cat, and little garden where you can order coffee and cake or something stronger from the bar. Vintage furniture, old posters and old Scooter memorabilia adorn the walls (natch). Downstairs has more of a late-night basement feel, with candles and fairy lights.

Watch Theatre at The Cut

The Cut is home to both The Old Vic and Young Vic theatres. Plays from both can sell out fast, and often transfer to the West End, so get in fast. The likes of Gillian Anderson and Wendell Pierce have performed at these theatres in the past few years. What’s more, despite having some of the hottest tickets in town, both venues have some discount ticket offers.

The Old Vic offers £10.00 preview tickets, which are released five weeks before the opening night of the show. Over at The Young Vic, you can take your chance with £10.00 ‘Lucky Dip’ standing tickets (the luck part is you can nab a seat if one is spare on the night) or enter the £5.00 preview lottery. Note: Lucky Dip tickets will be available as soon as it’s safe to do so as per government guidelines.

More ideas: See our article 101 Free Things To Do in London.

This post was originally published in July 2019. Last update: June 11, 2021.

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