The Southbank Centre is a complex of artistic and performance venues by the River Thames, including the Royal Festival Hall and the Hayward Gallery; the centre is Europe’s largest arts centre.
- Join the National Poetry Library, which is on Level 5 of the Royal Festival Hall, and find a poem for a special occasion or a special someone
- Take in the amazing views of the Thames all the way to St Paul’s Cathedral to the Houses of Parliament
- Pick up some bargains at one of the centre’s shops, which sell books, accessories and homeware that are specially designed for the venue
What to see and do
Cooldown at Jeppe Hein’s Appearing Rooms Fountain
During the summer months, there’s a temporary – and very mischievous – fountain at the top of the Southbank Centre. The floor is dotted with water jets that erupt in unpredictable sequences and patterns so you might dodge getting wet, but you probably won’t. This feature is perfect for cooling off after a day in the hot city.
Take a tour to find out more about the buildings
There’s the Architecture Tour if you want to find out more about this iconic complex of buildings, or the Behind the Scenes Tour if you want to sneak a peek at what happens off-stage. These tours are aimed at people aged eight and over and feature something of interest to everyone.
Enjoy some great food
You’ll find lots of places to eat and drink at the Southbank Centre, from pop-up summer and winter restaurants to sandwich shops, fine dining, bars and even a weekly market for fresh produce. You can, if you prefer, bring along your own food and have a picnic in the Royal Festival Hall foyers.
See some great orchestras for £10
The Southbank Centre has four resident orchestras and some performances cost as little as £10! For live orchestra aficionados and newcomers alike, these performances are really something special. If you’re a little nervous about your first orchestra visit, staff can offer you advice on etiquette.
Did you know? (3 Interesting Facts)
- One of the lifts in the Royal Festival Hall sings to you when you enter it. If you enter the hall through the main entrance, head over to the corner on the far left, step into the lift and enjoy the sounds.
- The site now occupied by the Southbank Centre used to be the home of the Lion Brewery. The brewery started in 1837 and operated until 1924. The building was empty until 1931 when it was gutted by fire and the site remained unused until 1949 when work began on the Royal Festival Hall.
- There’s a bust of Nelson Mandela outside the Royal Festival Hall that’s very unusual because it was unveiled – in 1988 – while Mandela was still alive. Most statues and busts are erected after their subjects have died. The bust is a Grade II listed monument.
- 1948: Clement Atlee’s Labour government announces plans to hold a Festival of Britain as a ‘Tonic to the Nation’ to bring people together after the horrors of World War II.
- The festival was centred around a series of temporary domes and pavilions, with one permanent concert hall to remain in place for London’s musical life. Work begins to clear a site between Waterloo Bridge and Hungerford Bridge.
- 1949: Clement Atlee lays the foundation stone and construction begins on the Royal Festival Hall.
- 1951: On May 3, the hall opens. It can seat 2,900 people, as well as an orchestra of 100 and a choir of 250 people. There’s a ceremonial concert for the opening, attended by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
- 1967: On March 1, Queen Elizabeth opens the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room. The Queen Elizabeth Hall has 917 seats for chamber orchestras, operas and theatre, while the Purcell Room has 372 seats and is used for cabaret, mime and chamber music.
- 1968: On July 9, the Queen opens the Hayward Gallery and its first exhibition is a retrospective of Henri Matisse’s paintings.
- 1988: The Royal Festival Hall receives Grade I listed status – the first post-war building to do so.
- 2002: Aided by £15 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Royal Festival Hall and its foyers are extended and renovated. The work is completed in 2007.
- 2003: The Hayward Gallery closes from January to October for refurbishment work, including a larger foyer and improvements to access. The work includes a specially-designed mirrored glass pavilion called Waterloo Sunset.
- 2012: The Southbank Centre hosted the Festival of the World as part of this year’s Olympic Games. The festival, which ran from July to September, featured musicians from all over the world.
- 2014: The Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love finished with the Big Wedding Weekend during which 70 couples – 15 of them same-sex – got married on the Royal Festival Hall stage.
Facilities and accessibility
There’s a multi-faith prayer room on Level 2 of the Royal Festival Hall. The door code is available from the welcome desk on this level.
Southbank Centre welcomes families and babies, and there are changing facilities available throughout the various venues. The venues are buggy and wheelchair-friendly throughout, there are accessible toilets throughout and there’s also a Changing Places toilet on Level 1 of the RFH for people who need personal help to use the bathroom.
Visually-impaired people and people with hearing issues can make use of guiding, narration and sound enhancement facilities and there’s also help available for people who can’t queue or who need extra help to get seated.
Some exhibitions and performances are relaxed so that visitors with sensory issues or autism spectrum issues can enjoy them fully.
Blue Badge parking facilities are available around each venue and assistance dogs are welcome throughout the centre. If you have any mobility issues or health conditions that need extra help then call 02038799555 to discuss.