This was the first place I lived when I first moved to London 30 years ago so Lambeth is still special to me.
Stretching from the River Thames down to Streatham, this area of south London is culturally-rich.
Lambeth includes the nightclubs of Vauxhall, the diversity of Brixton down to the leafy suburb of West Norwood.
What to see and do in Lambeth?
1 Watch a cricket match at The Oval
The Oval has been the home ground of Surrey County Cricket Club since it opened in 1845. The final Test match of the English season is traditionally played here as it’s a 23,000-seater stadium.
And The Oval is not just the birthplace of The Ashes as it has hosted football and rugby matches too. Even if you’re not a cricket fan, the stadium tours on Fridays and Saturdays are really good.
2 Enjoy a Tipple on the Beefeater Gin Distillery Tour
This is a museum to London’s favourite tipple. You get issued with an iPad (no extra charge) then set off on a self-guided tour.
The distillation process is explained by a guide and then it’s onto gin tasting time to compare different Beefeater gins.
And as all good visits to a distillery should, the tour ends with a complimentary gin and tonic (before you hit the gift shop).
3 See big name bands at Brixton O₂ Academy
I had some brilliant nights at this old theatre in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s been a music venue since 1983 and has a large main floor space for watching and dancing, plus seating on the balcony.
It’s one of the biggest non-arena venues in London (capacity nearly 5,000) so big bands include it on their tours. Gigs we all wish we’d seen here include Madonna in 2000 promoting her Music album, and The Smiths’ last ever gig in 1986.
4 Discover and learn at the Imperial War Museum
You’ll know when you’ve found the building as there are ship guns outside. Head inside and there’s a central atrium with a spitfire and harrier jet suspended.
The First World War galleries include a trench walk-though but be warned, I’ve left these galleries feeling truly sick. But then war is horrific, isn’t it? The Holocaust Exhibition also leaves most people deeply shaken.
Tip from Laura: A very 'London' look at war is the A Family in Wartime gallery that features one family's lives during WWII
5 Wonder at the majestic Lambeth Palace
This medieval riverside palace is the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
It’s not open every day but you can book a guided tour to see the Crypt, Chapel and Great Hall (this room has a ‘wow factor’), or go to one of the monthly garden open days in the summer.
And while the new Lambeth Palace Library isn’t expected to be open until 2021, the current Library is open to the public from Tuesday to Friday each week with no appointment necessary.
6 Work on your green-fingers at the Garden Museum
Next to Lambeth Palace, St Mary’s Church is home to the Garden Museum that tells the history of gardening.
There are items from 16th-century naturalist John Tradescant’s collections, who was Head Gardener to Charles I.
The ticket price may seem steep but it does include entry to climb the 14th-century tower to get the best photos of the Houses of Parliament.
Tip from Laura: The Garden Café is award-winning so do stay for lunch
7 Celebrate the movies at the Cinema Museum
If you love going to the pictures this is the place for you. It’s a private collection of cinema history and memorabilia including projectors, photos and even old usherette uniforms.
Interestingly, the building was the workhouse where Charlie Chaplin was sent as a child. Although the museum seems to be eternally under threat of closure there are two cinemas here (the main hall and a smaller screening room) so it’s worth checking what’s on.
Tip from Laura: Visits to see the museum collection are by appointment only – they list online when volunteers are available.
8 Relax in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens
Now a simple park close to Vauxhall station, the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens was one of the leading venues for public entertainment in London for 200 years up to the mid-19th century.
Part art gallery, part fashion show and part brothel, it defined the city’s nightlife. Anybody who could afford the admission price, and who looked to be respectably dressed, would be admitted.
So this was where the master of the house and his servant could ‘have it away’ behind a tree. Today, it’s a public green space and that kind of shenanigans is no longer allowed.
9 Find something unique at LASSCO Brunswick House
This Vauxhall antiques showroom of the London Architectural Salvage and Supply Company has fine furniture, fireplaces, flooring, lighting and decorative ornaments.
It has some very ‘London’ items such as doors from old banks in The City to iron railings from famous buildings. This antique-filled Georgian mansion also has a popular restaurant.
10 Pet the animals at Vauxhall City Farm
One of London’s oldest city farms, Vauxhall City Farm is home to pigs, sheep, rabbits, ducks and more. The turkey is called Trevor and the alpacas are called Ben, Tom & Jerry.
Fred the golden Guernsey goat will usually jump up at the fence to say hello. You can take horse riding lessons here and the shop has an excellent range of pocket-money toys.
Tip from : Try visiting during the Easter holiday, to take part in all the activities running Tuesday - Friday.
11 Be confused by the Camberwell Submarine
Known locally as the Camberwell Submarine, this odd looking structure on Akerman Road SW9, isn’t a nautical vessel or a nuclear bunker.
It’s actually a bizarre looking concrete structure that ventilates a local heating system. The concrete chimneys were extended a few years ago so it looks slightly less submarine-line but it’s still a quirky landmark.
12 Hang out with mates at Brixton Jamm
Brixton Jamm is a staple party venue for south Londoners. From House to Jungle, Disco to Drum and Bass this is a fun place when you want to dance.
They have live music, DJ sets and after parties. And the courtyard has decent DJs, street food, cocktails and dancing too.
13 Take a stroll in Brockwell Park
This large south London park has excellent views of the central London skyline from Brockwell Hall. Or just take a stroll among the ornamental ponds and formal flower beds.
The art deco Brockwell Lido has a 50m outdoor swimming pool and a popular cafe. The miniature railway is worth finding too. Each July the free Lambeth Country Show is held here.
Tip from Laura: Don't miss the puns in the vegetable carving competition such as Prince in his 'Little Veg Courgette'.
14 Find a relic at the Brixton Windmill
Who would expect to find a 200-year old, 15 metre high windmill in Brixton? Built when this was open fields, the mill closed in 1934.
But following restoration in 2011 it is now London’s only working windmill.
Officially known as Ashby’s Mill, after the family who milled here, it’s open to the public for guided tours from March to October, usually on the second weekend of every month. And you can buy the flour milled here then too.
15 Enjoy movies and music at Brixton Ritzy
You’ll get the blockbusters plus art-house and foreign language films at this restored 1911 multi-screen cinema as well as regular Q&As, film festivals and themed seasons too.
The cafe is open from breakfast and the bar is open through the evening with seating outside the front. And The Ritzy is not just for seeing films as Upstairs is the second floor music venue open 7 nights a week.
Tip from Laura: When it gets hot, I like the balcony that overlooks Windrush Square.
16 Dance the night away at the Electric Brixton
I remember this place as the rather excellent Fridge nightclub in the ’90s, but I can confirm Electric Brixton is still a fab live music venue with top notch dance DJ sets.
It’s in a theatre dating back to 1912 so has a large main floor and ornate plasterwork on the walls and balcony.
17 Wonder at The Clapham Orangery
This Georgian structure is now sitting on the edge of the Notre Dame housing estate in Clapham.
It’s in the Palladian style with Portland stone columns. Built in 1793, it was the entrance to an orangery (greenhouse) but now it’s a rather out of place historic landmark.
18 Catch a movie at Clapham Picturehouse
Loved by locals, this isn’t a faceless mutliplex but has plenty of character (the hand-drawn chalkboards are quite beautiful). It’s a little rundown but that adds to the appeal.
There are new releases, classic and arthouse films, plus baby screenings and even dog-friendly films. The café/bar has outdoor seating and there’s a farmer’s market right outside on Saturdays.
19 Be surprised at 575 Wandsworth Road
This National Trust property was beacons until 2006.
It looks like an ordinary Georgian terraced house outside but inside he used recycled wood from skips and carved intricate designs to cover all the surfaces.
The chain of ballerinas over the fireplace in the Sitting Room are particularly lovely. Do look up as the ceiling is also decorated, and look down to the freehand painted floorboards that echo the carving patterns.
You can book a tour online. Note, visitors have to remove their shoes (thick socks are available).
20 Climb that wall at VauxWest and VauxEast Climbing Centres
You can do indoor bouldering at both VauxWest in Vauxhall and VauxEast near Lambeth North. Both centres welcome climbers of all abilities and the walls have gentle slabs and steep overhangs.
Both sites have cafés and retail outlets for climbing supplies (you can hire boots too). The pros use these centres which is why they’re open until late (11pm at VauxWest and 10pm at VauxEast).
21 Dance the night away at Fire Club Vauxhall
Primarily a gay club, this nightclub is in a railway arch with lots of rooms inside playing cutting-edge house, techno and bass.
The sound systems are impressive and they attract world-renown DJs.
There’s an outdoor terrace chill zone and the late licence means the party goes on well into the next day. Perfect for hedonistic weekends.
22 Party every night at the Union Club
This railway arch nightclub has club nights seven nights a week and the party goes on well past breakfast time.
There’s a large bar area and a partly-covered area to the front of the venue for the smokers.
This was known as a gay club with techno and tech house DJs but all nights are mixed now so no-one misses out on the fun.
23 Be wowed by the lightshow at The Lightbox
This 3-room nightclub takes its name from the LED walls and ceiling that cover the main room. It’s another Vauxhall railway arch venue and the mesmerising light shows are legendary.
The music includes House, Trance, Techno and Bass as well as Disco and Grime so check the website so you know what to expect. There’s a large garden here and the club has a really good vibe.
24 See a show at Above The Stag Theatre
This is the only full-time professional LGBT+ theatre in the UK. That means LGBT-interest theatre all year round.
Based in Vauxhall, the venue offers plenty of new writing, musicals and revivals in the 100-seat main house and the 60-seat studio. And why the odd name?
Well, the theatre was originally in a room above a gay pub called The Stag. The pub is long gone but the theatre is here to stay.
25 Enjoy a brew with a view at Tamesis Dock
This converted 1930s Dutch barge, moored permanently between Lambeth and Vauxhall Bridge, is a floating pub with live music venue.
Grab a drink and then admire the view of the Houses of Parliament from the top deck.
There’s a good range of beer and the pub grub is well-priced and pretty decent too. (I’m a fan of the vegan nachos here). Come along for Ukulele Wednesdays – yes, you can bring your own uke – or check the event listings for other live music.
26 Sit in a vertical boat
Opposite Tamesis Dock, there are a series of timber archways over White Hart Dock – a draw dock running parallel to the Albert Embankment.
High walls make it easy to walk by and miss the dock so the archways were added in 2009 along with three wooden sculptures in the form of standing boats.
The sheltered seats are a nice oddity to get pose in for your Instagram feed.
27 Go shopping at Brixton Market
Station Road street market is open on weekdays for street food and general stalls, and there are colourful themed markets on Saturdays, such as a flea market and makers’ market.
Electric Avenue has cheap food stalls all week and there are the covered arcades too. Brixton market sells a wide range of foods and goods but is best known for its African and Caribbean produce, which reflect the diverse local community.
28 Eat out at Brixton Village Market
This was once one of the rundown market arcades (called Granville Arcade), but it’s been restored due to its cultural significance as one of the principle hearts of the UK’s Afro-Caribbean community, and the fact that they are few arcades like this left in the UK.
Now there are more than 20 cafés, restaurants and takeaways making this Brixton’s culinary hub. The Village Market stays open late on Thursday and Friday nights for live music and food from around the world.
29 Say goodbye to Ziggy at the David Bowie mural
On the side of Morley’s Department store, there’s a piece of street art that brings thousands of fans of the pop legend.
Australian artist James Cochran, aka Jimmy C, painted the portrait in 2013 to promote an exhibition (called The Many Faces of David Bowie) and to remind people that David Bowie was from Brixton.
Since Bowie’s death in 2016, many come to pay tribute but as fans were scrawling messages on the wall it had to be repainted and now has a permanent clear cover to protect it.
30 Explore and learn at the Black Cultural Archives
The BCA, on Windrush Square in Brixton, is the only national repository of Black history and culture in the UK.
They are all about uncovering the hidden stories of Britain’s Black Heritage and then sharing their finds with everyone.
There’s an impressive archive offering insight into the history of people of African and Caribbean descent in Britain.
You can study in the Reading Room or simply enjoy the free exhibitions and events.
31 Meet the locals at Pop Brixton
Pop Brixton has turned disused land into a creative space for local, independent businesses by using shipping containers.
The designer-maker shops are great but I like to go in the evening as there are restaurants and food startups making this an excellent night out.
It just feels like a really vibrant and creative place. Note, on Fridays and Saturdays it’s for over 18s from 6pm.
32 Go in the house at Danielle Arnaud Gallery
This is one of the best private art galleries in the area. The beautifully curated contemporary art exhibitions have been held in her elegant Kennington townhouse for over 20 years.
It could be intimidating ringing the bell but it’s worth it as the gallery is great at showcasing emerging and established artists with everything from paintings and sculpture to light installations and projections.
33 Meet the artists at Gasworks
Gasworks is a non-profit contemporary visual art organisation with an art gallery and artist studios. Most of the studios are for UK artists but some are reserved for an International Residency Programme for non-UK based artists.
Gasworks is also the hub of the Triangle Network, an international network of over thirty arts organisations, mostly based in Africa, Asia and South America. There are up to four exhibitions a year here and free events such as open studios.
34 Order cake and coffee at Beaconsfield Gallery Vauxhall
BGV is an artist-run contemporary art gallery housed in a Victorian ragged school (poor school) building.
The art can be a bit ‘way out there’ but it’s a welcoming place and there’s lots of space to explore.
I tend to go for the Ragged Canteen on the lower level as it’s a lovely daytime vegetarian café.
Tip from Laura: As well as the hand-made cakes you should order a cup of organic Monmouth coffee made in their vintage Italian Espresso machine.
35 Be confused at the Cabinet Gallery
This 12-sided, six-storey brick art tower on the corner of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is striking in itself. The multi-faceted structure has distinctive trapezoid oak-framed window panes and an open, column-free art gallery at the base.
The gallery’s website remains perversely minimal about what’s on but, as well as representing artists, it does have exhibitions of their work here from Wednesday to Saturday each week.
36 Be entertained at the Streatham Space Project
This new purpose-built theatre, comedy, music and art venue opened in 2018. Nine creative locals made sure it happened and it’s got a strong community focus so there’s plenty for the kids to do too.
The main theatre space has room for an audience of 120 and there’s a second room that’s used for smaller performances, workshops, etc. The bar and café is a nice area with local artists’ work on the walls and live music some days too.
37 Find peace at West Norwood Cemetery
One of the Magnificent Seven lawn cemeteries of London, and the first to be built in the Gothic-Revival style, West Norwood Cemetery opened in 1836.
Built on a hill – to be closer to heaven – it’s the final resting place of some big names such as Sir Henry Tate, sugar merchant and founder of the Tate Gallery.
Not everyone has a big mausoleum though as Mrs Beeton, the Victorian cookery writer, has a simple headstone. It’s a fascinating place to explore and the Friends group runs monthly tours on the first Sunday of the month.
38 Try a new hobby at The Portico Gallery
This West Norwood community gallery has pottery, sewing, movie nights, yoga, life drawing, singing and comedy so it’s a fun place to know about.
I love the fact you can dance to African jazz one night and listen to punk covers the next. If feel the need to be creative check out what’s on here.
39 Eat your way through the West Norwood Feast
On the first Sunday of the month, from April to December, 100 outdoor market stalls spring up over five sites along the High Street in West Norwood.
There’s a farmer’s market, craft fair, a ‘Retro Village’ flea market and the all important street food stalls. Live entertainment and free children’s activities mean it’s welcoming to families.
And it’s all people-powered as it’s organised by volunteers from the local community.
40 Take a stroll in Norwood Park
Norwood Park is at one of the highest points in Lambeth and has some of the best views of London as, on a clear day, you can see St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye and the Shard.
But it also feels a long way from London, especially with the country walks. If you want to get active there’s an outdoor gym, a floodlit football pitch and a skate park.
Tip from Laura: The Hungry Hippo café, next to the children's playground, does amazing falafel.
41 Be wowed by the white at Newport Street Gallery
This is Damien Hirst’s gallery in Vauxhall running half the length of the street.
It displays some of his impressive personal art collection with works by Francis Bacon, Banksy, Tracey Emin, and Pablo Picasso, as well as taxidermy and anatomical models. The very white exhibition space also has solo and group art shows to see for free as well.
I know you’re supposed to be looking at the art here but do see the ovoid spiral staircases as they are rather gorgeous too. Oh, and the museum restaurant is the medically-themed Pharmacy 2.
42 Take to the ice at Streatham Ice Rink
Streatham Ice and Leisure Centre has the only Olympic-sized ice skating rink in London. The rink has been here since 1931 and is still popular.
Do your Bambi impression during one of the public sessions that shake your thang at the ice disco. There are ice hockey games here too so if you prefer to watch there’s room for nearly 1,000 spectators.
And it’s not just ice skating here as there’s a gym and two swimming pools too.
43 Find your style at The Type Archive
Now this is somewhat specialist, and it’s not open every day, but it’s a fascinating place so well worth checking the website for events and exhibitions.
The Type Archive holds the UK’s National Typefounding Collection spanning the nearly 600 year period when the foundry cut letters in steel, drove them into brass blanks, and cast lead type from them in molten lead.
And to add to the quirkiness, it’s all housed in heritage industrial buildings in Stockwell that once cared for sick baby elephants.
44 Look closely at the Stockwell Memorial Mural
Next to the Stockwell War Memorial is a brightly-coloured mural on a concrete circular structure (it’s actually a WWII deep level shelter entrance).
The mural depicts scenes from WWI but also James Bond, (because Roger Moore grew up in Stockwell) and artist Vincent Van Gogh as he spent six months living in the area.
The London Underground tube train is because Stockwell was one of the earliest tube stations.
45 Buy baked goods at the Old Post Office Bakery
You can buy their bread across Lambeth but I like to visit the Clapham bakery as it’s where the magic happens (they really still do all the baking on a London street and not in a big factory somewhere).
The organic spelt and rye are the happy staples here but I’d also recommend the feta and spinach slices and the deliciously sticky Chelsea buns. They also produce a cheaper non-organic range to ensure that everyone can enjoy quality baked goods.