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20 Things To Do In Southwark

Over the past decade or so, Southwark has undergone huge transformations. It’s a desirable place to live, it has a great nightlife and it’s rich in local culture and history.

I’ve lived in this Borough for over three years now, I’ve walked the streets a thousand times over, visited most coffee bars and spent money in most of the shops.

In my eyes, it’s one of the greatest parts of London, so read on to discover what’s hiding in these streets. I just know you’re going to love Southwark too.

Lindsey Henderson
by Lindsey Henderson;

Lindsey is a Northern girl living in London. Since moving to the big smoke in 2012, she’s spent every spare moment she has walking the length and breadth of the city, on the hunt for the most exciting parties, quirkiest side streets and the best cup of coffee she can get her mits on.;

What to see and do in Southwark?

1. Learn Something New About Something Old in the History Museums

A Showroom in the Museum
CC-BY-SA Ann Lee / Flickr

Some of History’s most gruesome moments can be discovered in Southwark, like the Old Operating Theatre Museum in the church of the old St Thomas’ hospital, the 1144 Clink Prison and the impressive Imperial War Museum.

Take a moment at the Clink to visit the remains of Winchester Palace next to Pret a Manger on Clink Street and if you’re at the Imperial War for around 3 pm on a weekday or 11 am on the weekend, then head to the gated park, it’ll be full of the local dogs (and their owners) having a runabout.

2. Be a Dedicated Follower of Fashion in Bermondsey

The Yellow Building of the Textile Museum
CC-BY-SA Oxyman / Geograph

Forget Oxford Street, with its busy crowds, high street shops and rude customers. Yes, if you’re after a pleasant shopping experience head to the quieter boutiques and independent clothing stores on Bermondsey street.

London’s Fashion and Textile Museum is also located here, this bright pink and orange building is hard to miss and always worth a visit. By the time you’re done here you’ll feel more fashionable than a pair of Jimmy Choos.

3. Shop Vintage at Flat Iron Square

Two women show the destination
© madsalmon / Instagram

Probably one of the lesser known vintage shopping destinations is Flat Iron square. Every Saturday and Sunday they hold a huge vintage and flea market alongside live music and pop-up food vendors.

It’s a great place to find a bargain and the prices are lower than the likes of Portobello Road (which is exactly what we wanna’ hear right?).

London travel tip:

Don’t be scared to barter with the sellers and come prepared with lots of cash, the ATM is a bit of a walk away.

— Lindsey Henderson

4. Feel Inspired at the Galleries

People are Visiting the Gallery
© - Paul - / Flickr

Southwark has a large number of galleries to enjoy.

The South London Gallery and the White Cube have a strong collection of contemporary art and The Menier (found inside the Menier Chocolate Factory – yum!) holds an ever-changing programme of exhibitions.

A short stretch of the legs from these is the Tate Modern. This good-looking gallery, which was once a bankside power station, is full of contemporary and modern art.

5. Find Some Inner Peace in the Tibetan Peace Garden

Peace Garden Column
CC-BY Matt Brown / Flickr

One of the more unusual spots in Southwark is the Tibetan Peace Garden which was opened by the Dalai Lama in May 1999. The man wanted to create understanding, peace and harmony between different cultures.

If you enter from the North entrance you’ll bump into the stone Language Pillar engraved with a message from the Dalai Lama. At the top of this pillar, you’ll see three carved steps which represent peace, understanding and love.

Visit here at about 2 pm when the garden gets lots of light and is most tranquil. I know, I feel peaceful just thinking about it too. Aaahh…

6. Take it To Church and Visit the Two Cathedrals

Southwark is lucky enough to be the home of two handsome cathedrals. The Southwark Cathedral has a sweet spot on the bank of the Thames, close to London Bridge.

Erected in 1839, it’s an impressive landmark with pointy towers and grey stone. St George’s is a little less visually intimidating, with sandy brickwork, it’s also a little younger as it was built in 1848.

Take note of the stained glass window above the West Door, which was added to the building in the 50s, when skirts were long and hair was high. On a sunny day around noon is when it looks its best – just sayin’.

7. Shop Like it’s 1960 in the Elephant and Castle

Among us locals (yes I like to think of myself as a local), the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre is one of the most beloved eyesores.

This centre has skipped out on demolition more times than Tom missed out on a Jerry lunch. Built in 1965, it was once the business, recreation and shopping centre of South London.

Aesthetically it hasn’t changed much since and does look a little run-down (to say the least).

London travel tip:

Enter the ground floor from Walworth Road and take a snap of the original Gregg’s Bakers, honestly, it’s just like stepping back in time.

— Lindsey Henderson

8. Fist Pump till’ the Sun Comes Up in London’s Most Iconic Dance Music Clubs

Southwark has some of the best dance music clubs in the whole of London. Elephant and Castle has been home to the Ministry of Sound since September 1991 and in the same neighbourhood is the popular dance music venue, Corsica Studios.

In the next-but-one town, Peckham is Canavan’s Pool Club. It may look a bit strange from the outside, but don’t judge a book by its cover, the lineup is always bangin’. Just make sure you have your ID, no amount of wrinkles or facial hair will help you get in without it.

9. Make the Most of the Markets

The Entrance to the East Street Market
CC-BY Matt Brown / Flickr

One of London’s oldest markets is East Street Market, just of Walworth Road. The fruit and veg are sold for pennies here and most of the products are geared towards African and Caribbean produce.

What most people don’t know about East Street is funny guy Charlie Chaplin was supposedly born here. If you stand on the corner of East Street and Walworth Road there is a plaque dedicated to him above the shops.

Close by is the vibrant Mercato Metropolitano, a huge warehouse dedicated to food, drink and having a good time. Enter here through the left entrance, past the barbers and up the stairs, you’ll miss a bag check from security and you can make the most of the free samples from the cheese counter on the left, just don’t blame me if you have cheese nightmares.

10. Fill Up on Free Samples at Borough Market

One of the entrances to Borough Market
© acmanley / Depositphotos

A market not to be missed is Borough Market. The vendors at this busy food market give out more free samples than Santa gives out presents on Christmas Eve.

Don’t forget to cover both sides and if you’re into seafood then grab a bite of the free paella. If you can, avoid here at lunchtime and on the weekends, it can get uncomfortably busy.

If you need some cash then some genius has popped a free one in the centre of the market – if that isn’t convenient enough for you I don’t know what is!

11. Watch Drama Unfold in the Borough’s Playhouses and Theatres

The Shakespearean Theatre on the South Bank of the Thames
© MarkB

Southwark Playhouse, The White Bear Theatre, The Union Theatre and of course, Shakespeare’s Globe are all in Southwark.

The White Bear theatre, founded in 1988, focuses on new writing, The Southwark Playhouse is leading off West End Theatre and the Union Theatre is a fringe theatre famous for staging musicals.

If you visit any of these make sure you get there early as the seating is unreserved and no one wants to spend the night away from their friends, behind the world’s tallest man now do they?

12. Laugh Until Hurts at The Tommyfield Comedy Club

A Wall at the Tommyfield Gastro-Pub
CC-BY JasonParis / Flickr

Not many people know this, but The Tommyfield pub and guesthouse in Kennington is also a fantastic comedy venue. For such a small venue they get some big names, even Joe Wilkinson and Rob Beckett have played here before.

Tickets are under a tenner and performances run every Thursday. I’d advise booking for the spring, it’s a great time to see their new material before the comedians take it North for the Edinburgh Fringe.

13. Uncover Industrial Past in Bermondsey

Street View of Shad Thames
© VictorHuang / Depositphotos

Bermondsey was the centre for leatherworks back in the day and evidence of this can be seen as you stroll around. Look out for the old Tempo Leather Company sign on Bermondsey Street, the renovated Leatherworks and the Leather Exchange Pub.

What most people don’t spot when they visit this boozer is the Charles Dickens quote on the building opposite, visit before it gets dark (and maybe pre-drink) if you want to read it all, it’s hard to see in the dark and with double vision.

14. Live Like Only Fools and Horses in Peckham

Young Adults Eating and Drinking on a Rooftop Bar
© evyamcs / Depositphotos

The popular TV show, Only Fools and Horses was set in Peckham.

If you’re a huge fan of the show then travel here by bus from Camberwell and sit on the right-hand side, you’ll spot Trotters’ three-wheeler parked up on the way.

I’d be lying if I said Peckham was a good-looking place, but it’s urban-ness is exactly why hipsters and Millennials love it so.

Don’t miss Peckham Levels, a former multi-storey car park transformed into a community paradise, and don’t forget to bring your camera, you’ll be gagging to get a selfie in the multi-coloured stairway.

15. Go Butterfly Hunting in Burgess Park

Burgess Park is one of Southwark’s great green spaces, complete with a tennis club, duck pond and playground. It’s also a kind of holiday home for the Camberwell Butterfly, Nymphalis Antiopa, which was first discovered in 1766.

The memorial to this creature is on Wells Way but look carefully at the gates where the outline of the butterfly can also be spotted.

16. Get High in the Shard

New London City Hall at Night
© tkemot / Depositphotos

Nothing beats getting high and there isn’t any level higher than the top of a 95-story skyscraper.

There is a viewing platform where you can absorb 360-degree views of the capital, however, if you don’t want to fork out for the ticket prices (and you’re up for being a little bit sneaky) then grab a drink in the bar instead, you’ll get the stunning view for the price of a drink and an amazing cocktail to boot.

17. Walk Among the Dead in Famous Cemeteries and Burial Grounds

Skip these if you’re a little faint-hearted, I won’t judge. First port of call is the Nunhead Cemetery, near Peckham.

As London’s second-biggest cemetery and one of London’s magnificent seven, it’s a good place for a stroll and it’s very popular with dog walkers too.

It’s definitely worth making tracks up the hill on the western side of the cemetery, where you’ll access a scarily good view of St Paul’s.

Closer to Central London is Crossbones Graveyard, a disused (promise) post-medieval burial ground with eccentric tributes to the women and children laid to rest there.

18. Visit Old McDonald at the City Farms

A Hen and a Goat at the Farm
CC-BY-SA Gilda / Flickr

Ok, so I don’t know if it is Old McDonald who owns these farms, but I do know it’s a great outing for the whole family. The staff are very friendly and the animals even more so.

Choose either Surrey Docks Farm or Vauxhall Farm, both are an absolute hoot with horses, goats, pigs and sheep to make friends with.

19. Spend a Day Exploring the Listed Buildings and Old Architecture

Southwark is bursting with vintage architecture, each with a special story to tell. One of the oldest buildings is the 1677 St George’s Inn, just off Borough High Street.

It’s London’s only galleried coaching inn, it’s looked after by the National Trust and it’s a spiffing place to grab a drink. Guy’s hospital, a few steps away, was one of the tallest hospitals in the world when it was first built.

Visit in the evening to get a good gawp at the light sculpture on the top. Then there’s the ‘Take Courage’ building just behind Borough Market on Redcross Way.

You can see it from the street, but grab your camera and take the overground from London Bridge to Farringdon, sitting on the right-hand side, it’ll be so close you’ll taste it!

20. Be Caught on Film in Boroughs Filming Locations

The Front View of the Pullens Buildings
© Jamie Barras / Flickr

Trinity Church Square is such a hidden gem. This stunning square is a true time capsule with a sandy coloured church surrounded by picturesque Georgian houses.

It’s often used as a location for period dramas and if you’re lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time, you might get a slice of the action. If you’re after a bit of a walk then find the secret path (behind the houses on the left at the back of the church) which leads straight into Dickens’ Square Park.

Another period location is the Pullens Buildings, just off Walworth Road, they’re some of the last Victorian tenement buildings. A few years ago Brad Pitt was filming a period drama here, so bring a pen and paper for an autograph, you never know who you might see!