Living on the South Bank (SE1)

Once a seedy rundown area, the south bank of the River Thames was where you made the trek to see a play or concert. Or passed swiftly through its decrepit environs on your way to Waterloo station, or north to the West End or Soho. Thankfully, the area has enjoyed a staggering renaissance over the last 10 to 15 years. Boosted by generous cash injections from the Government and private bodies, such as the South Bank Management Group and the Coin Street Community, the Southbank is now a thriving magnet for tourists, hotels, restaurants, businesses and smart new warehouse conversions. The once-dilapidated Royal Festival Hall has received a much-needed revamp under the auspices of South Bank artistic director, Jude Kelly, and you can now walk along the Thames from Lambeth Bridge to beyond Tower Bridge.

There's nothing more romantic than wandering along the Embankment at night, taking in a movie or a play post-dinner at one of the many new restaurants in the area. And it's perfect for families - as well as singletons. The Kinks song, Waterloo Sunset completely captures the whole essence of the South Bank. And thanks to the London Eye, the area is beamed around the world every New Year's Eve with the best fireworks display ever!

Transport links are fantastic - Waterloo is served by 4 tube lines, but the best thing about the Southbank is that you don't need any transport - you can walk anywhere: Soho, Covent Garden, Hyde Park, the West End, Westminster, the City - all within a 10 to 20-minute amble. It's the entertainment centre of the capital with a staggering array of culture on offer, from the Hayward Gallery and National Theatre, Film Theatre, Imax and Young - and Old (under the auspices of Kevin Spacey) Vics to museums to gardens and breezy boat trips along the Thames. The South Bank has it all. You can breathe here - that dirty old river gives this part of the city movement, life and fresh air. I was once a die-hard, north of the river Hampstead gal, but the South Bank's been my home, my sanctuary and my playground for the past 6 years - I couldn't live anywhere else! Gina Baksa

History

The whole area has a colourful past - being the place of bear-bating, where the prosperous gentlemen north of the river would come to consort with the local ladies of the night. There was street entertainment a-plenty and Shakespeare founded his Globe theatre here, along the river at Bankside. The whole area was once marshland - prized for its duck hunting, which is why you'll find road names like Lower Marsh. It was also the city's market garden - London was only the size of the current City of London at that time - where all the fresh produce was grown.

Housing

Housing in the area is very mixed - from the snazzy apartments at County Hall and the Whitehouse on Belvedere Road (average price for a 1-bed is a shade under £400k), to the housing co-ops on Coin Street - the most notable example being those in the famous Oxo Building. And if you have £700,000 to spare, you could snap up a gorgeous 3-bedroom Georgian terrace in Roupell Street. Farther along the River at Bankside, lofts in the prestigious Bankside Lofts complex are on offer for $1.35 million. Weekly rentals in the SE1 area start at $250 for a studio up to £1,150 for a 1800sq ft, 2-bedroom loft.

Hotels

For out of town visitors, the South Bank is well served by hotels. Top of the range are the Marriott County Hall on Westminster Bridge, the Park Plaza, with great views of the Houses of Parliament and the Park Plaza County Hall. All are within walking distance of the River and the London Eye. Cheaper establishments include the Premier Inn (County Hall), the Days Hotel and the Mad Hatter Hotel.

Shopping

The South Bank has various shopping areas, catering to locals, tourists and weekenders. Supermarkets are small 'metro' types and Lower Marsh and The Cut are the area's main shopping streets, with a good selection of DIY, chemists, coffee shops and general stores. The river frontage by the Festival Hall - known as the Southbank Centre - has a Foyles book store and a music shop. Farther along the River there's a wonderful area called Gabriel's Wharf with some great fashion, ceramics and jewelry stores, cafes and even a bike hire. In the famous Oxo Tower Wharf close by, you'll find more artisan shops, cafes and gallery@oxo - a superb space for photography exhibitions. The Bargehouse tucked just behind, is also a great venue hosting art, design and photography.

Restaurants

What the Southbank lacks in great shopping, it more than makes up for with its eclectic selection of bars and restaurants. The Southbank Centre riverfront boasts a Strada, Giraffe, Wagamama, while trendy Skylon has become a destination restaurant with stunning views of the River Thames. Tucked inside the British Film Institute is Benugo, a great place to lounge with a pre-movie drink, or enjoy a meal in the great restaurant area. Lovers of tasty British cuisine will enjoy the mouth watering offerings at Canteen, on the Belvedere Road side of the Festival Hall, and a short walk away is the Archduke, a wine bar and restaurant beloved of many a commuter, local and tourist. Walking along Belvedere Road towards the London Eye, you can choose from All Bar One, Azzuro (Pizzas), Chili Chutney, Pong and Feng Sushi, Las Iguanas and Neds Noodle Bar among others. Head the other direction towards the Oxo building and you can dine in style at the Oxo Tower Restaurant with panoramic views of the river, enjoy seafood at The Riviera and have lunch or dinner at The Gourmet Pizza Company.

Museums

The South Bank boasts some incredible museums, from Anish Kapoor and Jeff Koons at Bankside's Tate Modern, to the amazing museum dedicated to Florence Nightingale. War buffs can continue their trail at the Imperial War Museum, while followers of a more gentler hobby can visit the graves of famous botanist and explorer John Tradescant and even Captain Bligh at the Museum of Garden History.

The Southbank Centre

The Southbank is best known for its eponymous arts centre, comprising the National Theatre, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Hayward Gallery and the Purcell Room. Housed in a somewhat Brutalist Sixties concrete hell, the interiors have undergone a major refurb and hosts an eclectic mix of dance, music, spoken word, visual and cinematic artistry.

Green Spaces

Between Gabriel's Wharf and Oxo Tower Wharf is an oasis of green known as Bernie Spain Gardens - the perfect place to relax - summer or winter. Named after a local resident and campaigner, the gardens play host to the free Coin Street Festival each summer. You can also enjoy a walk in Jubilee Gardens - although not strictly a garden, this patch of land underneath the London Eye was slated for redevelopment in 2003, but as I write (November 2009), no work has taken place.

Theatres and Cinemas

If you love supporting new acting talent, then make your way to the Young Vic (66 The Cut, SE1). Its older sister, the Old Vic is now artistically helmed by Kevin Stacey and he's doing a fine job of attracting both funding and talent to Waterloo Road. Cinema fans will love the huge expanse of 3D celluloid on offer at the 20m-high, 500-seater IMAX cinema by Waterloo Station. You can also catch up on myriad classics and new movies at the British Film Institute.

Transport

The nearest tube stations are Waterloo, and a little farther along the River, Southwark. Waterloo is a huge bus and tube hub with four tube lines: Northern, Waterloo & City. A selection of buses will take you all over the city and the RV1 runs from Covent Garden (via the SouthBank) all the way to Tower Bridge.

Pubs & Nightlife

The Southbank has a great mix of traditional pubs. The Kings Arms has a quintessential English vibe, where you'll find locals and commuters. Enjoy typical gastro pub fare at The Anchor & Hope, and sizzle those taste buds with a great Thai meal at The White Hart. The Kings Arms is another great traditional pub, offering fine food and liquid refreshment. Clubs in the area include the iconic Ministry of Sound on Gaunt Street, and on Fridays and Saturdays DJs spin ambient and old skool tunes at Concrete at the Hayward Gallery.

Attractions

The South Bank has become a massively popular tourist destination, with the London Eye its centerpiece and the Aquarium and Dali Universe Museum playing hosts to thousands each weekend. In addition you can take a ride in an amphibious craft on the famous Duck Tours, or lose your lunch on a high-speed RIB boat up to the Tower of London. Of course, most visitors want to experience the high life on the 135-metre London Eye - the huge wheel by the River Thames. If you want your wine buds tickled, then head over to Vinopolis on Bankside for a unique wine-tasting experience to remember!

Gina Baksa