London with kids: South Bank
Where is it?
South Bank is a popular pedestrianised area that runs alongside the south side of the River Thames between Lambeth Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge.
According to its website, South Bank is London’s cultural district, home to national centres for arts, film and performance (as well as the London Eye!). According to my son, South Bank is the place we go to find the skateboarders. Both statements are true. Plus, there are several pubs, food stalls and restaurants.
If you’re taking the train, the area is a short walk from either London Waterloo or London Blackfriars. If you’re on the underground, the nearest stations are Waterloo and Southwark.
How much does it cost?
South Bank can cost as little or as much as you want it to. I’m serious. If you want to go the low route, pack a mode of transport for your kid (e.g. scooter, bike or balance bike), and spend your time walking alongside the river, watching the skateboarders, running in the fountains outside the Royal Festival Hall and enjoying the area’s pop-up events and street entertainers.
And if you’re happy going the high route, you can do all of the above, plus splash the cash on world class tourist attractions like the Coca-Cola London Eye (adults aged 16+ from around £23, kids from 3-15 from around £19, under 3s free, buy discounted tickets online now) and SEA LIFE London Aquarium (adults aged 16+ from around £19, kids 3-15 from around £15, under 3s free, buy discounted tickets here).
What are the best things about it?
I like the fact that the relatively wide riverside walk allows my son to ride his scooter or balance bike without me fretting about him stopping at the end of a pavement or path.
I really like the fact that, from Christmas markets to pre-Wimbledon tennis events via buskers and the summer beach, there is almost always a surprising new pop-up to enjoy.
And I love the fact that the wide variety of attractions means that you can easily find something to suit whichever mood your toddler happens to be in.
And the worst?
Rain can put a bit of a damper on proceedings, with the outdoor attractions being a lot less enjoyable and the indoor ones being far busier than usual.
Is the food any good?
Yes. Giraffe World Kitchen, Wagamama, YO! Sushi and Strada are all in the strip of restaurants and shops between the Royal Festival Hall and the river. There are also a variety street food stalls dotted along the river, eateries in the National Theatre, Mondrian Hotel and British Film Institute (BFI), and a number of kid-friendly restaurants in Gabriel’s Wharf.
What are the toilets/baby change like?
I have no problem recommending the facilities in the BFI, National Theatre and Royal Festival Hall. I do, however, have a problem bigging up the public loos beside Jubilee Gardens – but that’s not because they’re dirty, it’s because they’ll set you back a hefty 50p.
Special insider tips
Cash-wise, you can often get discounted tickets to the SEA LIFE London Aquarium by cutting out offers on the back of cereal packets or showing your train tickets (check with your train company before you buy).
Picture-wise, as you can see from the pics of my son at the top and bottom of this article, the graffiti in the Undercroft skatepark makes for a great backdrop. Don’t worry about the skateboarders – they are really friendly – just head on in and snap away (note: I took these snaps in the morning, when it tends to be less busy).
Drinks-wise, if you can give the grandparents the kids for an hour, there is an awesome rooftop bar in the Mondrian Hotel.
The bottom line
Cheap, varied, fun and packed with surprises – what’s not to like?