The South of the Thames Guide
Admittedly, most of the action in London takes place north of the Thames, though South London boasts many hidden gems that are all the more rewarding upon their discovery. Borough Market, the Tate Modern, and Southbank Centre are the main attractions but dig a little deeper to discover incredible food producers at Maltby Street Market and Spa Terminus in Bermondsey, off-the-beaten path foodie destinations in Peckham and Tooting, an idyllic country getaway at Petersham Nurseries, and a true cultural melting pot at the bars and shops of Brixton. While there aren’t a lot of hotel options down here, the Mondrian is a notable (and very cool) exception, and it’s right on the water.
Bermondsey Antique Market12 Bermondsey Sq., Bermondsey | +44.20.7234.0805
Go early (5am, they open at 4) to shop with collectors and dealers for Victorian and Georgian silver, china, glassware, furniture, and more.
Dulwich Picture GalleryGallery Rd., South London | +44.20.8693.5254
Situated in a particularly green neighborhood in South London, the Dulwich Picture Gallery is the first of its kind in England, and houses a stellar collection of masters' work from Rubens to Poussin, along with an always-exciting rotation of contemporary and classic exhibitions.
White Cube Gallery144-152 Bermondsey St., Bermondsey | +44.207.930.5373
Credited with bringing London back to the fore of the contemporary art scene, White Cube offers a taste of the best and biggest artists and exhibitions. Owned by Jay Jopling, White Cube is famed for giving many of the Young British Artists their first solo shows and for representing the likes of Gilbert and George, Antony Gormley, Andreas Gursky, and Anselm Kiefer. The original Duke Street space closed back in 2002, but their two newer London locations (including a very large gallery on Bermondsey) certainly won't disappoint.
Tate ModernSouthwark | +44.20.7887.8888
The Tate features modern and contemporary art from 1900 to the present day in a huge renovated power station on the Bankside of the Thames. The outstanding Tate Collection, which is free to visit, is complemented by a series of contemporary art exhibitions that rotate through. Of course, London has it’s fair share of quality museums, but the Tate Modern is at the top of the list, especially following the museum’s recent renovation and expansion, which were completed this summer. After browsing the galleries here, follow GP’s favorite London walk: Head down to the river and then meander east along it toward Westminster Bridge. Take the foot path over the iconic bridge (you’ll see Big Ben on the other side), and then continue into historic, beautiful St. James Park, which leads to Buckingham Palace. After you see the royal home, head back in the other direction, taking Pall Mall, which connects to the central hub of Trafalgar Square.
Treetop Walkway at Kew GardensSouthbank Centre, Belvedere Rd., Kew | +44.20.8332.5655
Kew Botanical Garden's Treetop Walkway literally lets you amble through the trees. The path leads underground first, to the Rhizotron, where an installation teaches you about tree roots. Then, you'll head 59 feet up to walk amongst the lime, sweet chestnut, and oak trees and mingle with the resident birds and bees. It's a very special experience for adults and kids alike. During the holidays, they do up the entire place in lights and guide after-dark tours along the path as well.
London Duck ToursBelvedere Rd., Lambeth | +44.20.7928.3132
Kids love these fun duck-themed tour buses-slash-boats, which are a wonderful and unique way to see the city. They offer great views from the river of many of the major sites adults want to see, making it fun for the whole family.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre21 New Globe Walk, Southwark | +44.20.7902.1400
The reconstruction of the original Shakespeare theater is one of the Bankside's most beautiful and character-laden structures. Much of the theater is standing only, which just adds to the authenticity. In addition to shows, tours of the building and exhibitions on Elizabethan theatre and Shakespearean London are on offer.
Bold Tendencies7th-10th Floors Multi-Storey Car Park, 95a Rye Ln., Peckham | +44.20.7732.5453
Bold Tendencies founder Hannah Barry is responsible for much of Peckham’s transformation into a culture—and counterculture—hub. At this point there are few corners of this diverse, buzzing neighborhood that Barry and her organization haven’t touched. Take the parking lot: The rooftop you walk over is covered in undulating lines of weather-reflecting paint by artist Richard Wentworth. The once-grimy stairwell has been transformed by Simon Whybray into a trippy, bubble-gum-pink tunnel. The Derek Jarman roof garden converts drab concrete into a lush, landscaped escape. And we would be remiss not to mention the multistory orchestra, a collective of accomplished musicians hosting folk and classical performances in unexpected places (like that parking lot).
South London Gallery65-67 Peckham Rd., Peckham | +44.20.7703.6120
Somewhat off the beaten path, the South London Gallery is in a stretch of South London—straddling Camberwell and Peckham—that is known for pushing the envelope. It’s a multifunctional space that has created a community with its interactive programs (for adults and kids), a garden, and an excellent café that’s reliably packed with creative types and local mums tucking into baked eggs. After coffee, wander into the shop for a great selection of books, magazines, jewelry, and ceramics from local artisans.
Review Bookshop131 Bellenden Rd., Peckham | +44.20.7639.7400
Review is one of those independent bookshops that makes us all wish we read more. It’s staffed with novelists always willing to lift up their heads from the page and offer a suggestion or four. Books are thoughtfully divided—not by traditional categories but into tongue-in-cheek colloquial genres, like “wimmin” for women, making a casual browse substantially more enjoyable. Literary fiction is the preferred genre here, with the best of the new bunch always stacked on the table by the door. Interspersed among the titles are cookbooks, pretty greeting cards, Moleskine journals, and the occasional candle.
YogariseBussey Building, 133 Rye Ln., Peckham | +44.20.3096.3158
Yoga is big in London (as it is everywhere), but there are few places we have enjoyed practicing more than Yogarise. Held on an upper floor of a South London warehouse, classes are large, but the experience feels incredibly intimate. This is no run-of-the-mill Ashtanga. Classes are taught to music that stretches from classical and instrumental to traditional Indian. The yin class, taught by Emma Peel, not only focuses on stretching out the hips and lower back but is a meditative experience unlike any we’ve had. Peel recites poetry, the music seems to ebb and flow with the stretches (which you hold for up to five minutes), and the room smells comfortingly—never overwhelmingly—of incense. Mats, blocks, and blankets are freely provided, and the relaxation area, filled with art house magazines, herbal teas, and works by local artists, is a space you could spend hours in.
Agua Spa20 Upper Ground, Southbank | +44.203.747.1000
A new discovery for us, Agua Spa is located under the hypermodern Sea Containers hotel (formerly the Mondrian) and designed by Tom Dixon. It’s the antithesis of a normal spa. There are no hard corners, only undulating surfaces that curve into corridors and communal spaces, and the color scheme is white, grey, and silver. The whole vibe is more akin to a spaceship or a futuristic cocoon than the usual wood/cotton/natural-light mix. The manicures and pedicures are both indulgent and blessedly efficient, but of all the treatments, the Soveral Signature Facial is one we come back to again and again. If you’re into lymphatic massage, aromatherapy, and nontoxic beauty, you won’t be disappointed. We also found ourselves in the womblike relaxation area sipping herbal tea and reading newspapers (thoughtfully left by each bed) long after our appointment ended.