South Bank London

South Bank for book lovers

From specialist bookshops and second-hand market stalls to the country's biggest stage for literary events, South Bank is heaven for book lovers!

If you are in search of books, writers and the written word in London, here's a handy guide to South Bank's must-visit destinations.

South Bank Book Market

Tucked under Waterloo Bridge in front of the BFI Southbank cinema, this is one of London's most loved second-hand book markets. The market has been running for 40+ years and some of the traders have been selling books here since the 1980s! The tables carry hundreds of classic and contemporary titles (usually paperbacks), as well as comics, antiquarian maps and historic prints.

If you’re planning a visit it is important to note that due to its outdoor location many stallholders do not do not attend during bad weather or when there are major red carpet events at the cinema. For the biggest selection of stalls, we recommend heading down on a weekend – Saturdays are particularly popular.

South Bank Book Market

National Poetry Library

Founded in 1953 and opened by poets T.S. Eliot and Herbert Read, the National Poetry Library moved to its current home on the top floor of the Royal Festival Hall in 1988. The library has more than 200,000 items and aims to hold all contemporary poetry collections published since 1912, as well as audio and visual materials, critical texts and a phenomenal collection of poetry magazines, making it the largest public collection of poetry in the world.

If there is something specific you are looking for – whether a poem for a special occasion or the full text of a poem you love a line from – ask the highly knowledgeable librarian team for some friendly advice. The library even has its own running list of frequently asked for 'lost' quotations or FALQs.

National Poetry Library on the 5th floor of Southbank Centre

NT Bookshop

A must for theatre fanatics! From classic plays to new works, monologue collections, biographies, theatre criticism and history, and books on the theatrical craft written specifically for actors, directors and writers, every aspect of the theatre world is covered at this brilliant specialist bookshop at the National Theatre. There’s also a delightful selection of theatre-themed gifts such as witty Shakespeare homeware and lovely stationery.

Foyles Waterloo Station & Royal Festival Hall

The popular London bookshop chain Foyles has five branches across the city, including two in South Bank. Their shop at the Royal Festival Hall stocks a broad range of subjects across a variety of genres. In particular this branch is known for carrying signed copies of books from authors who have hosted book launches and readings at the Southbank Centre.

The second South Bank branch of Foyles is a large store that occupies two floors inside what was once the Waterloo Station waiting room and ticket hall. The original Edwardian-era windows and old-fashioned ticket booths have been charmingly preserved, adding extra character to what is already a very inviting bookshop.

Aerial view of the counter and entrance at Foyles bookshop at waterloo station

Hayward Gallery Shop

For those with an interest in books about contemporary art, the Hayward Gallery has a very enticing selection of titles on sale, covering a wide variety of acclaimed artists and art movements, as well as broader art history and criticism. In addition to books on art and artists, there’s also an excellent selection of books that explore themes of design, architecture and the process of creativity.

The Hayward has its own publishing label, publishing titles and catalogues covering the many acclaimed artists whose works have been exhibited at the gallery, and on the shelves you can usually find copies of books from many of their major previous exhibitions.

Southbank Centre literary events

The Southbank Centre has one of the best and biggest selections of regular literary events in the country. Throughout the year Southbank Centre hosts dozens of major literary events such as talks, book launches and readings with some of the world’s biggest literary stars, the likes of Kazuo Ishiguro, Doris Lessing and Orhan Pamuk, as well as exciting new voices.

Every autumn look out for the annual London Literature Festival, a huge event that regularly attracts some of the biggest names in contemporary fiction and non-fiction to the Southbank Centre's stages. Other major annual events include the Booker Prize shortlist readings (usually hosted in May), the TS Eliot Poetry Prize evening in January, and the Poetry International Festival that has been taking place every summer at the Southbank Centre since 1967. Explore the Southbank Centre’s upcoming literature programme here and book your tickets.

Lambeth Palace Library

The Lambeth Palace Library was originally founded in 1610 and is the home of the national library and archive of the Church of England. The contemporary library building in South Bank is a state-of-the-art home to a vast collection of historic books, manuscripts and other documents collected by the Archbishops of Canterbury. This collection includes some of the oldest printed books in the world, as well as ancient hand-written illuminated manuscripts that date back to the 9th Century.

An important place for academics and historians, manuscripts from the archives can be viewed in the reading room by prior request, and the library also has a small gallery that houses temporary themed exhibitions highlighting unique treasures from the collection. Keep an eye out for their regular guided tours on Saturdays that include the opportunity to go behind the scenes at the library’s high-tech restoration and preservation studios.

people reading books inside the reading room at lambeth palace library

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