South Bank London

Top Free Things To Do in South Bank

You don't need to spend a fortune to enjoy a great day out sightseeing in South Bank! From hidden gardens to free exhibitions, pop-up festivals and free workshops, here's a look at great things to see and do in South Bank that won't cost you a penny.

Soak in the views on a stroll down the Queen’s Walk

Possibly London’s most famous riverside promenade, the Queen’s Walk is stacked with iconic views. Favourite photo opportunity stops include the world-famous views of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben as seen from the stretch of walk between Lambeth Palace and Westminster Bridges, the grandeur of the London Eye and the views of St Paul’s Cathedral as seen from Observation Point in front of Gabriel’s Wharf. Read our guide to what to see on your Queen's Walk stroll here.

A street acrobat performs in front of Jubilee Gardens

Watch the street performers

The Queen’s Walk is a street performance hotspot, and every day brings a different collection of talented buskers, acrobats and other performers to the banks of the river. Busking is only allowed at special dedicated areas and performers need to apply to perform here, ensuring a consistently high standard. You can usually find performers at the dedicated spots in front of Jubilee Gardens, next to Hungerford Bridge and on the pedestrian crossings of the Golden Jubilee Bridges.

Greenfingered workshops at The Garden Museum

Launched in spring 2023, Branch Out at The Garden Museum is a programme of free events and activities exploring gardening, art, floristry, plant science, history, design and more, every Thursday at lunchtime.

From seed swaps with the gardening team to nature-inspired art and craft workshops, Branch Out presents the opportunity to try something new every week. The programme takes place in the Garden Museum’s Grade II* listed deconsecrated church nave, parts of which date back to the 14th century (entrance to the museum proper costs extra). As space is limited, we advise arriving early to secure your spot. Find out more here. 

Get stuck into some poetry at The National Poetry Library

The National Poetry Library (located on the 5th floor of the Royal Festival Hall) is the largest public collection of modern poetry in the world. The library has a massive selection of anthologies and magazines, aiming to cover all genres, styles and topics, as well as criticism and journals. The library also hosts free temporary exhibitions themed around poetry and poets.

Every Friday from 10.30am–11am the children's Little Library area hosts Rug Rhymes, a free poetry reading session aimed at children aged 5 and under. Find out more about The National Poetry Library here.

Free gigs by up-and-coming acts at futurtense

The regular free gig series futuretense showcases some of London’s most exciting underground and emerging artists, as well as those from further afield. The series is part of the Southbank Centre’s ongoing commitment to support and nurture new contemporary music talent, and to provide a space for music lovers to come together at zero cost.

The concerts usually take place fortnightly on Thursdays from 6pm, for free, in the Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer, with two artists playing each night. Check out the schedule here. 

Relax in the Queen Elizabeth Hall roof garden

This peaceful space on top of the iconic Queen Elizabeth Hall has become a much-loved feature of the Southbank Centre. Home to over 200 wild native plants, a luscious lawn and gorgeous views across the river, the garden is open Wednesday to Sunday throughout the spring and summer (usually from May until October). Entrance is free and there’s a café-bar on-site.

Watch films from the archives at the BFI Mediatheque

Explore highlights from the world’s greatest film and TV archive in BFI Southbank’s free digital viewing space, the Mediatheque. Visitors can view over 95,000 titles from the BFI National Archive. The available film footage covers more than a century of film and TV material including news reels, feature films, TV shows and commercials. Simply choose a booth and touch the screen to start your viewing. Headphones are provided, but you are also welcome to bring your own. Find out more here

Go behind the scenes at the Sherling High-Level Walkway

Open daily, the walkway traverses the backstage areas of the National Theatre. Under architect Denys Lasdun’s ground-breaking design, every aspect of theatre production was brought under one roof with spaces for metalwork, carpentry, painting, prop manufacture and rehearsal rooms directly connected to each of the theatre’s three stages. These workshops can all be viewed from the walkway. Informative exhibition boards outline what happens in the different workshops and indicate the productions currently being constructed behind the scenes.

Check out the latest pop-up exhibitions at Oxo Tower Wharf

There’s always something new on show at the small private gallery, gallery@oxo, based inside the riverfront Oxo Tower building, with themes and mediums ranging from documentary photography to ceramic sculpture.

Just behind the Oxo Tower is the Bargehouse which is regularly the venue for large-scale exhibitions and pop-up events (usually hosted Fri-Sun) such as graduate student art shows and local craft and design showcases. Many of these events are free of cost, while for others a small fee is charged. Check out what's on here.

Watch graffiti artists at work on Leake Street

This 300-metre-long tunnel runs all the way beneath Waterloo Station connecting South Bank with the Lower Marsh High Street in Waterloo. Leake Street is London’s longest graffiti wall and every inch of space is covered with an ever-changing collection of street art murals. Anybody is free to leave their mark and the graffiti changes daily. A great place to take some fun photos and to watch local graffiti artists at work!

Check out the latest exhibitions at Lambeth Palace Library

One of the largest libraries of its kind in the world, the state-of-the-art Lambeth Palace Library is home to The National Library & Archive of the Church of England. The collection contains tens of thousands of books, maps, manuscripts, letters and other written materials, some of which are 1,000 years old!

The library is free to visit and is popular with academics (note appointments are needed to view books in the reading room). The library hosts regularly changing free temporary exhibitions that highlight treasures from the library’s collection, as well as free evening lectures in their rooftop hall (space is limited so make sure to book). See what's on here.

A view of the London Eye from Jubilee Gardens on a sunny day

A picnic in the park

South Bank is one of central London’s greenest districts. Next to the London Eye, take time out from the crowds with a picnic on the lawns at Jubilee Gardens. Behind the iconic Oxo Tower is the pretty Bernie Spain Garden and its lush herbaceous borders.

A little more off the beaten track, is Archbishop's Park (once part of the expansive Lambeth Palace Gardens), where you’ll find an excellent kid's playground and some ping pong tables The small St Thomas Gardens next to the hospital have a handful of picnic tables and benches offering some of the best views of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

More ways to save in South Bank

While the following activities aren't all free entry, here are some more top tips on how to make the most of South Bank on a budget.

Looking for bargain-priced tickets for the National Theatre's shows? A limited number of £20 tickets are available to purchase directly at the box office in South Bank on the day of a show from 10am. Even better yet, every Friday at 1pm £10 Friday Rush tickets are released online for each of the following week’s performances. An incredible offer worth setting an alarm for!

If you are a resident of the Lambeth or Southwark boroughs you can become an OV Local member at the Old Vic, which entitles you to 20% off tickets, food and drinks at the Old Vic. Find out more here. Lambeth residents can also get £8 tickets to exhibitions at the Hayward Gallery Wed–Fri and after 5pm on Saturday, as can visitors aged under 30. Find out more and book online here.

Southbank Centre is dedicated to widening access to the arts and throughout the year they host dozens of events and workshops in South Bank that are completely free to attend. These range from parties and DJ nights, children's shows and interactive installations, to concerts, workshops and exhibitions. Check out the programme of upcoming free events here.

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