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 unusual sightseeing attractions, here's a look at great things to see and do in South Bank that won't cost you a penny.

Free South Bank events: Summer 2024

This summer there's a rich array of free events happening across South Bank's various cultural institutions. From June through August every weekend presents a brilliant choice of free-access activities including weekly parties and performances on the outdoor stages at Southbank Centre and National Theatre. Here's a look at what's coming up this summer.

Chaka Khan's Meltdown Festival

WHEN & WHERE: 14–23 JUNE at Southbank Centre

The iconic singer and musician Chaka Khan brings her incredible voice and global influence to the 29th edition of Meltdown at Southbank Centre, the UK’s longest-running artist-curated music festival. In addition to a packed programme of concerts across the Southbank Centre's biggest concert halls, the festival always features a brilliantly curated lineup of free events.

Queer C*ntry present a free rodeo party on the Riverside Terrace on June 22. Photo by Stephen Daly

Free event highlights at Chaka Khan's Meltdown Festival include an eclectic lineup of DJ parties on the Riverside Terrace across the two weekends of the festival (Fri from 6pm, Sat, Sun from 2pm), a special edition of the monthly new music showcase futuretense on Thu 20 June and Love What You Feel, an immersive yoga session from Adrienne Everett accompanied by live improvised classical piano by Karim Kamar (Wed 19 June at 7pm).

Fri 15 Jun from 6pm Emerging Arab female, non-binary and trans DJs with Habiti Nation .
Sat 15 Jun from 2pm London Queer Soundsystem Day.
Sun 16 Jun from 12pm  Funk This dance battle championships for under-18s.
Sun 16 Jun at 2pm Ancestral Communal Listening Celebration with Michael Mwenso.
Wed 19 Jun at 6:30pm Youth Voices Choir.
Wed 19 Jun at 7pm Love What You Feel immersive yoga session with live music.
Wed 19 Jun at 8:30pm & 9:15pm BALM sound sound baths.
Thu 20 Jun at 5:40pm futuretense free concert.
Thu 20 Jun at 7pm Creative wellness with Our Naked Truths.
Fri 21 Jun at 5:30pm Sisters in Dub present Through The Fire.
Sat 22 Jun at 2pm Margate’s Dame Jame hosts the Queer C*ntry party. 
Sun Jun 23 at 2pm The ultimate masterjam with Vibe Village

River Stage 2024

WHEN & WHERE: 5–28 JULY at National Theatre

Presenting free performances by local artists and collectives on a pop-up open-air stage, National Theatre's annual River Stage festival is always a fun summer day out for all the family. The festival runs over four weekends in July with each weekend led by a different curator ( Fri 6:30pm–11pm, Sat 12pm–11pm, Sun 12pm–6pm).

From 5-7 July leading stars from The Glory bring the best of queer London to the stage. From 12-14 July Greenwich + Docklands International Festival brings a mash-up of vibrant, inclusive and disruptive street theatre, dance and circus.

From 19-21 July the brilliant Rambert dance company presents awe-inspiring dance performances, special guests, and the chance to learn new moves. National Theatre leads the final weekend with live theatre, dance and music, workshops, face painting, free backstage tours and an NT Live screening of the award-winning Dear England.

The Glory return to South Bank for the opening weekend of River Stage

Fri 5 July DJs and drag curated by The Glory 
Sat 6 July Drag battles, DJs, and cabaret curated by The Glory 
Sun 7 July DJ Stav B Sunday Sermon, excerpts from stage show All The Fraudulent Horse Girls, cabaret with Barbs Goes Classical and Glory X Margate Seaside Special.

Fri 12 July Les Patineurs rollerskate stunt show, Family Catwalk Extravaganza, Dibs J set
Sat 13 July  DJs, music with Contraption progressive brass band, dance performances of work by  Jeanefer Jean-Charles MBE. 
Sun 14 July Live music, dance, stunts and Sign Song with Fletch@.

Fri 19 July DJs, performances of works by Marion Motin, Benoit Swan Pouffer, Liam Francis and Aishwarya Raut, DJ Tim Garcia
Sat 20 July Live music, DJ sets, dance performances and dance workshops for contemporary groove, soca, k-pop and vogue
Sun 21 July Dance performances, family yoga, workshops for line dance, Caribbean dance, DJ sets.

Fri 26 July Character comedy, music and queer cabaret with Diane Chorley and special guests
Sat 27 July Little Angel Theatre - 'Elephant Parade' Workshop, BAC Beatbox Academy, Backstage Building Tours (3pm–7pm), Boy Blue hip hop performance, NT Live Screening: Dear England (7:30pm–10:45pm)
Sun 28 July Portrait Workshop with Curtis Holder, Public Acts Odyssey Workshop, feel-good pop with Some Voices choir, storytelling performance by Chisara Agor

You Belong Here

WHEN & WHERE: 29 JUN – 8 SEP at Southbank Centre

South Bank Centre's summer festival You Belong Here, presents two months of diverse events that celebrate inclusion, community and togetherness. Highlighting voices from activism, history, journalism, filmmaking and the performing arts, the You Belong Here events programme includes free parties, performances and interactive activities on the Riverside Terrace stage every weekend this summer. Curating the different weekend parties look out for:

Sat 29 Jun: Pride celebrations with NAZAR.
12-14 Jul: Lewisham-based youth arts collective Sounds Like Chaos present Bring The Noise.
Fri 19 Jul: Just Vibez Carnival.
Sat 20 Jul: Jazz Re:Fest A celebration of all things jazz.
26-28 Jul: Azeema Celebrate the sound of global transcultural identities from London to Africa, Asia and beyond.
2-4 Aug: FLAWA presents Latin-American performances and sounds from the Global South. 
9-11 Aug: Counterpoints Communal workshops and performances, including the inclusive club night Our HeartBeats
16-18 Aug: ESEA Unseen Ambient and street-smart sounds with DJs and British artists from the ESEA (East and Southeast Asian) diaspora.

Quirky attractions

In addition to world-famous attractions like the London Eye, South Bank has several smaller attractions that are free to visit including some fascinating cultural spaces where you can often catch pop-up exhibitions, talks, free workshops and other interesting events.

Watch archive films 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 Sherling High-Level Walkway

Described as central London's biggest factory, every aspect of the National Theatre's theatre production works - from metalwork, carpentry and painting to prop manufacture and the rehearsal rooms - takes place inside the theatre complex itself. You can view the theatre's workshops from the Sherling High-Level Walkway where informative exhibition boards outline the different production works taking place. Open 12pm-6pm on Wed and Sat, entrance via Dorfman Theatre.

Poetry reading 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. In addition to a massive selection of anthologies, magazines and journals, the library 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.

Free 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 hosts free temporary exhibitions that highlight treasures from the library’s collection, as well as free evening lectures (space is limited so make sure to book). See what's on here.

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, most of which are free to enter. Check out what's on here.

Free 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. As space is limited, we advise arriving early to secure your spot.

Iconic sights

They say the best things in life are free and when it comes to iconic sightseeing opportunities that won't cost you a penny, you are spoiled for choice in South Bank! Take a stroll along the river and stop and sit for a while to soak up the views.

Sightseeing on 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, 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.

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!

A street acrobat performs in front of Jubilee Gardens

Watch the street performers

While strolling the Queen’s Walk take time out to watch the street performers. Every day brings a different collection of talented buskers, acrobats and other performers to the banks of the river. Performers can be found at the dedicated busking spots near the Southbank Centre in front of Jubilee Gardens, next to Hungerford Bridge and on the pedestrian crossings of the Golden Jubilee Bridges.

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

A picnic in the park

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.

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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