South Bank London

What to do on a rainy day in South Bank

Drizzly weather putting a dampener on your sightseeing plans? Fear not! From museums to afternoon tea, immersive adventures and the cosiest pubs, here are some ideas for where to go when the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Spend the afternoon exploring a museum

Tucked away in the St Thomas Hospital complex the Florence Nightingale Museum is devoted to the life and work of the ‘Lady with the Lamp’. An in-depth and heartfelt tribute to one of Britain's most influential women, it covers all aspects of Nightingale's life work and also pays tribute to the many generations of nurses who followed in her footsteps.

Just because it's raining, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy some gorgeous gardens! Retreat into nature at The Garden Museum, a beautiful museum house in an old church that is devoted to the history of gardening and botany. After your visit head to their exquisite Garden Café for lunch. Locally famous for their outstanding weekly changing menus, reservations are recommended!.

Embark on an underwater excursion at the aquarium

A brilliant underwater excursion for families of all ages, at the SEA LIFE London Aquarium at County Hall you can marvel at an incredible array of aquatic creatures from across the globe.

From jellyfish and piranhas to penguins, turtles and even sharks, the aquarium represents all climatic zones and places an emphasis on educating visitors about the threats facing the world's oceans. There's also the option to buy combination tickets that also include entrance to the Dungeon and Shrek's Adventure! next door.

Check out the latest art exhibitions

If you are interested in contemporary art a visit to the Hayward Gallery at Southbank Centre is a must. Presenting some of London’s most innovative and adventurous contemporary art exhibitions, the gallery hosts three to four major art shows a year celebrating the work of household names from across the world.

The Garden Museum is also well-known for its expertly curated art exhibitions. There are usually three to four new exhibitions a year, themed around artists known for their focus on gardens, botany and the natural world.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Sea of Buddha. Photo by Mark Blower. Courtesy the artist and the Hayward Gallery

Book a ticket for a rainy day matinee 

There's always something memorable to see on the National Theatre's three world-class stages. Matinee performances are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays and the theatre now has some fantastic places to eat out before or after the show, especially the intimate and atmospheric Lasdun restaurant or the ‘Italian-ish’ wine bar Forza.

Witness for the Prosecution, the acclaimed play by Agatha Christie, never fails to impress and has been running at County Hall in South Bank for more than six years. There are weekly matinee performances on Thursday and Saturday at 2:30pm and on Sunday at 3pm. The venue for this  courtroom drama was once the London City Council’s debating hall, adding further atmosphere to an already gripping production.

Soak up a classic film at the cinema

Every day brings a rich programme of vintage and contemporary film screenings by filmmakers of all backgrounds to the three state-of-the-art screens at the BFI Southbank beneath Waterloo Bridge. Book a ticket for a film screening or find a booth at the BFI Mediatheque, where you can watch recordings from the vast BFI National Archive of early films, TV shows, news reels and more for free.

Just up the road is their sister venue, the epic BFI IMAX. An amazing place to experience the latest blockbusters, this is one of the largest cinema screens in Europe. Tickets for the most eagerly anticipated IMAX screenings often sell out, although if you can catch a screening in the morning or afternoon, it's still possible to get tickets at the last minute.

Immersive adventures for all the family

Shrek’s Adventure! at County Hall is a magical interactive walk-through experience for kids inspired by Dreamworks' Shrek films. Along this fairytale adventure you’ll make potions, ride a magical 4D bus, solve puzzles, explore mazes and meet some of the most beloved Shrek characters, including the big green ogre himself.

For teenagers and adults, The London Dungeon, also located at County Hall, is the city’s original fright fest with 19 gripping immersive shows and not one but two underground rides to explore as you travel deeper and deeper underground into London's gruesome history!

In May 2024 another new immersive adventure, The Paddington Bear Experience, opens at County Hall. Tickets for the experience are now sale.

Board games and graffiti on Leake Street

Meet local street artists and hang out at quirky bars inside the 300-metre-long Leake Street graffiti tunnel beneath Waterloo Station. If you love a good selfie, there are plenty of photo opportunities down here.

For rainy days, London’s original board games bar Draughts is perfect. The bar’s board game library has every game you’ve ever heard of, plus hundreds more that you haven’t that are suitable for every age. Kids are welcome (there's also a kids menu), and a tasty menu of burgers and tacos will keep you satisfied.

Beer, bowling and karaoke at The Sidings

The Sidings is a landmark new lifestyle and shopping development adjoining Waterloo Station that has transformed what was once the old Eurostar terminal. One of The Sidings' most prominent venues is BrewDog Waterloo (next to the entrance to Leake Street). One of the biggest pubs in the country, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy on a rainy day including duckpin bowling lanes and an insta-famous slide.

Launching in late April at The Sidings, the Lucky Voice karaoke club is another fun place to hang out for a few hours and forget about the weather outside. Open from 3pm (from 12pm on weekends), the club boasts eight state-of-the-art private karaoke rooms. Booking is already open for the new club which is set to open from 22 April.

Warm up with a cuppa at a cosy cafe

Behind the London Eye just off Belvedere Road, you can find a busy branch of Starbucks and the always-popular Gail’s bakery. both handy spots to camp out while the latest rainstorm passes. One block from the Waterloo Tube station at Southbank Place (behind Jubilee Gardens) is The Black Penny, a super cosy yet modern cafe that serves great coffee and a delicious breakfast-brunch menu.

The National Theatre’s Espresso Bar and Atrium Café are both bright and airy places to sit amid the grandeur of Denys Lasdun’s brutalist masterpiece and enjoy a cuppa made with beans from Elephant and Castle-based roastery HEJ Coffee. The BFI Southbank also has a popular café, or head up to The Hayward Gallery Café at Southbank Centre with its vibrant murals by Taiwanese artist Michael Lin and views out across the river.

Indulge in a leisurely Afternoon Tea

There are few things as splendidly decadent as a classic British afternoon tea, especially when the weather outside is miserable! Sit inside opulent surrounds and enjoy a view of the rainy city trudging past while you are lavished with scones, cakes, finger sandwiches and endless pots of tea.

Head to The Library at the Marriott County Hall Hotel for one of London’s finest afternoon teas, complete with a front-row view of Big Ben and the river and the most photogenic petit fours. Alternatively, try the contemporary afternoon tea with a sky-high view over the river towards Sty Paul's Cathedral at Oxo Tower’s rooftop restaurant.

Settle in at a local pub

When it’s really pouring down outside, sometimes the only option is to take shelter in a local pub and have a pint and a bite to eat while you wait it out.

Next to Waterloo Station The Hole in the Wall is a timeless classic, that has occupied this cosy little spot inside one of the railway arches opposite the station entrance since the 1940s. It’s a real ale pub with a huge choice of cask ales, and if it happens to be a Sunday evening don’t be surprised to find their long-running Irish folk session in full flow. Inside Waterloo Station, The Victory is a large modern pub and kitchen above the station’s iconic Victory Arch that boasts a great gastro-pub menu.

Other popular pubs in the area include the Fountain & Ink (two blocks from Blackfriars Station), famous for its Sunday roasts, the Doggett's Coat and Badge which sits right on the Queen’s Walk next to Blackfriars Bridge, The Thirsty Bear on Stamford Street and the friendly locals' favourite The Mulberry Bush behind Gabriel’s Wharf.

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