London’s One Stop Culture Shop


On Friday night I appeared at a terrific Polari event run by Paul Burston, with six of the most varied writers imaginable, talking about everything from South African weddings to bonkbusters. The room overlooked the London Eye, and had a bar and a bookshop, and what was interesting was that the entire South Bank was as busy as any shopping mall (way busier, in fact).

What’s happened is that in the last few years, the National Theatre foyers and Festival Hall open areas have become hosts to a ton of free events, making this the go-to area for all things cultural, providing entertainment for everyone without dumbing down, and you never have to check to see if something is on. Phone apps make it easy to find out the start time of events. Also, the opening of places to eat (albeit chains) means you no longer have to trudge about looking for a cup of tea.

The signposting system has improved (making this easier to navigate than the Barbican, which is still a pain), the open areas still smell of stale food and can get overcrowded, it could do with a couple of new late-night venues (the Archduke gets packed) but it’s somewhere you can go alone and not feel out of place.

What a surprising number of my friends don’t realise, though, is how close it is to the centre of town. A five minute walk over Charing Cross bridge drops you in the heart of it. This month is fairly typical in range and choice, so you have absolutely no excuse for staying in and letting the miserable weather get to you!

4 comments on “London’s One Stop Culture Shop”

  1. Jon says:

    Agreed – plus with Waterloo station, the Jubilee line and a bunch of boris bike docks it’s a fine location for even us out-of-towners as we’ll still be able to get home in time for cocoa and the midnight news.

  2. BangBang!! says:

    I like that area too. A security guard there once told me that taking photos of the centre was illegal which I found very funny for some reason but he didn’t.

    I also remember having a heart in the mouth moment when I briefly thought that I’d thrown an aggressive drunk over the rail of the old Hungerford footbridge! I’d just been to see Alison Krauss and there was an art exhibition by Laurie Anderson which I have to admit went right over my head. Maybe I was stll trying to figure it out when that guy came at me!

  3. Alan Morgan says:

    I have nothing but happy smiles for the South Bank. From when I was a young’un and Waterloo was the gateway to London (back when Forbidden Planet was a bit old-sellotape in its single shop in Denmark Street, and likewise GW in Dalling Road) to when I lived in the Elephant and of an evening we’d troll along the river to Tower Bridge and thus home via Bermondsey. Is the book market still there after dark?

    It’s a ripe patch of land, back from when it was the place of brothels under the Bishop of Winchester – to the carefully forgotten cardboard city, there until the late 90s.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    What is it with photographs? The artist who designed the Vancouver Crab sculpture outside the museum tried to protect its image from publication and when I tried to take a photo of the Justice statue just inside the new law court building a security man told me that cameras were banned even from the front lobby because witnesses, etc. had been mobbed by journalists and thrill seekers.

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