Waterloo is one of those rare London areas where tourists and locals truly collide due to the concentration of transport hubs, award-winning cultural venues, and popular tourists attractions. Morning trains see the area flood with commuters on their way to work and visitors braving the throng to beat queues for the London Eye and the Sea Life Aquarium, while weekends see both taking the time to stroll up the Southbank, visiting the second-hand book stalls and admiring the view before taking in a show at the National Theatre.
Culture and commerce dominate Waterloo and the South Bank, which until rather recently was much neglected in comparison to the bustling north bank of the river. It wasn't until the 1950s when the Southbank Centre was built that interest in the riverside was piqued, and now its a constant hubbub of activity with plenty of restaurants, shops and frequent markets, as well as an increasing number of attractions.
The station itself has grown to become a major London train station, which has helped to increase the number of visitors to revered cultural institutions here including the Hayward Gallery, Shakespeare's Globe and the Royal Festival Hall. Culture and art aren't just restricted to high-brow performances here though - Southbank is home to a famous skate park underneath the Queen Elizabeth Hall which was recently saved from demolition thanks to the Long Live Southbank campaign, and the whole area is peppered with unique and interesting graffiti art.
As for the locals, residents in the Waterloo area are largely young professionals working in corporate jobs, who are likely to move deeper into South East London or towards Richmond and Twickenham once they have a family and want to trade river views for more space. Politicians and those working in parliament often find themselves in this part of London too due to the short commute across the river to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster.
On a map
Waterloo is located in South East London in the Borough of Lambeth. It sits to the east of Southwark and south of Covent Garden, and covers the postcode SE1.
History of Waterloo London
Due to its proximity to the river, the area now known as Waterloo was merely marshland until the 1700s, when it was known as Lambethe Marshe. The Southbank, on the other hand, was an entertainment area from the Middle Ages with theatres such as the original Globe, bear-baiting, and prostitution. These later made way for more middle-class pursuits such as pleasure gardens in the Georgian period, and as the area was drained industry and docks began to grow here too.
While Waterloo saw a resurgence from the arrival of Waterloo Bridge (named after the Battle of Waterloo) in 1817 followed by Waterloo Station in 1848, Southbank quickly became almost entirely industrial. It wasn't until the 1951 Festival of Britain that the area truly began to be transformed for public use again, when the Royal Festival Hall and other sites were built and the area was renamed Southbank.
Transport from Waterloo London
With the large Waterloo train station at the centre of the area serving trains towards South London locations such as Richmond and Putney as well as further afield, a tube station on the Bakerloo, Northern, Jubilee and Waterloo & City lines, and a huge number of buses departing from the area throughout the day and night, Waterloo is arguably the best connected spot in South East London. Commuters to the City and Central London are particularly well served, with a journeys to Bank and Leicester Square taking just 4 minutes respectively.
As well as public transport, Waterloo is well placed for walking to attractions such as the Tate Modern, the Shard and Borough Market along Southbank, as well as Covent Garden at the other side of Waterloo Bridge.
Cost of living in Waterloo London
A wide range of property is available in Waterloo, from the narrow streets of Victorian terraced houses similar to those found in Borough, to 1960s ex-authority buildings which have been recently converted. Closer to Southbank and the river there are also a number of chic new apartment blocks, with contemporary designs and views over the Shard and the Thames for a lucky few.
The location and transport connections mean that Waterloo is rather a pricey area, with higher rents on average than nearby Borough and Covent Garden and similar rental prices to those in Westminster. As of 2016 the average rental price of a two-bedroom property in Waterloo is around £3000 per month, although similar properties can be found starting from £1700 per month.
Restaurants in Waterloo London
Hidden away just behind the National Theatre, the Green Room serves ethically-sourced British food in a cool modern setting, with large windows and a small garden outside. Come with friends and share tasty, colourful fare including pumpkin croquettes, scotch eggs and leek, bacon and fontina flatbread, or tuck into a juicy burger and a baked Alaska for dessert if you’re feeling particularly hungry.
Address: 101 Upper Ground, London SE1 9PP, United Kingdom
Phone: 020 7452 3630
See the iconic OXO Tower from the inside for once at the OXO Restaurant, a stunning glass-walled dining room with views across London and an international menu. Combining a formal restaurant, casual brasserie and a cocktail bar there’s something for everyone, while if you’re on a budget the weekend brunch is a great option - we particularly love the waffles with bacon and maple syrup.
Address: Oxo Tower Wharf, Barge House St, London SE1 9PH, United Kingdom
Phone: 020 7803 3888
A short walk from Waterloo Station, the Archduke has been a reliable local restaurant for years with a menu of excellent steaks and wine in a unique setting under the railway arches. On Fridays and Saturdays there are free jazz concerts too, making it a fun place to stay for the whole evening.
Address: 153 Concert Hall Approach, London SE1 8XU, United Kingdom
Phone: 020 7928 9370
Shops in Waterloo London
With a huge range of books across various subjects and opening hours until 10pm everyday, Foyles is the perfect place to peruse before a show at the Royal Festival Hall. Purchase that bestseller you’ve been hearing about or hunt for a new recommendation before kicking back on their summer deckchairs and getting stuck in.
Address: Royal Festival Hall., Southbank Centre, Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8XX
Phone: 020 7440 3212
Keen knitter, amateur yarn-spinner or considering picking up those needles for the first time? You’ll find everything you need and more at dedicated knitting shop I Knit London in Waterloo, where they stock a wide range of yarns, accessories and equipment as well as offering classes for various levels and sociable knitting groups.
Address: 106 Lower Marsh, London SE1 7AB, United Kingdom
Phone: 020 7261 1338
Situated just opposite the entrance to the Southbank Centre on Festival Terrace, this is a gift shop with a difference - not content with just offering items relating to the centre, theatre and gallery, the shop offers a wide range of innovative design-led furnishings, homewares, books, jewellery, art and more. Come to pick up a brilliant gift or just browse for some creative inspiration.
Address: Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8XX
Phone: 020 7960 4200
Things to do in Waterloo London
Pay homage to the Elizabethan master wordsmith by watching a performance at this famous London theatre, a replica of the oak and thatch venue William Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed at. The original building was demolished in the 1600s, but the current venue is faithful to the original design with standing places, benched seating and an open roof - so remember to bring waterproofs!
Address: 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London SE1 9DT, United Kingdom
Phone: 020 7902 1400
Embrace your inner David Attenborough at the Sea Life London Aquarium, where you’ll find an array of underwater creatures from across the world. Visited by a staggering one million people each year, highlights of the aquarium include the glass tunnel walkway where sharks and fish swim above, watching the pirahna feeding frenzy, and visiting the adorable gentoo penguins.
Address: County Hall, Westminster Bridge Rd, London SE1 7PB, United Kingdom
Phone: 0871 663 1678
Try an afternoon tea with a difference from the team behind the BB Bakery, who launched what must be the world’s only afternoon tea-serving vintage bus. Settle into your table on the converted double-decker Routemaster for an array of sandwiches, cakes, pastries, tea and even champagne as you take in some of London’s finest sites. It’s ideal for celebrations, parties or even just a special Sunday - although those with suffering from travel sickness might find it a little hard to stomach!
Address: 8 Northumberland Avenue, London, WC2N 5BY
Phone: 020 7836 6588
Main image credit: Hash Milhan