Located just south of Waterloo, Elephant and Castle is one of those rare London areas which boasts a central location and excellent transport links, but has suffered a long reputation of being somewhere to avoid unless utterly necessary. A combination of two enormous, perilous roundabouts, an eyesore of a shopping centre and a skyline dominated by dilapidated tower blocks made this curiously-named place somewhere you tended to only live when there few other choices available.
That is, until now. Around £3 billion has been invested in the ‘The Elephant’ over the last decade, in the form of tearing down old estates, improving the roundabouts, and building award-winning modern housing developments that are rapidly catching the eye of design-focused Londoners looking for a contemporary, aesthetically pleasing pad. All this change is not without controversy, as the decision to demolish vast swathes of council-owned estates and replace them with expensive private housing led to protests as locals accused the council of pricing deprived people out of their own neighbourhood. The irony of Tony Blair’s 1997 election campaign, launched at one of these very estates with the slogan that ‘things can only get better’, has been mentioned more than once.
However, aside from improving the aesthetics, these changes have also arguably brought a vibrant new energy to the area. Formerly occupied by swathes of students, a new wave of young Londoners who might previously have chosen East or North London are now descending on Elephant and Castle, bringing a creative energy and new independent businesses with them such as those found in The Artworks hub (think yoga studios, Mauritian cafes, and vintage clothes shops). It’s rapidly becoming a cool place to live, and with Borough just next door, there’s sure to be a food revolution of markets, street stalls and quirky bars here soon enough due to the inevitable overspill. It’s real London, the London that tourists rarely visit, so if you’re looking for inner city life in a stylish flat without the prices of Marylebone, give Elephant and Castle a try.
On a map
Elephant and Castle is situated on the border of Zones 1 and 2, to the south of Southwark and the north of Kennington. It covers the postcodes SE1, SE11, and SE17.
History of Elephant and Castle London
Like areas such as Swiss Cottage, Seven Sisters and Canada Water, one of the most frequently asked questions about Elephant and Castle is naturally where the unusual name comes from. Various theories have been put forward over the years, including the possibility that it was named after certain visits by Spanish princesses in the Medieval period, both of whom were known as the ‘Infanta de Castilla’. However, this has been largely debunked and its most likely that the area was named after a pub called the Elephant and Castle - although why the landlord chose such a name, we may never know.
The area was originally two separate villages, Walworth and Newington, which were relatively prosperous and surrounded by fields and market gardens. They started to grow in size and prominence after Westminster Bridge was build, helping the area become absorbed into London. The railway and the underground both arrived in the late 1800s, and soon Elephant and Castle was a busy, bustling shopping area known colloquially as the ‘Piccadilly Circus of the South’ for the various department stores, cinemas, theatres and other venues. Many buildings were destroyed during the bombing raids of the Second World War, and replaced by the growing slum developments which led to Elephant and Castle becoming a rather deprived and depressing part of London until a new wave of regeneration began in the early 2000s.
Transport from Elephant and Castle London
For commuting around London, you’d be hard-pressed to find somewhere better connected than Elephant and Castle. The underground station is on the Bakerloo and Northern lines, making Oxford Circus just 12 minutes away and Old Street a mere 8 minute journey.
The area is also served by a huge number of buses travelling all over the capital during the day and the night, and for overground trains and travel outside of London, Waterloo Station is about a 15 minute walk away.
Cost of living in Elephant and Castle London
Despite the impression that Elephant and Castle is all former estates and high-rise buildings, there’s actually a real variety of property here. Alongside these ex-authority buildings, you can find old workshops which have been converted into apartments, streets of x Victorian terraces which survived the Second World War, and a range of contemporary new housing developments offering high-tech apartments with plenty of space.
Prices are rising quickly as people cotton on to the new and improved Elephant and Castle, but the area is still significantly cheaper than living in nearby Borough, Southwark or Bermondsey.
As of January 2016 the average rent for a two bed apartment in Elephant and Castle is £1820 per month, but similar properties can be found starting at £1350.
Restaurants in Elephant and Castle London
Banish those insatiable pizza cravings at La Luna on Walworth Road, a friendly Italian restaurant where the seafood is extra fresh, the prices reasonable, and the pizzas authentically Italian. It may not look like much from the outside, but one bite of the spaghetti alla vongole and we're sure you'll be converted.
Address: 380 Walworth Rd, London SE17 2NG
Phone: 020 7277 1991
Quirky, cool and beloved by locals, the Electric Elephant is an all-day cafe on one of The Elephant's lesser-known cobbled backstreets. Serving up good gourmet coffee, homemade cakes and simple dishes including salads and soups, it's a great place for a leisurely lunch.
Address: 186A Crampton St, London SE17 3AE
Phone: 020 7277 4433
Looking for a spot of Zen in the heart of this hectic area? Jump on the healthy eating and juicing train at Spark Juices, a compact cafe in the Artworks with homemade fresh juices, healthy snacks, and even treatment rooms for a quick massage or hypnotherapy session.
Address: Unit 3, The Artworks, Elephant Rd, Elephant & Castle, London SE17 1AY
Inspired by 1920s Paris and named after the famous French fin de siècle painter, Brasserie Toulouse Lautrec is a rare gem in an area which is still developing its culinary reputation. With cosy interiors, a jazz bar upstairs and a menu packed with classic Gallic dishes including steak tartar and cassoulet, you're practically guaranteed an enjoyable evening.
Address: 140 Newington Butts, London SE11 4RN, United Kingdom
Phone: 020 7582 6800
Shops in Elephant and Castle London
No self-respecting visit to Elephant and Castle is complete without quick trip around this infamous shopping centre, which sits just off the roundabout and features various red elephant statues on the roof. Compared to most British shopping centres you're unlikely to find many chain shops and restaurants here - instead it's filled with local independent businesses, bargain shops and international grocers. The fate of the shopping centre is currently under discussion, so even more reason to visit now while this vintage relic of London past still exists.
Address: New Kent Rd, London SE1 6TE
Phone: 020 3600 0001
Boasting the title of London's oldest apothecary, G Baldwin & Co opened in 1844 and has been serving products and potions to Elephant and Castle residents ever since. The collection has now expanded into herbal remedies, supplements and healthy foods, making it the ideal spot if you're feeling under the weather.
Address: 171-173 Walworth Rd, London SE17 1RW
Phone: 020 7703 5550
In need of a creative hobby for the new year? Give fabric crafts and hat making a go with supplies from this wonderfully traditional shop in the Artworks. Packed floor-to-ceiling with fabrics, threads, hat moulds, accessories, trims and much more, it's an absolute paradise for any budding milliner.
Address: Artworks Unit 12A, London SE17 1AY
An ode to the large South American community in Elephant and Castle, as well as all things Colombian, this combined shop, restaurant and deli has all the edible wonders you could want. Head to the shop to pick up everything from Colombian coffee to cheesy snacks, enjoy live music and meaty mains in the restaurant, or try out various delicacies in the friendly deli.
Address: Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, Walworth Rd, London SE1 6TE,
Phone: 020 7701 9166
Things to do in Elephant and Castle London
Housed in the former Bethlem Hospital (better known as Bedlam Lunatic Asylum), the Imperial War Museum showcases an impressive collection of items from the British military past, including documents, photographs, weapons and even full-sized planes! Admission is free and they frequently hold fascinating themed exhibitions too, on topics such as war art and modern conflict.
Address: Lambeth Rd, London SE1 6HZ
Phone: 020 7416 5000
Established in 1991, this flagship London club has spawned a record label and countless multimedia outlets since then, but still remains a key destination for dedicated clubbers in the capital. Some of the world's biggest DJs regularly play here alongside up-and-coming acts in various rooms, so if you're seeking a big night out in Elephant and Castle, there's nowhere better.
Address: 103 Gaunt St, London SE1 6DP
Phone: 0870 060 0010
Forget paying top price to go bowling in one of London’s newly-minted American style bowling chains, and have a true retro experience and the London Palace Superbowl instead. Situated on the top floor of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, it will bring back nostalgic childhood memories of cheap chips and endless games. Best of all, all the mid-week and off-peak deals make it almost half the price of the fancy new bowling alleys - and with 26 lanes, you’ve got a good chance of getting in quick too.
Address: First Floor, Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, London SE1 6TE
Phone: 020 7277 0001
Main image credit: Ju5ti