An Art Enthusiast's Guide to the South Bank of London

An Art Enthusiast's Guide to the South Bank of London

How to make the most of a visit to one of London’s trendiest neighborhoods By: Nila Do Simon
<p>Landmarks such as the London Eye and Sea Life London Aquarium are located on the South Bank. // © 2016 iStock</p><p>Feature image (above): Art...

Landmarks such as the London Eye and Sea Life London Aquarium are located on the South Bank. // © 2016 iStock

Feature image (above): Art enthusiasts will love Tate Modern’s many galleries and exhibitions. // © 2016 iStock

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London’s thriving modern art scene is alive and well on the South Bank, an energetic district that abuts the southern bank of the River Thames. While the London Eye attracts many of the tourists to the South Bank, it’s the harmonious play between the area’s contemporary structures and bohemian souls that attracts visitors each year.

Who doesn’t love a good outdoor market? Borough Market is one of the city’s finest, offering more than 100 gourmet vendors — from fish and cheese sellers to street-food merchants and artisanal craftsmen — who occupy a sprawling space at the foot of London Bridge. Open Monday through Saturday (with limited vendors on Mondays and Tuesdays), the market has served the South Bank, in one form or another, since the 11th century.

Like all good markets, Borough Market shies away from commercial peddlers, instead showcasing vendors who have a finer appreciation for gourmet ingredients grown from the good earth. An entire section of the market is devoted to street food, which varies from Ethiopian cuisine to Eastern European fare, while other areas display items such as just-picked fruits and vegetables and freshly caught seafood.

“This market is a hub,” said Laurence Verfaillie, a seller from Bath Soft Cheese Co. “It’s wonderful to see people embracing what is produced in this country.”

Within walking distance to Borough Market is Mondrian London, an uber-posh hotel that opened in 2014 and reflects the vision of industrial designer Tom Dixon. Taking inspiration from the building’s original function as a seafaring facility, Dixon’s modern — some might say eclectic — interpretation includes whimsical nautical touches, including a sweeping copper hull that houses the reception area and leads to the hotel’s restaurant, Sea Containers (which sources many of its ingredients from Borough Market vendors). The 359 rooms and suites, many with unimpeded views of the Thames, all feature a few signature Dixon design touches, including a drip wall painting and his signature wingback chair.

Two communal spaces of note include Rumpus Room and Dandelyan; both are bars that redefine the meaning of cocktail lounges. The rooftop Rumpus Room comes alive as the sun goes down, with a live band or DJ setting the tone in a space that’s large enough to accommodate 250 people. Set on the ground floor, Dandelyan is the brainchild of award-winning mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana, or “Mr. Lyan,” and serves both innovative cocktails and refined interpretations of the classics in a boldly colored American diner-inspired room.

No trip to the South Bank would be complete without a visit to Tate Modern. Free to the public (except for special exhibitions), the museum recently opened its new annex, the Switch House, adding another dimension of contemporary exhibits. While the original annex still houses famous pieces such as Henri Matisse’s “The Snail” and Wassily Kandinsky’s “Cossacks,” the Switch House is home to the next generation of modern art. Live installations are on display in a section of the Switch House called The Tanks, a vast industrial space with concrete floors, columns and walls.

But perhaps the coup de grace of the new annex is the outdoor observation deck, located at the top of the building. There, visitors have a 360-degree view of London, allowing them to see how breathtaking the city truly is.