10 hidden things at Southbank Centre, you may have missed

Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - 09:27

Royal Festival Hall, Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall; of course you know the main buildings of Southbank Centre, but have you explored every corner of our iconic spaces? From places to relax and great spots to sit and eat, to art works with remarkable stories and opportunities to explore our history, here are ten things you might not have found when visiting us, and ten reasons to come back and spend time with us again soon.

The Story of ‘51 exhibition

Royal Festival Hall was famously originally constructed as a central part of the 1951 Festival of Britain, which took place on the site of what is now Southbank Centre. On Level 2 of the building - between the cafe and the shop - our small, but perfectly formed Story of ‘51 exhibition allows you to look back at the festival through imagery and artefacts, and also hosts a fascinating replica model of the festival site.


Opened earlier this year Spiritland is a 180-cover restaurant situated on the ground floor of Royal Festival Hall. Offering a bold, international menu it is an early morning to late night celebration of food, drink and music, with guest DJs taking to turntables to carry the vibe through to 1am on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

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Grade II listed sculptures

It’s not just in Hayward Gallery that you’ll find remarkable art works at Southbank Centre, our wider site also hosts two Grade II listed sculptures. Since 1972, William Pye’s Zemran has overlooked the River Thames from our Riverside Terrace, and in 1988 it was joined, on the opposite side of Royal Festival Hall, by Ian Walters’ bust of Nelson Mandela.

Level 5 Balcony Terrace

Our amazing roof garden may be pretty well known and loved these days, but it isn’t the only place at Southbank Centre you can perch above the Thames and watch the world go by. In good weather, Royal Festival Hall’s Level 5 Balcony Terrace offers the perfect spot to pass the time as the sun goes down.

National Poetry Library

It’s 30 years since the National Poetry Library relocated to Southbank Centre, yet it still retains a feel of being a well-kept secret. Open six days a week on the fifth floor of Royal Festival Hall and housing over 200,000 items, which span the world of poetry from 1912 to the present day, it has long been a place of inspiration and support for esteemed poets and writers.

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Use and enjoy this place. Burrow in, borrow on

John Hegley on the National Poetry Library

Room for Children

Completing a trio of undiscovered features on Level 5 of Royal Festival Hall is the Room for Children, or Reading Room as it is occasionally known. Situated outside the National Poetry Library this space has comfy seats and a range of favourite children’s books; perfect for story time with your little ones.

The Sunbathers Sculpture by Peter Laszlo Peri

'Lost' sculptures

Bronislaw Kubica’s statue of Chopin was first unveiled in 1975; a gift of the Polish people to Britain. But after being placed in storage in the 1980s it was somehow mislaid, and not found again until 2010. Restored in Poland and returned to us in 2015 it now faces Queen Elizabeth Hall and don’t worry, we check on it daily. The Sunbathers (Peter Laszlo Peri) were initially exhibited as part of the 1951 Festival of Britain, but despite being a huge hit, they disappeared shortly after, lost forever. Or at least until they were found in a South London garden. See them restored and back with us on Level 2 of Royal Festival Hall.

the story of The Sunbathers return

Southbank Centre Archive Studio

Tucked in a corner on Level 2 of Royal Festival Hall are the neatly ordered shelves of our Archive Studio. Open to the public two days a week, the Archive Studio invites you to play an active part in the process of exploring, cataloguing and arranging our collections of objects and materials from six decades of Southbank Centre.

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Lifts at the Royal Festival Hall

Singing lift

Yes, that’s right. A lift that sings. Situated on the Blue Side of Royal Festival Hall you can ascend or descend our floors with choral accompaniment courtesy of Turner Prize winning artist Martin Creed. As the lift goes up or down it is matched in pitch by the four-part harmony of Creed’s Work No. 409, piece for choir and elevator (2005).

Hayward Gallery Cafe

Hayward Gallery Cafe

Set back from the bustling waterfront, Hayward Gallery Cafe is one of the best kept secrets when it comes to grabbing a drink or a bite to eat on the South Bank. Designed by award-winning architecture and design studio Softroom, and featuring a newly commissioned mural by artist Giles Round it’s a suitably stylish place to sit back and watch the world whizz by on Waterloo Bridge.

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