Where can you dance through sprinkling water fountains, slide down an art installation and build sandcastles on an urban beach, whilst admiring magnificent vistas of the iconic London skyline across the River Thames?
There are places that promise all-year-round excitement – and there are those that deliver. As the UK’s largest arts centre, Southbank Centre definitely falls into the latter category, with its non-stop round of cultural events, activities, concerts and performances.
The pedestrianised promenade along the River Thames provides fun at every turn. You can pause to watch lively street entertainers, gasp at the skateboarders perfecting their kicks and flips, or shake your own groove to the rhythms of the beat. Whatever takes your fancy, the festival spirit will be going strong all summer long
London is jam-packed with great places to hang out during the summer months, but few can beat the eclectic offering of the Southbank Centre, the city’s go-to destination for family fun that includes fountains and slides, sing-songs and, quite literally, dancing in the street.
The 21-acre site, which includes three iconic buildings of the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Hayward Gallery, has an extraordinary creative and architectural history stretching back to the 1951 Festival of Britain. And this year’s events continue the grand tradition of celebration and collaboration as everyone from teenies to golden oldies – you’ll often see them gracefully gliding across the Clore Ballroom at one of the tea dances – is invited to join in the fun!
Southbank Centre highlights this summer include:
Udderbelly Festival The return of the iconic upside-down purple cow in its pasture brings a bellyful of comedy, circus and family shows, including beat-box supremo Shlomo (he’s also at Wilderness Festival and makes a return to Southbank at London Wonderground on Aug 31), and a delightful adaptation of Jeanne Willis’s The King Of Tiny Things (which you can also catch at Camp Bestival).
London Wonderground, the festival renowned for showcasing the best circus and cabaret from across the world in a magnificent 1920s Spiegeltent, is back for a fourth year. Family highlights include Ali McGregor’s Jazzamatazz (July 11–19), a jumpin’, jivin’ jazz extravaganza for under-10s, led by Australian opera singer turned cabaret sensation Ali McGregor. See the show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, too. Those who like daring circus tricks and eye-popping spectacle with added mayhem and mischief should make a date for the Brat Kids Carnival (July 29–Aug 2). Meanwhile, weeny ones under five can bop at Monski Mouse’s Baby Disco Dance Hall til Sept 27.
Carsten Höller: Decision Well, we’re already calling the Southbank Centre a playground, so should we really be surprised that it comes with its own slide? Höller’s exciting exhibition at the Hayward Gallery includes a wide range of the artist’s work, including sculptures, installations and videos, which explore perception and decision making – not to mention the chance to slide down his artistic tubular slides, a must for kids big and small!
Poetry International Festival The biennial festival co-founded by Ted Hughes in 1967 includes a special focus on poets and poetry from the Middle East, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and Syria. Younger wordsmiths will enjoy the free Poetry International Rug Rhymes, featuring nursery rhymes, poems, puppets and rhyming stories for under-5s. Also free and lots of fun is Around the World in 80 Poems, where families are invited to share a favourite poem, story or saying from their home country, town or community. Mmm, can’t think of anything? Enlist the help of the resident poets to create your own eulogy – or jokey limerick.
Meltdown Festival Hipster and multi-award-winning musician David Byrne, known for his eclectic collaborations and as a co-founder of Talking Heads, is curator for this annual music festival. Alongside sing-alongs en masse (and en famille), there’s a chance to Bling Ya Bike, with sessions that teach practical design and maintenance skills, as well as the chance to add ‘bling’ to your wheels, whether bike, scooter or skateboard.
Urban Weekend There’s plenty of colourful activities and action with this showcase of live graffiti jam, BMX and parkour stunts, performances by internationally renowned DJs and dancers, street parties and more. Family highlights include Bouncing Cats and Boom Boom Pups, with beatbox, rap, freestyle hip-hop improv and graffiti, and 10 Minute Dance Parties held inside a 40-foot shipping container, where the whole family can shimmy and shake non-stop for ten minutes.
Festival of Love Full of feel-good fun and decorative art dedicated to l’amour, there are more than 20 installations and homages to romance to admire across the Southbank Centre site. Pick from a variety of free performances, activities, workshops, talks and exhibitions, including badge-making for children.
The Festival of Love also has a selection of delcious food pop-ups including Bleeker St. Burger serving burgers, American Craft beer and milk-shakes, and the return of SNOG frozen yoghurt sold, where you can tuck into a healthy iced treat served up from a restored pink 1967 Routemaster bus. There will also be the return of the popular fountain, Jeppe Hein’s Appearing Rooms, the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden, the urban beach beside the river, and the weekly Southbank Centre Market (every Friday to Sunday throughout the summer).