If there’s any part of London that gets seriously overlooked and for no real reason, it’s the south east. Packed full of history, culture and colour, here are some things to do in south east London. So, grab your passport (kidding) and cross the Thames, pronto.
London is a massive, sprawling monster of a city, with many, many areas to explore.
Yet, I’ll save you some trouble by letting you in on a local secret – the most eastern corner of the city is the place to be, for many reasons.
There are so many cool things to do in south east London. It’s filled with green spaces, hip cafes and restaurants and more history than you could ever imagine.
So, get off the well-trod paths within the UK capital and head somewhere new.
Here’s what you can get up to in south east London.
Things to do in south east London
1. Have a meal on Bermondsey Street
Bermondsey is a good place to start, being a hop, skip and a jump away from London Bridge… and the suburb’s eponymous street has plenty of places to catch a decent meal.
Here’s a few suggestions:
- The Garrison for a pub meal
- Hej for coffee
- Casse-Croûte for fancy French-fare
- WatchHouse for hot drinks and snacks.
However, there are more than enough places lining the street to grab a bite to eat.
If you’re weekend brunching however, make sure you get in before 11am, as most places switch over to their lunch menu at that time.
No one seems to understand the fundamental rule of brunch in London, in that it needs to last all day.
2. Catch a bit of royal history at Honor Oak Park
Honor Oak Park is a funny little pocket of south east London with an interesting history.
Within the park, on the hill (known as “One Tree Hill”), there sits an oak tree – one that has been planted in commemoration of a tree that once stood there, which was destroyed by lightning in 1888.
It’s said that Queen Elizabeth I rested under the previous oak at the summit, on her way to visit Lewisham in 1602.
There’s also a rumour that Her Majesty was a little bit tipsy at the time and thought it would be a brilliant idea to knight the tree, so that it became the “Oak of Honor” (in ye olden times, this was how “honour” was spelt in British English).
As much as I would love this to be true, I guess we’ll never know for sure. Let’s pretend that it is, because it’s more fun that way.
Regardless, the park is quiet and peaceful, plus it offers up a glorious view of the city of London from the hill’s summit.
3. Things to do in South East London: Attempt the Green Chain Walk
Many of the historic sights in South East London are part of a circuit known as the Green Chain Walk.
The walk is 50 miles (80kms) in length and is divided into 11 sections.
Plenty of the sites can also be accessed by bus or train, so you can choose to either walk the whole thing yourself, or see the highlights via public transport.
Walking is good for the soul and England is indeed a very walk-able country (weather permitting, of course).
If you’re more of an armchair walker, check out these fascinating and inspiring books about walking.
4. Visit the Dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park
Crystal Palace’s dinosaurs are an oddity.
Completed in 1854, they predate Darwin’s theory of evolution, which was published in his book On the Origin of Species in 1859.
Scientists of the 19th century had collated nowhere near the amount of information on our prehistoric friends that we now have available to us.
As a result, many of the sculptures of these dinosaurs were created on speculation, rather than solid fact.
In some cases, the sculptures seem spot on the money (and some are ridiculously off the mark, making it all the more amusing).
Either way, the heritage-listed dinosaurs are well worth the journey to Crystal Palace and the park is a lovely place to wander around in, or for a picnic. Definitely one of the best things to do in South East London.
And why is Crystal Palace named as it is?
Well, it was once home to an enormous glass structure built to house the Great Exhibition in 1851.
The event was in Hyde Park, but the Palace was relocated to South East London where it stood from 1854, until it was destroyed by a fire in 1936.
The remains of the upper terrace can still be seen on the site today.
5. Climb the O2 Arena
You may have already figured out that south east London is an excellent vantage point for spectacular views of the rest of the city.
Thrill seekers who are fine with heights can scale the O2 Arena’s roof, for 360° views of Greenwich, Canary Wharf and The Olympic Park.
You can climb your time with daytime, sunset and twilight. It’s a pretty fabulous memory to create for any special occasion, too.
↠ Book a spot on the 02 climb in advance
6. Party all night at the Bussey Building in Peckham
There’s a lot going on in, around and on top of Peckham’s Bussey Building (I happen to really like the Yoga studio there).
If you’re in want of a decent night out, head to CLF Art Cafe.
Located on Block A of the building, the venue features theatre, workshops and dance events and is home to the world’s biggest soul night (known as The South London Soul Train).
7. Catch a flick at Deptford Cinemas
Deptford Cinema is one with a difference.
One of the very few cinemas in the borough of Lewisham (there weren’t any when I moved there in 2015 – now there are two), it’s set apart by the fact that it is community run. Volunteers are invited to help discuss and schedule its very alternative program.
Tickets are generally as cheap as chips too (for London), usually around the £6.00 mark.
The venue is intimate and licensed. What more could you ask of a cinema?
8. Stalk other people’s puppies at Brockley Market
Unlike the bigger markets of London, Brockley Market is one that feels like it’s more for the locals.
Open 10am-2pm every Saturday, you can go there for fresh produce, cheese, fish, meat.
Hungry now? Well, there are plenty of coffee stands and food trucks to choose from.
Best of all, nearly everyone brings their dogs and are totally okay with you patting them.
I should know.
9. See the Walrus in all his wrinkle-free flesh at the Horniman Museum
Although it is one of the bigger museums in London, the Horniman Museum and Gardens doesn’t see nearly as many crowds as say, the British Museum or the Museum of Natural History, probably due to its location.
It can be found in an area known as Forest Hill, about a ten minute train trip from London Bridge.
If you’re looking for free things to do in south east London, it fits the bill as there’s no cost on entry.
The Horniman mostly plays host to what was the collection of Frederick Horniman, a tea trader and avid traveller who had a penchant for collecting souvenirs while exploring.
His interests were natural history, cultural artefacts and musical instruments.
The museum is best known for its collection of taxidermy, particularly its gigantic stuffed Walrus, which has been on display at the museum for over a century.
Walrus sightings within the Victorian era were rare and as a result, no one had a clear idea of what a Walrus actually looked like.
Not realising that the animal’s skin featured natural folds or wrinkles, the Horniman Walrus was overstuffed by the taxidermists. His skin is curiously dimple-free.
This has only helped to increase his popularity. People journey to the museum just to see the Walrus and and he even tweets from his own Twitter account (or I guess we are calling it ‘X’ now?).
10. Straddle the Prime Meridian at Greenwich
If you’re looking for places to visit in South East London and are strapped for time, you should at least take a trip out to Greenwich.
I can’t think of many sites around the city that have more historical significance than this area.
There are many reasons to head to the area, but perhaps the coolest of all is the prime meridian, which is based at the Royal Observatory.
As an astronomy nut, I also love the Planetarium, because space is awesome.
And I don’t think I’ve ever visited Greenwich without heading straight to Goddards, for a traditional English pie, served with a side plate of jellied eels. Yum!
11. Drink at a bar that was once a legitimate toilet in Bermondsey
Bermondsey Arts Club may now be a very trendy speakeasy – but it was once merely a place for urination.
Having been spruced up and surely scrubbed with disinfectant from head to toe, the club is now a popular place to head to for delicious cocktails.
Make sure you get in there early – it’s a small space and is very popular with the after work crowd, like most of the pubs in this city, if we’re going to be perfectly honest.
Maybe you could go do the London Loo Tour and then go for a tipple in the Arts Club afterwards. It would surely keep in with the theme of the night.
See other ideas for unusual tours in London.
12. Catch a London sunset from Blythe Hill
You may have noticed that a recurring statement in this post has been “‘x’ place in South East London has good views of the city”.
And it’s the truth of the matter.
London is such a pretty city when you’re on the outside, looking in (okay and when you’re walking through it too. It’s fine. It’s fine then as well).
One of my favourite parks in the Borough of Lewisham is on top of Blythe Hill.
It’s quiet (yet another lovely element of SE London) and you can catch some mighty good sunsets from it in the summertime, making it the perfect place for picnics, I should think.
13. Things to do in South East London: Check out Severndroog Castle
Severndroog Castle is a tower that can be found in Oxleas Woods, within the Royal Borough of Greenwich.
It was built in 1784 by Lady James, possibly as a memorial to her husband Sir William James, a year after his death. Hhe allegedly died at his daughter’s wedding festivities, which would have put quite the damper on the event.
As it was built on Shooter’s Hill, one of the highest points in London, the castle was used as a lookout in both World Wars.
Saved from private developers for the use of the local community, it now functions as a mini-museum and a venue for weddings and events.
Drop it to mosey around and grab a cuppa and slice of cake in its tearooms.
14. Visit two of the Magnificent Seven: Nunhead Cemetery & West Norwood Cemetary
If it’s one thing London does well, it’s… cemeteries(?).
The Magnificent Seven are seven (duh) cemeteries throughout London that were built in the 19th century to prevent overcrowding at local parish graveyards.
Two can be found in South East London – Nunhead and West Norwood Cemetery, respectively.
Nunhead in particular is one of my favourites in the world – wild and overgrown, it fell into general decay by the mid-20th century.
It’s now a Local Nature Reserve and can be explored either solo, or as part of a guided tour (free, with donations gratefully accepted).
Every now and then, the museum has open days where you can explore the crypts below, which would be spooky and awesome in equal measures.
15. See a Dulwich Hamlet FC game
Britons love their football and upon meeting, will normally not hesitate to ask which “team” you support.
I chop and change my mind at will, but will often reply with Dulwich Hamlet, who are known as being the most hipster football team in London.
It helps that the scarves are pink and blue, but support of the team has come to mean a lot more than just a love of football – it’s fun, it’s fresh but it’s political too.
16. Eat the best fried & jerk chicken of your life
With traditionally a strong Afro-Caribbean population, this part of London is home to the most delicious jerk and fried chicken that you will ever taste in your life. This is one of the best things to do in south east London, or eat, rather.
It’s worth making the journey down south for this and this alone.
I didn’t even like fried chicken before I moved to London and now I am a convert for life.
Head straight to Morleys if you want to taste the best of the best (note – fried chicken is best eaten while watching British trash reality TV. I have researched this extensively).
17. Catch a flick at the rooftop cinema in Peckham
I dunno about you, but I love a bit of outdoor cinema in London.
Peckham’s Rooftop Cinema is one of my favourite haunts – the choice of flicks is generally decent and you got a marvellous view of the city, to boot.
The only thing I would say is to bring many layers, no matter what the time of year.
I’ve been to outdoor cinema in the middle of summer in London, where I’ve been freezing my toes off by 9pm.
I once saw a guy bring a sleeping bag to a flick outdoors and I reckon he is probably the smartest man alive.
18. Check out the Thames Barriers
London would be waterlogged without the Thames Barriers, which are responsible for monitoring the tidal levels of the river.
They also mark the end (or start – it depends on where you’re coming from) of the Thames Path, where you can follow the river for 184 miles (almost 300 kilometres and in only understanding the distance of kilometres, I’m finding these conversions very big and stressful) into the sea.
I love how futuristic the Thames Barriers look (thank you, 80s designers and architects) and also may have had heart palpitations while looking at photos of what the city would look like without them.
We owe them a bundle, that’s for sure.
19. Tour Deptford Creek
Deptford Creek runs straight into the UK’s most famous river – the Thames. Each day, the tide drops low enough that the creek can be explored on foot.
So, the Creekside Discovery Centre in Deptford run monthly tours, where you can pull a pair of wellies and waterproofs, grab yourself a walking stick and go check the creek out in all its muddy glory.
Turns out that London is bustling with all sorts of animal activity – beyond pigeons, squirrels and rats.
From leeches, to shrimp, crabs, flounder and a range of birds, there’s plenty of fauna (and flora) who call Deptford Creek home.
20. Attend silent disco at the Shard
How many times have you been in a club where you’ve been utterly disappointed by the low quality of the music? (Or in some cases, where the quality just hasn’t been quite bad enough).
Silent disco has always seemed like the clear answer to this ongoing conundrum – and what better place to hold it than in the tallest building in London?
Check out dates, buy your ticket and get grooving to some sick beats (only known to you and you alone).
21. Shake your tailfeather at the Rivoli Ballroom
Located in Crofton Park, this is a real gem of the city, let alone it’s southeast corner.
The Rivoli Ballroom is the last of its kind (that being a 1950s ballroom) left in London.
You can’t say it isn’t being put to good use. The Rivoli plays host to everything from swing dancing events, to cinema screenings. I was quite sore to miss a showing of The Shining there, one Halloween.
Check out their events calendar for more.
22. Learn how to brew sake in Peckham
Peckham is one of London’s trendiest neighbourhoods, so it’s no surprise it’s home to the city’s first sake brewery.
Head to Kanpai to learn how to brew your own sake or opt for a tour of the brewery with tastings.
The things you can do in South East London! I tell ya…
23. Check out some really neat street art
Traditionally, areas like Shoreditch are where we’re told to go street art hunting in London.
There’s also a lot of cool urban art down south (east), especially in Peckham.
One of the best things to do in south east London is grab a coffee and walk about, taking in the colourful works, adorned on unassuming walls.
24. Catch a flick for cheap at Peckhamplex
And after you have seen Peckham’s vibrant street art, you can see a movie at what is surely the cheapest cinema in London Town.
This multi-screen venue offers tickets for just £4.99, every single day. And has done so for years. What’s that about inflation? Not here, my friend.
So head to Peckhamplex for a screening of the next blockbuster – without busting the contents of your bank account.
25. Poke around Peckham Levels
Once a multi-storey carpark, now a central hub for food, drinks and events, Peckham Levels is absolutely worth checking out.
Head to the Peckham Levels Bar for colourful cocktails and excellent views of the city. The food hall has a wide array of cuisines on offer, from Sengalese to sourdough pizza and Korean fusion.
There’s even a private karaoke bar. Those blessed with golden lungs (or those who just love performing!), get thee to Peckham.
26. Explore an art-deco mansion
London has no shortage of gorgeous, historic buildings to explore. Along with the previously mentioned Sevendroogs Castle, Eltham Palace and Gardens is one to pop on your list, if you love a building with a bit of personality.
The medieval palace-turned royal residence-turned play space of eccentric millionaires is open to the public. The garden is home to London’s oldest working bridge and a glasshouse cafe.
The palace/millionaire playhouse is open daily from 10am-5pm. Admission is £18 for adults and £11 for kids (which includes a donation towards the upkeep of the mansion).
27. Get the goods at Maltby Street Market
As evidenced, there are a few decent markets in this neck of the woods. Maltby Street Market is another one of them.
Head to Bermondsey from Friday evening-Sunday afternoon and look for the little laneway flanked by colourful flags.
Here you’ll find a wide choice of traders cooking up all sorts of cuisines. Greek, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Mexican. Crepes, toasties, gyoza, ice cream – whatever you’re craving, you’ll find something to satisfy.
28. See the house where Spock’s mother lived (or… will live)
A bit of a random one, to see out this list of things to do in south east London.
Star Trek fans will be familiar with Spock’s mother, Amanda Grayson. The famous half-human’s humble beginnings were in Blockley, in London’s south east, in a house on Marnock Road, SE4.
Here, you’ll find a plaque, erected by the ‘Vulcan High Council’, which states:
‘AMANDA GRAYSON 2210-2258 Mother to Ambassador Spock lived here’.
Well-worth ogling if you’re in the area. Live, long and prosper, south east London.
Where to stay in South East London
When I stay in London and I can’t beg a bed (or floorspace) off my friends there, I stay at Leonardo Royal Hotel, which is right near Tower Bridge (but on the boring, north side, haha).
If you want to be a bit closer to SE London, try the Bermondsey Square Hotel, which is close to transport that’ll get you just about anywhere on this list.
For something completely unusual, Good Hotel London, a floating hotel in Docklands. You can get to Greenwich from there quite quickly by catching the IFS Cloud Cable Car, which is very neat and unique.
If you want to try something really special in general (note, not in SE London but still cool) – why not spend the night in a Harry Potter-inspired Wizarding Chamber?
The best things to do in South East London: in conclusion
As you now know, South East London does indeed have it going on. That’s enough to keep you busy for at least a day and probably a weekend.
And if you live in the area, well – so did I and I barely feel like I scratched the surface of what SE has to offer.
For more posts like this, check out my guide to Jersey in the Channel Islands and discover why you should take a trip to Dorset, specifically to spend time in Poole. And find out how to travel responsibly between London and Paris.