Southbank Book Market

Posted on November 15, 2017 by Andrew Kershman

Riverside Walk under Waterloo Bridge in front of the NFT
Tube/Rail: Waterloo (Northern and Piccadilly)
Open: Daily noon-6pm (winter); 11am-7pm (summer)

It would be hard to imagine a more perfect location for a book market than on the south bank of the Thames, just outside the British Film Institute (BFI), under the protection of Waterloo Bridge and with a fantastic view of the London skyline. Not only is South Bank Book Market a good place to browse for books but, with a broad tree-lined pedestrian “boulevard”, it also has a romantic atmosphere. I am not alone in thinking this – it was here that Hugh Grant made his declaration of love in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral and I know of one couple that carried out a good deal of their courtship here. The secret of the place is that, although it is in the centre of London, it’s spirit and atmosphere is reminiscent of the banks of the Seine. After only a few minutes of browsing among the books I feel the urge to don a black polo neck, start smoking Gitanes and buy at least one book about existentialism.

The market has eight regular traders who set out about sixty tables heaving under the weight of thousands of books covering most subjects. Works by all the giants of European and American literature can be found here including such names as Dickens, Balzac, Henry James, Orwell, Steinbeck and Kafka. If you prefer a good page turner there are enough books by the likes of Dan Brown, Stieg Larsson and Stephanie Meyer to keep you entertained. This is also a good market to visit for academic and reference books with plenty of philosophy, psychology, art history and architecture. Naturally, being in the heart of the recently modernised Southbank Centre there is a good selection of screenplays and books about film and theatre.  Biographies are also well represented with anything from Kitty Kelly’s prurient treatment of Frank Sinatra to more noble attempts to capture the lives of novelist Graham Greene or movie star Greta Garbo.  If the market cannot supply what you’re looking for traders are always willing to give advice.  Three of the book sellers have been here from the market’s foundation in 1983, so there is a good deal of experienced help on hand if needed.  In recent years there has been an increase in the number of prints, posters, maps and modern art work on sale, with one trader just specialising in these things.

The Southbank Book Market is not the cheapest place to find second-hand books, with most paperbacks selling for around half their new price, but among the thousands of books on offer you can usually find the odd bargain.  Anyway most of the people visiting here are really interested in enjoying the atmosphere and having a browse, rather than trying to save a few quid.

Eat & Drink

The BFI café is right next to the market, but the National Theatre café is just across the boulevard and serves great coffee. Further west along the Thames are several cafés and restaurants housed within the Southbank Centre including the fabulous Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden Bar which is a great place to relax on fine days.

Local Attractions
The Southbank Centre offers art at the Hayward Gallery, classical and contemporary concerts and dance performances at the Royal Festival and Queen Elizabeth Halls, and art cinema and the annual London Film Festival at the BFI.  The centre is also home to Foyles bookshop which is worth visiting if the market has not slated your appetite for books.

This in a feature taken from our forthcoming book:
London's Markets 
by Andrew Kershman


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