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London: A Cheapo’s Guide to Southwark’s hotels, restaurants and bars

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Tate Modern
The Tate Modern cuts an imposing figure in front of new developments in Southwark. Photo: graziano88.

Arguably nowhere else in London illustrates the changing face of the city as much as Southwark does. It has centuries of history to be explored, whether you prefer to do that in a 17th-century pub or, in the case of Tate Modern, a re-purposed 20th-century power station. Throughout the area, historic warehouses have become cool restaurants, shops and homes, while 21st-century architecture dominates sight lines with the gleaming tower of the Shard.

Yet the area is still relatively undeveloped in terms of places to stay. As indicated by the recent opening of CitizenM, this has started to change. Even without its fascinating history, it would be well worth investigating Southwark for convenience alone: London Bridge allows easy access across the city, and—with direct trains to Gatwick—out.

Although hotels in the area are mainly geared toward business travelers and sometimes lack the convivial atmosphere of elsewhere in the city, that does mean there’s a good chance of picking up a room on a last minute deal. And that means more money to spend on the area’s numerous attractions.

CitizenM Bar

The brightly decorated bar at the CitizenM Bankside is open ’round the clock. Photo: Rosapolis.

Where to Stay

CitizenM London Bankside
20 Lavington Street
Doubles from $180 to $330

It’s illustrative of the kind of changes going on in the area that Southwark was selected as the first London location for this rapidly expanding contemporary chain. The formula remains the same here as in other branches: pristine but tiny space age-style rooms equipped with swish technology. Downstairs is devoted to a sociable communal area complete with designer chairs, quirky interior touches and a 24-hour bar.

ibis Styles London Southwark Rose
47 Southwark Bridge Road
Doubles from: $162 to $550

With an abundance of museums, galleries and independent shops in the neighborhood, Southwark is known for its sense of style. That’s probably why its been earmarked for both CitizenM and ibis Styles branches—the latter’s offering being the Southwark Rose. This hotel offers the reliability of the ibis chain with a just a little bit more pizzazz, and is a clean and comfortable base from which to explore the delights of the area. Décor is bright and bold and beds are reassuringly  comfy.

LSE Bankside House
24 Sumner Street
Doubles from: $112

If you’re after the location but are less bothered about the frills, LSE Bankside House offers a great budget summer alternative. Essentially it’s college accommodation made available to visitors over the summer vacation. There are 560 rooms available, all decorated in a uniform student style. Facilities are basic, but the rooms are very clean and offer  great value for London.

Chorizo and rocket

Chorizo and rocket sandwich? Yes, please! Photo: peripathetic.

Where to Eat

Borough Market
8 Southwark Street

You’ll be spoiled for cheap eats with a visit to London’s famous foodie paradise, Borough Market. It’s open every day of the week except Sunday, though you’ll encounter its full force if you visit on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday.

Be guided by your taste buds, but a firm favorite from the market’s huge number of stalls is Brindisa’s Chorizo sandwich: juicy chorizo, piquillo peppers and rocket served in a ciabatta roll for £3.95 (you’ll be able to spot the stall from the ever-present queue). Another pick is Roast—an upscale restaurant within the market—which offers their tasty fare through a takeaway booth for a fraction of its usual price. Their succulent roast pork and crackling roll comes highly recommended for £6.50.

Leon
7 Canvey Street, The Blue Fin Building

Leon is one of London’s best-loved food chains. Their slogan is “naturally fast food” and they feature healthy salads and hot dishes at lunch (all priced at around £5 to £7), with slightly more substantial food on offer each evening. Food is speedy and tastes indulgent but contains enough fresh ingredients and vitamins to keep your mom from worrying.  This spacious branch scores extra points due to its great location behind Tate Modern and its striking semi-industrial décor. It looks expensive but your check will tell you otherwise.

El Vergel
132 Webber Street

If you’re the kind of person who enjoys chumming up next to your neighbor at communal tables with your wine served by the tumbler, this unpretentious Latin American eatery could be the perfect place for you. It’s open for breakfast and lunch and serves up enticing specials each day alongside the traditional tacos and tortillas. The most popular item on the menu remains the generously portioned £7.50 Latin American breakfast, including scrambled eggs with salsa, chorizo, kidney beans and village bread, all washed down with tea or coffee.

George Inn

The George Inn gives a taste of Dickensian London. Photo: Jon’s pics.

Where to Drink

The George Inn
75-77 Borough High Street

While not the cheapest pint in town, you do get a free tourist attraction thrown in with your drink at the George Inn. Dating to the seventeenth-century (even having been mentioned in novels by Charles Dickens), this remarkable coaching inn is now owned by the National Trust. Inside is as “olde worlde” as you might expect, with low oak beamed ceilings and quaint nooks to hole up for the evening in. There are plenty of tables set outside in the cobbled yard too, which are ideal for watching the world go by—as people have been doing in this spot for over 300 years.

The Lord Nelson
243 Union Street

It doesn’t look so promising from the outside—it’s a pub on the corner of a modern housing estate. And the décor—English eccentricity at its most kitsch—certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste. But it would be foolish to let those things prevent you from paying The Lord Nelson a visit. It has a great location close to Tate Modern, but not on the usual tourist trail, it’s got some of the friendliest service for miles around, and some of the cheapest pints too. Take time to enjoy their menu, which offers great home-cooked food at very reasonable prices.

Roxy board

A night at the Roxy might include dinner, drinks and a movie. Photo: STML.

Bonus: Roxy Bar & Screen
128–132 Borough High Street

Roxy is a nice enough bar in its own right but, on weekdays and Sundays, it’s also a great place to catch a cheap movie. For only £4 (about a third of the price of most London cinema tickets), you can sit back in one of their comfy sofas and enjoy a screening. There’s usually a varied program of movies each week, including recent releases, special themed double-bills, as well as sing-alongs and artier offerings.

With a sociable atmosphere and tasty food alongside the drinks menu, it makes an enjoyable and wallet-friendly alternative to the multiplex.

Interested in other neighborhoods?

Check out our Cheapo guides to Soho and South Kensington.  And for a look at the whole city’s hotel scene, take a look at our London listings!

About the author

Frances Ambler

Frances Ambler has been doing her best to live in London on the cheap since 2003. She works as an editor in one of London’s best – and free – museums, as well as writing for various websites including domesticsluttery.com. An avid second-hand shopper, ten years of "research" culminated in her most recent project: writing for the soon-to-be-published "Rough Guide to Vintage London."

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