Throughout the year, the Southbank Centre operates as Europe’s largest centre for the arts and is one of the busiest and most respected cultural hubs in the world.
It is made up of three main performance venues – the Royal Festival Hall including the Saison Poetry Library, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room – and hosts more than 2,000 paid performances of music, dance and literature every year, as well as another 2,000 free events.
There’s also the Hayward Gallery that provides the venue for three to six temporary art exhibitions a year.
It is located on south bank of the River Thames – hence the name – between the Waterloo and Golden Jubilee Bridges on Belvedere Road.
Ever since it opened in 1951, the Southbank Centre has thrived on keeping things fresh with a dynamic and constantly shifting programme of festivals all year round.
But in the winter, part of the Southbank Centre becomes a winter landscape with a busy schedule of free and ticketed events and activities, aimed at all ages in the shape of the Winter Festival.
Precise details of 2017’s Winter Festival hadn’t been confirmed at the time of writing, however, the organisers had hinted at the programme’s basic framework.
2016’s Winter Festival took place between November 11 and January 22, so expect a minor date shift in 2017. One of the biggest draws is expected to be Bianco – a big top circus experience brought by Britain’s leading circus company NoFit State.
Bianco sees the audience placed at the centre of the action in an all-consuming theatrical experience that takes place above, behind and all around spectators.
It includes world-class aerialists performing alongside a live band playing blues, rockabilly and punk music in a thrilling live spectacle. This will almost certainly be a ticketed event with prices depending on where you want to sit.
One of the most attractive free-to-visit features will be the festival’s Winter Market, which gets bigger and better every year.
Here, you’ll be able to enjoy a drink at the Rekorderlig Cider Lodge and the Hop Locker Bar or take a stroll through the wooden chalet markets, filled with festive food, drinks, gifts and treats. Mulled wine, quality edibles and handmade crafts are all guaranteed and will make for a great Christmas time treat.
The kids will have plenty of fun trying to find all the ‘gonks’, dotted around the Southbank Centre. No taller than three feet, gonks are mythological creatures from Scandinavian folklore, typically associated with the winter solstice and Christmas season. They basically look like cheeky Christmas gnomes with their pointed hats covering their eyes.
Many outdoor ice rinks pop up around central London in the lead-up to Christmas but the Southbank Centre’s Winter Festival adopts a different angle by setting up a roller disco. Skates are provided so just turn up and hit the dancefloor.
Getting to the Southbank Centre Winter Festival from the Park Grand London Hyde Park or Paddington hotels is easy. Simply walk to Paddington Station, hop onto the Bakerloo Line and alight at Waterloo Station. From there, it’s a short walk north to the Thames.
Those staying at Park Grand London Kensington can get there just as quickly by taking the District Line from Earl’s Court Station to Embankment, before crossing the Thames via Golden Jubilee Bridge.